Free agent buzz gets noisy on Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, and everywhere one can feel romance in the air. The courting of NFL free agents is about to begin, and NFL trading partners begin their slow tentative dance. Yes, it's Love, Style, as more and more player movement rumors surface, with the 49ers on the inside, outside or somewhere in the middle of much of the talk.

With the free-agent player signing period right around the corner, talk of player movement continues to heat up.

We're tuned into the buzz and will be providing insight on what is being mentioned in league circles throughout the hectic offseason. Here is the latest that we are hearing at

--- Winds of change could be the motto in Minnesota this off-season. Brad Childress is the new Vikings' head coach and he appears poised to make changes which could be of significant interest in his first season. Cornerback Brian Williams is expected to depart and safety Corey Chavous could soon follow. Interestingly enough, the team has had discussions regarding the future of cornerback Fred Smoot. Smoot did not endear himself to the organization, though the Minnesota front office has been silent on player matters. Let's not forget that oft-injured running back Michael Bennett is another player who will not be back in the Twin Cities for the 2006 season. The 49ers could be interested in several of those Minnesota departees.

--- Former 49ers star Terrell Owens to Denver. Owens to Chicago. Owens to Miami. The story remains the same. Owens is attempting to remake himself, which will be quite a feat, but will land him in a NFL city for the 2006 season despite his oft-controversial antics. The Eagles would welcome a deal for Owens, since they are convinced he has some value and have been reluctant to release the All-Pro caliber player. One thing of which you can be fairly certain: The 49ers won't be one of the teams interested in his services.

--- The Cleveland Browns and running back Reuben Droughns are talking dollars and cents. With a year remaining on his contract, Droughns wants a new deal, and rushing for 1,000-plus yards for the Browns (which hadn't been done in two decades) helped establish his worth. However, getting a deal in place with uber-agent Drew Rosenhaus and the team could be an even larger feat. The team has all but closed the door on resigning free agent wide receiver Antonio Bryant at this time. The 49ers may be interested in giving Bryant a sniff, depending on his price tag.

--- If he is released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Baltimore Ravens are expected to have an interest in quarterback Brian Griese. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden believes quarterback Chris Simms is the future in Tampa and the team is actively attempting to re-sign the young quarterback prior to the free agent player signing period. Griese may be expendable because of the addition of former 49ers starter Tim Rattay at the trading deadline last season.

--- The New England Patriots don't believe they will be able to re-sign wide receiver David Givens, due to the amount of interest expected in the explosive receiver. Expect the Patriots to turn their attention toward Joe Jurevicius, Corey Bradford, and possibly Koren Robinson. The 49ers may decide to make a serious run at Givens, but won't overpay to bring him to San Francisco. Jurevicius is another name that could be linked to the 49ers.

--- The Arizona Cardinals are believed to be willing to trade wide receiver Bryant Johnson in a deal to obtain a running back, preferably a starting running back. The 49ers will have open ears if the Cardinals come calling, with Kevan Barlow obviously a name that might be tossed around in those discussions. Not sure if 2005 second-round draftee J.J. Arrington has the physical makeup to be a starting running back, the team has quietly been breaking down the potential free agent market. Ahman Green and Jamal Lewis interest the team, but there has been an ongoing belief head coach Dennis Green will make a play for Minnesota's Bennett.

--- Indications are the Washington Redskins may opt to retain linebacker LeVar Arrington, rather than release him as was expected late in the season. Also, there has been some quiet interest in Arrington by a couple teams (names unknown at this time) in a trade scenario, which appears unlikely due to his contract. Despite their uncertain status at linebacker, the 49ers don't appear interested in getting involved in the Arrington talks.

--- Plenty of speculation surrounds the status of Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams. Armed with a team-friendly contract, speculation has been that Williams is on the trading block. Contrary to that belief, those close to the Dolphins inform this column the team has no desire to deal the quirky Williams and have not been approached about a deal.

--- The Indianapolis Colts have not officially made a decision on unrestricted free agent running back Edgerrin James. The team and player have had a less-than-cordial relationship at times during James' tenure in Indianapolis and the team is facing financial uncertainty. As a result, the Colts have not expressed the desire expected in retaining a player of James' caliber. At this time, James appears poised to move on, with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets being two teams being mentioned behind the scenes.

--- Although he is rehabbing from shoulder surgery, the San Diego Chargers and Drew Brees have engaged in discussions regarding the future of the quarterback in San Diego. The Chargers would like to retain Brees' services and appear to be relatively sure his shoulder will be sound prior to the 2006 season opener. While the San Diego organization has denied any interest in dealing backup Philip Rivers, we are hearing the team is behind Brees and would be willing to trade the second-year signal-caller for the right price, once Brees proves to be healthy. We hearing that the price is likely a first-round draft pick in the 2007 draft and the timing is sometime late in the summer.

--- The New York Jets are quietly looking at making a move at the running back position. Veteran Curtis Martin has been solid for the team, but will soon be 34 years of age and is coming off knee surgery. A new coaching staff and change of attitude within the New York organization may hasten Martin's departure.

--- A couple of Lewises have been important fixtures for the Baltimore Ravens in recent years and both could find themselves new addresses for the 2006 season. While unlikely, linebacker Ray Lewis' name has been lobbed out in league circles as a player that could be on the move. Still wanting a reworked contract and getting up in age (32), Lewis is no longer considered to be the brutal, impact defensive wrecking machine he was just a short two seasons ago. The other Lewis, Jamal, is coming off a season which his production suffered and he did not endear himself to some within the organization. The Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans could be interested in the former rushing champion, if the price is right.

--- Defensive end John Abraham could be a hot commodity in the free agent player marker, if he gets that opportunity. Abraham, the Jets' franchise player in 2005, could again be in line to receive the tag from the team. Coming to an agreement on a long-term deal has not been in the cards with the team and Abraham wants the opportunity to move on. The Patriots, Browns, Chargers, Redskins, and Bengals all have kept an ear to the ground in regards to Abraham's status.

--- One rumor which has made some rounds in recent days has the Minnesota Vikings trading quarterback Daunte Culpepper to the St. Louis Rams for a first-round draft selection, with the Rams then dealing quarterback Marc Bulger to the Miami Dolphins for an undisclosed draft selection. Speaking of the Dolphins, it appears the Saban-led troops have an interest in oft-troubled Koren Robinson and another free-agent wide receiver, Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El.

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