News & Info/Headlines
With free agency looming -- the veteran signing period begins February 27 -- I figured it might be useful to focus on setting up some of the storylines that will be of considerable and ongoing interest to Fantasy owners in coming weeks.
It's safe to say there will be no shortage of fodder. In fact, I'll need two Sunday's between today and the start of the signing period catch up. So, let's get busy, eh?
We'll get the ball rolling this week in San Diego, where LaDainian Tomlinson, using a series of media appearances in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIII, indicated he would consider a new contract offer from the Chargers.
"Anything is negotiable," Tomlinson said on ESPN's "Jim Rome is Burning" show.
Appearing on FOXSports Radio, Tomlinson conceded, "I think it's warranted being talked about."
As San Diego Union-Tribune staffer Kevin Acee suggested, that's good news for those who want Tomlinson to stay in San Diego, since a new contract -- one that offers the star halfback less money in 2009 -- is his best hope of being a Charger this fall.
While clearly understanding the situation, Tomlinson isn't ready to go much beyond the discussion itself at this point.
"Organizations make decisions for the business and what's best for them; I'm going to do the exact same thing," he told Rome. "I will talk to my family, talk to my agent and then I'm going to make the best decision that suits me."
Tomlinson has three seasons left on the contract he signed before the 2004 season. He is due $24 million over that span.
As SportingNews.com's Dennis Dillon put it: "Don't expect the Chargers to fork over that kind of money for a running back whose gas tank is starting to empty, who missed playoff games each of the last two years because of injuries and who will turn 30 on June 23. This is the distasteful, cold-hearted side of football. Almost every player deals with it eventually. Right now, it's L.T.'s turn."
The immediate issue: Team officials have to fit his $6.725 million salary and his $8.79 million salary-cap number into their plans to extend the contracts of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.
Looking forward, several other core Chargers, including linebacker Shawne Merriman, receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill, are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2009 season.
General manager A.J. Smith recently said talks with Rivers about a long-term deal will begin soon.
Dillon went on to advise readers the team has $15 million in cap space for 2009 -- and they are starting to evolve from a running offense into a passing offense.
All those factors will play a part in whether Tomlinson remains in San Diego.
So will the recent back and forth between Tomlinson and Smith, a public conversation that led some to believe there is a feud between the two.
It all started when Tomlinson, in an item published on his official web site, stated he wanted to finish his career with the Chargers. In an interview with Acee, Smith said he, too, would like to finish his career in San Diego -- using some very familiar language.
In fact, Smith's comment mirrored Tomlinson's. ... Almost verbatim.
Although some might have interpreted that as Smith mocking Tomlinson, that wasn't necessarily the case. While Smith certainly wasn't happy that L.T. went public with his sentiments, Acee subsequently reported the G.M. was not disrespecting Tomlinson.
Smith subsequently called Tomlinson to apologize and in a press release issued by the Chargers, the G.M. admitted "My choice of words was inappropriate."
Smith's intention in his quote, which he explained during the phone call to Tomlinson, was to send a message to Tomlinson's agent, Tom Condon.
Tomlinson said he accepted the Smith's apology.
"I have no hard feelings," Tomlinson told Rome. "I understand the business, the whole side of it. I've said all along that I want to be a San Diego Charger. They drafted me and I want to play football there. And that's where I stand."
As he did at the end of the season, Tomlinson reiterated that his focus is to try to get healthy after severely injuring his groin in the regular-season finale.
"I measure myself at the beginning of the year, training camp, and I felt as good and as fast as I've ever felt," he said of last season. "First game, I hurt my toe, bad, and I dealt with it most of the year. And then at the end of the year, when I was getting healthy, I tear my abductor.
"And so, for me, I felt like, I don't really know to me, it was all part of the injuries. It had all to do with the injuries. I feel like if I'm healthy, I'm still able to dominate the game and be an elite player.
"And I'm just waiting for the opportunity to do that again."
Will that opportunity come in San Diego? An objective observer could absolutely question whether it should.
Remember: Tomlinson's production has declined since the 2006 season, when he rushed 348 times for 1,815 yards, scored 28 rushing touchdowns and set the NFL record for points in a season (186). In 2007, he carried 315 times for 1,474 yards and 15 touchdowns. Last season, his numbers were 292, 1,110 and 11.
L.T.'s average yards per carry has slipped from 5.2 in 2006 to 4.7 in '07 to 3.8 in '08.
I'll also remind you that Smith was the guy most responsible for firing former head coach Marty Schottenheimer -- after a 14-2 season. Why? Because Schottenheimer couldn't deliver in the postseason. Sound familiar?
Injuries have taken Tomlinson out of the lineup when the Chargers needed him most -- the playoffs -- in each of the last two seasons.
In case you missed it, L.T. was able to play only two series before retiring to the sideline in the AFC championship game loss to New England after the 2007 season. The groin injury kept him from playing at all in San Diego's playoff loss to Pittsburgh last month.
Now by all accounts, the Chargers appear to have four options with Tomlinson.
They could keep him at his current salary (won't happen), trade him (unlikely) release him (a possibility) or redo his contract (a good possibility, but only with L.T.'s blessing).
So. ... The man who will have the final say on Tomlinson's future in San Diego is L.T. himself.
And as SI.com insider Don Banks suggested, as long as the Chargers handle the pay cut with some sensitivity, making sure not to embarrass or threaten Tomlinson with an ultimatum, he'll likely see the wisdom of staying put in San Diego.
Banks explained: "He'll still make more there than he would anywhere else at this point in his career, and after two injury-plagued seasons, he's got something to prove to the Chargers. ..."
In Kansas City. ... New head coach Todd Haley joins the Chiefs with no shortage of issues. Among those of great interest to Fantasy owners would be the status of tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Larry Johnson, both of whom spent time last week campaigning for a change of scenery.
We'll start with Johnson, clearly the more eager of the two to hit the road.
In a Wednesday interview on 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City, Johnson made his case for a "clean break."
He said that Kansas isn't "a fit for me anymore," pointing generally to the "environment and things that went on." Johnson added: "No sense of delaying the inevitable. ... I think it's time for us to break ties."
Worth noting: The interview began with a quote from the film "Scarface," which Johnson specifically requested.
"You're all a bunch of [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]," Al Pacino as Tony Montana said in the quote. "You know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your [expletive deleted] fingers and say, 'That's the bad guy.'
"So, what [does] that make you, good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don't have that card. Me, I always tell the truth, even when I lie."
Why did Johnson request that clip be played?
"That's sometimes how I feel when I go in and out of Kansas City," Johnson said.
"I'd rather just play somewhere else," Johnson further explained. "This is a rebuilding team. I don't really think that I belong on this rebuilding team. It's just the way the league works. I've done what I've done for Kansas City. I'm not getting no younger, and the team is getting younger. So I'm not sure I fit in the scheme of things. I never felt like I was in the scheme of things anyways. Everyone wants to do it the hard way, or you can do it the easy way."
Johnson's comments aren't new. He said as much following the Chiefs' season-ending 16-6 loss to the Bengals.
But Johnson did elaborate on his stance that he's uncomfortable in the community, saying he "doesn't really fit in." He's heard the boos when out at sporting events or in public, and instead of complaining or pointing fingers, says it's just time to move on.
"That's Kansas City," Johnson said. "The rumor mill builds, and the jealousy, and the envy, starts. You feel trapped. At one point I didn't even want to leave my house."
According to an NFL.com report, Johnson, who signed a five-year contract extension before the 2007 season, often contradicted himself during the 23-minute interview in which he says the problem is within the Chiefs organization.
Despite that, he claimed former G.M. Carl Peterson was "not the problem." Nor was former coach Herman Edwards. He has not spoken with Edwards since the end of the season. Nor has he talked with new G.M. Scott Pioli.
And if the Chiefs are unable or unwilling to trade or release him? Johnson said he would return.
He believes he still has the respect of the Chiefs locker room and shouldn't be viewed as a cancer to the team. Hindering his willingness to return, however, is his belief the new regime won't give him a fair shake; that he'll be viewed as a problem from the start.
Since joining the Chiefs just over five years ago, Johnson has been accused by a woman of criminal offenses four times. And of course, his multiple off-field incidents led to being deactivated for three games by the Chiefs and a one-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Not surprisingly, Johnson doesn't believe he owes the Chiefs loyalty after signing the long-term deal.
"There's no loyalty in this game," he said. "That's one thing I've learned. There's no such thing as loyalty."
Johnson said that he prefers playing for an East Coast team, even though his mom apparently would like to see him be a member of the Cowboys. But why would the Cowboys -- or anybody else for that matter -- be keen on adding Johnson to their roster?
According to SI.com insider Bucky Brooks, Johnson's comments are just the latest example of a player overestimating his value.
Brooks explained: "In a league in which running backs are deemed archaic when they reach 30, Johnson is hoping there is a market for a 29-year old rusher coming off two sub-par seasons riddled by an assortment of injuries and suspensions.
"Additionally, he is anticipating that teams are willing to overlook his reputation for being a malcontent in the locker room."
In Brooks' opinion, no coach or general manager will be willing to stake the future on a guy who is sure to bring numerous headaches to a franchise, regardless of the talent or production. Additionally, few owners are willing to commit big dollars to a player who has the potential to become a public relations nightmare due to his off-field behavior. ...
Brooks went on to suggest that Johnson would be better served to focus on handling his off-field affairs while working to get in tremendous shape for the 2009 season. By showing the league that he has shed the attitude while putting up a Pro Bowl worthy season, Brooks believes Johnson would have a chance to earn most of the six-year, $45 million extension he signed in 2007.
Additionally, he could create enough interest in his services should he be traded or released by the Chiefs in the future.
It's safe to assume Johnson will not take that advice. It's also safe to say, however, that Pioli doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who'll be willing to put up with a chronic bad actor. ...
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com's Alex Marvez, Gonzalez said that a Yahoo! Sports story published Wednesday morning misrepresented his stance toward the organization. In that article, Yahoo's Jason Cole advised readers that Gonzalez was looking to be traded.
For those who missed it, Gonzalez originally asked for a trade last October. Rather than pout when the deal didn't happen despite the reported promises of then-team president Carl Peterson, Gonzalez still played at a high level. He finished with 96 receptions for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.
So the Yahoo! report indicating he still wanted out came as no real surprise.
But Gonzalez told Marvez he is amenable to returning for a 13th NFL season in Kansas City and won't know whether he will ask for a trade until seeing what personnel and coaching moves the franchise makes this offseason.
Such a decision won't come for some time.
"I want to make sure people know I have not asked for a trade," Gonzalez said Wednesday morning -- before Haley's hiring was announced. "I haven't even talked to Pioli yet. I said there are reasons I would ask for a trade, but depending on the coach they bring in and the free-agent acquisitions, I could easily be a Chief next year, too.
"In fact, that's the direction I want to go."
As the National Football Post's Mike Lombardi noted, Pioli must make decisions that are in the best interest of the Chiefs and not Gonzalez or Johnson.
If they can get the right trade value for either player (Lombardi suggests the Saints should be all over Johnson), then make the move, but only for the right deal. Now that Haley is on board, more observers believe the Chiefs should bust a move on the malcontents.
In fact, SportingNews.com's Clifton Brown suggested on Friday that Pioli should make it clear to Gonzalez and Johnson that they should both expect to be traded.
Brown added: "The Chiefs have not won a playoff game since 1993. Gonzalez and Johnson need a fresh start. And so do the Chiefs."
And that's a very hard point to argue against. ...
In Arizona. ... According to USA Today, Anquan Boldin's frustration with management's failure to keep its word on redoing his contract last offseason has reached the boiling point.
Boldin indicated an irreparable rift exists with management that could force him to ask anew to be traded after expressing the same sentiment in the preseason. "I don't think the relationship can be repaired with the organization," Boldin told USA Today's Jim Corbett after Thursday's Pro Bowl practice.
"It takes more than, 'Well, we did you wrong and we'll pay you this.' It's not about the money. It was always about the principle. Guys being true to their word. I guess I was expected to uphold my end of the bargain, and it wasn't reciprocated."
Boldin also told ESPN's Rachel Nichols the chances of him staying with Arizona are "very slim. ..."
Boldin caught 89 regular-season passes for 1,038 yards and a career-best 11 touchdowns despite missing two games after a Sept. 28 hit required seven titanium facial plates and 40 titanium screws to repair multiple facial injuries. He has two years left on his $22.75 million deal at $2.75 million and $3 million.
Management awarded Larry Fitzgerald a four-year, $40 million deal, but Boldin said he was misled about an extension. Arizona is $40 million under the salary cap.
"We've been talking to them for two years, and they still haven't made anything happen," Boldin told Corbett.
Will Boldin ask for a trade?
"I'll deal with my agent and see what we have to do," he said, referring to representative Drew Rosenhaus, who declined to comment when contacted. "But my feelings won't change."
Though both Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner have said that Boldin needs to return -- and despite Chad Ocho Cinco's inability to talk his way out of Cincinnati last offseason (I'll suggest nobody has ever tried harder) -- Boldin doesn't seemed to be swayed.
Unfortunately, Boldin's only real option is sitting out the season.
Sure, he can (and almost certainly will) skip all the team's off-season workouts -- as he did last season. And Rosenhaus will heartily lobby for a trade.
But much like the Bengals, the Cardinals have no interest in letting a player talk his way out of town with two years remaining on his deal. It sets a bad precedent. ESPN.com's Michael Smith believes team officials would rather let Boldin sit than cave in to his demands at this point.
Buckle in kids. ... I have a feeling this will be one of the uglier off-season stories. ...
Meanwhile, Warner, who is now a free agent, said he does not expect to sign with another team and would like to see what moves the Cardinals make in the offseason. That includes how they cover for the loss of Haley -- and perhaps the their handling of Boldin.
"It's too key to our success to let Anquan go," Warner said this week. "I don't know if I'm leaning either direction. But (Boldin's situation) is going to be a key piece to it, whether we can do something as a team like this year.
"If we can keep that together, that excites me about the possibility of coming back. If not, there will be a lot of struggles to overcome that'll make it harder."
As for Haley's departure, Warner said: "I don't want to go backward as far as what we're doing, or having to readjust everything. I want to be able to continue to move forward and to build off where we were this year.
"I think it's definitely going to be a factor in me weighing everything and making a decision."
It's likely head coach Ken Whisenhunt will return to calling plays, something he did for most of his first season with the Cardinals. He eventually handed that duty to Haley, and ideally, would follow that same plan with the new offensive coordinator -- with current assistants Russ Grimm and Maurice Carthon among the candidates.
The good news for Cardinals fans would be that Warner isn't looking to parlay his outstanding 2008 performance into a rich contract with another franchise.
"There is no question I want to finish my career as an Arizona Cardinal," Warner said. "If I am going to play, I don't want it to be anywhere else."
While Whisenhunt has stressed the team's desire to have Warner return, Edgerrin James' standing with the club is less certain -- or not.
In an interview on Dan Patrick's radio show, Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley said in no uncertain terms that James is already gone. Bickley said that James didn't return to Arizona with the team, and that he fully expects James not to be back in 2009.
James is entering the final year of his contract, at a base salary of $5 million. By cutting him, the Cardinals would create $5 million in 2009 cap space -- which would push their bulge under the spending limit to at least $47 million.
Tim Hightower presumably will be the starting running back in 2009; backup J.J. Arrington is due to become an unrestricted free agent. ...
In New York. ... Like all teams, the Jets will need to be in compliance with the 2009 salary cap when the signing period begins. And as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio recently noted, past reports suggest the club is scheduled to be at least $10 million over the cap.
Florio believes that the number could end up being as high as $20 million. And $13 million of it traces to one man: Brett Favre.
That cap number has more than a little to do with the theories currently being floated about Favre -- including those suggesting Favre would like his outright release from the Jets this month before re-emerging later this summer. ... With a team more to his liking.
According to SI.com and NBC reporter Peter King, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum and Favre had their first conversation regarding the veteran QB's future with the club last week. King then told NBC's Super Bowl pre-game audience that team officials are willing to give Favre "months rather than weeks" to make a decision on a possible return for the 2009 season.
But Newark Star-Ledger beat writer Dave Hutchinson reports that a Jets spokesman denied King's report.
According to Hutchinson, the club said it still hopes to have "an indication" from Favre on his plans by the time the NFL Combine begins Feb. 18 in Indianapolis, which is what Tannenbaum said during new head coach Rex Ryan's introductory press conference.
For their part, Ryan and returning offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have said all the right things when it comes to Favre.
"A tremendous player," Ryan said of Favre upon arrival in New York. "I got whiplash from playing against Brett Favre."
"I would welcome the opportunity to coach Brett again," Schottenheimer said Tuesday.
But all that might be moot.
As King suggested in a column published earlier last month, the Jets essentially "sent the divorce papers" to Favre when owner Woody Johnson, while telling reporters he wanted the former Packer to return for another season, also said that Favre would have to participate in the off-season program if he wanted to return.
According to King, that's a problem.
Favre, who skipped 16 springs and summers in Green Bay, is unlikely to change his approach this year. Or as King put it, there's "no way Favre moves back to New Jersey for 12 to 16 weeks in March."
Meanwhile, appearing on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," King noted that Favre, who is recovering from a torn biceps tendon in his right arm, still believes he can play but "won't play if he can't play where he really wants to play."
When asked where that might be, King said he had a "gut feeling" that Favre would like to play for the Vikings.
And the truth is, assuming he can talk the Jets into releasing him outright, Favre could hang out on the farm in Mississippi until June or July at which time he could decide to play another season -- with the team of his choice.
In addition to Minnesota, the Bears, another team with a perceived weakness at the position, have been mentioned as a possible destination. I would suggest it's no coincidence both teams are divisional rivals with the Packers.
Bottom line? Favre Watch 2009 is officially on. ...
In New England. ... ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported Saturday night that Matt Cassel has accepted the Patriots' non-exclusive franchise tender placed on him last week, guaranteeing the quarterback at least $14.65 million this season.
Cassel had a breakout season in 2008, starting 15 games after starting none the seven previous seasons-four with Southern California as backup to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, and three after New England drafted him in the seventh round in 2005.
Moving into the lineup after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener, Cassel finished with 327 completions in 516 attempts (63.4 percent) for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The yardage was the fourth most in the AFC and the completion percentage was the third best in team history.
Brady underwent surgery for torn ligaments on Oct. 6, and then had follow-up surgery to treat a postoperative infection.
According to NFL Network insider Adam Schefter, now that Cassel has signed the tender -- the largest guarantee on a one-year contract in the history of the NFL -- some around the league believe it's 95 percent that he remains in New England.
The only way the Patriots would trade Cassel is if they know Brady is healthy, and even if they do, the bidder needs to be to Cassel's liking and offer a contract to his liking, or there's no deal.
Assuming Schefter is right, the two sides would almost certainly have reach agreement on a multi-year deal that would lower Cassel's 2009 cap number.
For what it's worth. ... Brady said in a Jan. 21 interview that his rehabilitation was "going really well," but he did not offer a timetable for a return to the field. Brady was not asked during the interview if he expected to be ready for training camp or the start of the regular season. ...
And finally, from the things are apparently tough all over department. ... Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad allegedly owes more than $24,000 to a credit card company and he has been sued for not paying off the debt.
According to the Charlotte Observer, Muhammad faces an accusation from Wachovia that he (along with his brother Abdullah Muhammad and their company, Baylo Entertainment) failed to pay $24,603.24 on a Visa card.
Muhammad received a salary of $1 million in 2008, and he's due to earn $1.5 million in 2009. ...
That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll advise those wondering why I've skipped the still-uncertain status of high-profile Fantasy prospects like Terrell Owens and T.J. Houshmandzadeh or the decisions Giants' management has to make at running back in coming weeks to hang tight.
As I said in the opening, it's going to take every weekend before the signing period begins to catch up. Rest assured we'll be hitting those stories and more over the next two weeks. ...
In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the Fantasy Notebook.