Only a couple of weeks into the training camp portion of the season, teams are beginning to fuss and contemplate player moves to improve their lot. Free agents and other veteran players dangled as trade bait are on the minds of worried NFL execs...
SMITH STARTS SLOW: Though the coaching staff is saying all the right things and nurturing their rookie quarterback, Alex Smith has had his share of struggles in 49ers training camp. Tremendously athletic, Smith has the physical ability to make all the throws and has great escapability. To date, however, the problem for Smith has been his recognition. The game hasn't slowed down yet for the rookie, disappointing a coaching staff which believed Smith would be in much better shape to lead the team.PASS RUSHER NEEDS A HOME: If you are looking for a pass rusher, veteran Peter Boulware is waiting for the phone to ring. Despite questions regarding the status of his knee and toe issues, teams have begun to seriously entertain the idea of signing the former Baltimore Ravens star.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, and Baltimore Ravens are all still mulling over the idea of adding the veteran. Injuries at the linebacker position in Pittsburgh and Baltimore make Boulware an attractive commodity, while a lack of a pass rush could lead teams such as the Browns, Texans, and Seahawks to knock on Boulware's door.
While a deal doesn't appear close with any of the above-mentioned teams, the Steelers and Ravens have discussed Boulware's physical condition and salary expectations in recent days.
QBs SHUFFLE IN BUFFALO: After releasing starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the off-season, the Buffalo Bills found themselves with two clear options at quarterback: either second-year quarterback J.P. Losman or veteran free agent acquisition Kelly Holcomb would lead the Bills into the 2005 season. Regarding Losman, this is a testament to either the confidence or foolishness by the Buffalo front office and coaching staff.
Handing the reigns of a playoff-contending team over to a relatively inexperienced quarterback is questionable. Thus far in training camp Losman hasn't set the world afire and Holcomb has been average at best.
The Bills defense was the strength of the 2004 team and may again be required to carry this Buffalo team as the quarterback situation plays itself out.
FIRST PICK FOLLIES: Cedric Benson, the Chicago Bears first-round draft selection, could finally reach an agreement on a contract this upcoming week. Discussions between the team and representatives for the running back from the University of Texas have progressed well over the past 72 hours, with numerous contract elements being verbally agreed upon.
The same cannot be said in regards to running back Ronnie Brown (Miami) and linebacker David Pollack (Cincinnati). While there has been moderate progress in talks with the Dolphins, representatives for Brown continue to hold onto demands for specific guarantees and additional guaranteed upfront monies for the second-selection in the draft.
Pollack appeared on the verge of a deal with the Bengals a week ago, but the Cincinnati offer on guaranteed issues within the contract as well as the length of the deal has pushed off additional progress. Neither side appears willing to budge on their latest offer, leading to the current impasse.
WATCHING OVER HIS SHOULDER: In Detroit, quarterback Joey Harrington is having a solid training camp and is holding off the challenge of veteran Jeff Garcia so far. With a promising season and higher expectations in the offing for the Lions, Harrington remains under the microscope and must perform. While Garcia and head coach Steve Mariucci continue to make politically correct statements practiced skill, the writing is on the wall for Harrington if he slips up. Many within the team have taken well to the addition of Garcia.
SURPRISE PACKAGE: When the Carolina Panthers fleeced the Washington Redskins by acquiring wide receiver Rod Gardner for a second-day draft selection, they did so with the thoughts of Gardner being somewhat productive. Surprisingly to those in Carolina, Gardner has come to camp in tremendous shape and has been a standout in practice sessions. Slated to start the season as the team's number-three receiver, Gardner is pressing Kerry Colbert for the starting job opposite Steve Smith.
HEARTENED BY HARTWELL: The Atlanta Falcons' addition of linebacker Ed Hartwell in free agency may prove to be the biggest coup of 2005 in the NFC South division. Hartwell's aggressive nature, determination, and leadership has won over the Atlanta defense and coaching staff. Despite his relative inexperience as a featured-player, Hartwell already appears to have been more than right when he stated he played in the shadow of Ray Lewis (Baltimore) long enough and is one of the best linebackers in the game today.
LUXURY VEHICLE: Head coach Jon Gruden does not appear to be your typical Cadillac driver, he's decided that he likes in his so-far smooth ride with running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams. While stopping short of anointing Williams his guy in the backfield, indications coming from Buccaneers camp are that Williams is going to be the man come the start of the season. Gruden likes the flexibility of a running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield and Williams has improved as a receiver in the early days of camp.
FRANKLY AGREEING: Look for the Green Bay Packers and tight-end Bubba Franks to reach an agreement on a contract within the next week to 10 days. Recent discussions did not solidify a deal, but the talks were very cordial and progress was made. The parameters of a deal have been laid out.
CORNERING THE MARKET: After losing out on the attempt to land veteran cornerback Ty Law, the Kansas City Chiefs are quietly keeping an eye on available cornerbacks. Recently released Ray Mickens could be a candidate in Kansas City, but the team appears willing to wait a week or two to see what transpires with training camp roster cuts. Also, the team is extremely happy with the progress and play of rookie linebacker Derrick Johnson.
BROWNIES: Mickens is a name which has been bandied about the Cleveland Browns due to the health issue (migraine headaches) of starting cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. Presently, the Browns remain in a holding pattern and could be looking for a bigger, more physical cornerback.
Speaking of the Browns, wide receiver Andre Davis has been oft-rumored to be on the trading block. The Browns acknowledged Davis was discussed in the trade with the Seattle Seahawks for quarterback Trent Dilfer. Subsequently, the Browns and Seahawks have discussed Davis, with the Browns holding onto the speedy receiver until they either gain a comfort level with the talent in their camp or the Seahawks up the ante. Also, reports of the Browns and Eagles discussing Davis have not been substantiated, in the light of the Eagles issues with Terrell Owens.
THE OWENS SAGA, PART 391: As for Owens, look for the receiver to play cat and mouse with the team in the days leading up to his required return this week. Owens has come to the point where he desperately wants out of Philadelphia and intends on making every day an adventure for head coach Andy Reid and company. The Eagles remain steadfast in their commitment to neither renegotiate Owens' contract nor trade the veteran receiver.
JET SET: Quarterback Chad Pennington (shoulder surgery) and cornerback Ty Law (foot surgery) have not been ruled out of the New York Jets second preseason game this Friday against the Minnesota Vikings. Pennington has been limited in practice with the team and could see action, but indications are the team may be inclined to sit him out until the third preseason game. As for Law, he is not practicing as of yet with the team and is not expected to play until the third preseason game at the earliest. Defensive end John Abraham remains a training camp holdout and is not expected to report until the week of the season opener. Abraham is at odds with the team over the use of the franchise tag and wants guarantees from the team, which includes the promise of not placing the tag on him following the 2005 season.
TITANIC STRUGGLE: Negotiations between the Tennessee Titans and Adam ‘PacMan' Jones have hit an impasse and negotiations have ceased. Floyd Reese, the General Manager of the Titans is willing to talk deal, but indications are that a deal is far off unless Jones is willing to agree to some safety measures in the contract to protect the Titans in the event he has further off-the-field issues.
DOLPHIN DILEMMA: Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban maintains the quarterback competition has not been settled, nor is their a front-runner at this time. We think that Saban is just trying to keep the competitive fires burning. To the contrary, we see Gus Frerotte has clearly outplayed A.J. Feeley and the team has been more responsive to the veteran signal-caller.
VIKING RAID PAYS OFF: During the Minnesota Vikings off-season defensive free agent roundup, middle linebacker Sam Cowart came over to solidify the middle of the Vikings line backing corps. In camp, Cowart has displayed the experience and ability to help improve the team's porous defense. Despite losing a step, Cowart remains a solid upgrade over E. J. Henderson in the middle, as Henderson now mans the weak-side for the Vikings. For the first time in the past couple seasons, running back Michael Bennett is healthy and not subject to trade rumors.
ROLLE FITS THE ROLE: Rookie cornerback Antrell Rolle wasted little time in making himself known in the Arizona Cardinals training camp. In his battles with wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Bryant Johnson, Rolle has been solid in coverage and at times has manhandled the talented trio of receivers. Head coach Dennis Green wanted a physical cornerback, and Rolle has filled the need.