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Fantasy Notebook: James, Alexander Ready To Deal With Tag...
As Indianapolis Star News columnist Bob Kravitz put it Friday: "Edgerrin James isn't happy because he was franchised, and in the NFL, that's the equivalent of being tagged with the scarlet letter. The money is fine. ... But there's no security, no small matter in a sport where one wrong turn can destroy a career. ..."

It's a fact of life that James understands.

"There are all types of things that can happen," the Colts' star running back told's Michael Silver Wednesday night from Miami, in his first public comments since the Super Bowl.

"Look at Randy Moss," James said. "Who would've thought he'd end up in Oakland? Look, I ain't in no position where I can tell people this or that. This is the NFL. Besides, I know I play for the coolest coach in the league and the coolest owner. I would never bash our owner because I like him too much.

"But that doesn't mean I'm happy with the decision, or that I wouldn't make the move."

The good news?

According to Star News beat man Mike Chappell, head coach Tony Dungy doesn't anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the team's career rushing leader turning into a distraction.

"Hopefully we can get it worked out to where he's happy and we're happy and it makes sense for both sides," Dungy said during a Friday morning break from the National Football Scouting Combine. "If it does, I think it will be great."

The franchise tag is a one-year contract that for James carries an $8.08 million salary. Other possible options include signing a long-term contract with the Colts, signing an offer sheet with another team that the Colts can match (or not), or being traded.

"It's like Ray Charles said: 'I'm gonna let it do what it do, baby,'" James conceded. "I could sit here and draw a lot of attention to myself right now, but really, what can I say?"

The history of "franchised" players generally includes a prolonged absence that extends well into training camp. It's a history the Colts considered before tagging James.

Of a possible absence from team activities, Dungy said, "won't be a distraction because that's what's allowed in this system. If it does come down to that, he's within his rights to do that.

"We don't think it's going to come to that. We think we'll have a resolution long before that."

Dungy admitted he has not had a lot of experience dealing with players who have been slapped with the franchise tag, but he understands the player's displeasure over being tagged.

"It's not that they're saying, 'Hey, I don't want eight million dollars,'" the coach said. "It's, 'Here is the alternative if I was a free agent and I was out there negotiating, or I had a long-term deal that would make me the happiest.'"

Whatever the case, nothing can happen until James hires an agent. After parting ways with former rep Scott Parker, he has had discussions with several potential replacements and plans to make a decision in the next couple of days.

Regardless of his representation, don't look for James at the first offseason mini-camp. "I haven't been going to those any [expletive] way," the former first-round pick told Silver, laughing.

In fact, I'll be surprised if James participates in any team functions -- be it mini-camps, coaching sessions, quarterback schools or training camp -- until his situation is resolved.

I suspect Shaun Alexander will take a similar approach.

But as Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Clare Farnsworth advised readers Saturday, don't pity Alexander.

Sure, the NFC's leading rusher and the NFL's leader in touchdowns last season will miss the opportunity to test the free-agent market after being named the Seahawks' franchise player this week. But with that designation comes a $6.32 million tender, which equals the average salary of the league's top five running backs.

According to the Farnsworth, that was the sentiment Alexander shared with running backs coach Stump Mitchell after being tagged this week: It's difficult to complain about playing for that kind of cash, except that Alexander could have earned even more if allowed to shop his talents to the highest bidder as an unrestricted free agent.

Alexander, James and other "franchised" players face a situation rooted in what was meant to be a positive when the free-agency system was implemented in 1992. However, the tag has evolved into a negative over the years.

"It's almost like it is a penalty," Jim Steiner, Alexander's agent, told reporters Friday at the combine.

"Even though the numbers have grown, it's the lack of ability to move and choose and to negotiate. You're just hamstrung by the whole thing.

"Shaun's okay with this," Steiner said, "but he's got no choice. There's no sense in getting whacked out about it."

Alexander has said he wants to remain in Seattle long term. Steiner echoed that Friday. That would involve signing a multiyear contract, but the club and Steiner have yet to exchange proposals.

"I think it is unusual," Steiner said. "I can only infer, based on the priorities, that [tackle Walter] Jones and [quarterback Matt] Hasselbeck (both of whom boast lucrative new contracts) were (higher) on their priority list."

According to Farnsworth, that was exactly the case.

But it doesn't mean the Seahawks don't want Alexander. There was rampant speculation Tuesday after Alexander was tagged that it was a setup for trading him to the highest bidder.

"Absolutely not," head coach Mike Holmgren said when presented with that scenario. "Typically, clubs that tag their players, now you go to work on trying to get a long-term deal. We're no different."

The preferred resolution for Steiner is also a long-term deal, but the clock is running.

The Seahawks have until March 15 to sign Alexander, or wait until July 15, because if a player is signed between those dates, the club loses the franchise tag for the length of the contract.

Farnsworth added that Steiner views the arrival of Tim Ruskell this week as the Seahawks president of football operations as a plus.

"I"ve talked to Tim since he"s been there and I have a good relationship with him," Steiner told the Tacoma News Tribune. "He has to get his ducks in order. I would hold out more hope now to get something done prior to March 15 than I would had he not been there."

In the meantime, as Farnsworth suggested, "Alexander does have that $6.32 million tender to console him. ..."

Other Fantasy-specific news and notes of interest. ...

The biggest news so far at the combine -- Maurice Clarett's shockingly slow (he was unofficially clocked at 4.82 on one pass) time in the 40 notwithstanding -- has been a widely reported swap of receivers: The Redskins' Laveranues Coles for the Jets' Santana Moss.

But as FOXSports insider Jay Glazer first reported, the trade stalled on Saturday due to concerns that Coles wants a new contract with figures the Jets aren't willing to meet. Glazer added that Redskins sources remain hopeful that something could change in the next few days.

According to insider Len Pasquarelli, the Jets wanted Coles under the remaining terms of the seven-year, $35 million contract that he signed with Washington in 2002. Told that Coles might not report to training camp if he was traded and did not receive a new contract, the Jets opted to end their pursuit.

Glazer went on to suggest that if talks resume, they are expected to begin Monday or Tuesday. In the meantime, the Redskins may look to shop Coles elsewhere.

Asked specifically about the Jets deal, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs told Associated Press football writer Barry Wilner on Saturday that such trade "is not very likely, I'd say.

"For us, Laveranues is a very valuable guy and if we can work something out with somebody, that would be fine. If not, he probably will remain a Redskin. Right now, (a trade) is not on the horizon. If we do not work out a trade, we'll go down the road with [Coles] as a Redskin."

Another complicating factor could be Coles' reluctance to return to New York. Health is also an issue. Coles has a toe problem that limited him last year, although he did not miss any games. He has resisted having surgery, fearing it might limit, or possibly end his career.

It is uncertain whether the Jets would require Coles to have a physical before completing the trade. There is also a possibility the teams may agree on a stipulation that Coles give back a portion of his signing bonus.

Also worth noting is the fact that Moss wants to remain a New York Jet.

In a Friday morning interview on 1050 ESPN Radio's "Wally and the Keeg" show, Moss said he could deal with a trade but would rather see nothing change in his football career.

"I don't prefer to go anywhere," said Moss, who referred to the Jets as "my home." "But if it's time for me to leave, I'll leave."

While the deal may be delayed somewhat because the Redskins are over the salary cap, you can expect further news on this one come Tuesday. ...

Also in New York. ... Despite rumors to the contrary, head coach Herman Edwards told reporters that Chad Pennington is "doing fine" after shoulder surgery, Edwards said, and is on target to start throwing in June. ... We'll see, but I remain skeptical. ...

In a semi-related note. ... Those who follow the team closely believe the Jets might get into a bidding war with the Giants over backup quarterback Jay Fiedler, the former Dolphins quarterback, who was released this past week.

Edwards also indicated the team also would consider re-signing Quincy Carter, who is being treated for substance abuse. The Jets reportedly have no plans to contact Vinny Testaverde. ...

According to Philadelphia Inquirer staffer Bob Brookover, there is a difference of opinion between the Eagles and Brian Westbrook's agents.

When the Eagles made their restricted free agent running back a mid-level tender of $1.43 million earlier this week, they were convinced that it would scare away any potential Westbrook suitors.

Not surprisingly, Howard Shatsky, one of Westbrook's agents, disagrees with the team's presumption.

"They tendered him, and we think there may be some teams willing to give up a first-round pick to get a player like him," Shatsky told Brookover during a break from an NFL players' association meeting held in conjunction with the combine in Indianapolis.

Because Westbrook is a restricted free agent, the Eagles have the right to match any offer made by another NFL team or receive a first-round draft pick in this year's draft as compensation.

Westbrook, 25, was obviously of great value to the Eagles this season. He led the team with 812 rushing yards and he led all NFL running backs with 73 catches for 703 yards. He ranked 11th in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage. That was despite missing three games, including the final two, when head coach Andy Reid rested him to make sure he was healthy for the team's playoff run.

Shatsky thought that effort would at least earn Westbrook the top tender for a restricted free agent of $1.9 million, but the Eagles settled upon the middle figure.

The Eagles believe Westbrook is a truly talented player, but they have no fear of losing him. Teams with high first-round draft picks are reluctant to part with them. And looking at the teams drafting in the bottom of the first round this season, none of them is in need of a starting running back.

And as Brookover summed up: "If some team did give Westbrook an offer sheet, the Eagles would either match it or accept a first-round pick in a draft that is deepest at the running back position. ..."

In Tennessee. ... Contrary to conventional wisdom, Nashville Tennessean beat man Jim Wyatt reports that Steve McNair said the team's decision to release six players -- including wide receiver Derrick Mason and tackle Fred Miller -- to help get below the NFL's salary cap didn't make his retirement decision for him.

"I've said from the very beginning that this decision was about my health and my family and not the makeup of the team," McNair said this week. "And that still remains the case."

McNair, who continues to recover from sternum surgery, is reworking his contract to help the Titans get below the cap by the NFL deadline of March 2. His restructured deal will end up saving the team more than $5 million, though the Titans have opted to release six of his teammates to free up additional room.

McNair told Wyatt he hates seeing them go, especially Mason, who he spoke with on Monday. Mason and McNair have been teammates since Mason was drafted by Tennessee in 1997.

"I especially want to thank [Mason]," McNair explained. "We grew together and he was a big reason for a lot of my success and the team success. He is a great friend, a great receiver and he will continue to be great."

Head coach Jeff Fisher has also talked with McNair since the six players were released. The Titans are left with only one proven receiver -- Drew Bennett -- although there are high hopes for Tyrone Calico, who missed last season with a knee injury after showing promise as a rookie in 2003.

The Titans also have a young tight end in Ben Troupe and third-year running back Chris Brown.

'[McNair] has been in this league for many seasons and understands the process," Fisher said. "He is concerned and he wants to be surrounded by the best players, but I don't think this will be an issue."

Until Monday, it had been a smooth offseason for McNair. According to teammates and coaches, he's been especially upbeat since sternum surgery in December, which took place not long after he began offering hints that he might retire this offseason.

But McNair said he still hasn't made a decision about his future, and will continue his rehab before having an answer.

"Overall, physically I feel good, and I am still healing," McNair told Wyatt. "I have started doing some upper body stretching and cardio work so that I can get in the best shape of my life to make an informed decision about my future. ..."

In Denver. ... According to the Sports Xchange, the Broncos allowed running back Reuben Droughns to shop himself for a trade in the offseason, largely because there isn't much doubt that their tailback of the future is Tatum Bell.

Bell, a rookie last season, took some time to get comfortable in the offense after suffering through a number of injuries. But Bell rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns against Miami late in the season, even though his breakout game ended with him on the sideline with a separated shoulder.

Bell played a partial role for the rest of the season because of the shoulder injury and showed more flashes of his ability in those games. Although he'll have to compete with Mike Anderson and Quentin Griffin for the starting job, the Xchange reports he has the inside track.

"I'm approaching every drill, every team function as the starter," Bell said. "I'm not, but that's my mind frame now. If [Droughns] was here or not, I was going to go out and compete (for the starting job) anyway."

Bell answered one question late in the season, and that was his ability to play with pain. Bell missed time in preseason and early in the regular season with hamstring, finger and rib injuries, but playing four games with a third-degree separated shoulder opened some eyes.

"He definitely proved his toughness," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "I was proud of his production, his toughness considering everything that was involved."

Bell said he wants to add to his frame -- he played at 205 pounds last year -- in preparation of being Denver's featured back in 2005.

"This year I'm going to take the offseason more serious and get a little stronger and not lose my speed, and be more prepared for next year," Bell said. "I want to get at 215 and hold up the whole year. ..."

Meanwhile, Denver Post staffer Bill Williamson advised readers this week that if he isn't traded, Droughns doesn't see himself holding out from the Broncos' training camp.

"If I have to be a fullback, this is where I want to be," Droughns said. "But moving on is what I want at this point. ..."

Following up on an item from last Sunday. ... Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Mark Curnutte reminded readers on Saturday that Rudi Johnson, who like James and Alexander wears his team's franchise tag, previously had said he would sit out the 2005 season rather than play under a second consecutive one-year contract.

But on Friday at the combine, head coach Marvin Lewis sounded confident that Johnson again would be carrying the ball in Cincinnati in 2005.

"I think in Rudi's best interests, he's going to play," Lewis said. "What is he going to do? Rudi's a football player. Rudi wants to play football.

"Obviously, he didn't convey the correct message to people. When you talk about that amount of money and not being important, I think they've re-thought that a little."

On Friday, Lewis did not rule out a trade of Johnson, calling it an "option."

Under terms of the franchise tag, Johnson would be paid $6.3 million -- the average of the top five running back salaries in 2004-05.

As for Johnson's possible heir apparent, Chris Perry, Lewis said the second-year running back is recovering from postseason surgery to repair a sports hernia.

"Everything seems to be, from all reports, fine," Lewis said. ...

Also according to Curnutte, receiver T.J Houshmandzadeh has a new agent but apparently the same wish. The unrestricted free agent wants to stay with the Bengals, agent David Dunn said Friday at the combine.

"He'd love to stay in Cincinnati. He believes the team has a great chance to win and wants to be a part of it," said Dunn, hired by Houshmandzadeh after the player cut ties with former agent Andy Simms.

Houshmandzadeh's 73 receptions and 978 yards were second-most on the team last season.

He officially will become an unrestricted free agent Wednesday, but Dunn said he expected to talk contract with Bengals officials through the weekend and into the week.

"Well, that's supposedly what they say," Lewis said Friday when asked about Houshmandzadeh's stated wish to stay in Cincinnati. "But we still haven't come to terms. They are, as we speak, still working to come to terms. We're going to make sure we put together the best football team we can put together."

In other words, if a player isn't signed, the team will look to fill the roster spot. ...

Following up on another item from last weekend. ... Bills head coach Mike Mularkey said that while Buffalo is trying to grant Travis Henry's request for a trade, that doesn't guarantee it will happen.

"We're not spending morning, noon and night trying to move Travis," Mularkey said. "We've given him a little while this offseason to talk to other teams and see if there is a trade possibility. But it's going to be for the right price. I think everybody knows that. ..."

And in yet another follow up. ... Jerome Bettis, who weighed retiring after the Steelers lost in the AFC championship game last month, agreed Saturday to another pay cut and will play for at least one more season.

As AP sports writer Alan Robinson noted, this is the second consecutive season the NFL's No. 5 career rusher has accepted a substantial pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh. Bettis was to have made $4,484,000 next season, but will play for about $1.5 million -- or about $500,000 more than his base salary last season.

Last season, Bettis climbed to fifth on the NFL's career rushing list with 13,294 yards after replacing an injured Duce Staley at midseason and leading them with 941 yards. He turned 33 last week.

Also in Pittsburgh. ... With Ben Roethlisberger now firmly entrenched as their starter, Pasquarelli advised readers on Friday that team officials are quietly dangling Tommy Maddox as trade bait.

Pasquarelli added: "It probably wouldn't take too much to pry Maddox away, and he certainly could provide a very inexpensive insurance policy. ..."

In Detroit. ... Also according to the Xchange, Lions officials have high hopes for receiver Charles Rogers, but they also have some mostly-unspoken concern regarding his ability to make it through a full season without a major injury.

As a rookie in 2003, Rogers played five games and caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone during a bye-week practice session.

Last year, he lasted only three plays in the first game. He dived for the first ball thrown his way, landed on the same shoulder and broke the same collarbone about two inches from the previous break.

Surgery was performed, with a metal plate installed to expedite the healing process but again Rogers was finished for the season. By the end of the season he had begun rehab and conditioning work but is not yet lifting to 100 percent capability.

"I wouldn't say it's 100 percent because it's slowed down now," head coach Steve Mariucci said, referring to Rogers' offseason schedule. "He was lifting pretty good. Is his max back up to what it was? Probably not, but he's lifting."

Although he might be limited, Mariucci indicated he expects Rogers to take an active role in the offseason workouts during the spring. ...

Also in Detroit. ... Although there is nothing final in the works, free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia will be in town to take a physical and sit down with coaches this week.

In Cleveland. ... New head coach Romeo Crennel's selection of John Lott as his strength and conditioning coach might be traced to his first exposure to Lott while both were with the New York Jets in 1997.

As Cleveland Plain Dealer beat man Tony Grossi recounted this week, at Bill Parcells' first team meeting, the Jets' coach dropped a binder the size of a telephone book on a table. The voluminous binder contained the lengthy injury histories of all the Jets players.

"Things are going to change around here," Parcells bellowed.

Lott was brought in by Parcells to eradicate injuries, and that he did. From 1997 to 2002, the Jets had a total of 21 players on injured reserve -- the fewest in the NFL in that span. The Jets had only four players on IR in 2003 and four more in 2004.

So in Lott's eight seasons as Jets strength and conditioning coach, the team placed a total of 29 players on IR.

Compare that record to that of the Browns. Since their expansion season of 1999, the Browns have placed 77 players on injured reserve, including 38 the past three years with Buddy Morris as strength and conditioning coach.

For those who have been following the NFL Network's coverage of the combine, Lott has been highly visible as the (very intense, extremely vocal) man standing over and pushing prospects at the bench press. ...

Also in Cleveland. ... While William Green was given permission to seek a trade this week, the Browns continue to work at re-signing Kelly Holcomb. General manager Phil Savage said he felt good about getting a deal done before free agency begins on March 2.

"We're down the road somewhat in terms of talking with him," Savage said. "We'll wait and see how that plays out."

Crennel admitted he doesn't know a lot about Holcomb, who wants more money before returning as their likely starting quarterback. Savage called Holcomb a "starting point."

"He's been part of the team here, he's well liked, he's respected," Savage said. "He certainly throws well enough. He's found he can play in the wind in Cleveland. We felt if we can get some of the parts around him, that he was our best option."

Also according to Grossi, the team will "absolutely not" trade Kellen Winslow for draft picks. Savage added that Winslow's rehab from a broken leg continues.

"Kellen's doing well," the incoming GM said. "He's been around the facility. John Lott's been doing a lot in the weight room in terms of making changes down there.

"We're anticipating him being back at some point. I think I said May or June last time, I think that's what we're shooting for. ..."

In Dallas. ... Fort Worth Star Telegram staff writer Clarence E. Hill Jr. reports that Drew Bledsoe signed a three-year contract with the Cowboys on Wednesday "with his eyes wide open."

"I know there is skepticism about this deal," said Bledsoe.

Fortunately, he has the support of Parcells, who as coach of the Patriots, made the former Washington State star the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft.

But as Hill noted, Bledsoe also has the support of another former Patriot who has found a home with the Cowboys, receiver Terry Glenn, a Patriot from 1996-2001.

"Oh, yeah, I think he still has something," Glenn said. "I am not just being biased because he has thrown me most of my passes. It's good to have someone come in that you have caught balls from before. But he gives us another dimension."

Glenn said what he likes most about Bledsoe is the confident way he stands in the pocket and his ability to throw the ball downfield.

"He has a real good arm," Glenn said. "We just have to protect him."

Also on board with the quarterback signing is receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who spent much of the past two weeks watching film of Bledsoe.

Johnson said Bledsoe, 33, is a younger and stronger version of Testaverde, the team's 41-year-old starter last season.

"It's a great move," Johnson said. "He can still play. Would you take Vinny if he was 33? Yes. With the talent we have around him, it's a great move. ..."

In San Francisco. ... The biggest question mark for the 49ers offense is receiver Brandon Lloyd, who incurred the wrath of teammates Fred Beasley and Kevan Barlow last season.

As San Jose Mercury News staffer Daniel Brown reported it last November, Beasley blasted the team's young receivers for failing to give a full effort and for caring more about money and hairstyles than winning.

"I guess their mentality is way different from mine," Beasley said at the time. "Mine is: I want to win. I want a ring. I want to get to the playoffs. I guess theirs is: how much money they make, how long their braids are and how much bling-bling they can wear.

Beasley declined to use names, but his description of flashy fashion and braids left little doubt that one of his targets was Lloyd. According to Brown, the only other receiver with a braided hairstyle at that point in time was rookie Derrick Hamilton, who had yet to be activated for a game.

According to the Xchange, Lloyd, who caught 43 passes for 565 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns, is known around the 49ers as a high-maintenance individual and the previous staff tried to cater to his "special needs."

The new staff will not do that.

New receivers coach Jerry Sullivan is a demanding coach who will require Lloyd to get in step with the program.

In Oakland. ... Receiver Jerry Porter, who re-signed with the Raiders on Tuesday, offered to give Randy Moss, slated to become a Raider this week, his No. 84 Raiders jersey. But Moss declined, agent Dante DiTrapano said.

Moss instead will wear No. 18, which he wore during training camp with the Vikings his rookie season before switching to No. 84.

For what it's worth. ... Baltimore was the only other team in serious pursuit of Moss, but San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ira Miller reports the Ravens refused a Minnesota demand to include either safety Ed Reed or outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in the deal.

And finally. ...

In New Orleans. ... According to Pro Football Weekly, rumors hinting that team officials are in the market for a wide receiver -- considering how much of a disappointment Donte' Stallworth has been so far in his career -- continue to swirl.