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Fantasy Notebook: Brooks Out; Moss, Porter In... For Now
If it's late February, it must be time for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, where owners, executives, head coaches, assistant coaches, scouts and sundry other minions gather to assess the current crop of rookie talent.

They also tend to discuss free agency, their overall needs, desires and general off-season plans with the media.

Better still, they talk privately amongst themselves. And that leads to the kind of rumor, speculation and innuendo Fantasy owners so love. And make no mistake about it; this week's Fantasy Notebook has its share. ...

Starting in Oakland. ... After finishing 2-14 in 2006 and scoring only 168 points and 12 offensive touchdowns -- including an eight-game stretch without an offensive touchdown -- one thing is certain: The Raiders will be looking to improve that side of the ball with the No. 1 pick overall when draft day rolls around this April.

And as San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Nancy Gay suggested, after cutting loose veteran quarterback Aaron Brooks on Thursday by declining to pick up the option on his contract, the probability that the Raiders will pick either LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell or the quarterback he outplayed in the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, went up exponentially.

Not that the Raiders will come right out and say so. ...

In fact, new head coach Lane Kiffin waved off questions several times during a Thursday press conference at the combine in Indianapolis before finally agreeing to talk about Brooks' release.

Kiffin said it's not a given the Raiders will use that No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback just because Brooks got the hook.

"That decision was not made because of that," Kiffin said. "There are a number of players at the top of that draft who can change our team really quick. And a number of playmakers, especially on offense, that can come in right away and help us. So we'll evaluate all of that.

"That decision was not made based on that first pick."

Part of the decision: Brooks was due a $5 million roster bonus on March 7. Plus, he didn't exactly fit the bill of a franchise quarterback. Brooks was sacked seven times in the Raiders' season-opening 27-0 loss to the Chargers, fumbled two snaps and tore his pectoral muscle the next week at Baltimore and missed the next seven games.

And more importantly, as Gay noted, he didn't win a single game in a Raiders uniform.

The five million bucks played some part in the decision, Kiffin admitted.

"We just thought, when we put everything together that it just wasn't the right fit, right now," Kiffin said. "So obviously, when you do that, you don't make a decision on just the guy's playing ability. You make a decision on his money as well."

So what will happen to eight-game starter Andrew Walter? The second-year player was 2-6 in relief of Brooks, tossing 13 interceptions and three touchdowns and losing nine fumbles. He also was sacked 46 times.

Brooks' departure, plus the expected exit of unrestricted free agent-to-be Marques Tuiasosopo, doesn't automatically make Walter the starter, Kiffin said.

"We haven't looked at it that way," Kiffin said. "We've looked at it (as) we're excited about Andrew Walter. We don't need to figure out a starting quarterback today. Obviously, there are a lot of tools there that excite us about him, and he'll get a shot."

That said, Sacramento Bee staffer Jason Jones suggests the Raiders will still need a veteran quarterback on the roster as a starter or mentor to Walter and/or perhaps a draftee.

Notable veterans available when free agency starts include Philadelphia's Jeff Garcia and Kansas City's Damon Huard.

The team also could opt to trade for a veteran, such as Jacksonville's David Garrard or Houston's David Carr, both of whom could be available. Atlanta restricted free agent Matt Schaub, who played for new Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp with the Falcons, is another possibility.

"There are a lot of different ways we can go with this," Kiffin said.

Which brings us to a rumor posted on Profootballtalk.com on Friday (and a follow up to last weekend's Notebook) suggesting the Jaguars -- despite the fact head coach Jack Del Rio committed to him as his starter this year -- might be willing to ship Byron Leftwich and a draft pick or two to Oakland in exchange for Randy Moss.

It is true that last season there were rumors that former Vikings coach Mike Tice, now an assistant with the Jags, was lobbying for the team to trade for Moss.

And PFT editor Mike Florio does make a reasonable argument contending a potential deal might actually explain the decision to proclaim Leftwich will be the starter when the season begins seven months from now.

As Florio put it: "If Leftwich was on the team's proverbial trash heap, how could they get anything for him in trade?"

He has a point.

Likewise for the Raiders, the best way to get value for Moss, who has made no secret of his desire to be traded, is for the organization to throw its arms around him and act like they plan to keep him -- even if they don't.

And Kiffin did just that Thursday.

Although he's yet to meet Moss in person, the new coach said his phone conversations with the temperamental receiver have gone well -- reports of a profanity-laced tirade hurled from player to coach in their initial conversation notwithstanding.

"He hasn't been in town yet so we haven't gotten to meet face to face," Kiffin said. "But Randy was very positive and we're excited about Randy. He's a great player and we think can fit into our system very well."

Kiffin also said he has had positive encounters with the team's other enigmatic receiver, Jerry Porter, although he said he feels Porter continues to dwell on past slights. Porter was suspended for much of last season and finished with one catch.

On Wednesday he announced he was changing his jersey number, a gesture that he is wiping the slate clean.

"We're excited about the future with Jerry," Kiffin said. "He continues to talk about the past, and this is part of the problem. And (I'm trying to) get in Jerry's head, that's over with now. Stop. Stop talking about it."

All this good will, however, doesn't mean the Raiders will avoid receivers in the draft. Kiffin said they would consider Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, who many believe is the draft's most talented player, with the No. 1 overall pick.

"Without a doubt we've evaluated Calvin and we're still doing it," he said. "He's a great player and he's going to be right up there."

Sure coach. I ain't buying it.

As SI.com insider Peter King wrote late last Monday: "I think the Raiders will shock the world if they do anything but sit right where they are on draft day in April and take anyone but JaMarcus Russell. ..."

Other Fantasy-specific tidbits of interest from around the NFL. ...

In Chicago. ... At least one local observer expects the Bears to accommodate Thomas Jones' apparent request for a trade as best they can.

According to Chicago Tribune staffer David Haugh, Jones, with one year left on his contract, put his name atop the off-season agenda in a meeting that general manager Jerry Angelo stopped just short of calling a trade demand.

"He has expressed some things to me personally and we'll work on some things," Angelo said. "He really enjoyed the season and likes being a Bear so it has nothing to do with anything but what he feels would be in his best interest. We're going to mull over some things."

And Cedric Benson isn't on the list of "things" Angelo is unsure about.

Indeed, Angelo sounded very certain about moving forward in the running game behind Benson, despite lingering concerns about his durability and maturity.

So, if Jones leaves town, Angelo said he would have no qualms turning to Benson as his top back.

"Are there still some unanswered questions [about Benson]? Yes," he said. "But when we brought Thomas Jones in here there were some unknowns about him and he answered the bell. It's just part of the business sometimes.

"You can't have your cake and eat it too. You'd like to know everybody you put out there is tried and tested. But it just doesn't work that way. ..."

Still -- in a rather interesting development, head coach Lovie Smith expressed support for Jones the day after Angelo's comments. Smith evaded a question about whether Jones would return under the same conditions of sharing the load with Benson.

"I would definitely expect Thomas Jones to be a Bear next [season]," Smith said. "Thomas has been one of our leaders, had an outstanding season. I like what we were able to do at the running back position, of course [with] Thomas as our starter. ..."

Do you suppose the team's reluctance to extend Smith's contract and keeping him the NFL's lowest-paid coach has anything to do with the public contradiction?

For what it's worth, Haugh also suggested readers forget about Garcia being overpaid to challenge Rex Grossman or Brian Griese.

"I don't really see the win in [signing Garcia], I just see that as running up and down the starting line," Angelo explained. "I'm not one to mistake activity for achievement. I have a lot of respect for Garcia and what he did, but we like Brian Griese."

Angelo also believes Grossman endured "ludicrous scrutiny. ..."

That seems to be something Angelo and Smith agree on.

'We have a starter at the quarterback position, Rex Grossman," Smith said Friday. "As we start the new year we'll have a depth chart, a starting rotation. But from there, everyone has to play at a certain level, and I'm expecting that out of Rex and the rest of the starters, also. ..."

One last note here. ... It appears Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester will get a look on offense this year.

"That's something our coaches are going to talk about at length," Angelo said of moving Hester from cornerback to receiver. "If they went that way, they wouldn't get an argument from me. ..."

In Denver. ... In an article published last Saturday, Denver Post beat man Bill Williamson passed along an interesting scenario he recently overheard: Tatum Bell and Jake Plummer could both be joining coach Gary Kubiak in Houston.

The Texans are interested in Plummer. Whether through trade or release, Williamson expects Plummer to end up with Kubiak -- as do many observers. But according to Williamson, the Broncos and Texans will discuss a trade that would send Plummer, Bell and an early-round draft pick to Houston for the No. 8 overall pick and perhaps a player.

This scenario makes some sense.

The Texans brass likes Bell, and he could help Houston. The Broncos are expected to look for a bigger back, and because they like the potential of Mike Bell, Tatum Bell could be expendable.

Denver will look into moving up in the first round as it did last year to take quarterback Jay Cutler.

The theme of Denver's offseason will be getting impact players through free agency, trades and the draft. Moving up to the No. 8 pick likely would be enough for the Broncos to get Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, who could be an instant superstar in Denver.

While Williamson concedes this trade idea might not have legs. But it could make sense for both teams -- if all parties involved continue to play.

According to Denver television station CBS4, Plummer is "seriously considering retirement."

This after Cutler told the station on Thursday he and Plummer have talked about retirement.

"I think anybody close to Jake, who knows him on a personal level, if he came in one day and said 'I'm outta here. ...' It wouldn't be a big surprise," Cutler said. "But he's competitor. I know he loves the game and loves Sundays, so if he came back I wouldn't be surprised that way either."

Which, at least at this time of year, is probably more than enough to report that Plummer is "seriously considering retirement. ..."

In New York. ... Giants GM Jerry Reese told reporters Saturday morning that he is investigating the possibility of trading for Willis McGahee, who is apparently being shopped around by the Bills.

According to Yahoo! Sports correspondent Jason Cole, the Bills aren't happy with McGahee's work ethic -- especially his failure to study the playbook last offseason. They expect more of the same this year.

"Willis literally didn't know what to do on the plays," a source told Cole. "After the play was called, we'd have another coach signaling to Willis what to do because he didn't know. He'd miss blocks (in pass protection) a few times, not because he was beat, but because he didn't know what he was doing.

"He just doesn't study … His teammates noticed it and it affected how they viewed him in the locker room."

Pro Football Weekly suggested last month that Buffalo would expect a first-round pick plus one of the following: a player, a late-round draft pick this year or a future draft pick.

Reese said he's not necessarily looking for a star -- just someone to split the load with Brandon Jacobs. "We're looking for Brandon probably to carry the ball 20 times and another running back 15 times," Reese said.

According to New York Daily News staffer Ralph Vacchiano, Reese is also investigating "rumors" that the Bears are willing to trade Jones, and he's also monitoring the situation with San Diego Chargers soon-to-be restricted free agent Michael Turner.

Reese also said the Giants will look at the available free-agent running backs and he added that there are running backs the team likes in the draft. ...

And speaking of some of those free-agent possibilities. ...

In Green Bay. ... The Packers have less than a week to get running back Ahman Green signed if they want to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

But according to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel staffer Tom Silverstein, Green currently seems interested in testing the market to see how much he's really worth even though his preference appears to be to remain with the Packers.

Green's agent, Joby Branion, won't say what it might take to keep his client in the fold, but after making $2 million in salary and $750,000 in incentives last year, the Packers' second-leading all-time rusher is seeking a major increase.

Green was coming off a torn thigh tendon when he signed his one-year deal last season and would like to be compensated for posting a sixth career 1,000-yard rushing season.

The Packers probably aren't willing to up the ante such that Green is in the Deuce McAllister, Lamont Jordan, Domanick Davis $5 million- to $6 million-per-year range, but Silverstein believes they're probably willing to match what others such as Corey Dillon, Reuben Droughns and Willie Parker average (around $4 million).

Green, who has professed his love for playing in Green Bay and lives there year round, doesn't appear unwilling to go to the market to prove he's worth more than what the Packers are offering.

"I talk with him almost on a daily basis," Branion said. "He indicated he's in the best shape of his life. He's hungry to get out there and compete. He's in tremendously positive spirits. He's excited about the future. He's excited that Brett [Favre] is coming back. He's optimistic about going forward.

"At the same time, he knows it's still a business. He might have to explore other opportunities. He'd be very happy staying in Green Bay, but he may have to address other possibilities."

According to Silverstein, the problem with the Packers letting Green test the market is that they don't know how other teams view him.

As Silverstein framed it: "Would it be surprising if the Denver Broncos, who run the same running system the Packers do, make him their lead back? No. Would it be surprising if Green's old coach, Mike Sherman, convinces the Texans to make a bid for him? Absolutely not."

That said, other teams know how much Green likes playing in Green Bay and might not even bother making a run at him. They might also be skeptical whether at age 30 he can be a dominant back again.

Branion has no doubt Green can be that type of player and he's convinced he would be at the top of the free agent list for teams searching for a running back.

"I'd like to believe so," Branion told Silverstein. "There are probably more teams with need for a top quality player than there are players to fill the position."

Branion is right. And if the Packers don't re-sign Green, their options are limited.

Backup Vernand Morency hasn't proved he can consistently move the chains, Noah Herron has been deemed a third-down back and 2006 rookie Arliss Beach is an unknown.

The Packers could opt for one of the free agents or they could use the draft to replace Green -- although they'd clearly rather keep him.

"We want him back and I think he'd like to be back," GM Ted Thompson said Friday. "He's a good Packer and he's sort of established as a Packer now. It'd be nice if he finished his career with us."

The ideal situation would be to re-sign Green and draft his successor, creating a two-headed attack for next season.

"I do know Ahman isn't afraid of that," Branion said. "It doesn't matter to him. He's never about stats. He doesn't even know where he ranks every week. He just wants to win a Super Bowl. ..."

For what it's worth, the Sports Xchange reported last week there's a strong sign that Green will re-sign with the team, perhaps before the March 2 free-agent signing period begins. Green, on Feb. 14, was added to the players' appearance list for the third annual Packers Fan Fest, which will be March 9 and 10 at Lambeau Field. ...

In Tennessee. ... While some Titans are torn between testing the market and trying to strike a deal to stay in Nashville, Nashville City Paper reporter Terry McCormick notes that at least one of the team's free agent has had his bags packed for a while.

Unrestricted free agency can't come soon enough for Chris Brown, who fell out of favor with the Titans and to third on the depth chart behind Travis Henry and LenDale White last season.

Brown, a two-year starter and former 1,000-yard rusher in 2004, is about to gain his freedom, and his agent says Brown is excited.

"We're preparing Chris for free agency, and we're looking forward to it," Ryan Morgan told McCormick.

Brown had requested a trade through his agents during training camp last season, but those pleas fell on deaf ears as the Titans were still trying to sort out how they were going to handle their running back situation.

At the time, there was speculation that the Vikings, Jets and Broncos might possibly be good fits for Brown.

"Those were some of the teams that we felt might be a good fit at the time, but we'll reassess the situation and we're exploring what our best options might be once free agency begins," Morgan said.

Brown was the first-team running back for three of the Titans' first four games. However, he lost out to Henry and White and played in just two of Tennessee's final 12 games. He finished the season with just 156 yards rushing on 41 attempts.

Morgan said the lack of use in 2006 should mean that Brown has plenty of tread left as he readies to begin his NFL life anew once free agency begins March 2.

"We feel like Chris has a lot left for whichever team he winds up fitting with," Morgan said.

Morgan said the Titans have not contacted him at all, meaning what most already believed, that they will cut ties with Brown and allow him to move on. ...

In Indianapolis. ... Dominic Rhodes's initial court appearance on a drunken driving charge was postponed to Monday after prosecutors did not receive paperwork from the arresting officer.

After failing two field-sobriety tests when pulled over early Tuesday, Rhodes told police he had consumed two or three alcoholic drinks. While sitting in the police car's front seat, Rhodes urinated on himself, the police report said.

Nice. ... Rhodes was released on his own recognizance later in the day.

Rhodes, who becomes a free agent when his contract with the Colts expires Feb. 28, faces a class A misdemeanor. Penalties range from no jail time to one year behind bars, but a conviction on a first-time offense typically results in probation, a fine and substance abuse treatment.

Colts president Bill Polian said Rhodes would be subject to NFL discipline under the substance abuse policy. Polian went on to say he was "saddened and troubled" by the arrest, adding: "It's not something we want in our program."

"Obviously Dom knows that it's something that I'm very disappointed in," head coach Tony Dungy said. "But we'll sit down and go through everything and try to sort it out and try to be as supportive as we can."

Rhodes has been in trouble with the law before. Following a 2002 domestic disturbance at his home, Rhodes pleaded innocent to misdemeanor charges of battery and domestic battery. Under an agreement with prosecutors, Rhodes was charged with domestic battery but avoided prosecution.

Instead, Rhodes was placed in a diversionary program and underwent mental health counseling.

In addition to delivering an MVP-like performance in the Super Bowl, Rhodes started all 16 regular-season games in 2006, rushing for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns while sharing time with rookie Joseph Addai -- an effort sufficient to make him one of the hotter free-agent commodities this offseason.

That has almost certainly changed. Now suitors are likely to try landing Rhodes at a discount and the Colts' stated disappointment with the situation will undoubtedly factor into their decision as to how far they're willing to go to retain him. ...

In St. Louis. ... Steven Jackson emphatically answered any questions about his durability last season with 436 touches last season, on 346 carries and 90 receptions. He was just six shy of the franchise record of 442 touches set by Eric Dickerson in 1983.

But according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat man Jim Thomas, Jackson also admits it took his body a full month to recover from that 27 touch-plus workload.

Thomas went on to note that even though the former first-round pick clearly enjoys his burgeoning role as the centerpiece of the Rams' offense, Jackson isn't averse to sharing the workload a bit.

"Hopefully, we get someone. ... To shoulder some of the burden with me," he said. "I just don't want to burn myself out too fast. At the same time, I'm glad that I was durable, that I was able to carry the workload."

And as much as the Rams want to feature Jackson in the offense, a reliable backup is a must.

Veteran Stephen Davis was a good mentor for Jackson, but at this stage of his career, Thomas contends Davis' knees can't handle more than about 10 touches a game. It's also worth noting that Davis is a free agent, as is Tony Fisher, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.

All of which prompted the Sporting News to suggest a change-of-pace back, perhaps a smaller speed back who could return kicks, would be ideal and might be targeted somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft. ...

Also in St. Louis. ... With Torry Holt hobbled near the end of the season with knee problems, fellow veteran Isaac Bruce showed that he still has some gas left in the tank.

As Thomas noted, Bruce has lost a step over the years, but still finds ways to get open. His quickness and change-of-direction ability have not diminished over the years.

Bruce's disciplined offseason workout regimen has slowed the inevitable erosion of skills that most receivers experience in their mid 30s. Over the past couple of years, Bruce also has made changes in his diet -- a healthier approach again designed to give him an edge over the competition.

Bruce has two years left on his contract and those no reason to think he won't continue to perform at a high level. That would be good news for the Rams, who seem likely to lose speedy youngster Kevin Curtis to free agency.

Curtis will test the market and see if there are teams willing to pay him at a No. 2 receiver level. According to the Xchange, there probably will be which means the Rams will need a replacement. ...

One last related item here. ... Head coach Scott Linehan told reporters Holt's knee surgery went well earlier this month.

"He's been in here every day rehabbing," Linehan said. "They cleaned up some (meniscus) cartilage. He's not going to have the pain he was getting the last two years. He was starting to feel it at the end of the season."

Holt should be at full speed well before the Rams begin their mini-camps and other activities in the spring. ...

In Dallas. ... In an article published last Sunday, Dallas Morning News columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor advised readers to look for Marion Barber's role to continue to increase next season after scoring 15 touchdowns, 13 on the ground and becoming a fan favorite with his physical, slashing style.

As Taylor reminded readers, Barber was at his best near the goal line, where his powerful style allowed him to break tackles, run through arm tackles and get into the end zone.

Taylor went on to note that Barber has terrific hands, which is why the Cowboys made him their third-down back, and is a superior blocker. He doesn't have great speed, so he's not going to go 60 or 70 yards like Julius Jones and in the past, he's had issues with fumbles.

But that won't keep him from cutting further into Jones' touches. ...

Also in Dallas. ... Terrell Owens will undergo the second phase of his surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right index finger on March 1. Owens and the Cowboys are both confident he will be ready for the start of the 2007 season.

But according to team trainers, Owens probably won't start catching passes until training camp in July. Previous reports indicated Owens, who is due a $3 million roster bonus June 1 to guarantee his $5 million base salary for 2007, might resume pass catching in May.

As noted in last weekend's Notebook, owner Jerry Jones plans to have Owens on the team this coming season and thus intends on paying the bonus.

That said, how Owens recovers from the surgery and where he is physically on June 1 could play a role in Jones' actually following through with his plans. ...

In Atlanta. ... According to TSN, the same two-running back model that all teams in the AFC and NFC championship games used will be re-emphasized by the Falcons this fall.

And as Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat man D. Orlando Ledbetter noted, Warrick Dunn is set to give up some carries to second-year man Jerious Norwood -- perhaps sufficient to even out the distribution of carries.

That said, Norwood must show that he can hold up under more carries. He missed games twice last season when he got nicked up. The Falcons need to know how sturdy Norwood is. He's showed his big play ability with his long touchdown runs.

But as Ledbetter contends, Norwood has to make more determined cuts, lower his shoulder in time to avoid big hits and keep flashing his speed.

Meanwhile, head coach Bobby Petrino likes what he's seen of Dunn and Norwood.

"[Norwood] showed that he had the ability to go the distance," Petrino said. "I think that's what excites me the most on video is the big plays that he's made and the speed."

Still, after trading T.J. Duckett last season, the Falcons were not effective in short-yardage situations. It's a weakness Petrino will address come April.

"We are going to look at a big running back, someone who can help us in short yardage and really maybe step in and play a lot a year from now," Petrino said.

In New York. ... It's not exactly a change of position from where he stood at the end of the season, but Jets head coach Eric Mangini has tweaked his thinking on the quarterbacks. At a press conference at the combine, the coach apparently handed the starting job to Pennington.

At least until July.

As New York Newsday staffer Tom Rock suggested, that's a lot different from the open competition stance Mangini took after the playoff loss to the Patriots. Back then he was asked if Pennington would be the top QB when the Jets head into training camp '07 and Mangini would not commit.

"Chad did an outstanding job for us as the starter and he is the starter," Mangini said in officially announcing Pennington will open training camp as the starter ahead of second-year man to be Kellen Clemens.

Whether Pennington is still the starter coming out of camp – or by the midpoint of the season – has not been declared.

But as Rock further suggested, Mangini was simply voicing what everyone knew to be the reality, that Pennington is their best option at the position. ...

And finally this week. ... Colts tight end Dallas Clark was ejected from a high school girls basketball game last Saturday in Burnside, Iowa, for comments he made to officials from the stands. The incident occurred between the third and fourth quarters of a state playoff game between Clark's alma mater, Twin River Valley and host Southeast Webster-Grand.

The official who ejected Clark claims the Colts player made "several inappropriate comments," none of which were threatening or obscene.

Dan Grandfield, principal of Southeast Webster-Grand, said he escorted Clark into the hall without incident. "Dallas gets into the game," Grandfield said.

Apparently so.

That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check in again next Sunday. ... 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