The Bears are finding versatility in free-agent running back Michael Bush and the Seahawks can alter their offense with Kellen Winslow on board. Plus, a potpourri of NFL notes and insider tips.
One of the early positive elements of the Chicago Bears
' workouts, perhaps even an epiphany of sorts to some coaches, has been the performance of tailback Michael Bush
as a receiver.
The four-year veteran, signed from Oakland as an unrestricted free agent and presumptive backup to franchise tailback Matt Forte
, has caught the ball well.
There were some concerns as the Bears install the offense that is designed by new coordinator Mike Tice that the team might miss the receiving skills of Forte, who remains unsigned and is sitting out the OTA sessions. But Bush has been a bit of a revelation so far.
He's not Forte, admittedly, but not bad, either. In his four seasons with the Raiders, Bush wasn't often utilized as a receiver out of the backfield, and he registered just 91 catches for his career. Part of that, of course, was that Bush was not a full-time starter.
Still, after averaging only 18.0 receptions his first three years, Bush had a career-best 37 catches in 2011, when he started a career-high nine contests. One of the NFL's premier all-around backs, Forte has averaged 55.8 catches in his four league seasons and recorded 50-plus receptions every year.
But there has been no substantive progress in contract discussions with Forte, the Bears aren't sure when he'll report, and, even with the upgraded talent at wide receiver, Chicago needs a backfield receiving threat. Sure, it's only OTAs, but Bush has provided some indication he can somewhat fill the bill.
Bush was added as a complement to Forte, and once the starter resolves his contract situation, he'll go back to providing a solid power runner who loves to bang people. Until then, though, his role is expanded, and he's proving capable.
With the acquisition of Kellen Winslow from Tampa Bay, add the Seattle Seahawks to the increasing menu of offenses that will expand its use of two-tight end sets in 2012.
No, the Seahawks probably won't become the Pacific Northwest version of the Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez New England Patriots, but coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell definitely have a plan for getting Winslow and incumbent starter Zach Miller on the field together.
As one Seattle assistant noted to The Sports Xchange this week, they aren't paying all that money for Winslow (base salaries of $3.3 million for 2012, $4.5 million in 2013 and $5.5 million for 2014) just to be "a decoration."
The money aside – and it's always difficult not to consider dollars in the NFL – the Seahawks landed Winslow for chump change in compensation, just a seventh-round draft pick.
And while new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano was peeved at Winslow for his absence during the first week of OTAs, the Seahawks, who contend they did their due diligence, don't see him as the churlish, temperamental, immature player of his early years in the league.
After the injury problems of his first couple seasons (one of them self-inflicted), Winslow has played in all 16 games in five of his last six campaigns in the league.
And he's a productive player, having averaged over 70 catches the past three years in Tampa, and with four seasons overall of 80-plus receptions.
The puzzle for Bevell will be how to combine two solid receivers in Winslow and Miller. The latter had only 25 receptions in 2011, but averaged 56.5 catches the previous four years in Oakland. The Seahawks insist there's a plan.
It's interesting that, to date, no player has challenged the NFLPA's Smith on his contention that he was coerced into signing the arbitrator's decision in the Philadelphia/Dallas grievances regarding their salary cap penalties. Isn't it the role of the union's top man to make sure that he isn't pressured into signing something?
In the wake of his resignation last month, there have been rumors that NFL director of investigations Joe Hummel, who had a large role in the New Orleans bounty examination, was dismissed. League officials adamantly deny that was the case. Even if it was, we should all be so lucky. Hummel is slated to double his salary in his new job.
Two Winslow leftovers: Seattle is paying a lot of money at the tight end position and, to this point at least, there are no signs that adjustments have been made to the contracts of either Winslow or Miller. In addition to the Winslow deal they inherited, the Seahawks owe Miller $14.4 million in bases, including a whopping $6.8 million this season. Second, the coaches in Seattle will have to live with the fact that Winslow typically misses a day of practice weekly because of his knee problems.
Despite early reports that Green Bay coaches are satisfied so far with the work of Graham Harrell, the Packers may yet look for a veteran backup to Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay, of course, lost No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn to Seattle as a free agent. The Packers chose B.J. Coleman of Tennessee-Chattanooga in the seventh round last month, but no one in Green Bay considers him a legitimate challenger for the primary backup spot, and it appears there already are some questions about his arm strength.
He has struggled at times in his efforts to become a play-making wide receiver, rather than arguably the top return specialist in NFL history, but Devin Hester reportedly has looked terrific so far in Bears' workouts. With the additions of Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery, Hester could be a big force in the slot, Chicago coaches feel.
There is, according to some Bears' officials, something to the reports that the club could make it a priority to get a contract extension with quarterback Jay Cutler, even before addressing Forte's situation. Cutler has two seasons remaining on his current deal. Chicago officials simply don't feel that a tailback merits the kind of money Forte is reportedly seeking.
Neither do the Baltimore Ravens agree that franchise back Ray Rice, despite his obvious value to their offense, agree that the versatile star should be rewarded with the kind of deal to which Philadelphia signed LeSean McCoy a week ago.
Word out of Indianapolis is that left end Robert Mathis has made a little smoother transition to a 3-4, particularly in "drop" situations than right end Dwight Freeney.
Green Bay insiders caution that the move of Clay Matthews to the right side, to make way for first-round choice Nick Perry on the left, isn't yet set in stone. Coordinator Dom Capers is looking for an improved rush, and aligning Matthews on the open side might be one element of that, but the Packers want to get a longer look at Perry in camp before making anything permanent.
Two veteran cornerbacks who many felt would be moved inside to safety later in their careers apparently aren't ready to make the switch yet. Perennial Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey, who will be 34 next month, insisted this week that it's not time yet to make such a move. And the Cleveland Browns have kept Sheldon Brown, a guy often touted by The Sports Xchange as a future safety possibility because of his football smarts, on the outside as well.
Even with the injury to Hakeem Nicks, there's been no indication yet that the Giants are preparing a contract upgrade for Victor Cruz.
The last word: "In the game of football, it's like a war out there. Once you get out on the field, all that stuff is to the side. You're on my side. I played in the NFL for 11 years, and I'm sure there were one or two guys along the line who were gay." – former NFL defensive end Jevon Kearse, via Outsports.com, on the increasing acceptance of gay players in the league.