Since taking over their new jobs in January, Bills general manager Marv Levy and coach Dick Jauron have been polite but hardly effusive in their comments about quarterback J.P. Losman.
However, the signing of young unrestricted free agent Craig Nall - and declaring the Bills' quarterback race wide open - spoke volumes about how Levy and Jauron really feel about Losman, the 2004 first-round pick they inherited from the departed Tom Donahoe.
Any way it's sliced, it's not a good sign that Losman - who had the job given to him a year ago after Drew Bledsoe was released - will have to battle steady veteran Kelly Holcomb and a more polished if not experienced Nall for the starting job this off-season and into summer training camp.
It's difficult enough for two quarterbacks to get the opportunity needed to show their stuff with first-string players around them in preseason games, let alone try and juggle a three-ring circus.
But Levy and Jauron are convinced open competition is the only way to go, and they may be right after last year's experiment with Losman proved disastrous. He was benched after four games, starting Buffalo on a free fall that didn't end until a 5-11 record was in the books and Donahoe and coach Mike Mularkey were on their way out the door.
When Nall, who backed up Brett Favre in Green Bay for four seasons and has thrown only 33 NFL passes, was signed, he wasn't sure what Buffalo's plans were for him. But Levy quickly cleared that up.
"Dick and I have both talked about this, that it is a wide-open thing," Levy said. "And Craig is in the picture just as much as the others."
Nall, who had a chance to re-sign with the Packers or join the Minnesota Vikings, who traded Dante Culpepper, said he would not have come to Buffalo if he wasn't given assurances he'd get a crack at the starting job.
"Coach Levy, everyone here, said it's an open job, so I plan on coming in here and competing for that job," said Nall, who has a three-year deal with a signing bonus of close to $2 million. "With J.P. and Kelly, it's going to be a tough task but I'm looking forward to it."
Levy was asked bluntly what does Nall signing says about Losman's future.
"It doesn't say anything detrimental at all about him," Levy insisted. "We're going to have three quarterbacks here. We said it before we even had Craig on our radar screen that it's going to be a competitive situation at quarterback. I think this is a better competitive situation for J.P. ... not to have the new savior, the new first-round savior draft choice (label) to come in. I think it tends to lead us to a more level-headed quarterback competition. It's open for all three of them."
The 6-3, 230-pound Nall is an intriguing prospect and fits the player profile Levy and Jauron are after so far in free agency: young, broken-in players who may be ready to prosper if given an opportunity.
A fifth-round pick in 2002 (he was the 10th quarterback taken), Nall started only one year in college at Northwestern (La.) State after transferring from LSU. But he led NFL Europe in passing in 2003 and in six NFL appearances he's 23-of-33 for 314 yards and four touchdowns.
"He's very much ready to emerge in my opinion," Levy said. "I like his ability to throw the ball. What I've studied, he's been extremely compelling when he has played."
Nall's signing has hardly sparked as much of a buzz among Bills fans as Miami's are feeling with Culpepper or Saints fans are feeling with Drew Brees. But Levy said Nall has the potential to create a buzz.
"He has been in the league now for three or four years. This isn't a rookie," he said. "He's been in a program that has developed previously unknown quarterbacks - or relatively unknowns. Kurt Warner. Matt Hasselbeck. (Mark) Brunell was known, but none of them really blossomed (until leaving Green Bay). He was there in a great quarterback program behind a Hall-of-Fame-destined quarterback in Brett Favre. He's been in the NFL. He's young. He's been to training camp. He's comfortable with it. He's not the nervous rookie quarterback who's trying to adapt, who's trying to learn, who you're waiting for to develop."
Nall said he's eager to get a shot at playing more, something that wasn't going to happen in Green Bay, where 2005 first-round pick Aaron Rodgers has been tabbed as Favre's heir apparent.
"Brett never comes off the field, even during practice he always takes reps with the first group and we're left to run the scout team stuff," he said. "So I'm eager to step out on my own a bit and get a taste of what that's like."
--WR Eric Moulds, whose relationship with the club quickly deteriorated after he refused to take a pay cut in order to return to the team, has been granted permission to seek a trade. Denver is one club his representatives are known to have contacted. Philadelphia and Dallas are also believed to be on Moulds' wish list. There's an instant acceleration of roughly $5 million onto Buffalo's salary cap if the Bills cut or trade Moulds, so obviously the team would like to get something for him. In a perfect world, they'd like him back but for far less than the $7.1 million he's due to earn in 2006. "We want to keep him here, but he will have to make some sort of contract concession," general manager Marv Levy said. "He may examine the field and find that maybe that is the thing to do. I want to keep Eric. I still think he has plenty of ability. But I don't think we can fill all our other needs and take the salary cap hit we have to with him."
--The Bills' off-season conditioning program is under way at Ralph Wilson Stadium, with more than 50 players participating. Among them is RB Willis McGahee, who skipped last year's off-season workouts, setting a bad tone with ex-coach Mike Mularkey. The two had an uneasy relationship. This week, McGahee, sounding more mature, said he wants to make sure he gets off on the right foot with new coach Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, and that starts in March, not July.
"It's a fresh start," he said. "I'm trying to do things differently and it'll make a big difference having everybody here."
A good attitude also won't hurt McGahee at the bargaining table. He's scheduled to earn $731,750 in base salary this year and it's believed agent Drew Rosenhaus will ask for a long extension for his client. Said McGahee: "I'd love a contract extension but I haven't talked to anyone about it."
When asked if he would play under the terms of his original rookie deal, which was negotiated with him coming off major reconstructive knee surgery, McGahee began to hum "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
--CB Terrence McGee, whose career blossomed under former coach Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, isn't necessarily pleased that Buffalo is starting over with a new staff. But he also knew that after last season's 5-11 finish, the status quo wasn't good enough. "It's not really a good feeling," McGee said. "We just had coach Mularkey and we're all getting used to him. At the same time, it's not a bad feeling around here. The game changes. You just have to see what happens."
--Newly signed QB Craig Nall said enduring Brett Favre's bad jokes for four seasons in Green Bay was well worth it because he got to see how a certain Hall of Famer goes about his work.
"It's public knowledge about all the tragedy (in his family) he's had to deal with the last few years, but he's the type of guy who every time he steps on the field, he's giving you all he's got," Nall said. "I've learned a lot about professionalism from him."
And about hunting and golf. Though pressed hard by Bills beat writers about what he knows about Favre's plans for 2006, Nall said he had no special insight. "Everybody keeps saying we went on a recent hunting trip. That's not really the case," Nall said. "We hunt together all year long. His locker was next to mine all four years and we've had some interesting conversations. He's a great dude. But as far as him coming back, I have no idea."
THEY SAID IT: "I actually signed on Thursday, went home Thursday night, had a glass of champagne with my wife and flew back up here on Sunday. It's been a quick turnaround but I do love this stuff. It's what I do. It's fun. I like winning and I think we can win here." -Bills SS Matt Bowen, who has a reputation for eating, drinking and sleeping football, after signing as a free agent
Miami's off-season workout program started last week, but wide receiver Chris Chambers already has his sights set on next February.
Proof of that came last Wednesday as Chambers delivered an acceptance speech for winning the Dolphins Dan Marino MVP Award for the 2005 season at a team banquet.
"They're playing the Super Bowl here next year and I'll be damned if we're not the ones playing in it in our own stadium," Chambers said.
A major reason for Chambers' optimism is Miami's recent acquisition of quarterback Daunte Culpepper in a trade with the Vikings for a 2006 second-round draft choice. Chambers is optimistic that Culpepper will provide stability at the quarterback position that Miami has struggled to find since Marino's retirement after the 1999 season.
"If you would've told me we'd have Daunte Culpepper last season, I would have to smack you," a joking Chambers said. "It's unbelievable to get a guy of his caliber."
That sentiment was echoed by Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas.
"I think that was a steal to get a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, a franchise quarterback," Thomas said. "You can't get much better than that for a second-round pick."
Culpepper didn't attend the banquet because he was in Minnesota at a court hearing stemming from three misdemeanor charges filed against him last October for alleged sexual improprieties aboard a charter boat. Culpepper, though, is expected to be in South Florida this week to begin participating in the team's off-season workout program and continue rehabilitation of his injured right knee.
Culpepper tore three ligaments last October against Minnesota, which has raised questions about when he will be able to take the field despite his promise of being ready for the regular-season opener in September.
Compounding the problem is Miami's uncertainty at backup quarterback. Gus Frerotte, who was Miami's starter in 2005, signed with St. Louis after being released by the Dolphins when he declined to renegotiate his contract. Sage Rosenfels, who was Miami's backup last season, signed a four-year, $7 million contract with Houston on the first day of the free-agent signing period.
The only quarterback from last season who remains on Miami's roster is Cleo Lemon, but he hasn't thrown a pass in a regular-season game during his two NFL seasons. The Dolphins could pursue a veteran backup in free agency, with Tommy Maddox a possibility because of his history with new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey when both were in Pittsburgh. A less likely scenario would have the Dolphins choosing a quarterback early in April's draft and fast-tracking him for a potential backup role.
Thomas, though, doesn't seem worried if Culpepper isn't ready for the opening game.
"Hopefully his health will be fine," Thomas said. "But whoever steps in I think will be fine, too, because we've got a lot of talent around him."
--WR Chris Chambers, LB Zach Thomas and wide receiver/returner Wes Welker were honored at the Dolphins' annual team banquet.
Chambers was given the Dolphins Dan Marino MVP Award following voting by fans and media. Chambers had career highs in receptions (82), receiving yardage (1,118) and touchdowns (11) to earn his first Pro Bowl berth. Chambers' best game came last December against Buffalo when he caught 15 passes for 238 yards while also snaring the game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds remaining to cap a 21-point Miami rally in a 24-23 victory.
Thomas was named the recipient of the Don Shula Leadership Award for the third time in his nine-year NFL career. Thomas also won the honor in 1998 and 1999.
"This is a great honor since there are so many leaders on this team and so many veteran guys," Thomas said in a team-released statement. "It is extremely gratifying that this is an award that is voted on by your peers."
Welker received the Nat Moore Community Service Award for the sizeable amount of charity work he does. Besides performing community service work in South Florida, Welker was one of ten NFL players who took part in various community events during the week of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
"I would like to thank the Miami Dolphins staff for providing the opportunities that allowed me to become more involved in the community," Welker said in a team-released statement. "I am really honored, especially considering all the good my work my teammates do for others."
THEY SAID IT: "I'm looking forward to playing with a quarterback that's mobile." - WR Chris Chambers on Daunte Culpepper, who was considered one of the NFL's more agile quarterbacks before injuring his knee last October.
--QB Tom Brady recently threw the ceremonial first pass before two American Football in Israel exhibition games at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem. Patriots owner Robert Kraft funded the construction of the facility in 1999 and reportedly later kicked in an additional $500,000 for upgrades, including the installation of FieldTurf.
Brady joined Kraft and his wife, Myra, on a Combined Jewish Philanthropies leadership mission from Boston.
"It's great to see what football has become here," said Brady, who told the AFI players not to expect much from his throw because he hadn't picked up a football in three weeks. "Football is such a wonderful sport and unfortunately, many people in the world don't understand it."
--The Patriots swung and missed with free-agent CB Deshea Townsend. Although they had him in for a visit and reportedly made him an offer, Townsend opted to return to the Steelers, for whom he started in Super Bowl XL. "It was a very close call," Townsend's agent, Peter Schaffer, said of the Pats' interest in his client.
Townsend, 30, would have added a veteran presence to what is shaping up to be a very young cornerback corps for New England. Having released veterans Duane Starks and Tyrone Poole, both of whom were hurt and ineffective last season, the Patriots are left with Ellis Hobbs, 23, Randall Gay, 23, Asante Samuel, 25, and former street free agent Hank Poteat, 28, as their primary options. Ex-Steeler Chad Scott, 31, also was re-signed. He spent most of last season on injured reserve after arriving as a free agent from Pittsburgh. Practice squad player Antwain Spann, 23, is playing in NFL Europe.
Townsend was asked if, during his visit with the Patriots, coach Bill Belichick had revealed any secrets to repeating as Super Bowl champions - a feat Townsend and the Steelers will try to accomplish this season. Townsend's answer: "He just said it's always tough."
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft, one of the leading figures in brokering the new collective bargaining agreement during the contentious, last-minute owners' meeting in Dallas earlier this month, praised outgoing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who will step down over the summer. It was Tagliabue who hammered out the 1993 labor agreement that established the salary cap, giving team owners cost certainty.
"Paul is one of the greatest professional managers of all time," Kraft told the Boston Globe. "He's all business, but he's a man of substance. We lucked out. We came into the NFL (in 1994) after Paul had gone through his learning curve as commissioner. Had the cap not been in place, I'm not sure I'd have bought in (to the league). I might have, but with a lot of reluctance. From that deal, and the relationship he forged with (players union executive director Gene Upshaw), a lot of great things have grown. Paul is a brilliant strategic thinker. He's three to five steps ahead of the people he's dealing with."
--To the list of coach Bill Belichick's famous friends, which already includes rocker Jon Bon Jovi, football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, former NBA star Charles Barkley and Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, add University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan.
Belichick and Donovan crossed paths in New England last year and hit it off. When Belichick was in Gainesville, Fla., recently for the Gators' football pro day, he and Donovan had lunch together. Belichick wound up giving Donovan's team a pep talk a few days before the NCAA tournament began.
"I told them I don't know anything about basketball," Belichick told the Florida Times-Union. "I wouldn't know a low post from a pick-and-roll. What I talked to them about was winning big games."
THEY SAID IT: "It should be an exciting week. I have a lot of great memories in New England. The fans there are amazing. They've been very, very supportive over the past 10 years. It will be interesting to see how their reaction is later this fall." - Ex-Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, the newest Colt, on Indianapolis' scheduled visit to Gillette Stadium this season
After much negotiation, the John Abraham Era finally came to a close this week.
Of course, those negotiations by the Jets weren't with Abraham and his agents, but rather with other teams interested in the defensive end's services.
After rejecting offers from both Denver and Seattle, the Jets finally entered into a three-way trade with the Broncos and Atlanta.
The Falcons got Abraham from the Jets and a third-round choice in this year's draft and a fourth-rounder in 2007 from the Broncos. The Broncos got the Falcons' first-round pick, the 15th selection overall, while the Jets got Denver's first-round pick, No. 29 overall.
"We felt like that was the right move for us to make, and now we're sitting here with four picks on the first day and three of the top 35," first-year Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said.
Tannenbaum skated around the questions of why the Jets decided to let Abraham go, particularly after a season in which the oft-injured sack specialist (currently fourth on the Jets' all-time list with 53 1/2) was able to remain upright and healthy for 16 games.
However, it is believed that the Jets still weren't convinced that he would stay healthy through another season, and that new coach Eric Mangini didn't feel Abraham was a high-character player. Abraham had a much-publicized arrest for drunk driving in 2003, and was suspended for one game by then-coach Herm Edwards.
"If they're living in the past, they're living in the past," Abraham said, referring to his past transgressions on a conference call from Atlanta. "That's all you can say. We're trying to worry about the present and the future. To keep talking about it my whole career ... if they want to live with that situation, it's fine with me. I'm moving on. I'm happy with where I'm at, I can't get mad at anything right now."
To replace Abraham, the Jets signed defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. The former Steeler is particularly comfortable in a 3-4 alignment. The Jets also had questions about whether Abraham could thrive in such a system.
--New Jets DE Kimo von Oelhoffen could be responsible for a potential rules change. Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL competition committee, said defensive players will be told they must make an effort to avoid hitting quarterbacks in the legs to avoid serious injuries, such as the hit that then-Steeler von Oelhoffen delivered on Cincinnati's Carson Palmer in the playoffs.
Von Oelhoffen rolled into Palmer's left knee and left Palmer with torn ligaments. Palmer missed the rest of that game and is facing an arduous rehab process.
--QB Chad Pennington has brought his rehab program up north and is participating in the Jets' off-season conditioning program at their training facility in Hempstead, N.Y. General manager Mike Tannenbaum said the Jets have 100 percent player participation in the program.
--The Jets originally wanted Atlanta's backup QB, Matt Schaub, in return for DE John Abraham. The Falcons, balked, however, knowing that the mobile Michael Vick's health often is an issue. So the Jets went in a different direction by acquiring Patrick Ramsey from the Redskins for a sixth-round draft choice. Ramsey will compete with rehabbing QB Chad Pennington, coming off his second shoulder surgery since Feb., 2005.
--Former New England WR/PR Tim Dwight signed with the Jets. The Jets apparently were interested in the veteran last off-season, but he wound up signing with the Patriots. He fits in with the Jets' new plan of signing players that fit their system, rather than just looking for splashy acquisitions. New England backup LB Matt Chatham already has signed with the Jets, and will compete for a starting slot.
--The NFL schedule will be released within a few weeks, and former Jet C Kevin Mawae certainly will be interested in seeing it. Mawae likely will grab a magic marker and circle whatever date the Jets visit Tennessee. The outspoken Mawae signed with the Titans recently after spending eight seasons with the Jets. He was cut loose during the Jets' housecleaning, although his release only saved the team $1.1 million in cap space.
THEY SAID IT: "I have a lot of respect for Chris Baker. He's played here over the last two years. We have talked to his representatives, and I'll just leave it at that for now." - General manager Mike Tannenbaum, playing it typically close to the vest in talking about the Jets tight end, an unrestricted free agent.