Thursday, March 29, 2007

NFL Owners Meetings: Replay Permanent

Coaches throwing challenge flags and referees sticking their heads in hoods will remain NFL fixtures. Forever.

On Tuesday, instant replay as an officiating tool became a permanent part of pro football.

"Instant replay is an accepted part of the game. It's what we are," said Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee that recommended the change. "There was not really much discussion about it."

League owners voted 30-2, with Cincinnati and Arizona dissenting. All but three stadiums will be equipped with high-definition equipment and will be recabled before the upcoming season, at a cost of as much as $300,000 per club. The stadiums being replaced in Irving, Texas, Indianapolis and East Rutherford, N.J., will not get the updates.

On Tuesday, owners also voted unanimously to allow a second interviewing window for assistant coaches on Super Bowl teams who are in the running for other head coaching jobs. Previously, only during the week after the season ended could an interview be conducted.

The coach's current team would have to grant permission for the second interview, which would take place during the bye week after the conference title games.

"We wanted to make sure that coaches on Super Bowl teams didn't feel it was a disadvantage," McKay said.

One proposal was defeated. Defenses will not be allowed to have a coach-to-player communications device similar to what quarterbacks use. McKay said owners and coaches were concerned about who would be allowed to wear the device with defenses using multiple formations, and the possibility that more than one player could wind up on the field with such a device.

On Wednesday, NFL owners decided to table a proposal to modify the overtime system. The competition committee came up with the idea of moving kickoffs in overtime from the 30- to the 35- yard line. The change would have made it tougher for the team winning the overtime coin toss to get the winning points on the first possession. According to a competition committee study, moving kickoffs up 5 yards would mean a 5-yard difference in the start of drives in overtime.

Also at the meetings:

In a 26-5-1 vote, owners adopted a rule change to penalize a player if he spikes the ball after a non-scoring play has ended. "You have a player celebrating a 3-yard slant play and spiking the ball on this great achievement," McKay said sarcastically. The league felt it took too much time for the officials to chase down the ball. Plus there was the question of bad sportsmanship.

Down-by-contact is now a permanent part of instant replay officiating. A year ago, the league tried a one-year experiment to include runners being ruled down by contact as part of the instant replay reviews. In a 32-0 vote, down-by-contact was made a permanent fixture in replay officiating. Last season there were 17 plays in which a down-by-contact play was challenged. Five calls were overturned. This permanent change eliminates those controversial plays in which a quick whistle by an official on a contact play doesn't have a chance to be reviewed.

The NFL voted to go to the college rule when a quarterback accidentally throws a ball that hits an offensive lineman. Under the old rule, that was a 5-yard penalty because an offensive lineman is ineligible to catch a pass. The league felt that adopting the college rule and not penalizing accidental contact would speed up the game. If a lineman tries to catch the ball, though, the play will result in a 5-yard penalty.

The Bears' proposal of increasing the active game roster size to 47 was shot down, 17-15. It needed 24 votes to pass. The Bears felt keeping two extra active players for games would be a benefit. Opponents felt it would give too much of an advantage to a healthier team. What the league doesn't want is one team having a healthy list of 47 players while another has only 40 healthy players for a game.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Eagles Trade For LB Spikes

The Philadelphia Eagles acquired Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes and quarterback Kelly Holcomb from the Buffalo Bills on Monday night for defensive tackle Darwin Walker and a conditional draft pick in 2008.

A nine-year NFL veteran, Spikes was slow recovering last year from a right Achilles' tendon tear he suffered in Week 3 of the 2005 season. He's scheduled to make $9.5 million ($4.5 million this season) over the final two years of the six-year contract he signed after joining the team as a free agent.

Spikes played his first five seasons with Cincinnati and had been seeking a contract extension with Buffalo. But he grew increasingly frustrated playing for a team that's constantly shuffling its roster and coaching staff, and has gone seven seasons since last making the playoffs.

Spikes, a former first-round pick, could be a big upgrade at linebacker for the Eagles, who have struggled at that spot the past few seasons.

Dhani Jones has never been the playmaker the Eagles needed and Matt McCoy struggled last season before losing his job to Omar Gaither. The Eagles also lost free agent Shawn Barber to Houston.

Spikes had 11 starts in 12 games last season, while missing four with a hamstring injury after he was hurt in Buffalo's season-opener at New England. He finished with 76 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble, modest numbers for a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

He's the second high-profile Bills player to be traded this offseason and also the second starting linebacker the team has lost. Buffalo dealt running back Willis McGahee to Baltimore and linebacker London Fletcher signed with Washington earlier this month.

Walker started 15 games and was tied for second on the Eagles with six sacks, and had 56 tackles. Three of his sacks came Oct. 8 against Dallas, and he tied an Eagles postseason record with two sacks in a loss at New Orleans.

With the addition of Walker, the Bills bolster what had been an inexperienced defensive tackle position last season.

Besides veteran Larry Tripplett, Buffalo went with a young rotation led by rookie fifth-round pick Kyle Williams and second-year veteran Tim Anderson. The line also experienced a setback when defensive tackle John McCargo, the second of Buffalo's two first-round picks, was lost for the season after he broke his left foot in Week 5.

Holcomb has made 21 starts over an 11-year career. He joins A.J. Feeley on the quarterback depth chart behind Donovan McNabb. Holcomb did not play last season, but completed 155 of 230 passes for 1,509 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2005.

Holcomb proved expendable in Buffalo after J.P. Losman won the starting job in training camp following an off-season long three-way competition between Holcomb and third-stringer Craig Nall. That was a considerable step for Losman, who was twice benched in 2005 in favor of Holcomb.

Losman then showed gradual progress last season, leading the Bills to a better than expected 7-9 finish. Losman showed particular improvement over the last half of the season, when the Bills won four of their last seven games.

Monday, March 26, 2007

NFL News and Notes

It appears Bills LB Takeo Spikes, who had asked to be traded or released months ago, will get his wish very soon.

Buffalo has opened up trade discussions and the Eagles and Giants are very interested in acquiring the 30-year old linebacker. The frontrunner appears to be Philadelphia - who would move him to the outside in its defense.

Spikes bounced back from a torn Achilles tendon in 2005 to register 70 tackles and one sack last season.

It seems the Dolphins are passing on getting Kansas City QB Trent Green because the price the Chiefs are asking for is too steep.

Miami is offering a sixth rounder, while Carl Peterson and company want a second rounder and maybe another late round pick as well.

Also, Olindo Mare is fuming that the Dolphins are not moving fast enough to trade him. Miami signed kicker Jay Feely in the offense, pretty much sending a message to Mare that his time in a Dolphin uniform was over.

Mare wants out so bad, he's offered to give back his $250,000 roster bonus if it will expedite his move out of Miami faster.

Joe Theismann is out as a "Monday Night Football" analyst after one season, a person familiar with the decision said yesterday.

Reached on his cellphone, Theismann declined to comment on the Newsday report "until I fully understand what has taken place." But he did not deny the news and hinted that it came as a shock.

Theismann is believed to have been informed Friday. An ESPN spokesman said only "we have nothing to announce."

The likely replacement alongside Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser will be Ron Jaworski. He worked one end of a Monday night doubleheader last year and is calling Arena Football League games.

Many critics noted a lack of chemistry between Kornheiser and Theismann in their first season together, but the two believed it improved as the season went on. When Kornheiser said in January he would return to the booth, it was assumed the trio would remain intact.

Theismann, 57, has been an analyst for ESPN since 1988, beginning on the network's Sunday night NFL package.

State officials and the New Orleans Saints have agreed to toss out contract exit clauses that would have let the NFL team leave Louisiana within the next four seasons.

"For the forseeable future, Louisiana's team will keep marching to victory right here," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said at the Governor's Mansion on Monday, announcing the latest developments in ongoing negotiations to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

The contract had allowed the Saints to opt out of its current deal with the state by repaying about $70 million the state has provided in inducements to the team. But the Saints will drop that termination clause, and the state will eliminate its ability to opt out of the contract.

Those changes to the contract keep the team in Louisiana through the 2010 football season, Blanco and Saints officials said.

Both sides agreed to continue negotiating on a long-term agreement that could keep the Saints in New Orleans beyond the current contract.

Saints owner Tom Benson "is committed over the next four years to get a long-term deal done here and to stay here forever," said team spokesman Greg Bensel.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Faulk to Announce Retirement

Marshall Faulk sat out last season with a knee injury that threatened to end his career. He'll officially close the door on his playing days on Monday when he announces his retirement at the NFL owners meetings.

Faulk was the NFL MVP in 2000 and offensive player of the year three years running from 1999-2001. The 34-year-old helped the Rams win their only Super Bowl after the '99 season. He is ninth on the career rushing list with 12,279 yards and tied for sixth with 100 rushing touchdowns.

Faulk began working for the NFL Network as an analyst last year when wear and tear began to get to his knees. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection with seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 38 100-yard games, and was the first player in league history to gain 2,000 yards rushing and receiving combined in four consecutive seasons from 1998-2001.

His last 1,000-yard rushing season was in 2001, though, and he lost his starting job in 2004 when the Rams drafted Steven Jackson in the first round. Last year, Jackson began the Rams' first player since Faulk to accumulate 2,000 yards from scrimmage and broke Faulk's single-season reception mark with 88 catches.

"It has been an honor and pleasure to play in the National Football League," Faulk said in a statement. "I'd like to thank all my teammates and coaches with whom I've been associated over the past 13 seasons as well as the fans who supported me throughout the years.

"I gave the game my passion, and it gave me a wonderful career and memories that I will always be thankful for."

Faulk set an NFL record, since broken, with 26 touchdowns in his 2000 MVP season. He played his first five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and the Rams acquired him for second- and fifth-round draft picks.

Faulk had a career-low 292 yards rushing in 2005, his final season.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Texans Taking Big Gamble With Trade

Matt Schaub will finally get his chance to be a starting quarterback, while former first overall pick David Carr needs to pick up the pieces of his shattered football career.

The Houston Texans swung a deal with the Atlanta Falcons yesterday to pick up Schaub, a quarterback with that dreaded word potential hanging around him, but who's only started two games in his three-year career.

The Falcons and Texans swapped first round picks this season and Atlanta will get Houston's second round pick this year and next.

Schaub signed a six-year, $48 million contract with the Texans, a move that officially consummates the trade. As part of the deal, Schaub -- who played golf with Houston coach Gary Kubiak on Monday in a get-acquainted session, the Houston Chronicle reported -- will receive $7 million in guarantees.

Schaub, 25, will earn roughly $20 million in the first three years of the contract.

This is definitely a high-stakes gamble for the Houston organization. Giving that kind of money and handing a starting job to an unproven quarterback could be franchise suicide. Did Bob McNair forget that he's done this once before with a man named Carr?

And in all fairness to Carr, the Texans surrounded him with mediocre talent and an incredibly bad offensive line for five years. Will Schaub be productive if the franchise leaves him out to dry, talent-wise, like it did Carr?

There's no doubt that Schaub has talent and many teams in the league coveted his services. But to give that kind of money to a guy who has yet to win a regular-season start and who barely completed 50 percent of his pass attempts in three seasons with the Falcons, is a little absurd in my book.

Just more proof of the overspending being done in free agency this season.

The deal benefits Atlanta the most. the trade allows the cap-strapped team to essentially recoup the $2.3 million qualifying offer it made to Schaub and invest that money elsewhere. And the haul the team received in the trade -- a swap of first-round choices in 2007 and second-round picks in the 2007 and 2008 drafts -- provides Atlanta with considerable flexibility.

The Falcons now own three selections among the top 44 picks in this year's draft: the eighth choice in the first round and the seventh and 12th selections in the second round. Armed with that kind of ammunition, the Falcons could parlay those three choices to move up the draft board in the first round, perhaps to nab hometown hero Calvin Johnson, the former Georgia Tech wide receiver. Or the Falcons could combine the two second-round picks to acquire another choice near the middle of the first round.

As for Carr, his once promising future looks a little bleak right now. Cleveland, Minnesota and Miami (provided the Trent Green deal falls through) appear to have some interest but are willing to play a wait and see strategy.

The Texans want a first day pick for Carr, but if no takers are found, he'll be released outright. There's no way Houston will pay $6 million to a backup QB. The above mentioned teams are willing to play the waiting game, leaving Carr in football limbo for now.

Bob McNair and head coach Gary Kubiak are putting their faith in a young, unproven quarterback to get them over the hump and into the playoffs. Only time will tell if this huge gamble will make or break the Texans fortunes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Porter Accused of Hitting Jones

Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter was accused of punching Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Levi Jones after police said the players exchanged trash talk at a casino blackjack table.

Porter was issued a summons on a misdemeanor battery charge after the Sunday altercation that began inside the Palms hotel-casino, Las Vegas police Officer Martin Wright said.

"They went outside. In the valet area, one struck the other, causing a small laceration above the eye," Wright said Monday, calling the injury minor.

Porter could face up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, Wright said, but no court date was immediately available.

Porter, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, left the Pittsburgh Steelers after eight years and signed a five-year, $32 million deal with the Dolphins earlier this month. Jones, 6-5 and 307 pounds, missed much of last season with a knee injury.

"It seems they go against each other on the field, and here they take it into the public," Wright said.

Wright cited an initial report from a Las Vegas police lieutenant who said the two players had a history of on-field trash talking with each other. The Steelers and Bengals both are in the AFC North, and play each other twice each season.

Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said Porter, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, told him about the incident Monday morning.

"We will monitor the situation and refrain from making any further comment until we gather more information," Cameron said in a statement issued by the Dolphins.

Wright said a written police investigation and report won't be complete until at least the end of the week.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Russell Locks Up Top Spot After Workout

LSU QB JaMarcus Russell all but locked up the number one slot in the 2007 NFL Draft after an impressive performance at LSU's Pro Day workouts.

Russell had the contingent of Oakland Raiders officials drooling over his size, athleticism, arm strength and speed.

Russell, listed at 6-6 and 260 pounds, has a cannon for an arm and ran the 40 in 4.83. He is considered remarkably strong for a quarterback, with great balance, quickness, agility - all the skills that make him the overwhelming favorite and near cinch to the first overall pick on in the draft.

The Raiders are enamored not just with Russell's ability to throw the long ball, but to make every type of throw -- short ones, midrange ones and especially the deep ones.

If he wasn't a bona fide lock at No.1 pick before his Pro Day - he is now. Does that make him the best QB in the draft? Maybe.

Does it guarantee Russell future superstar status? No. He has all the physical tools, there's no questioning that. But he does have weaknesses.

He still needs to improve his decision-making process. He has a tendency to lock onto his primary target at times and will throw into double-coverage too frequently. He has a tendency to just flick his wrist instead of stepping into his throws, and that's when his accuracy suffers.

Russell played in a pretty simple offensive scheme at LSU and some question whether he'll be able to pick up a complicated NFL offense right away.

He has all the tools, but in the NFL Draft nothing is a 100 percent assured. He could become a great player or he could be a huge bust. Only time will tell. But one thing is certain - Russell will be the first name called by NFL commish Roger Goodall on April 28.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NFL Free Agency Buzz

It seems that Kevin Curtis, one of the top remaining free agents on the market, is ready to make a decision soon on where he'll be playing in 2007.

The Rams wideout, who fired his agent Tom Condon last week, has narrowed his choices down to the Vikings, Eagles and Titans according to reports. Curtis visited the Giants and Lions as well.

Detroit was thought to be his destination, considering the man who drafted him, former St. Louis head coach Mike Martz, is in charge of the Lion offense. But with Detroit signing Shaun McDonald yesterday, it appears that Curtis is adamant on his stance of being a starting receiver.

His decision seems to have eliminated Detroit (who have Roy Williams and Mike Furrey) and New York (Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer) from the list. That leaves the Vikings, Eagles and Titans.

It's not known if Tennessee made him an offer yesterday, but Philadelphia and Minnesota have offered contracts. The decision is now up to Curtis. He could be a number one with either the Vikings or the Titans, who lost top receiver Drew Bennett to the Rams. He would be a number two in Philly (Reggie Brown is the top guy), but he'd get to play with Donovan McNabb, who likes to throw the deep ball, and be on a consistent playoff team.

Another receiver getting some heat is Colts wideout Brandon Stokely. After missing most of last season with a ruptured Achilles Tendon, the world champs released him hoping they could re-sign him at a cheaper price. And while the Colts are still interested in retaining his services, others have stepped up.

New Orleans is looking for someone to replace the departed Joe Horn and Stokely is an ideal candidate to do just that. He's always been a reliable No.3 receiver and his veteran leadership could really help a very young Saints receiving corp. New Orleans also had Bobby Engram and Keenan McCardell in for visits.

The Saints aren't the only team after Stokley. The Broncos, looking to fill out the back end of their receiving corps, met with him on Tuesday, according to multiple reports.

Green Bay's leadership is expected to discuss a potential trade for Moss when it meets today. A trade sending Moss from Oakland to Green Bay is already in the discussion stages, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

According to the newspaper's sources, the teams have discussed the trade for a month and the Packers have been given permission to talk to Moss' agent about restructuring his contract. The only things that could hold up the deal is what the Raiders might demand in return and if Moss is willing to re-negotiate his contract with the Packers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Briggs Says He'll Set Out 2007

The glow of a Super Bowl appearance can't extinguish the shadows that are creeping up on the Chicago Bears.

Top running back Thomas Jones was shipped to the New York Jets last week and now this week, Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs took his war of words to the next level.

"I am now prepared to sit out the year if the Bears don't trade me or release me," Briggs told on Monday night. "I've played my last snap for them. I'll never play another down for Chicago again."

Frustrated that he couldn't work out an extension with the Bears and angered that the team slapped the franchise designation on him, Briggs told a week ago that a trade would be in the best interest of all parties.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo countered that he felt the $7.2 million the team would pay Briggs next season was very fair. The linebacker reportedly turned down a seven-year, $33 million deal in March 2006. Now, he's ready to gamble again.

"People think I can't afford to sit out the year -- I can take out loans to get me through that year just fine because eventually I'll have a deal somewhere," Briggs told "There are things I can do to make sure I'm fine financially if I sit out. I can also decide what other course of action I can take as the season gets closer. The Bears have shown I'm not in their long-term plans so if that's the case, I don't want to be here."

Money might not be the only reason Briggs wants out of Chicago. He said he wants to be the leader of a team and knows he'll never overtake Brian Urlacher in Chicago.

"I've talked to Brian about it," Briggs told the Web site. "I'm a competitor and I want the same thing he has. I've learned a lot from Brian as a player and a leader and I eventually want to be 'the man' somewhere. I want to be like him and have everything put on me too. Obviously I'll never be able to do that there.

"Still, had the Bears made me a long-term offer that I found acceptable, I probably would have sacrificed this desire and stayed. I don't want to be somewhere I'm not wanted long-term."

Monday, March 12, 2007

All-Time Rushing Leader Joins ESPN

Emmitt Smith is the latest former member of the Cowboys orgaznization to join ESPN.

The former Dallas Cowboys running back has been hired by ESPN as a studio analyst for its NFL pregame coverage. Earlier this month, former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells also joined ESPN.

Smith, the National Football League's all-time leading rusher, will appear on the network's NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown shows. He will also appear as an analyst on ESPN Radio and

"I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge and insight of football with the fans of the NFL," Smith said in a statement. "I am excited to be joining the ESPN family, particularly the highly respected Countdown crews."

Smith will join Chris Berman, analysts Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Ron Jaworski, and reporter Chris Mortensen on NFL countdown. He, Berman, Jackson, Mortensen and analyst Steve Young will do the Monday Night Countdown show each week from the site of the Monday Night Football game.

Parcells also will be part of the Monday night broadcast and will appear on other programs, contribute weekly columns to and co-host a radio show with Mortensen on Friday evenings.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ravens Trade for McGahee; Lewis to Browns

Running back Willis McGahee was traded to the Baltimore Ravens by Buffalo for three draft choices Thursday, a day after Jamal Lewis signed with Cleveland.

The Bills will get third- and seventh-round picks this year and a third next year.

McGahee, with whom the Bills had become dissatisfied, is to travel to Baltimore to meet with team officials later in the day. The Ravens expected him to take a physical either late Thursday or on Friday.

McGahee had one year left on his five-year contract with Buffalo, and had been seeking an extension.

"This is a runner who can make people miss and has the explosion and speed to take it the distance," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He also has the power and size to run inside. He's a viable receiver out of the backfield and is a good pass blocker, not something every back can do.

"He also plays physical and with toughness, which are things we pride ourselves on here."

Lewis, whose productivity had been declining, was released last week by the Ravens.

McGahee will take over as the No. 1, ahead of sparingly used backup Mike Anderson and Musa Smith, who has primarily been used on special teams.

The Bills were not immediately available for comment.

Buffalo's first-round pick out of Miami in 2003, McGahee is coming off a down season in which he finished with a career-low 990 yards rushing, but led the team with six touchdowns rushing in 14 starts.

In 2005, he had 1,247 yards rushing and five touchdowns in 15 starts. He established himself as the Bills starter in 2004 with 1,128 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns in 11 starts. That performance led the team to trade former starter Travis Henry to Tennessee the following summer.

McGahee sat out his rookie season recovering from major knee surgery.

The Bills are now left searching for a starting running back to play in front of a revamped offensive line that features two new starters — guard Derrick Dockery and tackle Langston Walker — signed on the first day of free agency last week.

Third-stringer Shaud Williams is the only experienced running back currently on the team's depth chart.

The Bills have expressed interest in at least two free agents, meeting this week with Chris Brown, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, and Dominic Rhodes, a member of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

Jamal Lewis will have to find another team for his personal patsy. The former 2,000-yard rusher joined the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday night, agreeing to a one-year deal with the club he set an NFL single-game rushing record against.

In 2003, Lewis torched the Browns for 295 yards on the ground. He rushed for 2,066 yards, the second-highest total in league history, that year, and was the league's offensive player of the year.

The free agent was released last week in a salary-cap move by Baltimore, which elected not to pay its career rushing leader a $5 million roster bonus. He'll now try to boost the Browns, who were last in the league in rushing in 2006.

With the 27-year-old Lewis on board, the Browns must decide what to do with incumbent Reuben Droughns. They owe Droughns a $1.75 million roster bonus later this month.

Slowed by injuries, Droughns rushed for just 758 yards last season after gaining 1,232 yards in 2005 — the first Cleveland back to eclipse 1,000 yards since 1985.

In other moves:

_Green Bay released 36-year-old fullback William Henderson, leaving Brett Favre as the only member of the 1996 Super Bowl championship team still playing for the Packers.

_New Orleans agreed to terms on a one-year contract with tight end Eric Johnson, and veteran cornerback Fred Thomas agreed to a pay cut.

Johnson, with the San Francisco 49ers the last six years, missed three games in 2006 because of a strained knee and finished with 34 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He also missed two of the last four seasons with a broken collarbone in 2003 and a torn foot muscle in 2005. In 2004, however, Johnson had a team-leading 82 catches for 825 yards, including a pair of touchdowns.

_Houston signed journeyman linebacker Danny Clark, who has played with Jacksonville, Oakland and New Orleans.

_Baltimore released 350-pound guard Edwin Mulitalo, who missed most of last season with a torn triceps. "When you release a player like Edwin, it gives you pause," coach Brian Billick said of the 32-year-old eight-year starter. "This is the cold side of the business. All he did was everything we asked him to do and more. He was always an example to his teammates as to how a professional should conduct himself."

_Washington released kicker John Hall, a 10-year veteran who missed most of last season with a leg injury.

_Pittsburgh re-signed running back Najeh Davenport, who backed up Willie Parker after being signed last September. The former Packer rushed for 220 yards on 80 carries.

_Atlanta signed cornerback Lewis Sanders, who started seven games for Houston last season.

_Jean-Phillipe Darche, a long snapper who spent seven years in Seattle, signed with Kansas City.

_Denver was looking for a tight end to boost its offense, and got the best available in Daniel Graham. He agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal that includes $15 million in guaranteed money.

New England drafted Graham 21st overall in 2002. He caught 120 passes for 1,393 yards and 17 touchdowns with the Patriots, but recently was primarily a blocker.

_St. Louis signed former Miami Dolphins TE Randy McMichael to a 3-year contract.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

NFL News and Notes

Free agent tailback Travis Henry agreed to a five-year contract yesterday with the Denver Broncos.

Henry replaces Tatum Bell, whom Denver traded last week in order to obtain cornerback Dre Bly from the Detroit Lions.

The Tennessee Titans released Henry to avoid paying him an $8.3 million roster bonus. He's a two-time 1,300-yard rusher for the Buffalo Bills who ran for 1,211 yards for the Titans last season.

The New York Jets obtained tailback Thomas Jones in a trade with the Chicago Bears. The Bears sent Jones and a second-round draft pick, No. 63 overall, to the Jets for a higher second-round selection, the 37th overall choice. Jones ran for more than 1,200 yards in each of the past two seasons, but the Bears have Cedric Benson ready to start.

Tennessee re-signed free agent quarterback Kerry Collins. The former Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders starter was signed by the Titans just before last season. He opened the season as the Titans' starter but gave way to Vince Young, who went on to become the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. Now Collins returns as Young's backup.

New England traded undisclosed draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for wide receiver Wes Welker. The Patriots had been prepared to sign Welker, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet and would have owed the Dolphins a second-round pick as compensation. Instead, the Patriots sweetened the pot and avoided having to wait a week to see if the Dolphins would match the offer sheet.

Quarterback Brad Johnson agreed to a contract with Dallas to back up Tony Romo. Johnson was released by the Minnesota Vikings. He replaces the departed Drew Bledsoe in Dallas. The Cowboys also re-signed place kicker Martin Gramatica.

Seattle signed defensive end Patrick Kerney, late of the Falcons, to a six-year deal.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Free Agent Scorecard

2007 AFC free-agent signings

Jarret Johnson, DE Baltimore Unrestricted 3 years
Departures: Aubrayo Franklin, DT (SF); Jamal Lewis, RB; Tony Pashos, OT (JAC); Adalius Thomas, LB (NE)

Derrick Dockery, G Washington Unrestricted 7 years
Langston Walker, T Oakland Unrestricted Undisclosed
Jason Whittle, OT Minnesota Unrestricted 1 year
Departures: Matt Bowen, S; Chris Villarrial, G

Kenny Watson, RB Cincinnati Unrestricted 3 years
Departures: Eric Steinbach, OL (CLE); Brian Simmons, LB; Marcus Wilkins, LB (ATL)

Hank Fraley, C Cleveland Unrestricted 4 years
Antwan Peek, LB Houston Unrestricted 3 years
Eric Steinbach, OL Cincinnati Unrestricted 7 years
Kenny Wright, DB Washington Unrestricted 3 years
Departures: Dennis Northcutt, WR (JAC)

Dre' Bly, CB Detroit Trade Undisclosed
Travis Henry, RB Tennessee Released 5 years
Montrae Holland, G New Orleans Unrestricted 1 year
Dan Wilkinson, DT Miami Trade Undisclosed
Departures: Tatum Bell, RB (DET); Patrick Chukwurah, LB (TB); George Foster, OT (DET); Jake Plummer, QB (TB)

Ahman Green, RB Green Bay Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Antwan Peek, LB (CLE)

Rob Morris, LB Indianapolis Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Montae Reagor, DT; Brandon Stokley, WR

Dennis Northcutt, WR Cleveland Unrestricted 5 years
Tony Pashos, OT Baltimore Unrestricted 5 years
Josh Scobee, K Jacksonville Restricted 5 years
Departures: Kyle Brady, TE (NE)

Kansas City
Damion McIntosh, T Miami Unrestricted 6 years
Departures: None

Departures: Bennie Anderson, OL; Kevin Carter, DE; Jeno James, G; Eric Kimble, WR; Damion McIntosh, T (KC); Seth McKinney, OL; Sammy Morris, RB (NE); Dan Wilkinson, DT (DEN); Joey Harrington QB, Randy McMichael TE

New England
Kyle Brady, TE Jacksonville Unrestricted Undisclosed
Heath Evans, FB New England Unrestricted Undisclosed
Sammy Morris, RB Miami Unrestricted Undisclosed
Adalius Thomas, LB Baltimore Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Corey Dillon, NE

New York
Departures: B.J. Askew, FB (TB); Kevan Barlow, RB; Derrick Blaylock, RB; Bobby Hamilton, DE; Patrick Ramsey, QB; Trey Teague, T

Departures: Aaron Brooks, QB

Najeh Davenport, RB Pittsburgh Unrestricted 2 years
Departures: Ulish Booker, T; Verron Haynes, RB; Joey Porter, LB

San Diego
Greg Camarillo, WR San Diego Exclusive rights 1 year
Kris Dielman, G San Diego Unrestricted 6 years
Cory Lekkerkerker, T San Diego Exclusive rights 1 year
Departures: Steve Foley, LB; Terrence Kiel, S; Keenan McCardell, WR

Player, Pos. 2006 Team Designation Contract Length
Rien Long, DT Tennessee Unrestricted Undisclosed
Seth Wand, OT Tennessee Unrestricted Undisclosed
LeVar Woods, LB Tennessee Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Drew Bennett, WR (STL); Travis Henry, RB; Erron Kinney, TE; Zach Piller, G

2007 NFC free-agent signings

Hanik Milligan, DB Arizona Unrestricted 3 years
Marcel Shipp, RB Arizona Unrestricted 3 years
Departures: Leonard Davis, T (DAL)

Ovie Mughelli, FB Baltimore Unrestricted 6 years
Marcus Wilkins, LB Cincinnati Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Edgerton Hartwell, LB; Ike Reese, LB

Na'il Diggs, LB Carolina Unrestricted 1 year
Departures: Vinny Ciurciu, LB (MIN); Karl Hankton, WR; Kris Mangum, TE; Kevin McCadam, S; Al Wallace, DE

Departures: None

Leonard Davis, T Arizona Unrestricted 7 years
Departures: Drew Bledsoe, QB; Ryan Hannam, TE; E.J. Whitley, G

Tatum Bell, RB Denver Trade Undisclosed
George Foster, T Denver Trade Undisclosed
Dewayne White, DE Tampa Bay Unrestricted 5 years
Departures: Marcus Bell, DT; Dre' Bly, CB (DEN); James Hall, DE (STL); Tyoka Jackson, DT; Marcus Pollard, TE; Ross Verba, G

Green Bay
Departures: Ahman Green, RB (HOU)

Vinny Ciurciu, LB Carolina Unrestricted Undisclosed
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE N.Y. Giants Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Brad Johnson, QB; Mike Rosenthal, T; Fred Smoot, CB (WAS); Jason Whittle, C (BUF); Jermaine Wiggins, TE

New Orleans
Jon Stinchcomb, T New Orleans Unrestricted 2 years
Departures: Ernie Conwell, TE; Montrae Holland, G (DEN); Joe Horn, WR

New York
Departures: LaVar Arrington, LB; Carlos Emmons, LB; Chad Morton, KR; Luke Petitgout, T; Visanthe Shiancoe, TE (MIN); Bob Whitfield, T

Juqua Thomas, DE Philadelphia Unrestricted 2 years
Departures: Michael Lewis, S (SF)

San Francisco
Nate Clements, CB Buffalo Unrestricted 8 years
Aubrayo Franklin, DT Baltimore Unrestricted Undisclosed
Bryan Gilmore, WR San Francisco Unrestricted Undisclosed
Michael Lewis, S Philadelphia Unrestricted Undisclosed
Departures: Antonio Bryant, WR

Departures: None

St. Louis
Drew Bennett, WR Tennessee Unrestricted 6 years
James Hall, DE Detroit Trade Undisclosed
Departures: Adam Timmerman, G

Tampa Bay
B.J. Askew, FB N.Y. Jets Unrestricted Undisclosed
Phillip Buchanon, CB Tampa Bay Unrestricted Undisclosed
Patrick Chukwurah, LB Denver Unrestricted 5 years
Torrie Cox, CB Tampa Bay Unrestricted Undisclosed
Jeff Garcia, QB Philadelphia Unrestricted Undisclosed
Jake Plummer, QB Denver Trade Undisclosed
Departures: Kenyatta Walker, T; Dewayne White, DE (DET)

London Fletcher, LB Buffalo Unrestricted 5 years
Vernon Fox, S Washington Unrestricted Undisclosed
Fred Smoot, CB Minnesota Other* Undisclosed
Departures: Christian Fauria, TE; Troy Vincent, CB; Kenny Wright, DB (CLE)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Top Free Agents 2007

Here's the Fanatics look at the top free agents, by position, for 2007. The top talent is thin, so look for teams to sign the top guns quickly.


1. Jeff Garcia, Philadelphia

Scrappy leader. Guided Eagles to playoffs, but may be best suited as No. 2 at this stage of career.

2. Brad Johnson, Minnesota

Accurate passer who can manage a game, but interception totals were way up in '06.

3. Kerry Collins, Tennessee

Not much film to evaluate from '06; started three games before giving way to Vince Young.

4. Aaron Brooks, Oakland

Teases with potential, but didn't show much with awful Raiders.

5. Drew Bledsoe, Dallas

He can't dodge defenders anymore, but he still has a strong arm and leadership ability. On the right team with a decent offensive line, he could be this years Jeff Garcia.

Worth a look: Anthony Wright (Cincinnati)


1. Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis

A poor man's Emmitt Smith; not very fast, not very flashy, but moves the chains. The DUI arrest didn't help either.

2. Ahman Green, Green Bay

Age and injury concerns, but still productive; posted sixth 1,000-yard rushing season in '06.

3. Jamal Lewis, Baltimore

Lots of wear and tear on his body, but did gain 1,132 yards with nine TDs last season.

4. Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia

Missed three of last five seasons because of injury problems, but did fine job backing up Westbrook in '06.

5. Marcel Shipp, Arizona

Physically and mentally tough; good inside running skills; above average blocker.

Worth a look: Sammy Morris (Miami), LaBrandon Toefield (Jacksonville)


1. Drew Bennett, Tennessee

Tall and lanky, but deceptively fast; good route runner who will go across the middle.

2. Donte' Stallworth, Philadelphia

If you want to go vertical, here's your guy; averaged 19.1 yards per catch in '06.

3. Kevin Curtis, Rams

Not a great route runner, but a speed threat with big-play potential.

4. Ashley Lelie, Atlanta

Good downfield target; tougher than people think; will go up and get the ball.

5. Bobby Engram, Seattle

Still effective in the slot; can find holes in zones; health issues (thyroid condition.

Worth at look: Travis Taylor (Minnesota), Joe Horn (New Orleans)


1. Daniel Graham (TE), New England

Very good blocker, good hands, was under utilized as receiver by Patriots.

2. Reggie Kelly (TE), Cincinnati

Not much of a receiver, but an excellent blocker, also plays H-back.

3. Kyle Brady (TE), Jacksonville

Still a good-blocking TE after 12 seasons as an NFL starter.

4. Jerramy Stevens (TE), Seattle

Lots of talent and playmaking ability, but has yet to live up to his potential.

5. Justin Griffith (FB), Atlanta

Not a hammer, but a good blocker who can catch the ball and run a little.

Worth a look: Eric Johnson, TE, (San Francisco); Cory Schlesinger, FB, (Detroit), Ovie Mughhelli, FB, (Baltimore)


1. Eric Steinbach, (G), Cincinnati

Naturally athletic, smart, physical; excellent pulling either way; also can play tackle.

2. Kris Dielman (G), San Diego

Former undrafted rookie is tough, aggressive and brings a nasty attitude to the field.

3. Leonard Davis (T), Arizona

Best position may be G; big, strong, but not a hard worker.

4. Luke Petitgout (T), NY Giants

Mentally tough, may not be quick enough to play LT anymore; coming off broken leg.

5. Ruben Brown (G), Chicago

Playing lighter, relying more on quickness than during his heyday.

Worth a look: Tony Pashos (T, Baltimore); Shaun O'Hara (C, NY Giants); Al Johnson (C, Dallas)


1. Patrick Kerney (DE), Atlanta

Coming off pectoral muscle surgery; plays with effort and energy; gets by on technique and strength.

2. DeWayne White (DE), Tampa Bay

Good upfield ability as pass rusher; plays with leverage; good at working hands inside.

3. Robaire Smith (DT/DE), Tennessee

Solid starter on a bad defensive line; mainly a run defender.

4. Ian Scott (DT), Chicago

Underrated nose tackle played well in place of Tank Johnson; has some penetration skills.

5. Anthony Adams (DT), San Francisco

Fairly athletic with some penetration skills; 33 starts in past 3 seasons with 49ers.

Worth a look: Ron Edwards, DT, (Kansas City), Kenyon Coleman (DE, Dallas).


1. Adalius Thomas, Baltimore

Can cover and play on line, decent vs. run but pass rushing is his forte in the 3-4.

2. Joey Porter, Pittsburgh

Brings size and attitude to the 3-4; pass rusher still good for 7-10 sacks a year at age 29.

3. Cato June, Indianapolis

Weakside 'backer led Colts in tackles (162; strong in coverage — eight INTs in past two seasons.

4. London Fletcher, Buffalo

Durable, tough, so-so in coverage; turns 32 in May, but still a tackling machine.

5. Tully Banta-Cain, New England

Good pass rusher in 3-4 whose forte is speed; might excel playing on artificial turf.

Worth a look: Napoleon Harris (Minnesota), Kawika Mitchell (Kansas City); Donnie Edwards (San Diego)


1. Nate Clements (CB), Buffalo

Great athlete, excellent corner with elite speed; physical against the run; headed for big payday. The gem of free agency.

2. Nick Harper (CB), Indianapolis

Four-year starter will attract lots of interest in weak corner market; three INTs, 11 breakups in '06.

3. Ken Hamlin (S), Seattle

Very athletic, big hitter at FS hasn't lived up to his potential; overcame serious head injury in '05.

4. Deon Grant (S), Jacksonville

Free safety has started 96 straight games; not flashy but can play the run and defend the pass.

5. Michael Lewis (S), Philadelphia

Physical player, '04 Pro Bowler; a liability in coverage was benched midway through '06.

Worth a look: Todd Johnson, S, (Chicago), Brian Russell, S, (Cleveland)


1. Todd Sauerbrun (P), New England

End-of-season pickup performed well in postseason for Patriots.

2. Matt Turk (P), Rams

Revived career with strong season ; turns 37 in June.

3. Jay Feely (K), NY Giants

Good, not great kicker topped 100 points for fourth time in career in '06.

4. Martin Gramatica (K), Dallas

Late season pickup kicked well enough that Cowboys want to re-sign.

5. Chad Stanley (P), Houston

Averaged only 41.6 yards per punt, but had a good net average (36.7.

Worth a look: Morten Andersen, K, (Atlanta), Billy Cundiff, K, (New Orleans)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bears Sign Lovie to Extension

The Chicago Bears decided Lovie Smith was the right coach to lead the team into the next decade — with hopefully a few more Super Bowl appearances.

A week after Smith's agent said negotiations were so stalled the coach would probably leave after the 2007 season, the Bears signed Smith to a four-year contract extension through 2011 on Wednesday.

The lowest-paid coach in the NFL last season at $1.35 million when he led the Bears to the Super Bowl, Smith's deal will average about $4.7 million per season over five years. He'll make $22 million in new money and the total value of the five years is $23.45 million, the Chicago Tribune reported. Smith was scheduled to make $1.45 million this season in the final year of his initial four-year contract.

The deal was announced by the team Wednesday night, as was an extension through 2013 for general manager Jerry Angelo.

Smith, the 2005 NFL coach of the year, led the Bears to a 15-4 record and their first NFC championship in more than two decades last season before they lost 29-17 to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.

In Baltimore, Jamal Lewis, whose 2,066 yards rushing in 2003 were second most in NFL history, was cut by the Ravens.

He was one of several players released as teams maneuvered to find salary cap space before the free-agent period starts Friday. However, the Ravens said they are still attempting to re-sign Lewis.

Among the other players cut were Cincinnati linebacker Brian Simmons; Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson, a 15-year veteran; and wide receiver Eric Moulds, who played for Houston last season after 10 years as a standout with Buffalo.

Washington finished restructuring Mark Brunell's contract, creating more space under the salary cap while ensuring he will return to the team next season.

Dallas re-signed Pro Bowl punter Mat McBriar to a five-year, $8.5 million contract that includes a $2.5 million signing bonus. He led the NFL with a 48.2-yard average, the best in the NFL since 1963. He was also the first Cowboys punter to make the Pro Bowl since Ron Widby in 1971.

Buffalo re-signed running back Shaud Williams and secured the rights to defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Tim Anderson by tendering both one-year contract offers.

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