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Fantasy Notebook: Rivers, Rhodes Eager To Prove Their Worth...
A blistering first week of free agency has resulted in more than just copious movement among such notable Fantasy prospects as Drew Brees, Edgerrin James, Daunte Culpepper (albeit via trade) and Terrell Owens. It has also partially proven one of the immutable laws of physics:

For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.

Of course, there is a reason I used the word "partially."

Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law specifies an opposite and equal reaction. The NFL's version also has an opposite reaction. But it's not necessarily equal.

Sure, somebody is going to fill the void left by the departure of high-end starters -- the opposite reaction to the initial loss. Whether those replacements are up to the task of making it an equal reaction, however, is by no means guaranteed.

Because of this, Fantasy owners need to bone up on the replacements as much as possible in an attempt to understand what their capabilities might be. So, as we gain clarity on these situations, it doesn't hurt to start the process of assessing them. That being the case, this morning's Notebook will take a closer look at a handful of players -- primarily associated with those listed above -- who stand to gain considerable Fantasy stature should they take full advantage of their respective opportunities.

Starting in San Diego, where Philip Rivers became the Chargers' starting quarterback on Tuesday by default. Rivers moved up the depth chart after Brees, pushed out the door because of a shoulder injury, signed with the New Orleans Saints.

As Associated Press sports writer Bernie Wilson noted, the Chargers are now in the hands of a player who's thrown only 30 passes in two seasons.

Wilson went on to suggest that most people knew this day would eventually come, that either Brees or Rivers would have to go. It just wasn't under this scenario.

"Drew was a heck of a teammate, a heck of a player, a guy I had a lot of fun being around and supporting," Rivers said. "I wish him the best on the recovery of the injury, which is the one thing I hated to see happen.

"I feel almost in an awkward position saying this, but I'm happy for him that he was able to sign the deal he wanted in free agency. He'll recover and have a successful rest of his career."

In Brees, the Chargers lose a Pro Bowler who led them to their only playoff appearance in the last decade, in 2004. Rivers, on the other hand, looked rusty when he was forced into the season finale after Brees got hurt.

"The one thing that's important is this isn't a setback," Rivers said of the transition. "This is a time to keep pressing forward to get where we want. The time is now and we have an opportunity to do something special in the near future."

Rivers' desire to set the record straight -- insisting his promotion to the starting lineup won't be a setback -- may have come from head coach Marty Schottenheimer's recent refusal to speculate whether the Chargers would take a step back with Rivers under center.

"I don't know that you can say that," the coach said while attending last month's NFL scouting combine. "I would think that history would indicate that (you would struggle some), but every situation is different. That would be pure speculation on my part.

"What I do know is, we've certainly gone through a process in the development of Drew to get him to where he is and it's very difficult to condense that time frame. ..."

To review. ... The Chargers obtained Rivers for Eli Manning and a handful of picks in a draft-day trade with the New York Giants in April 2004. But Rivers held out in training camp, allowing Brees, who had a poor 2003 season, to keep his job. Brees then led the Chargers to the AFC West title at 12-4.

The team missed the playoffs in 2005 after a late-season collapse.

Because of that collapse -- and because Brees tore his labrum in the otherwise meaningless season finale, general manager A.J. Smith, the man responsible for Rivers' presence in San Diego, made the decision to cut ties with Brees confident in his belief Rivers is ready to get deliver.

And as San Diego Union-Tribune staffer Jim Trotter suggested, "You can criticize the decision, but not the motivation."

"If Smith believes Rivers will develop into a better quarterback Brees, then he made the right call in clearing a path for Rivers to assume the starting job.

"We often talk about playing to win instead of playing not to lose. That philosophy applies to general managers as well as to teams. ..."

Trotter went on to explain that Smith knows the popular decision would have been to bring back Brees for another year, even if it meant paying him $9 million as a franchise player. But Smith has no interest in winning popularity contests; he's more concerned about winning championships, and clearly he believes Rivers is more capable of doing that, otherwise he would have made a legitimate effort to re-sign Brees.

And let us not forget, Rivers set at least 50 school records as a four-year starter at North Carolina State and was MVP in every bowl game in which he appeared.

According to Trotter, he has a release that's as quick as his mind.

Whether that means he'll enjoy the same type of success that he did as a collegian is something only time knows. But clearly Smith believes it is time to find out. He didn't make the draft-day trade in '04 to get Rivers so Rivers could hold a clipboard forever.

"I feel the same way with his ability except that he's never played in the National Football League except a dabble in it," Smith explained. "That's always a concern for all of us.

"Any time that a college player enters the NFL, it starts all over again. There are first-round busts and there are seventh-rounders who go to Honolulu every year. There are free agents that go to the Pro Bowl and in betweens. That's a judgment that we make as personnel people. You do the best job you can. You bring them in and when they cross over into that arena of the NFL, you just hope that you've made the right evaluation and you surround those people with a quality team. You hope for the best.

"The two years that Philip has been in our program, I think if he was ever given and opportunity whenever that comes, I believe that he'll be very, very successful."

Rivers couldn't agree more. ... "I'm excited, and I'm going to work like crazy this offseason to get where I need to be," he said.

There has been talk Rivers has struggled in practice. It must be pointed out he was running the scout team against the first-team defense, working not only with less-talented players but running plays the defense knows are coming.

Some players believe Rivers is going to develop into a top quarterback, some saying he can be better than Brees and others mentioning him as already superior to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Once off-season workouts begin, Rivers will have the support of his teammates. But the fact is, he will have to prove himself to them as well.

And that learning curve, well, it had better progress quickly.

"Philip has got to earn our trust, to show he can work as hard as [Brees]," said one player. "You're drafted fourth overall, yeah, he better throw 20 touchdowns and less than 10 picks. He's not going to have the luxury of making mistakes. He's going to be under the microscope."

Rivers hopes to keep growing pains to a minimum.

"I would be crazy to say I'm going to have a perfect season and make few mistakes. But I certainly expect myself to make as few mistakes as possible, and to let the offseason, let that be the time for growing pains. Make that the time when I make mistakes and learn and battle every day."

For what it's worth, Union-Tribune beat man Kevin Acee noted this week that a defensive coordinator of a team the Chargers will play next season inquired at the Senior Bowl in January what the Chargers intended to do with Brees and Rivers.

Then, with a slight smile, he offered this: "I hope they keep Brees."

After a pause, he explained why he thought such a move would be in his team's interest.

"He's a fine quarterback in the system they have, but he doesn't make the players around him better," the coordinator said. "The other guy, I think he's going to be great."

Other defensive assistants, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, were less effusive in their praise of Rivers. But while no one disparaged Brees, they were unanimous in their assessment he was fortunate to direct an offense that had Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson as options.

It turns out Smith has similar thoughts.

For the record, Smith knows the perception is the Chargers are a Super Bowl-caliber team and people are asking, "How could you possibly entrust this team to this inexperienced guy?"

He says simply that time will tell.

Said Smith: "Maybe two years down the road somebody might say, 'Boy, this Philip Rivers is a talented guy.' Or they might say the opposite."

And as Trotter summed up: "If Smith believes Rivers can take the team where Brees did not -- maybe not this year, but soon after -- he has to go with his conviction. He has to play to win instead of not to lose. There's a big difference. ..."

In Indianapolis. ... According to AP sports writer Michael Marot, all Dominic Rhodes wanted was a chance to start in the NFL. It looks like he'll get the opportunity this fall.

The Colts paid a $1.45 million bonus to keep Rhodes under contract next season, his agent, Mike McCartney, said Tuesday. McCartney said the bonus was paid out Saturday -- a day before James signed his four-year, $30 million deal with the Cardinals, perhaps indicating the Colts were already preparing for life without their all-time leading rusher.

With a base salary of about $550,000 next year, Rhodes will count $2 million against the $102 million salary cap.

The decision to pay the bonus, combined with the loss of James to Arizona, means Rhodes will presumably compete for the starting job during this summer's training camp.

"Everything we've heard from them has been great," McCartney told Marot. "Dominic's got his chance, and he's thrilled and chomping at the bit to get into the offseason program right now."

Rhodes, at 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, is short by NFL standards and at age 27 is only five months younger than James. But as Marot pointed out, Rhodes has taken far fewer hits.

While James had a franchise-record 2,188 carries in seven seasons with the Colts, Rhodes has carried only 363 times in five seasons -- only 130 times since 2002. In 2001, Rhodes replaced an injured James for the final 10 games and set an NFL record for undrafted rookies by rushing for 1,104 yards. He also scored nine touchdowns and caught 34 passes for 224 yards.

But since James returned from knee surgery in 2002, Rhodes has been relegated primarily to spot duty and returning kicks. Last season, he ran 40 times for 118 yards and four TDs, bringing his career totals to 1,633 yards and 14 TDs.

The big risk is injuries.

Rhodes has had surgery on a problematic left shoulder that has been dislocated several times since he joined the Colts. He also missed the 2002 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp.

But for now, he's one of the few options the Colts have as a replacement to James.

James Mungro, the Colts' short-yardage back, also is an unrestricted free agent, and the only other running back on the roster is Kory Chapman. The Colts signed Chapman, a free agent, in September and he has never had an NFL carry.

With team president Bill Polian already saying the Colts are likely to sit out the first few weeks of free agency, it's more likely the Colts will use an early-round draft pick on a running back who will compete with Rhodes for the starting job.

"I don't think they're bringing anyone in free agency unless someone falls through the cracks," McCartney said. "My impression is that they'll draft someone."

According to most observers, at least four running backs are considered first-round prospects: USC's Reggie Bush and LenDale White, Memphis' DeAngelo Williams and Laurence Maroney of Minnesota. Other possibilities are Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun and Joseph Addai of LSU.

Indianapolis Star beat man Mike Chappell reminded readers this week, the Colts haven't been the least bit reluctant to lean heavily on a rookie. Remember Marshall Faulk in '94? And James in '99?

Each, though, was a top-four pick, a proven commodity.

The Colts possess the 30th overall pick on April 29, and can select the best running back available, not the best running back.

Head coach Tony Dungy admitted it will be difficult to ask a rookie to step in and do what James has done the past seven seasons. James has developed into arguably the best all-around running back in the league -- a tireless runner, a solid receiver, a fierce blocker in passing situations.

And Even if the Colts invest their first-round pick in a running back, that player will have to wrestle the starting spot away from Rhodes.

"Dominic's done it for us in the past," Polian said. ...

Also in Indy. ... The Colts also made another move Tuesday to bolster their roster by re-signing free agent kicker Jose Cortez to a one-year deal worth about the league minimum, which is $585,000 for a player with six years of experience.

That move could help alleviate the hole expected to be left when Mike Vanderjagt, the franchise's scoring leader and NFL's most accurate kicker, signs with another team.

Vanderjagt, an unrestricted free agent, is reportedly being courted by the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers among others. Polian has already said he does not expect to re-sign Vanderjagt. ...

In Minnesota. ... St. Paul Pioneer Press staffer Sean Jensen reports that while they were disappointed Culpepper was traded to the Dolphins on Tuesday, veterans Bryant McKinnie and Fred Smoot said they have confidence in Brad Johnson.

At least over the short term.

"He's won a Super Bowl," McKinnie said of Johnson, who led the Vikings to a 7-2 record last season after taking over for the injured Culpepper. "I have confidence in Brad, but I'm not going to say for the next three years."

Smoot said Johnson, 37, has the experience and talent to thrive as the Vikings' starter, especially in head coach Brad Childress' new West Coast offense.

"I have no doubt that Brad can carry us," Smoot said. "Plus, my head coach, I know his offense, and his offense is guaranteed to move the ball, no matter who is the quarterback. I feel good about how Brad will play in the offense.

"Brad will master it in no time."

Childress spoke glowingly of Johnson in an interview with Sirius NFL Radio.

"He's played in this system before, and he understands some of the verbiage in it," Childress said. "He's a great preparation guy. A great professional. He knows how to get rid of the football, and he knows how to make plays. And he's got something I want: one of those world championship rings. He's got one on his finger, he's found a way to do it and that's certainly all of our goal."

On Thursday, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf told Jensen that he has no reservations about starting Johnson. But he added that he would leave decisions to the "professionals."

While Johnson is locked in as the starter, depth at the position remains a question. The Vikings continue to assess available free agents, including Brian Griese and Craig Nall.

The team also could look to supplement their stable of quarterbacks through the draft. During Childress' interview on Sirius, former Vikings receiver Cris Carter asked him about packaging multiple draft picks to move up and snag one of the top three quarterbacks, Matt Leinart, Vince Young or Jay Cutler.

"Well, you know, you look at all those eventualities and see if you feel like there's something," Childress said. "Matter of fact we were just looking through some numbers, what you can add them up to, those three picks, and how far you can move up and so on and so forth.

"When you do those mock drafts, you have to kind of consider all those things because there's a lot of things that come across your plate on draft day. There's no doubt we'd like to get a developmental guy, somebody we can teach this system to and kind of nurse along and then have him get out on the field. We've done that with a couple guys in Philadelphia, a guy like A.J. Feeley, who we were able to develop a little bit. I'd like to be able to do that with somebody."

Other rookie quarterbacks available: Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green, Brodie Croyle of Alabama and Charlie Whitehurst of Clemson.

The Vikings will have the 17th pick in the first round and two picks in the second round.

Also in Minnesota. ... In the press conference held to introduce new acquisitions Ryan Longwell and Chester Taylor -- both signed on the first day of free agency, Childress stressed that both were more than talented football players.

"They're good players, first of all, or they wouldn't be standing up here, but they're good people, and that's going to be important as we go along here," Childress said. "We know exactly what we're getting from a character standpoint. Good players that are good people have a chance to win a lot of games."

The Vikings signed Longwell to a five-year, $10 million contract that included $3 million in guaranteed bonuses; signed Taylor to a four-year, $14.1 million contract that included $5.6 million in guaranteed bonuses; and signed Leber to a five-year, $20 million contract that included guaranteed bonuses in excess of $4 million.

Other teams pursued Longwell and Taylor, but both opted for the Vikings instead. Longwell, for instance, reportedly was pursued by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But he said the direction of the Vikings appealed to him.

"When I started to get acquainted with the people here today in this organization, they're incredible," said Longwell, the Packers' career scoring leader. "From the head coach to the special teams coach to the owner to everybody involved, they're just great people that this organization has in there. We were honored that they wanted us to come and be a part of it and be a part of the transition. We expect good things pretty quick here."

"I am really excited about this opportunity I have been given," Taylor said. "I played behind Jamal Lewis for four years, and standing on the sideline was just killing me a little bit, but I did what I had to do."

Now, Taylor could do much more, perhaps touching the ball "20 to 30 times" a game, according to Childress.

"Chester is a complete running back, who is thrilled to be featured in a West Coast attack," Taylor's agent, Ken Sarnoff, said.

In an article published Monday, Sports Illustrated insider Peter King noted: "I think next October we'll all be writing, 'Wow. I never thought the biggest impact player in free agency would be Chester Taylor with the Vikings.'"

King went on to predict Taylor will outgain James in 2006. ...

And finally, in Philadelphia. ... The effort to bolster depth in the wake of Owens' Tuesday release (he signed with the Cowboys on Saturday) led the Eagles to add former Texan Jabar Gaffney, who started 50 of 64 games during his four seasons with the Houston Texans.

It remains to be seen if Gaffney will move into the starting lineup with the Eagles, who also have Reggie Brown, Todd Pinkston, Greg Lewis, Billy McMullen and Darnerien McCants on the roster. McCants also signed a one-year deal this past week.

Though Gaffney never lived up to the potential of being such a high pick with the Texans, it should be noted that his first year was also Houston's first in the NFL. The Texans have had one of the worst offenses in the league and had trouble throwing the ball because they were unable to protect quarterback David Carr.

Gaffney, who was the Texans' No. 2 receiver, had his best year in terms of receiving yards in 2004 when he caught 41 passes for 632 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he had a career-high 55 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns.

And according to Philadelphia Inquirer beat man Bob Brookover, team officials think they have two legitimate No. 2 receivers in Gaffney and Pinkston to play across from a rising player in Brown.

Head coach Andy Reid and company also have a broader view than just the wide receiver corps when they think about the passing game. They believe newly-signed tight end Matt Schobel, previously with the Bengals, will give Donovan McNabb another weapon he was missing most of last season when rookie Stephen Spach was the backup tight end.

They Eagles also added veteran experience behind McNabb by signing Jeff Garcia.

Not surprisingly, that move was made shortly after Owens was officially sent packing. ...

I'll also suggest that, perhaps better than any of the changes outlined above, none better exemplifies opposite but unequal reaction than Philadelphia trying to void left by Owens' departure with Gaffney.