NFL free agent whispers: Vol. 7

Packer Report's Bill Huber puts a Packers slant on some hard-hitting free agent storylines, leading with news on a former Packers cornerback who blossomed under the tutelage of new Packers safeties coach Darren Perry.

One of the best free agent cornerbacks — and a mere footnote in Packers history — is off the market.

Remember Chris Johnson?

In the seventh round of the 2003 draft, Mike Sherman dealt away a 2004 sixth-round pick to select Johnson. Johnson was drafted 245th overall but was second to none when it came to speed. With 40-yard clockings ranging from 4.18 seconds to 4.23 seconds, Johnson was the fastest player in the draft.

Sherman called Johnson a "prototype" cornerback, but instead, it appeared Johnson was the prototype of track guys trying to play football. Simply, he couldn't stay healthy. He didn't play during his two seasons in Green Bay, and wound up being traded to St. Louis.

He landed in Kansas City in 2006 but was released before the start of the season and found himself out of the league for the rest of the year. Raiders owner Al Davis — who Sherman figured would draft Johnson at No. 246 and a guy who's never been one to turn a blind eye to speed — picked up Johnson off the scrap heap in 2007. Under the tutelage of new Packers safeties coach Darren Perry, Johnson blossomed into not just a starter, but a very good one in 2008.

A frequent target as opposing quarterbacks steered clear of All-Pro corner Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnson replaced two-time Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall midway through the season and had the first three interceptions of his career and added 12 passes defensed.

On Thursday, however, the Raiders signed Johnson to a four-year deal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Terms were not disclosed.

Meanwhile, Asomugha on Wednesday said he expects to be given the exclusive franchise tag before the Feb. 19 deadline, making him completely off-limits. Franchising Asomugha would let the NFL's best punter, Shane Lechler, hit free agency.

"We've got a tough problem with Nnamdi and Lechler, a tough problem," Davis said. "They're both unsigned and you have only one franchise designation."

Canty-Parcells reunion?

The Cowboys' Chris Canty will be allowed to reach free agency by Dallas.

Canty, a 3-4 defensive end who would be a good fit in Green Bay, sounds like a guy who is packing his bags for Miami, where his former coach, Bill Parcells, is running the Dolphins.

"I've always said, there's a part of me that's always gonna be a Parcells guy," he told Sirius Radio. "I've played under Al Groh in college and then coming in as a rookie under Bill. What they instill in the brand of football that they play, it's been with me so that would be a place that would be a good fit."

Canty, a fourth-round pick out of Virginia in 2005, has been a 16-game starter the previous three seasons. He had three sacks this past season.

Lions den

Detroit GM Martin Mayhew says the Lions are going to either re-sign free agent kicker Jason Hanson or use the franchise tag on him by the Feb. 19 deadline.

The franchise tag would cost Detroit $2.483 million. Mayhew said he hopes the Feb. 19 deadline helps hasten the talks.

"I'd rather pay a little bit more and know that we have him," Mayhew said on the team's Web site. "You look at where we are in terms of the contract; it's not that much difference from his average and the franchise tag. But it's Jason Hanson, and we appreciate everything he's done for us and we're trying to work out a long-term deal for him."

Meanwhile, the Lions have not talked to the agent of free agent defensive tackle Shaun Cody. Cody, a second-round pick out of USC in 2005, has just 11 career starts and hasn't had a sack since his rookie season. At 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, Cody could probably take some snaps at nose tackle but would be better-suited for end in a 3-4.

Cecil: Keep Haynesworth

Chuck Cecil, the hard-hitting former Packers safety who seemingly was always bleeding from the bridge of his nose, was named the Tennessee Titans' new defensive coordinator on Thursday. He replaces new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.

One of the biggest offseason storylines is what Tennessee will do with free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. He wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in the league, and the Titans are about $33 million under the cap.

Cecil made his hopes clear on Thursday: re-sign Haynesworth.

"I did that when I was the secondary coach," Cecil said after a laugh. "Obviously, a guy like that up front ... makes the secondary better because the ball has to come out of their hands faster, and the quarterbacks have to make quicker decisions."

Big decision in San Diego

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers and the agent for LaDainian Tomlinson will meet at the Scouting Combine next week in Indianapolis.

Tomlinson will have a cap charge of $8.8 million in 2009, and given his decreasing production and an injury-plagued 2008, the Chargers think that's too much, even for a guy who rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tomlinson wants to remain in San Diego, but his loyalty will be put to the test if the Chargers want to give him a steep paycut.

"I feel that I need to make it very clear that I have no intentions of leaving San Diego," Tomlinson said on his Web site. "San Diego is where my career started and where I'd like it to end. I have nothing but love and the (utmost) respect for this team, the players, and the Spanos Family. Me being traded is completely out of my hands. I have absolutely no control in that decision making. All I can do is wait and see how it all plays out. As for now, I am a Charger."

The resolution there will determine the fate of Tomlinson's backup, Darren Sproles, who caught the league's attention late in the season and into the playoffs. Sproles, with his superb catching and return skills, would be the ideal complement to Ryan Grant in Green Bay, but if he signs elsewhere, it'll be for a chance to start and get a huge payday. The franchise tag is possible for Sproles, which would cost $6.62 million.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.

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