News & Info/Headlines
We'll start in Detroit, where the Lions agreed to send cornerback Dre' Bly to the Broncos in exchange for running back Tatum Bell and tackle George Foster.
Bly, a two-time Pro Bowl performer who earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 1999 St. Louis Rams, did not fit well in the Tampa 2 defensive scheme employed by second-year head coach Rod Marinelli and new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
As ESPN.com's Michael Smith first reported it, in Denver, Bly will join Champ Bailey in forming one of the game's top cornerback tandems. The Broncos needed a replacement for Darrent Williams, who was killed in a drive-by shooting after a New Year's Eve party in Denver. ...
Now, moving on to the more interesting side of this deal. ... Bell, 25, became a starter for the first time last season, his third, and led the Broncos with 1,025 rushing yards. But he's never been able to fully grasp a featured role.
In three seasons with the Broncos he has rushed for 2,342 yards and 13 touchdowns and owns a career yards-per-carry average of 4.9.
For now, he provides the Lions much-needed depth and insurance at running back.
Kevin Jones sustained a severe injury to his left foot late last season. Shawn Bryson and Brian Calhoun also went on injured reserve last season with knee injuries that required surgery.
Although Jones and the Lions recently disputed a report stating the former first-round pick's recovery from the Lisfranc surgery he underwent in December, there is no guarantee Jones will be ready for the start of the 2007 season.
If that's the case, the speedy Bell would become the de facto starter at halfback -- at least until Jones is ready to work at full speed.
Denver, meanwhile, is left with a gaping hole at running back that will be filled either via trade, the draft or free agency. As Rocky Mountain News staffer Lee Rasizer noted, Mike Bell, who just completed a productive rookie season, is an effort runner but perhaps lacks the breakaway speed the Broncos desire.
Damien Nash, who died suddenly last Saturday, was the only other Broncos back with more than three carries last season.
Foster started 45 out of a possible 48 games the past three seasons at right tackle. The Lions were last in the league in rushing and allowed the second-most sacks (63) last season, so improving the offensive line is one of the team's top offseason priorities.
As Booth Newspapers beat man Tom Kowalski suggested this morning, the arrival of Bell and Foster "will have a profound impact on their draft and would likely mean that they'll definitely trade down."
Kowalski went on to explain that with Bell and Foster on the roster, the need for Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas or Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson is gone. The Lions would have more motivation to trade down a few spots and go after a defensive end or linebacker. ...
In Jacksonville. ... Fred Taylor says his new contract will allow him to have played his entire career for one team and retire following the 2010 season.
"I always wanted to finish my career in Jacksonville," Taylor said. "It's rare that you see guys stick with one team. ... I'm extremely happy. I'm not just saying that. The most impressive thing about it all is I get to retire in Jacksonville."
According to Jaguars.com senior editor Vic Ketchman, the new deal adds three years to Taylor's current contract, which has one year remaining on it. The combination of the two contracts would keep Taylor in Jacksonville through 2010, which Taylor expects will be his final season.
"This will solidify my retirement as a Jaguar. My family doesn't have to move. I'm a Jaguar. That's it. I'm done. This is a good day," Taylor said.
Taylor began campaigning for a contract extension last season. According to Ketchman, the veteran halfback almost sounded remorseful as he reflected on comments he had made.
Taylor declined to disclose financial terms of the new deal. He said it didn't pay him among the top tier of running backs in the league.
"I always felt like my compensation should at least be at the second-tier level. It's a level we both agreed upon. We were only a couple of numbers apart, but you have to be able to look at all of the positives," he said.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus told Associated Press sports writer Mark Long the four-year deal totaled $23 million.
Profootballtalk.com editor Mike Florio, citing an unnamed league source, reports that under the new deal, Taylor $2.55 million salary is replaced by a $4.2 million roster bonus and a salary of $800,000.
In 2008, Taylor is due to receive a $1 million roster bonus and a salary of $4 million. In 2009, Taylor is scheduled to receive a roster bonus of $1 million and a salary of $5 million. In 2010, he is set to get another $1 million roster bonus and a salary of $6 million.
Florio went on to note that while the annual average puts him fifth in the league at his position (behind LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander and Deuce McAllister), the contract is basically a year-to-year arrangement.
Or as Florio put it: "If/when the Jags decide that Taylor is too banged up and/or that youngster Maurice Jones-Drew is ready to carry the load, Taylor will be cut loose. ..."
Should that happen sooner rather than later, there will be no cap consequence because there is no signing bonus.
Taylor rushed for 1,146 yards, five touchdowns and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average in 2006. He also caught 23 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown.
As Ketchman reminded readers, last season was a comeback year for Taylor, who struggled through '05 on a knee that was coming off significant surgery. Taylor rushed for 787 yards in '05 but reclaimed his star status last season while sharing with Jones-Drew.
In fact, the arrival of Jones-Drew may have helped the older back stay healthy for most of the season. Taylor, whose early career was marred by injuries, missed one game (Week 15) last season with a hamstring injury and sat out most of another.
The Jaguars lost both games without Taylor and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
"I feel like to have Maurice, it's a blessing in disguise and then Greg is coming back and they finalized my contract," Taylor said. "I'm going to be there. I'm going to give them every ounce that I have in me."
Taylor and Jones-Drew combined for 2,087 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns last season. The backfield should get even more help this season when Greg Jones returns from a knee injury.
Of course, it remains to be seen how the workload will be split this year. It seems a bit premature to assume Taylor will open camp locked in at the No. 1 spot given Jones-Drew's impressive rookie campaign. ...
For what it's worth, Taylor, who credited his top physical condition last year to an off-season conditioning program he conducted in south Florida under the direction of a personal trainer, plans to do the same this spring.
"My plans are to work out with this guy I worked out with last year. I benefited from it last year. I felt I had a great season with what I did. [The Jaguars] didn't say, 'Fred, you can't do what you did last year,'" he said.
"It's all about winning games. I'm a responsible individual. I'm going to do what I need to do to get into top shape. I really, really want to do what I did last year," he added. ...
In New England. ...Corey Dillon's request to be released by the Patriots should have been granted by the end of business tonight, Boston Herald staffer John Tomase reported this morning.
While an official announcement hasn't been made as I post this story, there's no reason to believe it won't transpire as expected -- unless the Patriots feel they can get something in return for Dillon before simply letting him walk away.
That said, the team would save more than $2 million by releasing him now. Dillon would count $4.4 million against the salary cap if the Patriots retain him.
If -- and/or when -- it's official, Dillon, the club record-holder for rushing yards in a season, would be free to negotiate with any team.
Dillon, 32, rushed for 812 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns in 2006. Though he hinted at retirement last week, Dillon said he would consider playing elsewhere as the featured back -- a role he lost in New England after the emergence of Laurence Maroney.
Possible destinations? Denver, Houston and Carolina have all been mentioned.
In fact, Pro Football Weekly suggested on Monday that Dillon is just the type of between-the-tackles bruiser the Panthers are looking for. Dillon has a Panthers connection: He worked with new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson when they were both with the Patriots in 2004. ...
In New Orleans. ... Joe Horn will get to explore his market value.
Unable to restructure his contract, Horn was released by the Saints on Thursday.
Ranked first in club history with 50 touchdown catches and second in receptions (523) and yards (7,622), Horn has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times since signing with the Saints in 2000.
"Joe's numbers speak for themselves, and throughout his career here he has been everything an NFL player should be in the community," head coach Sean Payton said. "That means more than just being an excellent player. He holds a special place to our fans because of his involvement in the city and his passion on the field. Decisions of this type aren't easy, and we understand his desire to see what his value may be with other teams."
Despite his release, the Saints remain hopeful that they will be able to re-sign one of the most popular players in club history.
"Joe really wanted to see where his value is around the league for his services," general manager Mickey Loomis said. "With as much as Joe has meant to the Saints and New Orleans, we don't want to impede his desire to do so, and we have kept the door open for him to return to our team.
"He's been one of the best free agents the club has ever signed, and I've been here to watch him develop into one of the NFL's best wide receivers since he joined the Saints. It's been a great relationship for both our club and for Joe, and one we still hope may continue until Joe is ready to retire."
Horn, 35, was limited to 10 games last season due to a groin injury and missed the Saints' run to the NFC championship game. He finished the campaign with 37 receptions for 679 yards and four touchdowns. ...
In San Francisco. ... The 49ers announced today that Antonio Bryant has been waived.
Said head coach Mike Nolan, "After an evaluation period we determined that Antonio was not the best fit for the 49ers. I appreciated his work ethic this past year and wish him the best on his next endeavor."
Bryant, who ended last season on an NFL suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, caught 40 passes for 733 yards last season. He also added to a history of erratic behavior with his third NFL team.
He is scheduled to go on trial in May on charges of reckless driving and resisting arrest after an escapade with police last November, though he won't face charges of drunken driving because he refused to take a field sobriety test.
Bryant also was disciplined in December for showing up late to a team meeting shortly before his suspension.
Nolan gave a vote of confidence to Bryant late last season, even though Bryant didn't show up for the team's season-ending meeting day. But the coach met with the receiver during the scouting combine in Indianapolis recently.
Apparently that meeting didn't go as well as Nolan wanted. ...
Bryant still has two games left on his four-game NFL suspension; he'll have to out the first two games this fall regardless of where he's playing. ...
In Dallas. ... The NFL's seventh all-time leader in passing yards, Drew Bledsoe was released by the Cowboys on Thursday.
Bledsoe, 35, completed 53 percent of his passes (90-for-169) for 1,164 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions in six games last season before losing the starting job to Tony Romo.
Romo ended up making the Pro Bowl in his first year as a starter, completing 65 percent of his passes (220-of-337) for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
"Drew has been a solid leader for our team and a true professional both on and off the field," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
But Bledsoe's lack of mobility clearly hurt the Cowboys. He was sacked 23 times in just six games.
A four-time Pro Bowler, Bledsoe ranks fifth all-time in completions (3,839) and attempts (6,717) and has passed for 44,611 yards and 251 touchdowns.
While there might be some interest among teams looking for a veteran backup, it's not clear if Bledsoe will be willing to accept such a role.
One last note here. ... The Cowboys also released tight end Ryan Hannam today. ...
In New York. ... Jerricho Cotchery, who had a breakout year with the Jets last season, signed a contract extension with the team on Thursday.
Cotchery set career highs with 82 catches, 961 yards receiving and six touchdowns while starting every game for the Jets last season.
As AP sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. noted, the third-year man combined with Laveranues Coles to form the most productive receiving tandem in team history. The duo combined for 173 catches and 12 touchdowns.
"Jerricho Cotchery is the type of player we are looking for here," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement. "He earned a starting role this year and showed the productivity and consistency we want at that position."
Terms of the extension were not released by the Jets. The 24-year-old Cotchery would've been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after next season.
Cotchery had 25 receptions in his first two seasons, playing mostly on special teams -- including returning a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the 2004 regular-season finale at St. Louis. He impressed new head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in training camp last summer, and won the job as the team's No. 2 receiver behind Coles.
Cotchery was involved in the two longest plays from scrimmage of the Jets' season -- both against New England. He had a 71-yard touchdown catch-and-run in Week 2, and had a 77-yard touchdown catch in the playoff loss against the Patriots.
"Jerricho Cotchery exemplifies everything we are looking for in our players," Mangini said in a statement. "He is smart, tough, hardworking, selfless, competitive and football is important to him. ..."
According to New York Newsday beat man Tom Rock, the move spells near-certain doom for fellow wideout Justin McCareins, who was pushed out of his starting role by Cotchery this season and is due to earn almost $3 million in 2007 and has four more years left on his contract.
McCareins has said he wants to play where he is wanted. As Rock suggested, it'll be interesting to see how much the Jets want him now. ...
The Jets also officially announced that they released running back Derrick Blaylock today -- a move that came as no surprise. It ended a disappointing two-year stay in New York.
In 2005, the Jets signed Blaylock to a five-year, $11 million contract, thinking he could replace LaMont Jordan as Curtis Martin's understudy. The deal included a hefty $3.2 million signing bonus.
In two seasons, Blaylock appeared in only 11 games. In 2005, he was sabotaged by a broken foot. In 2006, he actually opened the season as the starting running back (by default), but he lasted only two games.
In two starts, Blaylock rushed for only 44 yards on 25 carries, an ugly 1.8 average. As New York Daily News staffer Rich Cimini put it: "After that, he ended up in the Mangini Witness Protection program."
He didn't carry the ball again and was inactive for all but two of the remaining games.
By cutting Blaylock, the Jets will get stuck with $1.95 million in "dead" money on the cap.
The Jets released veteran Kevan Barlow last Wednesday after the least-productive season of his career. He ran for a career-low 370 yards -- third on the team -- and averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
With Barlow and Blaylock gone, and Martin all but retired because of a knee injury, the Jets have just two running backs on their roster: playmaking Leon Washington and bulldozing Cedric Houston.
It's uncertain whether the Jets think either could be primary ball carriers, as head coach Eric Mangini used a rotation of backs throughout last season.
New York has been rumored to be interested in San Diego backup Michael Turner, and could add another back through the draft or free agency.
Turner, however, won't come cheap.
According to San Diego Union-Tribune staffer Kevin Acee, the Chargers essentially decided they want to keep Turner one more season, as they put the first- and third-round tender on LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, who rushed 80 times for 502 yards last season.
"I'd just feel better to have him in '07," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said Wednesday. "If anything happens to LT -- God Almighty! -- that he gets hurt."
Smith would also gladly give up Turner for the two draft picks.
Turner, a restricted free agent, can negotiate with other teams. But any team that signed him would owe the Chargers a first-round and a third-round draft pick. If Turner stays with the Chargers, he is guaranteed $2.35 million for 2007.
The steep price in draft picks will likely keep other teams from coming after Turner.
Of course, Turner could still be traded, but any team that signs him would want to negotiate a long-term deal with Turner beforehand. ...
Also in San Diego. ... The Chargers continued to take care of their core players by reaching agreement on a three-year extension with Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal.
According to ESPN.com insider John Clayton, Neal, 35, signed a three-year extension worth $5.1 million, making him the highest-paid fullback in the league. Neal was scheduled to be a free agent after the 2007 season.
The combination of Neal and Tomlinson is considered the best in football and Neal doesn't seem to be slowing down, even though he is entering his 15th season.
He's considered a leader on the team along with the fact he's still considered one of the best blockers at his position.
Another Chargers veteran didn't make out so well today as the team released receiver Keenan McCardell.
Ninth on the NFL's all-time list with 861 catches, McCardell turned 37 last month. After catching nine touchdown passes in 2005, he had zero last year, when he was the team's fourth-leading receiver with just 36 passes for 437 yards and no touchdowns.
McCardell has had five 1,000-yard seasons, and was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. He has 11,117 career receiving yards and 62 touchdowns.
As The Sporting News recently noted, once defenses figured out about midseason that McCardell could no longer beat them deep, they figured out how to cover him last year and he wouldn't have been any better than the team's fourth receiver this year.
That's hardly a role that merits a cap number of $3.2 million.
Vincent Jackson is going to assume the No.1 spot, Eric Parker is the possession receiver McCardell once was and Malcom Floyd is a deep threat and red-zone role player.
The Chargers also released tight end Aaron Shea and extended exclusive rights tenders to Floyd and fellow wideout Greg Camarillo and Floyd. ... Shea's departure locks Brandon Manumaleuna as Antonio Gates' backup moving forward.
In Tampa Bay. ... Fullback Mike Alstott is returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 12th season. The six-time Pro Bowl fullback, who considered retirement after each of the past two seasons, signed a one-year contract Thursday.
Terms were not released; however Alstott had been seeking a deal similar to the one that paid him $1.5 million in 2006.
Alstott, 33, is the Bucs' career touchdown leader with 71 and is second on the club's all-time rushing list with 5,088 yards. He was selected to play in six consecutive Pro Bowls from 1997-02; however his role in the offense has diminished the past five seasons.
Alstott started 15 of 16 games in 2006, rushing for 171 yards on 60 carries and scoring three TDs. He also caught 21 passes for 85 yards. ...
In Indianapolis. ... Brandon Stokley, who battled injuries throughout 2006, was expected to have his contract terminated Thursday, according to his agent, making the veteran fan-favorite an unrestricted free agent.
As Indianapolis Star staffer Mike Chappell noted today, Stokley's release wasn't a surprise.
He was due a $500,000 roster bonus and a 2007 base salary of $2.1 million. Coming off his fourth year with the Colts and eighth in the NFL, Stokley was a key contributor in 2004 (68 catches, 1,077 yards) but saw his playing time dwindle the next year before he was injured.
"Brandon became a luxury they no longer could afford," said Rick Smith, Stokley's agent.
With Stokley sidelined more often than not, the Colts relied heavily on 2-WR, 2-TE sets. Look for that trend to continue in 2007. ...
In Pittsburgh. ... The Steelers today signed Najeh Davenport to a two-year $2 million contract, paying him the kind of money that should put him high in their plans for next season. The team also released third-down back Verron Haynes.
Davenport, who would have become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, received a $405,000 signing bonus, a salary of $595,000 this year and $1 million next year. Reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers signed Davenport to a one-year contract after their first game last season when Green Bay released him. He eventually became their backup to starter Willie Parker after Haynes was injured at mid-season.
As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted today, new head coach Mike Tomlin has stated a preference for using two running backs, something that is becoming a trend in the NFL. Haynes release seems to ensure that Davenport will be the one working behind Parker. ...
In Minnesota. ... The Vikings released Jermaine Wiggins today. The veteran tight end led the team in receptions in 2004 with 71 and in 2005 with 69.
Last season, though, he caught just 46 passes and was felt underutilized in the offense. Wiggins asked for and was granted his release.
There have been reports indicating the Vikings will target Patriots tight end Daniel Graham, who became an unrestricted free agent tonight, in coming days. ...
In Tennessee. ... The Titans on Thursday released veteran tight end Erron Kinney, in part because of a knee that has his NFL future in doubt.
Kinney was placed on injured reserve in 2006 after having a second surgery on the knee, and last fall he had microfracture surgery. Kinney is still rehabbing, and Nashville Tennessean staffer Jim Wyatt notes that with a $300,000 roster bonus due the team decided to release him because of the uncertainty of his return.
In seven seasons, Kinney caught 178 passes for 1,750 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Kyle Denzel, Kinney's marketing agent, said his client hopes will eventually be able to return.
"He is rehabilitating vigorously with the intent of returning and he is optimistic about that return, and hopefully with the Titans," Denzel said. "He believes this was made because of the roster bonus and the uncertainty of the progress of his injury at the time. It may take some more time to see where he is going to be.
"He is working very hard and he knows this was a business decision. He loves the Nashville community and wants to stay here."
Although Kinney would like to return, the presence of young talents Bo Scaife, Ben Troupe and Ben Hartsock might be sufficient to cover the team's needs at the position.
Also on Thursday, the agents for some of the team's restricted free agents began receiving tender offers from the Titans.
The Titans made a tender offer to Hartsock, a restricted free agent, today. They also tendered an offer to tight end Casey Cramer, an exclusive rights free agent who cannot sign with other teams. ...
In Carolina. ... The Panthers saved some money by releasing receiver Karl Hankton, who spent seven seasons with Carolina, the last five as special teams captain.
"Karl has been an integral player for the Carolina Panthers for a long time and we respect everything he has accomplished," head coach John Fox said.
It was a busy day for the Panthers, who needed to make moves to get under the $109 million salary cap and make decisions on other players before the start of free agency on Friday.
The Panthers offered contracts to restricted free agent receiver Drew Carter and tight end Michael Gaines.
The moves mean the Panthers can match any contract offers they receive from other teams. If they don't match the offer, the Panthers will receive draft picks as compensation.
Brett Basanez, who served as the No. 3 quarterback last season, agreed to a one-year deal.
Carter came on late last season and had eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the New York Giants. He finished with 28 catches for 357 yards.
Gaines became Carolina's starting tight end last season.
Meanwhile, quarterback Jake Delhomme also restructured his contract to free up $4 million in salary cap space. ...
And finally, in some tender-related news from around the league. ...
A league source told PFT's Florio today that Atlanta formally applied the highest possible restricted free agent tender to backup quarterback Matt Schaub. Barring a long-term deal, he'll be paid $2.35 million in 2007 by the Falcons.
Anyone who signs Schaub to an offer sheet that the Falcons choose not to match will be required to cough up a first-round and a third-round pick as compensation.
The Dolphins tendered receiver Wes Welker, who was undrafted, at the new second-round level.
The Jaguars tendered kicker Josh Scobee at the first-round level. Quarterback Quinn Gray and wide receiver Ernest Wilford have been tendered at the second-round level.
Seahawks receiver D.J. Hackett also received a second-round tender.
Peyton Manning's backup, Jim Sorgi received a low tender from the Colts. The Steelers extended a low tender to quarterback Brian St. Pierre, a restricted free agent.
For the record. ... Low tender includes right of first refusal for the team holding the player's rights and original draft pick compensation should another team sign that player. Should a low-tender player be retained by his original team, he would be paid an $850,000 salary on a one-year contract in 2007.
Second-round tender includes right of first refusal, second-round draft choice compensation and a $1.3 million salary.
First-round tender includes right of first refusal, first-round draft pick compensation and a $1.85 million salary.
First and third-round tender includes right of first refusal, first and third-round draft pick compensation and a $2.35 million salary. ...
That's it for now. ... Check back in coming days as I continue to track free-agent signings and other moves of interest to Fantasy owners.
As always, you'll find breaking items in the News & Views section of the site with more in-depth reviews of top stories available here in the Headline News section, where you'll also find the weekly Fantasy Notebook each Sunday during the offseason.