Cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph (2006) and Leon Hall (2007) came to the Cincinnati Bengals as back-to-back first-round picks. The Bengals are trying not to lose what some once regarded as the league's best young cornerback tandem in consecutive years. The Bengals have kicked off extension talks with Hall, who is entering the final season of his original contract, and eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring, if there is no add-on. An extension might be tough, though, since most people know the Bengals' brass feels Hall is the better player.
That's no slight of Joseph, but the truth is that Cincy officials felt he was hurt a little too much. Hall, on the other hand, has started all 16 games each of the last three seasons.
Joseph got a five-year, $48.75 million deal to sign with Houston as an unrestricted free agent. There was no way the Bengals were going to pay that kind of money. But it might cost even more to retain Hall, a guy the Bengals feel is better. It's early yet, but the Bengals may have to use a franchise tag to keep Hall from bolting.
Reversal of fortunes
Funny how fates get twisted sometimes. Veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper signed for a second season with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL because he hoped the alternative league would provide him a possible avenue for returning to the NFL. On the flip side, journeyman passer Josh McCown conversely eschewed a second UFL season with the now-defunct Hartford Colonials this spring because he was certain, agent Rick Smith told The Sports Xchange at the time, that he would land in an NFL camp.
Another connection: Culpepper was brought into the NFL in 1999 by then-Minnesota coach Dennis Green, his UFL coach at Sacramento. McCown started 19 games in three seasons in Arizona, when Green was the coach there.
FB Heath Evans
One would have to be a conspiracy theorist of the highest order to suggest that 10-year veteran fullback Heath Evans remains unsigned because of some less-than-flattering comments he made on Twitter shortly following the CBA accord between the league and its players. The guy, after all, is 32 years old and fullback isn't exactly a high-priority position.
But this much we know: New Orleans officials, who signed the younger (by four years) Korey Hall as an unrestricted free agent fullback, were more than a little hacked off when Evans tweeted that the CBA included some provisions the league had "slipped in," without being negotiated. And there were a few other teams, too, that took note of the outspoken Evans' opinion.
-Agent Albert Elias confirmed he has exchanged contract proposals with Buffalo officials on a potential extension for five-year veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams, but said the two sides "are just getting started." Williams, who signed a four-year, $14.5 million extension in 2008, is under contract through 2012 at bargain base salaries of $1.75 million for this season and $1.805 million for next. "The good thing," Elias said, "is that they want him and he wants to be in Buffalo. So there's at least that common ground." Williams, 28, is one of the best unknown inside defenders in the league. Despite being a bit undersized, he made the transition to a 3-4 front in 2010, and went to his first Pro Bowl game.
-The aforementioned Strief, a seventh-round afterthought from Northwestern in 2006, is a guy the Saints have really liked for the past several years. Although he has started only seven games in five seasons, and never more than two games in a year, Strief is nasty and physical and perhaps better suited to the strong side than was Stinchcomb. It wasn't as if the Saints were trying to force Strief into the lineup, but the lingering rehab by Stinchcomb created an opportunity, and the club feels Strief's time has come.
-It's rare that a team keeps four tight ends on its regular-season roster, but New England might have do just that. Second-year veterans Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who virtually remade the slumping position for the Pats in 2010, are locks. But the Pats might also have to keep rookies Lee Smith (a fifth-rounder from Marshall) and Will Yeatman (undrafted). Some observers actually feel Yeatman, from Maryland, has outplayed Smith in camp.
-Speaking of tight ends, former Bengals' stalwart Reggie Kelly signed a one-year deal in Atlanta, choosing it over a similar offer from Pittsburgh. Originally drafted by the Falcons in 1999, Kelly has lived in the Atlanta area for years, and didn't want to disrupt the lives of his school-age kids.
-The Ravens are excited by the big-play potential newly acquired wide receiver Lee Evans brings to their passing game, and they should be. The even-year veteran has averaged 15.7 yards per catch in his career. Since 2000, Baltimore has had only two wide receivers - Travis Taylor in 2003 and Mark Clayton in 2008 -- average better than 15 yards a catch with 30 or more receptions.
-Pittsburgh second-year tailback Jonathan Dwyer has averaged only 2.8 yards per carry in two preseason games. But the Steelers are happy with the way that Dwyer has reshaped his body and feel that the 2010 sixth-rounder, who played is only one game his rookie season, is running tougher inside. He said he's down about 20 pounds. Dwyer played in a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech and wasn't asked to run between the tackles often.
-Another former Tech standout, option quarterback Josh Nesbitt, may be switched to safety by Buffalo. The Bills signed Nesbitt as an undrafted free agent and while they really like his athleticism, doubt he can be an NFL-caliber quarterback.
-Good line by former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington, who was recently struck by an automobile while bicycling in Portland. "I was laying in the ER," Harrington said. "I'm in the neck brace on the board, and just saying, 'Get me out of here.' I kind of whispered to one of the trauma docs, 'I played four years in Detroit. I can handle (getting hit by) a car.'" The third overall pick in the 2002 draft, Harrington took quite a beating in his final two seasons with the Lions, getting sacked 60 times in 27 starts. In his first two years, though, Harrington remarkably was sacked only 17 times in 28 starts.
-Baltimore has an intriguing competition, between Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe, to see who will start next to Ray Lewis at inside linebacker.
-The thumbprint of new Philadelphia offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who historically has preferred much quicker players for his system, can be seen throughout the Eagles' blocking unit. But perhaps nowhere is the impact greater than at center, where veteran Jamaal Jackson is fighting to hold off a challenge by rookie Jason Kelce. A sixth-round pick from Cincinnati, Kelce weighed only 280 pounds at the combine. There were some extenuating illness-related circumstances for Kelce, who was the lightest lineman in Indianapolis, but there's no denying his quickness and ability to get out to the second level.
LB Paul Posluszny
-Because his contract runs through 2013, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth isn't a priority yet for Cincinnati officials. But make no mistake, the five-year left tackle and team leader is already on the radar screen as a guy the Bengals want to keep around for a while.
-It was noted in this space last week that Tennessee wide receiver Kenny Britt has been at least considering changing agents. It now appears that Britt will keep the status quo with Todd France as his representative. The league has all but finished reviewing Britt's trifecta of offseason indiscretions, and is likely to impose some sort of punitive action by the season's start.
-Detroit officials have seemingly tapped the brakes, at least for now, on the potential contract extension talks for left tackle Jeff Backus. They want to see how the 10-year veteran comes back from his current pectoral strain before moving forward.
-Under the late Jim Johnson, and then Sean McDermott for the past two seasons, Philadelphia relied on creating pass-rush pressure on the edges. New coordinator Juan Castillo wants to see the pocket compressed more from the inside this season, and the early results appear to be encouraging. Free agent acquisitions Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove, both of whom have lined up some at end in their careers, seem to have the ability to press quarterbacks from the interior.
-On the downside, the refurbished linebacker corps in Philly could be a problem area. The Eagles immediately installed rookie Casey Matthews as the starter in the middle, and he has looked overmatched so far in preseason action.
-As of Thursday night, only 98 of the original 440 members of the unrestricted free agent class -- not counting players who were released -- were left unsigned. Also, as of Thursday evening, 23 former first-round picks had been cut.
-On the subject of former first-rounders, it certainly looks as if the Class of 2007 will be one of the most miserable opening rounds in recent history. Nine of the first seven prospects chosen in the initial round in '07, and 10 of the top 22, have been either released or traded to this point. Of course, top overall choice JaMarcus Russell tops the unfortunate litany of first-round failures from that year.
-With the release of linebacker/defensive end Aaron Maybin this week, eight of Buffalo's last 11 first-round picks are no longer with the team.
-Indianapolis has now signed four former first-round free agents -- defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton, defensive tackle Tommie Harris, and linebacker Ernie Sims -- in an effort to create better defensive depth. Of course, the Colts, who prefer to build from within, also have nine of their own first-rounders on the roster.
-The Browns, who it was noted above are converting to a 4-3 defense in 2011, are on the hunt for some linebacker depth.
-Dallas has received a few inquiries about the availability of fourth-year veteran tailback Tashard Choice, but isn't of a mind to deal the former Georgia Tech standout, who only a few months ago looked like he might be the odd man out in the club's running back pecking order. The Dallas coaches really like third-round choice DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma, but he's been hurt, and there is little depth behind oft-injured starter Felix Jones.
-Philadelphia may be willing to part with six-year veteran cornerback Joselio Hanson, who looks to be no better than No. 4 on the depth chart, unless the Eagles first deal Asante Samuel. The offseason acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have pushed the very serviceable Hanson down the depth chart.
The last word: "As far as communication goes, I tell him 'good ball' when he throws a good ball, and I tell him 'terrible ball' when he throws a terrible ball. I want him to understand, I'm not here to kiss (his) butt, I'm here to tell (him) the truth." -- Chicago wide receiver Roy Williams, on his relationship with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, per Don Banks of SI.com.
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.