NFL Notebook: Wake likes Hunt

DE Philip Hunt, the player the Vikings were interested in but who signed with the Eagles, got praise from Cameron Wake, another CFL player that made a major impact in the NFL. Plus, some info on coaching salaries, some potentially hot free agents and more.

Count Miami Dolphins' linebacker Cameron Wake among those who feel former CFL star Phillip Hunt, signed by Philadelphia this week to help boost a floundering pass rush, can be a good NFL player.

"There are a lot of big differences (between the CFL and NFL)," said Wake, who has notched 19.5 sacks, including 14 in 2010 in two seasons with the Dolphins, after two campaigns with the CFL's British Columbia Lions. "But one of the similarities is getting to the passer ... and that's as critical in the CFL, maybe even more so, than in the NFL. There's an emphasis on upfield (quickness in the CFL) and that translates pretty well to the league. And from what I've seen, Hunt can really corner."

A former University of Houston standout, Hunt registered 16 sacks for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2010. Although undrafted in 2009, Hunt had a school-record 34 sacks at Houston and was the Conference USA defensive player of the year in ‘08. In 2009, he had only three sacks for Winnipeg, but became a force last season. There were at last four other teams seriously interested in signing him. At 6-feet-1, 248 pounds, the likelihood is that Hunt will be a situational player for first-year coordinator Juan Castillo, the longtime Eagles' offensive line coach who takes over a unit that had only 39 sacks last season, Philadelphia's fewest since 2007.

Upward mobility: Nothing may represent the upward spiral of assistants coaches and their salaries more appropriately than the case of Chris Palmer, who was hired by the Tennessee Titans this week as offensive coordinator. The Sports Xchange learned the Palmer, who last season served as the head coach and general manager of the UFL's Hartford Colonials, signed a three-year contract at roughly $1 million per year. On an annual basis, that's about the same as Palmer earned when he was the inaugural Cleveland Browns' head coach in 1999. First-time head coaches now, according to an agent who represents several of them, make about $2.5 million per year. That has certainly lowered the league average for head coaches over the past five years – in large part because 25 of the 32 franchises employ coaches in their first NFL jobs and 16 of them have been with the current clubs for three seasons or less – but salaries for assistants have mushroomed. So has staff size. For 2011, the average team will have 16.3 hands-on assistants – not counting "quality control" aides or clerical coaches – and that's an average of one coach for every 3.74 players. A number most principals would love to have for a teacher-student ratio. In 1990, the average staff size was 10.9 assistant coaches, and in 2000 it was 13.1.

Rich get richer? The Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers would like to keep defensive end and pending unrestricted free agent Cullen Jenkins around, but feel they have alternatives if the seven-year veteran departs. Veteran Howard Green, who had been released 10 times in his career before becoming a key contributor in Green Bay, played well after being signed in-season in 2010. In fact, Green had one of the big (if overlooked) plays in Super Bowl XLV, hitting Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as he threw, and precluding a follow-through, on the deep pass that fluttered, and was intercepted by Collins and returned for a touchdown. Rookie C.J. Wilson provided some quality snaps as a backup. The Packers are confident that second-round pick Mike Neal, who started two games before going onto injured reserve following shoulder surgery, is a player.

Perhaps most notable, the Packers could get back five-year veteran end Johnny Jolly if he is reinstated by commissioner Roger Goodell after sitting out ‘10 because of a substance abuse suspension. Jolly, who turns 28 next week, has already filed the paperwork for reinstatement, and he is confident he has complied with all the components of his aftercare. Jolly started all 32 games 2008-2009 before his suspension. It might be hard to replace the pass rush Jenkins provided – he had seven sacks in 2010 and is active enough that defensive coordinator Dom Capers actually felt he might be able to play linebacker at one point – but the Packers certainly can hold up versus the run if he leaves.

Transition defense: Last week, we wrote that Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor would be one of the hottest players in the league at his position when the NFL finally got around to free agency. The eight-year veteran, who is arguably the most irreplaceable pending unrestricted free agent on the Steelers' roster – in large part because of the team's uncharacteristic inability to develop and ready a young replacement – is highly regarded by the Pittsburgh staff, is as close as the club comes to a "shutdown" corner, and has played his entire career with Pittsburgh and knows coordinator Dick LeBeau's defense well.

But hold the phones. Some Steelers officials have mused that the team might actually use a "transition" tag to limit Taylor in free agency. The "franchise" marker as noted earlier, likely will go to Woodley, and the Steelers will attempt to work out a long-term contract with the four-year veteran. But Philadelphia exercised the "transition" marker on kicker David Akers, after slapping quarterback Michael Vick with the "franchise" designation, and the Steelers could do the same with the Woodley-Taylor combo.

It would be unlike the Steelers to tie up so much money at two positions – the "franchise" tag at linebacker alone is projected at about $10 million – but the team might not have much choice. Of course, the Steelers could rescind the tags if/when they know how any CBA affects the 2011 salary cap, but the philosophy of the organization is that such a move is counter to the spirit of the "franchise" and "transition" rules.

By the way, there has still been no contract discussion between the Steelers and Taylor's representatives. There was, The Sports Xchange has learned, a casual remark to Taylor from a high-ranking Pittsburgh official, that the club Will Do anything within reason to keep him. But what was mistakenly construed by some people as contract dialogue was little more than a verbal aside.

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