The NFL's inaugural veteran combine, which takes place Sunday in Tempe, Arizona, has a fascinating list of 100 attendees, including former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, former Arkansas running back Felix Jones and former Army quarterback Trent Steelman (trying out as a receiver). CFL teams will certainly be keeping an eye on the event, and may reach out to try and sign some new players who perform well but aren't picked up by NFL teams. However, there will also be some faces there who have already had CFL stints, especially at the quarterback position. Three of the seven quarterbacks in attendance, Jerrod Johnson, Keith Price and Darron Thomas, have been signed to CFL teams at one point.
Johnson was in the CFL most recently out of those players, as the Montreal Alouettes only released him Feb. 26 after signing Dan LeFevour. He survived their first round of offseason QB cuts, but was deemed expendable once LeFevour was brought in. That's quite the transition for Johnson; as Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier writes, he played so well at Texas A&M from 2008-2010 that he beat out current Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (who spent most of that time playing receiver for Johnson). Still, he's battled through numerous injuries since then and his various cups of coffee in the NFL (with the Eagles, Steelers, Seahawks and Bears) didn't work out too well, leaving him available for the Alouettes.
Johnson has lots of potential, though. He's 6'5'', has a powerful arm, and can be a mobile rushing threat as well. In 2009 with the Aggies, he threw for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for 506 yards and eight touchdowns. The injuries (a rotator cuff one in 2010 in particular) have held him back, but many think there's still something there; when the Bears released Johnson last fall thanks to piling up QB depth, then-Chicago head coach Marc Trestman recommended Johnson to his former team in Montreal, who signed him Sept. 16. The CFL and the NFL haven't worked out for Johnson yet, but he's optimistic this combine might change that. "There are 28 [NFL] teams who have never seen me throw or have ever been around me," he told Tanier. "One of those teams will see me again and decide I am worth taking a shot on." There's certainly a chance of that, and if he doesn't get any NFL bites, another CFL team may come calling.
Price is also a recent CFLer. After a strong college career with the Washington Huskies from 2010-13, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent last spring, but they cut him in June. Price signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in September, but he didn't seem to do enough in practice to earn playing time (despite the team's quarterback situation being so desperate once Darian Durant went down that they signed retired 41-year-old quarterback Kerry Joseph in early October and started him the next week), and the Roughriders wound up cutting him in November. Still, a strong combine performance might get him another CFL look.
Thomas is probably the furthest off the CFL radar at this point. He shone as the Oregon Ducks' starter for two seasons, leading them to the BCS title game in 2011 and a Rose Bowl win in 2012, but he declared for the 2012 NFL draft despite having eligibility remaining and wasn't selected in that draft. He worked out with some NFL teams, but wasn't signed as an undrafted free agent either, causing him to eventually elect to head north of the border and sign with the Calgary Stampeders in October 2012. Thomas left after spending a year on Calgary's practice squad, though, and he's since joined the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League. He's still just 24, so he could have some years left if he shows potential, but at this point, no CFL team seems terribly interested in him.
The NFL's veteran combine is an intriguing idea, and while it's taken criticism from some quarters for not including full medical exams or team interviews, it should be much more efficient than the typical process NFL teams go through of individually flying veterans in for workouts. This should let NFL teams get a look at a whole range of players who might potentially help them down the line, and it should be useful for CFL teams too; there could be lots of guys here who the NFL doesn't want right away, but who might be good CFL fits. The idea of a veterans' combine is a solid one, and it's one the CFL should potentially consider down the road too, perhaps as an addition to the annual rookie combine. For now, the NFL one will be worth watching. In particular, it will be interesting to see if any of the former CFL quarterbacks in particular are able to do enough to catch on with teams north or south of the border.