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Fantasy Notebook; Brees, Palmer, McAllister On Track & More...
In an article published last Sunday, San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Kevin Acee reported that Drew Brees' rehabilitation from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder was already three weeks ahead of schedule.

In fact, because the day Acee met with the Chargers' quarterback was exactly three weeks after the surgery, quick math indicates he is doubling time, essentially cutting his projected recovery in half.

Acee added, however, that no amount of work will get Brees throwing before the end of April.

Still, Brees is progressing quite well. He expected to be in a sling, unable to move his arm for a month. For nearly two weeks now he has worn the sling only to bed. He still does everything with his left hand. But while that right arm is not yet useful, it is free.

He holds it gingerly at times, only to protect it when people are close.

"There are guys that get hurt and wait for (the recovery) to happen," said physical therapist Kevin Wilk. "He's making it happen."

Brees spends almost eight hours a day on the campus of St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama (where the surgery was performed), more than four of those hours in the company of Wilk, stretching and strengthening the shoulder that could once again carry the Chargers' fate. During the other four, he works on his legs and core, eats and makes phone calls.

"He's really ahead of schedule," Wilk said. "He's just really doing a great job."

And while he's doing well, Brees still wonders about the latest on his pending contract negotiations. He and his agent are awaiting a call from the Chargers.

The team is expected to contact agent Tom Condon with an initial proposal for a long-term deal.

General manager A.J. Smith reiterated this past week that he plans to decide whether to designate Brees as the Chargers' franchise or (more likely) transition player at least a week before the Feb. 23 deadline to do so.

That means that the two sides -- characterized by Acee as a notoriously hard-line franchise and one of the NFL's top agents -- have about two weeks to come to an agreement. Smith did not deny that leaves little time to reach common ground, nor did he dispute that negotiations could be complicated by uncertainty.

Indeed, Smith readily admits to being "concerned" about the "medical issues" involving Brees and pointed out there is no guarantee Brees will be at full strength for training camp.

Even without being told of that appraisal, Brees volunteered that he knows what people are thinking.

"I'm just kind of laughing to myself," he said. "They want to see it again, I'll show them again."

And as Acee noted, the quarterback whose passer rating over the past two seasons is second in franchise history only to the best two-year stretch put together by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, believes with everything in him that he will be better than ever come July.

Who tells him this?

He jabs his chest and says, "Me."

Wilk, one of the country's top specialists in the rehabilitation of shoulders, supported Brees' contention that his advanced early progress bodes well for the ultimate recovery.

In the meantime, Brees focuses on the same daily goal: "I've got to do more than I did yesterday. ..."

Also on the rehab front. ... Cincinnati Enquirer beat man Mark Curnutte reports that Carson Palmer had a checkup Tuesday in Houston, three weeks after surgery on two torn ligaments in the quarterback's left knee.

Dr. Lonnie E. Paulos of Houston's Methodist Sports Institute, who performed the surgery on Palmer Jan. 10, conducted the exam.

"Dr. Paulos has told us that Carson is progressing just as we hoped he would," head coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement released Wednesday by the club's media relations department.

"Carson still has much rehab work ahead, obviously, but at this point he is on schedule for our goal of having him ready to open the 2006 season. This is encouraging news for everyone in our organization."

Bengals media relations director Jack Brennan told reporters on Wednesday that the club has prohibited Palmer from discussing his injury and rehabilitation with the media.

Palmer returned to Los Angeles, where he has been doing rehab work at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic. The Bengals' medical and training staffs are overseeing his rehabilitation, and the plan is for Palmer to shift his rehab site to Cincinnati at a date to be determined.

He tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral (ACL and MCL) ligaments on the Bengals' second offensive snap of their playoff loss to Pittsburgh Jan. 8. ...

In a related note. ... Curnutte reminded readers on Monday that Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen was not penalized or fined for the playoff hit that caused Palmer's injuries.

But the hit will be reviewed by the NFL this offseason.

A rule is in place that allows defensive linemen coming off a block to hit quarterbacks below the knees. But that could change pending the review.

"It's too early to tell," said Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay, the co-chairman of the league's competition committee.

"We look at every injury, and we look at injuries by position, and the focus is always the quarterback position and the affect their injuries have on the game. I'm certain we'll look at that play. We haven't revisited that rule ... in a long time, but I'm sure it will be brought up. ..."

In New Orleans. ... As Baton Rouge Advocate sports writer Sheldon Mickles noted Friday, in the wake of a disastrous 3-13 season this fall, the Saints were about as far away from Super Bowl XL as they could be.

But there was some good news circulating around the game's media hub -- the Marriott Renaissance Center in Detroit -- on Thursday as two-time Pro Bowl running back Deuce McAllister made the rounds along Radio Row for talk show after talk show.

The good news is that McAllister, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in an Oct. 9 game against the Packers and underwent surgery 11 days later, got around without so much as a limp -- 15 weeks to the day after the operation.

Looking fit and trim, right at his playing weight of 235 pounds, McAllister told Mickles he's about two weeks ahead of schedule in his rehab and expects to be at full speed by the start of training camp in late July.

Mickles went on to point out that's extremely good news for first-year head coach Sean Payton, who will need a healthy McAllister and a productive running game to take some pressure off the offense next season -- especially if the Saints decide to use the second overall pick in the April 29-30 draft on a quarterback.

"I've been doing good," said McAllister, who became the franchise's all-time rushing leader three weeks before his right foot got caught in the turf at Lambeau Field and he went down without being hit. "I've been working out and was released to start jogging three weeks ago."

That was certainly a big step for McAllister, who had been limited to working on a stationary bike and an elliptical trainer in the first 12 weeks after the surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, who was also responsible for Brees' shoulder surgery.

The next milestone, McAllister said, will come when he is examined by Andrews in April. If everything goes as planned on that visit, McAllister will likely be allowed to begin doing some football-related drills.

Until then, McAllister will endure two workouts a day with a jogging and walking regimen designed to strengthen the knee. While ACL injuries can typically take up to 18 months to heal completely, McAllister certainly has his eyes fixed on a shorter timetable.

"I think I'm going to be full-go at training camp," he said. "This isn't going to stop me."

The 27-year-old McAllister is eager to get back out on the field and do his part for an offense that was designed last offseason to take advantage of his speed and power by former coach Jim Haslett and former offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard.

"I think I'm the key (to the offense)," he said. "Basically, the offense was based on myself last offseason.

"That was going to be huge for us, but the injury didn't help me."

Another thing that's undoubtedly on McAllister's mind is the eight-year, $50.1 million contract he received on the day before training camp began in July. The deal made him the NFL's third-highest paid running back.

Collecting that money and earning it are two different things for McAllister, however, and he realizes the only way he can do that is push himself to the limit every day.

"By the time training camp comes, it'll be nine months and when we start playing (regular-season) games in September it'll be right at 11 months," he said. "The most positive thing for me was that there were no other ligaments damaged and the meniscus (cartilage) was all right, too. ..."

Other Fantasy-specific news and notes of interest from around the NFL. ...

In Green Bay. ... Mike McCarthy is not concluding from Brett Favre's interview last Sunday with ESPN that his veteran quarterback will likely retire this offseason.

As noted in a previous article, Favre told ESPN that if he had to decide now, he'd retire. But McCarthy, the Packers' new coach, said that in his 2- to 3-hour meeting with Favre in Mississippi last Thursday they talked about the many issues Favre is considering, including several Favre discussed in the ESPN interview.

According to staffer Pete Dougherty, McCarthy didn't come away from their conversation thinking Favre was likely to retire and said Favre's feeling now doesn't matter. Favre has only been back home in Mississippi for four weeks and doesn't have to decide now.

"I'm not going to overreact to the statement," McCarthy said Monday. "It's January. A lot of players when you get to that point in your career and all the things he's had in his personal life, like his daughter being a senior (in high school next fall) and all that, we talked about all those things."

McCarthy said the Packers have not set a deadline for the 36-year-old Favre to decide whether he'll return. ...

In Minnesota. ... According to Minneapolis Star Tribune staff writer Sid Hartman, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper was at the team headquarters Tuesday and met with owner Zygi Wilf and head coach Brad Childress.

Wilf told Hartman it was his understanding that Culpepper did not make his visit here to increase his guaranteed contract of $8 million, including $6 million for reporting in March.

As noted in a previous article, Culpepper did ask for an increase in his contract in a previous meeting with Rob Brzezinski, vice present of football operations, and was turned down. It doesn't make sense that a player who had serious knee surgery and might not play early next season would continue to ask for more money.

Wilf did say this meeting was different.

"[Culpepper] just wanted clarification," Wilf said. "He wanted clarification of what his role is and where he stands. We tell him he is a franchise quarterback, and we're hoping he's able to come back quick enough to be able to be with us this season. We're hoping that the recovery works out well, that's all."

Previously there had been a lack of communication between Culpepper and Childress when Culpepper came to the Twin Cities. Instead of meeting Childress, Culpepper called him on the telephone.

Was Tuesday's meeting successful?

"Quite honestly, we're hopeful we can move on," Wilf told Hartman. "One thing I've learned, I'm leaving this thing up between the coaches and the players. I'm not getting involved."

What is Culpepper's future with the Vikings?

"I don't know. It's hard to say," Wilf said. "All I know is that [Wilf and Childress] want to make sure that he's able to play healthy for our team and take us where we want to go.

"You know, a guy goes through an injury, I can't tell you what goes through his mind, but what I can say is that we're working to make sure he can come back and be happy, that's all. We're trying our best. ..."

In Denver. ... The Broncos have reportedly held internal discussions regarding a potential trade for Ricky Williams.

The Broncos would consider making an offer if unable to obtain wide receiver Terrell Owens in a trade with Philadelphia, the newspaper reported.

A source told the Denver Post the Dolphins have had no talks with Philadelphia about a potential Owens trade. The Eagles are expected to release Owens if they are unable to trade him before the start of the free-agent signing period March 3

Meanwhile, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen told the Post that his team has not ruled out the possibility of signing Owens.

Several Broncos veterans recently met to discuss the team's pursuit of Owens. The consensus was that it is a good idea because the team has enough veterans to keep the disruptive star in check. ...

In Detroit. ... It appears the Lions' on again-off again pursuit of Mike Martz is. ... On again?

In articles published late Friday and early Saturday respectively, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Detroit Free Press independently reported the Lions aren't quite ready to take no for an answer from Martz.

Post-Dispatch beat man Jim Thomas, citing unnamed sources, was first to report the Lions contacted Martz again Friday, seeing if he would reconsider his decision on their offensive coordinator job.

Martz interviewed Tuesday with new head coach Rod Marinelli, who then spoke at length about Martz in a news conference Wednesday -- even though the Lions have a policy of not commenting on their coaching situation.

Marinelli said he "would love to have" Martz and the sides were "very close," though there was "nothing finalized."

By Wednesday night, it looked like the former Rams coach would sign a multiyear deal and bring three St. Louis assistants with him -- tight ends coach Pat Carter, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery and quarterbacks coach John Ramsdell (who subsequently signed on with the Chargers to work in that same capacity).

But Thursday, Martz backed out.

Those familiar with negotiations told Thomas the Lions were offering somewhere in the range of $700,000 to $800,000 in the first year of the contract and about $1 million a year in the second and third years.

Martz reportedly wanted $1.5 million the first year to get the ball rolling.

Free Press staffer Nicholas J. Cotsonika then added fuel to the fire Saturday, when he reported that team president Matt Millen might have hinted Friday that the Martz deal wasn't dead. Asked how it broke down, he said: "Who said that it broke down?" Pressed, he added: "I'm not going to comment about this until everything is taken care of."

According to both Thomas and Cotsonika, Martz's agent, Bob LaMonte, declined to comment Friday night. He had made a brief comment Friday morning saying he was disappointed the sides had been unable to come together on a contract.

"I was surprised because I thought it was a very easy thing to get done," LaMonte said. Asked Friday morning if Martz would listen if the Lions made another offer, LaMonte said he couldn't speak to that. ...

For the record. ... While the reporting on this one has been fairly consistent -- as outlined above, there has been a dissenting voice. Booth Newspapers staffer Tom Kowalski, in a column published this morning, continued an ongoing series of reports stating without equivocation that nearly everything coming out of the Martz camp in the last week has either been a fabrication or exaggeration of the truth.

In fact, Kowalski reports it was Martz who contacted Marinelli on Friday, not the other way around. And, while Martz is trying to paint the picture that the Lions are being inconsistent with their approach to hiring him, that's not the case at all.

Kowalski added: "The Lions were more than a little irritated at Martz for trying to paint them as cheapskates."

Even so, Kowalski now concedes that Martz could well end up with the job.

Which brings us to insider Peter King, who suggested on Monday that Martz would be the best hire Millen has made in five years.

King added: "Assuming it gets done -- and I hear Martz is enthused about the job -- whoever plays quarterback for the Lions in 2006 is going to be the happiest man on the face of the earth after one mini-camp with Martz."

In a related note. ... Sporting News columnist Dan Pompei advised readers this week that team have been getting trade feelers for Joey Harrington, but they aren't sure they want to get rid of him.

Detroit's front office still believes Harrington could be an efficient quarterback in the right system and with the right coaching. Marinelli hasn't written off Harrington and his future in Detroit likely will be decided by the team's new offensive coordinator. ...

In Pittsburgh. ... King also advised readers on Monday that we shouldn't assume today's Super Bowl will be the last time Jerome Bettis takes the field with the Steelers.

Apparently, Bettis might consider playing in 2006 if one or more of the TV networks fail to come through with a good gig. As HBO's Cris Collinsworth often suggests, he's still such a great short-yardage back, why would he retire?

King summed up by noting that Bettis "could have had an ESPN gig last offseason, but it wasn't what he wanted. If he gets one of the good chairs on TV -- at ESPN, NBC, CBS, FOX or HBO -- I say he goes. If not, you might not have seen the last of the big man. ..."

In Cleveland. ... Last offseason, the Browns were willing to give Chester Taylor a one-year, $3 million deal, but the Ravens matched the offer to the restricted free agent.

This year, Taylor is unrestricted, and according to Pompei, the Browns are in the picture again. But this time, their interest in him is linked to their contract negotiations with Reuben Droughns.

Droughns' contract has one year remaining, and the team would like to extend the deal before the start of the free-agent period. If the Browns can't cut a deal, look for the team to make another run at Taylor. ...

In New England. ... Also according to Pompei, the Patriots are not down on Corey Dillon, even though he had an off year. The team is giving Dillon a pass because he often played hurt.

What's more, New England was missing its two best run blockers, center Dan Koppen and left tackle Matt Light, for most of the season.

That said, the team realizes Dillon is 31 and that older backs who run as physically as he does tend to break down. The Patriots almost assuredly will add a young back to complement Dillon and possibly eventually replace him. ...

In Atlanta. ... The Falcons will be in the market for a running back in the draft. Warrick Dunn still is running strong, but he's 31. T.J. Duckett, meanwhile, finished the season poorly, rushing for 1.1 yards per carry in his last five games.

As Pompei pointed out: "It has become apparent after four seasons that Duckett is a big back who doesn't run like one. ..."

In New York. ... "Pity Chad Pennington."

So instructed Boston Globe beat man Ron Borges, who went on to remind readers that offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is no longer with the Jets, meaning Pennington now faces not only with recovering from shoulder surgery for the second year in a row but also with learning his fourth new offense since the Jets drafted him in 2000. ...

Finally, in Chicago. ... Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith caught 26 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns in two games at Soldier Field. And as Chicago Tribune columnist Don Pierson pointed out, the Bears' Muhsin Muhammad caught 31 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns in nine games at Soldier Field.