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NFL launching scouting combine for veteran free agent players

Former Ohio State defensive back Bradley Roby takes off on a 40-yard dash during the traditional NFL Combine for athletes who have just finished playing in college in Feb. 2014. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The NFL is launching a scouting combine for veteran players who are free agents, similar to the version for college players eligible to be selected in the draft.

The NFL Veteran Combine is scheduled for March 22 at the Arizona Cardinals’ training facility. Representatives of NFL teams already were to be in the Phoenix area for the annual league meeting that week.

League officials say they expect to invite about 100 free agent players to the veteran combine, probably a combination of young players and more experienced veterans still looking for jobs.

“I think it’s both,” Matt Birk, the NFL’s director of football development, said by telephone Thursday. “Naturally it’ll probably draw more younger players. But there’s a void there. You come out of college, and there’s a lot of places to go to showcase your talent. After that, you can kind of be at the mercy of your agent, the teams and waiting for the phone to ring. … We also look at it as providing a service to the clubs.

“A lot of times, they fly these free agents in two or three at a time, work them out, all of that. This will allow the teams and those players to be in the same place at once.”

Birk said the idea was met with a “very positive” reaction from players. Players are to participate in drills similar to those performed by draft-eligible college players at the annual NFL scouting combine in February in Indianapolis.

The free agent market opens March 10, so the veteran combine will come 12 days into free agency.

“This is more for the guys who aren’t in that first wave of free agency,” said Birk, formerly a Pro Bowl center for the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. “It just seemed like a good place to put it on the calendar. Guys just want a chance to show what they can do. Sometimes as a veteran, you can be a victim of out of sight, out of mind. I can speak from personal experience: Not everyone is a first-round draft pick. Not everyone is the free agent that every team wants. You just want a chance to showcase your talents and be seen.”