NFC News and Notes - 5/28/05

Although the offseason lingers on, there's no shortage of news in the NFL. The June 1st cuts are looming, position battles are already being discussed, and the recent owners' meetings were marked by rules changes and some frustrated team magnates. Read about it all in this week's NFC News and Notes!

As teams become more adept at handling the salary cap, there are fewer valuable free agents that become available each June 1 -- the date teams can let players go and absorb the salary cap hit over two seasons instead of one. But there are already several intriguing veterans on the market to help pick up the intrigue level this year.

Former All-Pro cornerback Ty Law was let go by the Patriots as he recovers from a foot injury, former Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware by the Ravens as he recovers from knee and toe injuries, and seven-year underachieving offensive tackle L.J. Shelton was jettisoned by Arizona. While Shelton is generating a decent amount of interest among teams simply because of his size (6-feet-6, 330 pounds) and position, it's Law and Boulware who are the sexier names fans can identify with.
Especially those fans in Cleveland, since new Browns coach Romeo Crennel has expressed an interest in both. The Browns desperately need to upgrade their defense as they make the switch to a 3-4, and Law and/or Boulware would provide that if they sign and can stay healthy.
Law played for Crennel, the former Patriots defensive coordinator. "Ty knows how I feel about him and I don't think there's any question how he feels about me," Crennel said. "His injury situation is one that has to be resolved."
Boulware, meanwhile, would provide the pass-rushing outside linebacker that is so essential to a successful 3-4.
"He has experience in the 3-4 so he's familiar with the system," Crennel said. "Plus he's been productive in the NFL, particularly in the pass rush. If you think he'd be a good fit on the field and in the locker room, you go ahead and make that move. I think he could bring a proven dimension. He'd be a plus."
Of course, there are still a few cash-strapped teams that won't play a role in any names of note on the market. When asked who the Chiefs might be looking at post-June 1, Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said, "For anybody who wants to play for free. We've spent all our money." Maybe Shelton has a soft spot for teams in need, since the Chiefs are one of four teams reportedly on his short list of possible new destinations to call home.


Arizona Cardinals:
That Kurt Warner goes to training camp the starting quarterback for the Cardinals isn't a scoop. But if he proves to be the Kurt Warner of old rather than an old Kurt Warner, now that would be a scoop. Sure, the Cardinals made the appropriate noise when they signed Warner for a year at $4 million as an unrestricted free agent about how he would come in and compete with Josh McCown for the job.
Nobody really believed it then - probably not even Warner or McCown - and Coach Dennis Green decided to end the charade this week by announcing that Warner is the starter. Until he does something that makes Green's skin crawl. Green, remember, is notorious for his quick hook with quarterbacks. Nobody knows that better than McCown, who had the team ready to move to .500 and perhaps challenge for a playoff berth when on the eve of a game at Carolina he was surprisingly yanked in favor of Shaun King. McCown was 6-7 in his 13 starts in 2004. King, now departed, and John Navarre combined for an 0-3 mark in their starts.
Warner is Green's fourth starting quarterback -- and Green has coached only 16 games with the club. "My mindset going in was that I wanted to earn a starting position at some point, so I never really thought of it any other way," Warner said. "I know what goes into that position. I know what I still have to prove." So what, if anything, does Warner have left?
Warner, 33, has expressed how highly motivated he is to prove that his game still is of a caliber that can put fear into the heart of a defense, and that Tom Coughlin and Co. jobbed him with the New York Giants last year - although Warner had to know that Eli Manning was going to be the man after what the Giants paid to get the rookie. So Warner has his chance. He'll work behind a rebuilt line that appears to have greater toughness. He has run support from a dart of a back who gained 2,000 yards in college last year. He doesn't exactly have Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce outside, but Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald aren't bad, with strong support from No. 3 wideout Bryant Johnson, the fastest of the bunch. If Warner can grip the ball, not only does he have a chance to make his point to all of his critics, he'll have a chance to give the Cardinals a grip on their first playoff berth since 1998.

St. Louis Rams: When he was with the Rams for his first go-round, tight end Roland Williams was a go-to guy when it came to the media. Not that it had anything to do with football, but Williams never met a camera or a microphone he didn't like. He played three seasons for the Rams from 1998-2000, including the winning Super Bowl year, but was traded to Oakland after the 2000 season. That was the first for Mike Martz as head coach, and it was known that Martz didn't always take a liking to Williams' personality or his penchant for penalties at key times.
But times change, and after playing for Oakland and Tampa Bay, Williams was released by the Raiders early this offseason. He quickly came back to the Rams on a 1-year deal. At the time of the signing, Martz said Williams "was a terrific point-of-attack tight end for us. (He) makes us bigger and stronger in the running game."
It was quickly learned that Williams hadn't forgotten how to talk. Let's not forget he received his degree from the school of communications at Syracuse University.
Asked about whether he might challenge defensive lineman as the team's most-often quoted player, Williams said, "I love Tyoka (Jackson). But I think that more is better. It's not either/or, it's more. You guys take what you can get and run with it." Asked what he can provide the team, Williams said, "I come in being an eight-year veteran who's won Super Bowls and made a few bucks and loves football and wants to win. And so whatever Mike wants me to do, whether he wants me to be a cheerleader on the side and be a consultant, or he wants me to go out and start or play fullback or ...
"I won't play quarterback and I won't play wideout, but outside of that, whatever Mike wants me to do, I'll go out and gladly do it. You won't hear any complaints out of me."

San Francisco 49ers: Derrick Hamilton suited up for two games last season and made it onto the field just once as a rookie 49ers wide receiver. Yet, he was being considered as the team's No. 3 or 4 receiver in 2005. Hamilton, however, likely saw his season come to an early end during an organized team activity May 25 when he made a leaping catch and came down awkwardly, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Hamilton is scheduled for surgery, which generally carries a nine to 12-month rehabilitation period.
The 49ers' already-thin receiving corps now has even less depth. The team failed to re-sign Cedrick Wilson, its top receiver from last season, and has yet to add anyone to the roster expected to put up significant numbers. Coach Mike Nolan said the team would look hard at all the possibilities when cuts around the league are expected to put such players as Rod Gardner and Johnnie Morton on the free-agent market. The 49ers brought in free agent Jason McAddley for a workout two days after Hamilton's injury.
"We talked about it before and it remains on the list," Nolan said of adding a veteran receiver in June. "I guess you can say it has pressed the issue a little further."

Earlier this offseason, Nolan passed on signing Jerry Rice and David Boston, two veterans who wanted to join the 49ers. Hamilton still figures in the 49ers' plans for the future, Nolan said. The former Clemson standout was a third-round draft pick last year after skipping his senior season to enter the draft. "Looking at him in the long term, he'll be a good player for us," Nolan said.
As the 49ers continue their organized team activities, Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd are listed as the starters, with second-year receivers P.J. Fleck and Rashaun Woods ranking as the Nos. 3 and 4 wideouts.

Seattle Seahawks:
The Seahawks are expected to step up their pursuit of free-agent LB Peter Boulware in the near future. Much will depend upon Boulware's contract expectations. If he expects starting-caliber pay for a four-time Pro Bowl player in his prime, Seattle won't be a viable option. But if the former Baltimore pass rusher is willing to take a modest salary for a shot at playing with his younger brother, a deal could come together. Michael Boulware is the Seahawks' starting strong safety.

The Seahawks are becoming Role Player Central, passing on high-priced free agents to sign lesser-known players expected who fit the criteria established by new president Tim Ruskell. Former Tampa Bay safety John Howell could become the next addition. The four-year veteran said he expects to sign with Seattle once the Seahawks clear salary-cap space in June.
"I wouldn't say it's a completely done deal yet," Howell told the Tampa Tribune. "I mean, the Bucs could come back and make me a better offer. But if that doesn't happen, I'll sign with Seattle on June 1. That's the plan." The Seahawks are expected to clear cap room by releasing cornerback Bobby Taylor and possibly reworking contracts or releasing others. Howell will come cheaply by NFL standards. He's a special-teams standout with limited starting experience. Howell would become a favorite for the third safety job in Seattle. Perhaps more importantly, he would bolster a special-teams unit that faltered badly last season.
In the bigger picture, Howell fits the Ruskell profile, which makes sense; Ruskell was the Bucs' top college scouting man when Tampa Bay drafted Howell in 2001. Howell is known as a hard-working team player and a solid citizen off the field. Ruskell is emphasizing those traits as he puts his stamp on the Seattle organization. "It's not only the rating and ability level but the guy that you are bringing in that will determine if he's going to reach that grade that you give him," Ruskell said. "His character and his football character and his personal character will tell you if he's going to reach that, not just the grade itself."
If Howell signs, he'll join a list of free-agent additions that already includes defensive end Bryce Fisher, linebackers Jamie Sharper and Kevin Bentley and cornerbacks Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon. 

QB Matt Hasselbeck said there's only so much players can do when it comes to making sure teammates are fully committed to the cause. "I know that I'm going to do everything that's in my power that I can do," he said, "but at the end of the day, each guy has to decide for himself what's his level of commitment going to be to the team. Hopefully we'll get enough guys that felt he same way about it."


Safety Roy Williams has mixed feelings about the new Roy Williams rule voted on at the NFL meetings, which banishes the horse collar tackle. He thinks it's a sign of respect, but he said the league is making it too easy for the offensive players.
He said he will abide by the new rule but won't let it affect his play. "I'm not gonna worry about how I'm bringing players down," he said. "If I do that then it's gonna take away from my abilities on the field and probably get me yelled at by (defensive coordinator Mike) Zimmer or Bill (Parcells)."
Williams injured three players last season with the horse-collar tackle, a tactic that includes grabbing the ball carrier by the collar of the shoulder pads and dragging him to the ground from behind.
The tackle is now a 15-yard penalty.

New York Giants:
Super-UFA signee Plaxico Burress, the WR from the Pittsburgh Steelers, was named on an arrest warrant by the state of Pennsylvania with regard to overdue and unpaid tax bills. If he returns to the state (hard not to since the Giants play the Eagles there next season), he faces arrest and fines. The team had no official comment but clearly will handle the matter quickly.

Philadelphia Eagles:
While Terrell Owens isn't expected to show up for the Eagles' two-week June passing camp and might even sit out training camp to protest the Eagles' refusal to renegotiate his contract, few people believe he would actually take a rain check on the season.
But in the case of the 31-year-old wide receiver, the Eagles aren't discounting that possibility. "Normally, I'd say a player is not likely to just pass up getting paid," club president Joe Banner said. "But in this case, you really can't say. This isn't a very predictable situation."
Banner, owner Jeff Lurie and head coach Andy Reid all have publicly said the team will not, under any circumstances, redo Owens' one-year-old deal, which included nearly $10 million in bonuses last season. Any willingness to compromise ended the minute Owens' new agent, Drew Rosenhaus, decided to go public with his renegotiation campaign rather than try to work it out privately with Banner, the club's chief contract negotiator. The Eagles don't like to be pressured, even if it is by a five-time Pro Bowler.
"I'm baffled in that it doesn't seem like there's a good plan (on Owens' side)," Banner said. "And to have done this so publicly, he really put himself in a box. If you come in and make a private request like this, and the team responds, then you proceed without there being a problem and nobody gets backed into a corner. But once you go public with it, the way they did, it creates a problem for them. We have to stick to our policies and to what we think is right and fair. Any team opening that Pandora's box in such a big, visible case is really creating problems that they'll not be able to get out of."

Washington Redskins: Just when it seemed like Washington might be done acquiring players, the club went on a mini-shopping spree in the secondary. The net result, however, was no immediate additions. S Cory Hall, a starter for much of his six-year NFL career, signed and then abruptly quit two days later. His departure wasn't unexpected, as he had been seriously considering retirement and an offer to join Washington State's coaching staff. Hall would have been the Redskins' sixth safety.
CB R.W. McQuarters visited Redskin Park but departed without a contract. He also was drawing interest from the Giants, Dolphins and Bucs and seemed in no hurry to sign. McQuarters could fill multiple roles in Washington, adding experience to the cornerbacks, depth at safety and a viable option in the return game.
LB Mike Barrow and KR Chad Morton were the potential cuts most discussed as the post-June 1 period approached. Barrow appears almost certain to be released quickly, but Morton, who doesn't offer much cap savings, could be brought to camp and allowed to demonstrate there whether his ACL is fully rehabilitated.


Chicago Bears:
Since veteran running back Thomas Jones ran away from the media for the second straight day, it was left for Bears coaches to discuss the battle shaping up between the incumbent and rookie Cedric Benson. "We have two guys that can play," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "The challenge is to find a way to maximize their talents and get them both on the field and get them both being impact players, which is something we think we can do."
Coach Lovie Smith reiterated that Jones is the starter, but the sixth-year veteran appears reluctant to discuss his situation. Saturday morning Jones sneaked through an autograph line and into a side door at Halas Hall, giving reporters the slip. Following the Saturday afternoon practice, Jones bolted wide of the media and outran the pursuit, saying that he would talk on Sunday. But, at the conclusion of Sunday's practice, the 5-foot-10, 220-pounder emerged from within a circle of wide receivers, sprinted for the side door and disappeared. When his presence was requested by a media relations employee, Jones said he had a flight to catch. 
If he proves as elusive to opponents in the fall, Jones might be able to hold on to his job. But that's unlikely. He and Benson won't be playing together, and there aren't enough carries to keep both of them happy, so Jones figures to wind up as the backup.
"They both can do a lot of the same things," Turner said. "Each one is going to have their own strengths, and we'll try to draw from both." Jones rushed for 948 yards and a 4.0-yard average last season with seven touchdowns on 240 carries. He'll remain ahead of Benson until the rookie begins to react instinctively rather than contemplating his assignments.
"Every time we call a play, he's thinking, 'What do I do, and where do I go and all that,'" Turner said of Benson. "We're going to spend the month of June (during 14 practice sessions) really getting him to feel comfortable with what we're doing. We'll find out what he can do mentally and physically.

Detroit Lions:
The "bottom feeding" phase of the free agent market is still a few days away - when teams begin making their June 1 salary cap cuts. Meanwhile, Lions president Matt Millen is biding his time, keeping a watchful eye on former New England cornerback Ty Law, who was in for a visit two weeks ago.
The Lions have indicated a strong interest in Law and say they will compete financially for the four-time Pro Bowl player when he is sufficiently recovered from the broken left foot he suffered last season

Green Bay Packers: The Packers at least considered giving running back Najeh Davenport the middle tender as a restricted free agent in early March before settling for the $656,000 tender and right of first refusal. A key factor why the club didn't go up to the $1.43 million tender was the shoulder surgery that Davenport underwent March 11. Thus, the Packers will have Davenport at a bargain-basement price for another season as the primary backup to Ahman Green. Next year, however, all bets are off.
Davenport will be an unrestricted free agent in March and could attract significant interest if he can stay healthy and perform as well in 2005 as he has in the past. Toward that end, Davenport has changed agents, hiring Drew Rosenhaus and dumping Michael Harrison. "I've mentioned to the Packers that we would like to get an extension done for him," Rosenhaus said. "I'm looking forward to working with the Packers on Najeh, and hopefully we can get a long-term deal.
"He's definitely a player that's capable of being a quality starting running back in this league. I'm hopeful of working something out with the team before we get into the season. We'll see what happens." Davenport has played in just 34 of a possible 48 games in his first three seasons. He has 187 carries for 963 yards and an impressive 5.1-yard average.

Minnesota Vikings:    The Vikings aren't expected to be active participants in the next jolt of free agency that follows the June 1 cuts. However, look for them to keep an eye on the running backs that become available. With Onterrio Smith facing a one-year suspension for his third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, the Vikings would like to pick up another running back before training camp.
The team has depth at the position. Michael Bennett is the No. 1 back. Second-year pro Mewelde Moore takes over Smith's No. 2 position. Moe Williams is the third-down and short-yardage back. Rookie fourth-round pick Ciatrick Fason and former practice squad player Butchie Wallace also are on the roster.


Atlanta Falcons:
It's not hard to figure out where Falcons owner Arthur Blank stands on the issue of changing the NFL's revenue-sharing model, even though he's very political in the way he comments on the matter. The mere fact the Falcons have such a crummy stadium deal with the state of Georgia, which owns the Georgia Dome, should be all the evidence necessary. The numbers change from one year to the next, but the Falcons are guaranteed a mere $4 million per year, roughly, in their deal. This is frustrating to Blank because he's maximized earning possibilities beyond all thresholds thought possible prior to his ownership, but the Falcons still lag most of the league in local/stadium revenue.

Add the fact that the Dome deal is almost iron-clad, meaning that for Blank to escape it (like if he wanted to go build his own joint, or move the team) would cost him roughly $200 million, and, well, it doesn't take a genius.
Although the theory that Houston's Super Bowl bid was scuttled last week in large measure because so many small-market owners hold Houston owner Bob McNair (a big-revenue owner who has shown little or no sympathy toward small-market owners or the concept of sharing some of his currently unshared revenue) in contempt makes sense, the fact Blank's on the other end of the spectrum may have hurt him with some large-market teams. Whatever the case, Blank's sticking to his guns; he just so happens to be holstering them.
He's not going out of his way to inflame on the subject. But he's not hiding, either.
"The issue is very complicated, and it definitely affects the CBA extension," he said. "You have a definite spread between the haves and have-nots in the NFL. Certain teams, because of the way the system works and because of (an owner) being an entrepreneur and taking advantage of the system and doing things good business men do, have produced a tremendous amount of revenue.
"They're to be credited for that. But the NFL is based on a shared (revenue-sharing) basis, and it is out of proportion."
Blank's not saying all currently unshared revenues should be shared. Much as the NFL is partly socialistic now (see the current revenue-sharing scheme) and partly capitalistic (see the disparity of roughly $100 million between the league's fat cats when it comes to local/stadium revenue and the poor boys), he thinks that should continue -- but not to the disparate levels now in place.
"Whatever revision comes in the system, there will always be room for the entrepreneur to do the things as a businessman -- through investments -- to push (local revenue) up higher," said Blank, who has proposed spending up to $150 million of his own money to renovate the Georgia Dome if he can reach new agreements with the state that will allow him to reap a sizable portion of the new revenue streams that would come on line with said improvements.
"That's not going to be taken out of the system. There's a balance that represents more shared revenue than we've had in the past to make sure competition is level on the playing field."

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers plan to begin the season with Chris Gamble starting at cornerback opposite free agent pickup Ken Lucas. It had basically been a foregone conclusion after the Panthers gave Lucas a $13 million signing bonus in the off-season. Gamble was a first-round draft pick out of Ohio State last year who started every game and tied for the NFC lead in interceptions, ironically enough, with Lucas, who played for Seattle last season.
That, of course, leaves Ricky Manning Jr. as the odd man out -- or in this case, the nickel corner.
The Panthers will still use Manning in many of their defensive looks, but the threesome of Lucas, Gamble and Manning potentially gives Carolina one of the best cornerback trios in the league. Manning has been a two-year starter for the Panthers and grabbed national attention with two huge plays during Carolina's Super Bowl run in 2003. In a divisional playoff game against St. Louis, he stopped a Rams drive in Carolina territory near the end of the first overtime with an interception of Mark Bulger. Three plays later, Steve Smith went 69 yards for a touchdown to give Carolina a dramatic 29-23 double overtime win. The following week, Manning picked off Donovan McNabb three times in the NFC Championship game, lifting the Panthers to 14-3 win and into the franchise's first Super Bowl.
Last year, as Carolina's number one cornerback entering the season, Manning appeared to struggle some with the enforcement of new rules which prevented cornerbacks from using their hands after five yards. Carolina's third down defense struggled and the Panthers felt they needed a shutdown corner and went out and got Lucas. Up until recently, coach John Fox has been saying the three jobs are open for competition, but he admitted recently that he plans to start the season with Lucas and Gamble at the corners. Of course, he said that could always change.
Manning, who stands just 5-feet-9, is eager to prove that he belongs back in the starting lineup. "Because of my size, I have always been the underdog -- going into high school, going into college, and going into the NFL," he said. "So it's nothing new for me. I'll be ready for the challenge. I'm going to make that decision tough for the coaching staff."
As for Lucas, Manning said, "He's a good player. He makes plays. But I don't think that they are bringing in someone who is like, way, way better than me. I think he will make us better as a team."
Manning said he might have gotten complacent and took his role as a starter for granted last year after receiving little competition in training camp. But he said he won't make the same mistake again this summer and still feels like he can handle any wide receiver in the league. "This year there is competition and it's going to be a hard off-season," said Manning, who started 16 games in 2004 with four interceptions and 80 tackles. "This is going to be my best season. I felt I played good last year. I didn't have a spectacular year, but I played good. I tackled well and busted my butt all year long. I plan on doing better year."
Dante Wesley, Eddie Jackson and William Hampton will battle for the No. 4 and No. 5 cornerback spots.

New Orleans Saints: As it has been for most of the off-season, it was another strange week for the Saints and their fans who fear that owner Tom Benson will move the team to San Antonio, Albuquerque or even Los Angeles. After emphatically stating during the NFL owners' meetings that he doesn't want to relocate the club he purchased back in 1985, Benson late last week put the onus on the New Orleans community.
Saying that the future of his franchise's strained relationship with the state of Louisiana wasn't his decision to make, Benson challenged the fans with this question: "Are we an NFL community or are we not an NFL community?" Benson said that while he wants the team to stay in New Orleans, the community must prove that it has the means and desire to continue supporting an NFL franchise.
"It's going to take the backing of everybody in the community, not just Tom Benson by himself," he said. "He can't do it by himself. The state can't do it. Tom Benson and the state together can't do it. It's going to take the businesses and the community to say, `We want an NFL team, and whatever it takes, that's what we're going to do.'"
Benson said the issues are the team's sagging season-ticket sales and the community's lack of support for a new stadium. He is also frustrated about a series of "short-term" agreements with the state over the years.

Tampa Bay Buccanneers:
Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer won the Super Bowl. Again. This time, Tampa Bay defeated favorite Atlanta for the right to play host to Super Bowl XLIII by a narrow vote of NFL owners at their spring meeting in Washington.
The game, which will be played in February of 2009, will mark the fourth Super Bowl in Tampa, which also played host to the big game in 1984, 1991 and 2001. Many considered Atlanta the frontrunner after Falcons owner Arthur Blank proposed a $150 million renovation to the Georgia Dome as part of their bid. But Tampa Bay has a state-of-the-art facility in Raymond James Stadium and offered enticements like a party for league owners and personnel at Busch Gardens, golf packages and, of course, warm weather.
The last time Atlanta played host to the Super Bowl was in 2000, when an ice storm spoiled festivities. "Everybody understands Tampa has great weather in February and that's why they won't give us one in Denver," said Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. "Tampa has put on a couple of Super Bowls that have been pretty good. It's a nice place to be."
It concluded quite a month for the Glazers, who recently completed a more than $1 billion takeover of the Manchester United soccer franchise. Top Stories