Pasquarelli: Around the League

A look at the news and notes from around the league.

"Plax" market: As indicated by The Sports Xchange in a column earlier this week, never underestimate agent Drew Rosenhaus and his ability to create a market for his clients, a lesson that has been learned in the past by teams. But there is growing suspicion that Rosenhaus won't have many more than 3-4 suitors serious about signing free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who was released Monday from jail after serving a 20-month sentence.

Teams are concerned by Burress' age (34 next month), his inactivity (it is likely to be 33 months between games), and by his reputation for never having been the hardest worker earlier in his career. The lockout isn't likely to work in Burress' favor, either, because teams may be forced to make quick decisions on players in a compressed environment.

Said one team official: "It's the ultimate 'buyer beware' scenario. I only hope the guy is starting his conditioning work right away, because when this (lockout) ends, it's going to be bang-bang on signings."

To reiterate some points made earlier this week about the Philadelphia Eagles, popularly rumored as a potential landing spot for Burress: Although third-year veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin is only 6-feet tall, he still scored seven of his 10 touchdowns in the red zone"in 2010. Some Eagles coaches this week, who said they have not had serious discussions yet about Burress, noted that Maclin is a far better red zone receiver than people think.

They also lauded the potential of second-year wideout Riley Cooper, who is 6-5, and who they feel can be a red -one factor. And they seized a theme espoused by The Sports Xchange, that quarterback Michael Vick, who rushed for nine touchdowns in the red zone last season, provides them an X-factor inside the 20-yard line.

*Politically correct: In contrast to last spring, when he skipped minicamps and OTA sessions, Tennessee tailback Chris Johnson joined his Titans teammates for their voluntary workouts this week, and adopted a diplomatic approach to his desire for a new contract. The NFL's leading rusher over the past three seasons (4,598 yards), and one of only six men in league history to run for 2,000 yards in a campaign, the 2008 first-rounder suggested he is "not worried" about his contract status.

There is no denying the three-year veteran has displayed considerably more maturity this offseason than he did last year. There is also no doubt, league sources emphasized to The Sports Xchange this week that Johnson will not report to the Titans for camp - assuming, of course, there eventually is a camp - until he receives a lucrative, long-term contract. And not the band-aid approach the Titans took last year, when they advanced him most of the escalator money he had earned as part of his original five-year, $12 million contract.

That short-term fix bumped Johnson's base salary from $550,000 to about $2 million. But under the contract he signed in '08, he's still on the books for base salaries of $800,000 in 2011 and $900,000 in 2012. Johnson is playing nice for now, saying all the right things, doing what he needs to do to stay in shape and in touch with his teammates. But unless there's more than just a token bookkeeping maneuver to address is contract grievances in 2011, things could get pretty dicey between the Titans and the man some consider the NFL's best back.

*Britt brutal: To suggest that Tennessee officials, including first-year coach Mike Munchak, are upset with third-year wide receiver Kenny Britt after the former first-round pick's latest arrest on Wednesday would be understatement.

Said one Titans' official, who said he could not speak for attribution: "We're beyond pissed off with the situation. There will be consequences."

Arrested for the sixth time since joining the Titans in the 2009 draft - this time for alleged evidence tampering, obstruction of a government function and resisting arrest, after he is said to have smashed a cigar containing marijuana when he was stopped for a traffic violation - Britt is expected to face team-issued punishment even before commissioner Roger Goodell take action, the Titans official said.

Noted the team official of Britt, who was arrested in his hometown of Hoboken, N.J.: "It's the same old story. He can't pull himself away from his buddies. That's not to (absolve) him of any blame, but he's got to get away from some people."

Just last week, in fact, Britt's father noted the same thing, saying he hoped his son would get away from New Jersey and go train with his Tennessee teammates for a while. When the lockout ends, the Titans are likely to strong suggest, perhaps even demand, that Britt undergo some sort of counseling. They might even take a page from the Atlanta Falcons' handling of wide receiver Roddy White a few years ago. As noted in this space last week, the Falcons declined to sign White to a new deal until he distanced himself from certain friends who were living at his house.

Once White complied to the satisfaction of Atlanta officials in 2009, the club rewarded him with a new six-year, $50 million contract. Given that Britt is under contract for three more seasons, the Titans can't do exactly the same thing, but there might be some financial moves they consider.

One-armed bandit: Despite gaining 1,241 yards, the third most of his seven-year NFL tenure, the aforementioned Steven Jackson averaged a career-low 3.76 yards per carry in 2010. And Devaney offered some insight into a mark that was nearly six-tenths of a yard less than Jackson's average for his first six seasons. Devaney reminded that Jackson played more than half the season with a broken left ring finger, and two surgical pins in the digit.

"He couldn't stiff-arm anybody, which is a big part of his game ... and he couldn't even switch the ball from one hand to the other," Devaney told The Sports Xchange. "He was basically playing one-handed."

The break, which occurred in the seventh game of the season, was hardly a secret. The extent to which the injury impacted Jackson, though, may have been a bit underplayed. One NFC West linebacker allowed, however, that opponents were "well aware" of Jackson's handicap. In the first seven games of the season, Jackson averaged 4.14 yards per carry and 88.1 yards per game. In the final nine games, playing with the broken finger, those fell to 3.44 yards and 69.3 yards, respectively.

Getting ready: There have been quite a few stories recently about how teams are better prepared for the presumptive start to signing undrafted free agents this year, because scouts have now had considerable time to study the prospects, rather than be subjected to the feeding frenzy that typically ensues when the draft concludes. Here's another twist: Several player agents have told The Sports Xchange in recent days that they have used the "down time" during the lockout to prepare for contract negotiations for their draft prospects by more closely scrutinizing team trends, spending and signing policies, and the habits of the individuals with whom they will be bargaining.

There will be a cluster-fudge to get drafted players under contract once the lockout ends, and the preparatory work taking place now might actually speed the process a bit. Of course, if a rookie wage scale is part of a new CBA, and takes effect immediately, much of the current work being done could be rendered extraneous. Still, it's somewhat heartening to see that some agents are making productive use of this slow time.

Remembering JHJ: Belated condolences to the family of Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson. In most appreciation pieces, JHJ was principally recalled as a member of the famed "Million Dollar Backfield" in San Francisco. But, showing our age here, we remember him for the six seasons (1960-65) he spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and how he was the primary excuse for plunking down $1 on "Kids Day" at Forbes Field or Pitt Stadium to see Johnson run, particularly his battles with the great Jim Brown. The two faced each other nine times, and Johnson out-gained Brown on four of those occasions. The late Buddy Parker, then the coach of the Steelers, once described Johnson as "a man who ran mad" and whom he "didn't want to see in an alley." That was pretty much JHJ. But recall this: Johnson played longer for Pittsburgh than for any of the other three franchises that employed him, and the 4,381 yards he gained for the Steelers was roughly four times more than he gained for anyone else.

Good guys: The arrests and run-ins with the law that have taken place during the lockout aside, there have been some terrific stories of public service on the part of NFL players and coaches. One that hasn't garnered much publicity, and actually has been delayed a bit, is the plan by Pittsburgh stars Hines Ward and James Harrison to purchase a home in the Stanton Heights section of the city, and transform it into a youth center. The home has particular meaning in Pittsburgh, because it's the site at which three Pittsburgh policemen were killed in April 2009 while responding to an alleged domestic disturbance call. The shooting deaths of the three officers - Paul Sciullo III, Stephen Mayhle, and Eric Kelly - sent shock waves reverberating through the city. Recently, a memorial was dedicated to the three in my old Bloomfield neighborhood, which was once home to Sciullo, and residents have had a difficult time getting over the incident. The purchase of the home, by Harrison and Ward, will at least help heal some wounds. Unfortunately, the sale of the home has been delayed by some legal maneuvering by the defense team representing alleged gunman Richard Poplawski. But the two Steelers standouts are to be lauded for their efforts to turn a place of miserable memories into something constructive.


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