And then there is the free agency cornerback class: Nnamdi Asomugha, who voided his contract with the Raiders, is going to cost a ton. Champ Bailey is 32 years old and at some point in the next three or four years, will move inside to safety. Ronde Barber is 35 and everyone figures he's headed back to Tampa Bay. Antonio Cromartie is, well, Antonio Cromartie.
At 30 years old, set to turn 31 this spring, Taylor is a viable alternative who is a low-maintenance guy and knows how to win.
Two other corners on whom to keep an eye, according to one league pro scout: Carlos Rogers of Washington and Buffalo's Drayton Florence. Said the scout to The Sports Xchange: "(Florence) could be the surprise guy. He just turned 30, he's really pretty mature, and he's become a good player."
The veteran has only 14 interceptions in eight seasons, but has six years with double-digit passes defensed and plays good run support.
Tag, you're "it": League teams can now begin designating would-be unrestricted free agents with the "franchise" tag, and several teams seem prepared to exercise the marker. Given the stance of the NFLPA, which contends there are no franchise tags available if a collective bargaining agreement isn't in place, the issue almost certainly is headed to a fight. And officials from both sides of the negotiating table told The Sports Xchange this week that the franchise tag will be yet another issue in the already sticky discussions. In fact, one labor boss termed the franchise marker "the next battle ground ... if (the league) goes through with it." There were only a half-dozen franchise tags exercised in 2010. It might be a stretch to see double that many this month, but some observers feel it could happen.
Right said Fred: When the St. Louis Rams added veteran defensive tackle Fred Robbins last spring, not much was made of it, and some people attributed the move to little more than the familiarity of the player and a former boss. But at the Super Bowl last week, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who formerly served as Robbins' coordinator with the New York Giants, cited the 11-year veteran as one of the principle reasons for the improvement of the St. Louis defense.
"He gave us solid veteran presence and a great performance in the middle of the line," Spagnuolo said, unsolicited, of Robbins. "I really think he made a difference."
In Spagnuolo's second season, the St. Louis defense improved 10 spots, from 29th in 2009 to No. 19 in 2010. Also notable was the increase in sacks, from 25 to 43.
Robbins, who started his career with the Vikings and signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract with the Rams as a free agent, started all 16 games and posted 28 tackles and six sacks. Only three interior linemen in the league had more sacks.
Spagnuolo also noted that Robbins "made the people around him a lot better" as well, and that seems fairly obvious. End Chris Long had 8.5 sacks, up from five in 2009, and only one-half sack less than the former first-round choice registered in his first two seasons. Fellow end James Hall notched 10.5 sacks, after getting 6.5 in '09, his most since a career-high 11.5 in 2004.
Bridging the gap: Foiled by the decision of Andrew Luck to remain at Stanford for another season of eligibility, the Carolina Panthers, with the first pick in the draft, are exploring alternatives at the quarterback spot. There doesn't seem to be much likelihood that second-year pro Jimmy Clausen will land the No. 1 job, although the former Notre Dame star isn't as much out of the Panthers' long-term plans as some have indicated in recent weeks.
One option might be to sign a veteran as a "bridge" to Clausen or someone else. And one possibility, although still a long shot at this point, is 11-year veteran Billy Volek. The longtime backup is an unrestricted free agent, and is 34 years old, but might consider the opportunity to start for a season or two before turning the job over to a younger player he has helped prepare for the jump to the top of the depth chart.
Having spent the past five seasons as the San Diego backup, Volek is certainly familiar with/to new Panthers coach Ron Rivera. Almost as important, he knows the design that will be implemented by offensive coordinator and former Chargers assistant Rob Chudzinski. Volek has started just 10 games in 11 seasons, only one time logging more than one start in a campaign, hasn't started a game since 2005, and has only one season with more than 10 pass attempts since '05. But the Panthers, who would likely be "reaching" if they were to select a quarterback with the first overall selection, don't have a lot of options.
And the odds are, it's going to take a few seasons, anyway, to get things turned around.
Experience counts: It may be only coincidence, but it's certainly a mini-trend worth monitoring over the next few years: Five of the league's new coaches for 2011 - Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Jason Garrett (Dallas), Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco), Mike Munchak (Tennessee) and Rivera (Carolina) - all played in the league. That more than doubles the number of former NFL players, including guys who were just in a training camp, who are head coaches. "It's certainly not a (prerequisite), that's obvious," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said last week. "But it's one factor you take into account. They know players, the language, the background."
Punts: Super Bowl postscript: The team that commits the fewest turnovers in the title game - and Green Bay had zero giveaways, while Pittsburgh suffered three - is now 33-3 in Super Bowl contests.
The last word: "Yes, I'm going into (movies). I think I'm versatile. I can definitely go into action (movies), but action is probably the easiest one. (Maybe) drama, suspense. But I don't like nothing about horror and that mess. When you talk acting, that's kind of what I do." - Baltimore inside linebacker Ray Lewis, who confirmed he will return in 2011, but also discussed potential plans for the future.