NFL Notes: Patriots Making Changes?

Colts receiver Pierre Garcon may have turned down a $35 million offer, showing that he won't come cheap on the free-agent market. New England could be in the hunt if his price is reasonable. Plus, what to expect for New England's secondary and more...

Free Agent Receivers

-- People close to Indianapolis pending unrestricted free agent Pierre Garcon contend that the reports the four-year veteran wide receiver recently rejected a five-year, $35 million extension offer are overstated. Garcon, people close to him suggest to The Sports Xchange, never received a formal offer from the team. It might be only semantics, for sure, so take it for what it's worth, but the Garcon camp was fairly adamant that an offer was never actually proposed.

-- There are plenty of mid-level wide receivers who will garner attention in free agency, and Atlanta's Harry Douglas figures to be one of them. Another guy who will be in demand, although with much more profile, is Eddie Royal of Denver.


Linebackers In the news

B.Ruud
Tennessee Titans LB Barrett Ruud  is the older brother of former Patriots 2008 draft pick  Bo Ruud  (Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE) 9/11/2011
-- If linebacker Curtis Lofton doesn't re-sign in Atlanta, there are people in the organization comfortable with the idea of elevating second-year veteran Akeem Dent to the starter's spot at middle linebacker.

-- Dallas is also working hard on an extension for outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Despite lining up opposite DeMarcus Ware, the former first-rounder has never registered more than six sacks and might not be retained. But coaches feel that, with the possible reshaping of the inside linebacker spot, and the likely exits of Keith Brooking and Bradie James, it might be better to try to keep Spencer around.

-- Several teams will look extensively into the health status of free agent middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who was limited to only nine games with Tennessee in 2011 because of groin injuries. The Sports Xchange has confirmed that a few clubs consider Ruud a potential one- or two-year stopgap at middle 'backer. The former Tampa Bay standout had 57 tackles in nine games last season. In the four previous seasons, he averaged 128 tackles for the Bucs. There has been some talk that Ruud might consider retirement because of injuries, but he wants to play if healthy.


Steel City Meltdown

-- Informed last Thursday that he will be released, Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith, one of the unsung heroes of the club's success the past several years and arguably one of the best "five-technique" 3-4 ends to ever play, will definitely retire. Another former Pittsburgh starter who will be cut, guard Chris Kemoeatu, indicated to team officials that he would reduce his base salary by half, from $3.6 million to $1.8 million, to remain with the team as a backup. But the Steelers had already decided to part with the penalty-prone Kemoeatu, whose performance declined precipitously the past couple seasons.

-- Of the players released so far by the Steelers, who have slashed close to $38 million from their salary cap with cuts and restructured deals, the most likely to return on a minimum deal if no market develops for him is linebacker James Farrior. By the way, the Pittsburgh staff doesn't agree with many fans that two-year veteran Stevenson Sylvester is ready to start inside next to Lawrence Timmons. The club could go with Larry Foote as the starter, but will draft an inside linebacker somewhere during the lottery.


Defensive Linemen In Focus

J.Johnson
Baltimore Ravens LB Jarret Johnson  (Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE)
-- The Falcons seem to have overspent to keep defensive end Kroy Biermann off the market. Biermann is a decent situational rusher but has just 12.5 sacks in four seasons.

-- Things could still fall apart, but the Jets are closing in on a contract extension with nose tackle Sione Pouha, an unsung player the team feels is crucial to the success of their 3-4.

-- Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson is getting plenty of attention already as a pending unrestricted free agent. This week, it was reported that the New York Jets could be interested in Johnson, because of his familiarity with coach Rex Ryan, his former Ravens' defensive coordinator. There are some teams, though, who see the steady Johnson, who had just 3.5 sacks the past two seasons, as a decent fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 at this point of his career. No matter where he plays, though, Johnson, 31, will have a surprisingly good market. The Ravens, who used three-year veteran Paul Kruger as a pass-rush replacement for Johnson last year, seem prepared to elevate him to the starting job.


Secondary Options

-- Expect a new-look New England secondary in 2012, after a fairly disastrous 2011 campaign that had the Patriots scrambling for bodies and forced to play a pair of wide receivers, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, at safety. Bill Belichick again has two first-round picks and, while it's popular to project that he'll use one of them on a cornerback, that may not be the case. Still, safety Patrick Chung could be the lone returning player to line up in the same place next season. The keys will be the health of 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling, who missed all but two games as a rookie because of a season-ending hip injury, and what the staff decides to do with Devin McCourty. A Pro Bowl choice as a rookie in 2010, McCourty was frequently moved inside to safety last year, and some staffers still feel that might be his best position. It's not out of the realm of possibility, either, that Dowling ends up at safety.

-- With the use of the franchise tag on safety Tyvon Branch, the Raiders will make one more push toward trying to re-sign tailback Michael Bush, but understand he's probably out the door in free agency. Second-year veteran Taiwan Jones appears to be the heir apparent to the No. 2 job behind oft-injured Darren McFadden, but the Raiders will also seek a veteran alternative for the backup role.


Houston Do We Have An Extension?

-- Houston officials have quietly begun to prepare numbers for a contract extension push with quarterback Matt Schaub, who will be entering the final season of his contract in 2012. The Texans would prefer to get something done sooner rather than later with their triggerman, and avoid the kind of situation the Saints are experiencing with Drew Brees.

-- So far, free agent quarterback Donovan NcNabb doesn't seem to have any suitors. That could change, of course, but there's a perception in the league that McNabb will find it difficult to accept a backup role.


*The last word: "When I look at the quarterbacks who have success year in and year out, I see quarterbacks who are great leaders, very accurate, and are great decision makers. I think those things are my three greatest strengths." – Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, in his combine interview

#     #     #

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.



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\r\n","mobileBody":" -- People close to Indianapolis pending unrestricted free agent Pierre Garcon contend that the reports the four-year veteran wide receiver recently rejected a five-year, $35 million extension offer are overstated. Garcon, people close to him suggest to The Sports Xchange, never received a formal offer from the team. It might be only semantics, for sure, so take it for what it's worth, but the Garcon camp was fairly adamant that an offer was never actually proposed. -- There are plenty of mid-level wide receivers who will garner attention in free agency, and Atlanta's Harry Douglas figures to be one of them. Another guy who will be in demand, although with much more profile, is Eddie Royal of Denver. -- If linebacker Curtis Lofton doesn't re-sign in Atlanta, there are people in the organization comfortable with the idea of elevating second-year veteran Akeem Dent to the starter's spot at middle linebacker. -- Dallas is also working hard on an extension for outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Despite lining up opposite DeMarcus Ware, the former first-rounder has never registered more than six sacks and might not be retained. But coaches feel that, with the possible reshaping of the inside linebacker spot, and the likely exits of Keith Brooking and Bradie James, it might be better to try to keep Spencer around. -- Several teams will look extensively into the health status of free agent middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who was limited to only nine games with Tennessee in 2011 because of groin injuries. The Sports Xchange has confirmed that a few clubs consider Ruud a potential one- or two-year stopgap at middle 'backer. The former Tampa Bay standout had 57 tackles in nine games last season. In the four previous seasons, he averaged 128 tackles for the Bucs. There has been some talk that Ruud might consider retirement because of injuries, but he wants to play if healthy. -- Informed last Thursday that he will be released, Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith, one of the unsung heroes of the club's success the past several years and arguably one of the best \"five-technique\" 3-4 ends to ever play, will definitely retire. Another former Pittsburgh starter who will be cut, guard Chris Kemoeatu, indicated to team officials that he would reduce his base salary by half, from $3.6 million to $1.8 million, to remain with the team as a backup. But the Steelers had already decided to part with the penalty-prone Kemoeatu, whose performance declined precipitously the past couple seasons. -- Of the players released so far by the Steelers, who have slashed close to $38 million from their salary cap with cuts and restructured deals, the most likely to return on a minimum deal if no market develops for him is linebacker James Farrior. By the way, the Pittsburgh staff doesn't agree with many fans that two-year veteran Stevenson Sylvester is ready to start inside next to Lawrence Timmons. The club could go with Larry Foote as the starter, but will draft an inside linebacker somewhere during the lottery. -- The Falcons seem to have overspent to keep defensive end Kroy Biermann off the market. Biermann is a decent situational rusher but has just 12.5 sacks in four seasons. -- Things could still fall apart, but the Jets are closing in on a contract extension with nose tackle Sione Pouha, an unsung player the team feels is crucial to the success of their 3-4. -- Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson is getting plenty of attention already as a pending unrestricted free agent. This week, it was reported that the New York Jets could be interested in Johnson, because of his familiarity with coach Rex Ryan, his former Ravens' defensive coordinator. There are some teams, though, who see the steady Johnson, who had just 3.5 sacks the past two seasons, as a decent fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 at this point of his career. No matter where he plays, though, Johnson, 31, will have a surprisingly good market. The Ravens, who used three-year veteran Paul Kruger as a pass-rush replacement for Johnson last year, seem prepared to elevate him to the starting job. -- Expect a new-look New England secondary in 2012, after a fairly disastrous 2011 campaign that had the Patriots scrambling for bodies and forced to play a pair of wide receivers, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, at safety. Bill Belichick again has two first-round picks and, while it's popular to project that he'll use one of them on a cornerback, that may not be the case. Still, safety Patrick Chung could be the lone returning player to line up in the same place next season. The keys will be the health of 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling, who missed all but two games as a rookie because of a season-ending hip injury, and what the staff decides to do with Devin McCourty. A Pro Bowl choice as a rookie in 2010, McCourty was frequently moved inside to safety last year, and some staffers still feel that might be his best position. It's not out of the realm of possibility, either, that Dowling ends up at safety. -- With the use of the franchise tag on safety Tyvon Branch, the Raiders will make one more push toward trying to re-sign tailback Michael Bush, but understand he's probably out the door in free agency. Second-year veteran Taiwan Jones appears to be the heir apparent to the No. 2 job behind oft-injured Darren McFadden, but the Raiders will also seek a veteran alternative for the backup role. -- Houston officials have quietly begun to prepare numbers for a contract extension push with quarterback Matt Schaub, who will be entering the final season of his contract in 2012. The Texans would prefer to get something done sooner rather than later with their triggerman, and avoid the kind of situation the Saints are experiencing with Drew Brees. -- So far, free agent quarterback Donovan NcNabb doesn't seem to have any suitors. 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