But clubs are monitoring as well a group of young wideouts whose free agency status will be determined by the CBA negotiations. The group includes Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, James Jones, Lance Moore, Sidney Rice, and Mike Sims-Walker.
(N)ochocinco: Despite a report from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Falcons might have "the inside track" for signing Chad Ochocinco if he is released by Cincinnati when the lockout ends, any deal is expected to be derailed.
It's a convenient connect-the-dots scenario between Ochocinco and new Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who was the Bengals' offensive coordinator for the wide receiver's entire 10-year tenure in stripes. But the truth is that Bratkowski and Ochocinco weren't particularly close — even though "Ocho" is pushing the notion of a reunion — and the 33-year-old wide receiver isn't a very good fit.
"Ain't happenin'," one team source succinctly told The Sports Xchange.
The Falcons' starters are likely to be Roddy White, the NFL's leading pass-catcher in 2010, and rookie Julio Jones, the first-round pick for whom Atlanta surrendered five draft choices to move up in the first round last month. Even if the Falcons release or trade former first-rounder and starter Michael Jenkins, who could now be rendered extraneous and overpriced with the addition of Jones, the team still has third-year veteran Harry Douglas to play the slot. Douglas was a disappointment in '10, with only 22 catches, but the coming season will be his second year back following knee surgery that sidelined him for all of 2009, and Falcons' coaches seem very confident he will recapture his 2008 rookie form and the quickness he displayed.
Atlanta also has promising youngster Kerry Meier, a fifth-round pick in 2010 who was solid early in his rookie training camp, then missed his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury, and Pro Bowl return man Eric Weems.
In the best-case scenario, Ochocinco would be the Falcons' No. 4 receiver, and he (and his mouth) isn't apt to accept that role. The team carried 10-year veteran Brian Finneran in 2010, but he played a big role on special teams, something Ochocinco has never done. Even though the 35-year-old Finneran has been told that he won't be re-signed for 2011, the Falcons won't replace him with Ochocinco.
And, finally, there is this factor: Bratkowski and Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey are especially tight, having worked together for two seasons (1999-2000) on the Pittsburgh staff. Bratkowski isn't going to impose Ochocinco on a guy whom many in the league consider his closest friend.
Blue with envy: North Carolina had two defensive linemen, Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin, go off the board in the top 52 choices of the 2011 draft. And over the last four lotteries, Tar Heels coach Butch Davis has had five defensive linemen chosen, three in the top two rounds.
The focus on UNC defensive linemen probably will continue in 2012, with a pair of ends, rising senior Quinton Coples — the subject of an NCAA investigation this month surrounding his attendance at a draft party — and underclassman Donte Paige-Moss, both rated by NFLDraftScout.com analysts Rob Rang and Chad Reuter as early first-round prospects. The emphasis on defensive linemen at North Carolina is hardly a fluke. During his time in the NFL as an assistant with and then coordinator of the Dallas defense, Davis strong stressed the importance of defensive line play. Even in his stint as Cleveland head coach (2001-2004), Davis tried hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to upgrade the Browns' defensive line, drafting Gerard Warren in the first round, and acquiring veterans such as Orpheus Roye, Kenard Lang, Ebenezer Ekuban, and Michael Myers.
"He just believes in having and building around a really strong defensive line," Quinn told The Sports Xchange after the draft, "and his teams (reflect) that." Davis has to be hoping the outcome of this NCAA investigation is different than the one that rendered Quinn and defensive tackle Marvin Austin ineligible in 2010, or his reputation could be spun an entirely different direction.
Cone of silence: Amid reports last week that Pittsburgh and Washington had a draft day deal arranged in the first round that fell apart because the player the Steelers coveted was gone have come denials from all sides. Redskins vice president of public relations Tony Wyllie and general manager Bruce Allen both pooh-poohed the reports, as did a trusted Steelers source. The alleged trade would have had the Steelers moving up to the 16th slot in the opening round from the 31st, presumably to grab University of Florida guard Mike Pouncey. But the brother of Pittsburgh Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was taken by Miami with the 15th choice. According to the Pittsburgh source, the two teams spoke in the days preceding the draft, doing the type of due diligence all franchises conduct, but there was not a phone call at all between the two clubs once the lottery began.