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Fantasy Notebook: Patient Smith Cashes In & More
Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... For those just checking in, the top stories this week have centered on off-field issues for a pair of high-profile skill players -- Michael Vick and Ricky Williams. While I covered the delay in Williams' anticipated return from suspension in detail on Friday, I'm still waiting for the on-going saga surrounding Vick and dog-fighting allegations to play out a bit further before going in depth.

But there have been plenty of other -- on-field -- items of interest to keep a Fantasy owner occupied this week. So let's get busy, eh?

We'll get the ball rolling in Carolina, where what might have been the quietest and least contentious negotiations for years for a high-end wide receiver led to a three-year contract extension that ensures Steve Smith remains a Panther through the 2012 season.

Although his agent, Derrick Fox, wouldn't confirm the figures, there's no doubt Smith is now one of league's highest-paid wideouts. According to Gaston Gazette beat writer Steve Reed, the deal totals $43.95 million over the next six years, including $17.3 million in bonus money.

As Yahoo! Sports national correspondent Charles Robinson pointed out, unlike the previous contract meltdowns of Terrell Owens, Javon Walker and Deion Branch, Smith got his new deal largely in silence.

He never held out of mandatory workouts or publicly campaigned for a new deal -- even when the astronomical 2007 free-agent figures began to roll in last month. Fox noted that Smith was adamant about keeping negotiations quiet, whereas other players at his position -- Walker, Owens and Branch over the last two years -- forced trades or an outright release in order to get new pacts in different cities.

"That was the ultimate goal -- just some quiet business between Steve and the club," Fox said.

It worked out well.

Smith, who received a $9.3 million bonus when he signed the deal Tuesday, will earn an additional $1 million in base salary this season. He pulls in $6 million more in bonus money in 2008 along with a $1.75 million base salary and then another $2 million bonus in 2009 and a $3.4 million base salary.

The final three years of the new deal are worth $20.5 million.

All told, we're talking $32.3 million in new money.

Smith, whose permanent residence is now in Charlotte, said he's excited to remain in Carolina.

"I would like to retire here and be the first or second Panther in the Hall of Fame," Smith said.

The Panthers are equally excited.

"The thing that strikes you about Steve Smith is he wants to do the right thing," general manager Marty Hurney said. "And he has, he's matured just like we all do. He came in as a young kid, and he's got a tremendous support group."

The Panthers had made a long-term deal for Smith one of their top priorities after they released veteran receiver Keyshawn Johnson last week.

"Obviously, it's very important," Hurney said. "He's a tremendous player and he's our kind of person. I think he's a force in the community. It's the kind of player we want here as a Panther. When you have the opportunity to have a guy like that to come in as a Panther and hopefully finish as a Panther, I think that's unique these days."

According to Associated Press sports writer Mike Cranston, there's no doubt the Panthers are building their offense around Smith. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning was fired, in part because Smith didn't get the ball enough last season.

Smith was pleased with new coordinator Jeff Davidson's offense at last weekend's mini-camp. Davidson had said he wanted to find new ways to get Smith the ball and prevent double and triple teams.

As Rock Hill Herald staffer Darin Gantt put it: "It's not as if the Panthers are going to open it up and go run-and-shoot this year." Davidson, a former offensive lineman, came with a mandate to fix the Panthers' ailing running game.

But he added some new looks to the Panthers' offense.

"This offense, it's not new, it's just a lot of new wrinkles," Smith said. "Obviously it's going to open up a lot more for the run. Teams are going to have to commit guys less on me and more in the box. So that's going to get me, I feel, a little bit more one-on-one coverage. I work good one-on-one. I'm not into the threesomes."

Smith also took a semi-subtle jab at Henning.

"All the new wrinkles, they're interesting," Smith said last Saturday. "If you want to compare it, it's like sitting in coach and then moving up to first class."

Smith caught 83 passes for 1,166 yards and eight touchdowns last year, after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury. It was well off his previous season, when he had 103 catches for 1,563 and 12 scores.

While Henning preferred to use the run to set up deep play-action passes, there will likely be more shorter crossing routes like New England uses. That's no accident, since Davidson learned from former New England coordinator Charlie Weis.

If that's how it shakes out, Smith could find himself in position to make more plays.

Of course, he might have to in the wake of Johnson's sudden release.

"I was surprised," Smith said when asked about Johnson's departure. "Obviously, we've got to get these young guys prepared and get them to step in line and step up to the task at hand, which is being a professional at a relatively young age in this league."

With Johnson no longer in the mix, Carolina's receiving corps isn't unlike 2005, when Smith flourished in Henning's system. Keary Colbert started that year, with Ricky Proehl coming in on third downs and Drew Carter showing some late flashes.

This year, they have Colbert and Carter (although they've swapped spots on the depth chart) and second-rounder Dwayne Jarrett -- the guy who made Johnson expendable. Smith compared Jarrett to himself in 2001, when he was learning from Muhsin Muhammad, and defended the Panthers' level of experience.

"You know, Drew's not inexperienced, Keary isn't," Smith said. "It's just part of the game and these guys got to tune it up and get ready."

If Jarrett starts, one of them will need to become the No. 3 receiver. My money is on Carter. ...

In a related note. ... Smith isn't the only Panther skill player eager to see how Davidson's scheme works. According to Reed, second-year halfback DeAngelo Williams was just as excited.

Williams read in the newspapers that Davidson would be implementing a zone-blocking scheme and running more screen plays his predecessor, but was a little hesitant to believe it until he saw the playbook.

When he saw the plays, he couldn't contain his enthusiasm.

"I'm excited about the offense altogether because it's identical to the offense we ran in Memphis," Williams said. "We threw a lot of screen passes to the running backs and we ran the outside and inside zone plays. We did the one-back power, things like that. It's just like the offense at Memphis, but with some different terminology."

If Williams produces anything like he did in college, that's good news for the Panthers.

Williams finished his four-year career at Memphis as the NCAA Division 1-A leader with 7,573 all-purpose yards, breaking the previous mark of 7,206 set by Williams at Texas. He gained more than 6,000 yards on the ground, a feat accomplished only by three others backs -- Tony Dorsett, Ron Dayne and Williams.

He also put up an NCAA record 34 100-yard games during his career, all of which prompted the Panthers to select him in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft.

Williams ran for 501 yards as a rookie last year, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and had 33 catches for 313 yards and scored two touchdowns last season under Henning.

Williams is expected to again split time with DeShaun Foster in the backfield again this year. But as Reed suggested, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he could take over as the starter this season if he excels in this familiar offense.

It's definitely going to be a situation that's worth watching. ...

In San Diego. ... In an article published last Saturday, staffer Casey Pearce asked: "How do you take a three-time Pro Bowler who has hauled in 32 touchdown passes over the last three years and make him even better?"

The answer seems to be finding more things for him to do.

That's certainly what incoming head coach Norv Turner did with star tight end Antonio Gates throughout the team's first mini-camp. In fact, Turner started out by having Gates work exclusively with the wide receivers during last Friday's individual period.

"He runs the routes so well. He can run all the wide receiver routes," Turner said. "It's something that we want to incorporate. How much we do of it depends on who we're playing and how they're playing us."

During last Saturday's team period, Pearce reports that Gates lined up all over the field. He spent time on the line of scrimmage, in the slot and split out wide as the only receiver on his side of the formation.

"It's been challenging but it's been fun," Gates said. "That's what Norv is known best for. When he has weapons, he finds ways to use them and get them the ball. I can't help but be excited about what we're going to do."

Pearce went on to note that Gates has continued to devote himself to getting stronger so that he can be an asset in the run game as well, but it's apparent that his role in the passing game could be even greater with Turner's new ideas.

"Every time you can add a wrinkle and do something different, it gives a defense a problem," Turner said. "He's a guy you can really create some mismatches with."

Hard to argue that point. ...

Also in San Diego. ... On his first official day back to work in 2007, LaDainian Tomlinson was asked about last season's record-setting performance. It should come as no surprise to learn the star halfback is looking forward to posting similar totals this fall.

Of course, in running for 28 touchdowns and catching three more, Tomlinson made that goal almost unreachable.

"Obviously last year was one heck of a year," he admitted. "But that was last year. Can it be done again? I don't know. I'm definitely going to try."

If anybody is capable, it has to be LT.

Indeed, Tomlinson is the first player to increase his touchdown total every year from his second NFL season through his sixth. But as San Diego Union-Tribune beat man Kevin Acee pointed out, his increases in years two through five were incremental. After scoring 10 touchdowns in 2001, he scored 15, 17, 18 and 20 in the successive seasons.

But 31?

Acee went on to stress that Tomlinson didn't just break the previous record of 28; he obliterated it. Tomlinson was the first player since 1942 to break the touchdown record by more than two.

The good news? Tomlinson won't let history get in his way.

"I don't look at it in that way for the simple fact that I think when you get caught up in looking back at history and trying to compare yourself to history, then you have no opportunity or chance to really look into the future," he said.

"This is a prove-yourself league, and every year you've got to prove what you can do."

Whether he sets another record or not, Tomlinson's approach to the game has been a major factor in his success. I'm certainly looking forward to watching LT prove himself again this year. ...

In a couple of other Charger-related notes. ... Philip Rivers showed no lingering effects from the sprained foot he suffered at the end of the 2006 season during last weekend's mini-camp. He completed all phases of the practice. "He's fine," Turner said. "He went through his entire practice routine. He's ready to go. ..."

Or almost ready to go.

"It feels good," Rivers said. "I don't know if I'd call it 100 percent, but it's good. There's no pain. ..."

While some have publicly questioned whether the Chargers were being forthright in their optimistic prognosis for Rivers, who aggravated a Lisfranc sprain in the AFC title loss to New England, it looks more and more like Rivers' recovery is indeed on track.

And finally in San Diego. ... Acee reports one of the most impressive sights on the field last weekend was receiver Malcom Floyd, not only for the fact his surgically repaired right ankle clearly was giving him no problem, but for those logs attached to his shoulders.

"It's to put fear in DBs," Floyd said with a laugh. "Not just the speed will kill you."

According to Acee, Floyd has put on more than 15 pounds since last season, up to 230, and the baby-faced receiver is no longer "a stick with little twig arms. He is thick. ..."

In Seattle. ... For a few hours Monday afternoon, Shaun Alexander's left foot emerged as the hottest football story in America.

As Seattle Post-Intelligencer beat writer Clare Farnsworth recounted, an Associated Press story that quoted the Seahawks' leading rusher as saying he wasn't sure whether the crack in his left foot that forced him to miss six games last season was healed started the whole thing.

It quickly became the No. 1-hit story on and No. 2 on

The club dismissed the report and declined to comment, saying it would set a bad precedent and pointing out that of all the reporters who took part in the interview with Alexander after the team's veterans' camp practice, only one featured his lighthearted remarks about his foot.

"I don't even want to get another X-ray until after this camp," Alexander said with a smile when asked about the foot. "If the X-ray shows it's still cracked, it's like, 'OK, what does that mean?'"

Alexander then laughed, which -- as Farnsworth stressed -- he did frequently during the 13-minute interview. And I can attest from personal experience that Alexander does have a keen sense of humor.

In fact, during an in-depth interview conducted this time last year, I quickly learned that Alexander gets a kick out of avoiding questions by using tongue-in-cheek comments that can be easily dismissed later.

That appears to be something head coach Mike Holmgren also understands.

"That's a non-story, honest to goodness. There is nothing wrong with Shaun Alexander," Holmgren said on Thursday, after the team wrapped up the voluntary portion of their mini-camp.

That Alexander fully participated in mini-camp workouts and -- according to Tacoma News Tribune staffer Mike Sando, not only appears to be leaner than usual for this time of year but was moving quite well in drills, lent further credence to Holmgren's contention.

It's also worth noting that Holmgren said there were no plans for any further exams on Alexander's foot.

"He is fine. We X-rayed it after the season was over, how long has it been?" Holmgren said. "You saw him running out here, he is running all over the place. ..."

For now, I'm willing to buy into the company line and I further assume the coach will be able to say the same of Alexander -- he is running all over the place -- next September. ...

Also in Seattle. ... Matt Hasselbeck's recovery from January surgery to repair his left (non-throwing) shoulder is on track. The veteran signal caller was limited to individual position drills and 7-on-7 work -- he did not throw against the defense in the team sessions, but he did resume lifting and general strength training with teammates on Monday.

The next step in his recovery includes increased throwing to get his arm prepared, plus more agility and quickness drills to go along with the strength training.

Hasselbeck hopes his recovery plan will include more throwing during June's mini-camp. He expects to be back to normal sometime around training camp, which begins in late July.

"He did more than was expected maybe a couple months ago. But as he has been going on his rehab he has really done well," Holmgren said. ...

In New York. ... Giants quarterback Eli Manning got one of his off-season wishes -- receiver Plaxico Burress showed up for voluntary conditioning.

"I'm not trying to make a statement," Burress said Tuesday after catching passes from Manning. "I want us to be better, and I want him to reach his full potential, which I think would be great. I want to help him out. We're here, we're willing to work."

Tight end Jeremy Shockey, however, is doing his conditioning in Florida. Burress worked out in Florida with Shockey the past two offseasons despite pleas from Manning to attend the voluntary workouts at Giants Stadium.

Burress, who caught 63 passes for a career-high 10 touchdowns last season. He intends to remain for the rest of the workouts.

"We're just trying to get better on the football field," he said. "This is something that can help us. Talk on the phone two, three times a week, go out and get something to eat. Those are some of the things that can help us get things going. And if we're working, we can get on the football field also."

Although there's still some question whether Shockey, who caught a team-high 66 passes last season, will attend any voluntary workouts, at least one report indicates he might.

According to's Anthony Fucilli, Manning received a text from Shockey saying he'll be here this week to join Burress and the rest of the offensive crew in passing drills.

Apparently Manning initiated the contact and Shockey, who is down in Miami still, explained he had things to do this week that he can't get out of.

As Fucilli put it: "When it happens and if it happens, Tom Coughlin will have a huge smile on his face. For one, the Giants will have their players not thinking of themselves but putting the team first. ..."

There have been times when Burress and Shockey seemed at odds with Manning. Both players have flapped their arms in frustration when Manning has thrown in another direction.

Burress now says he is willing to do anything to help both Manning and the Giants get better after an 8-8 season in which New York was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

"If it means coming back to work with my quarterback to get to the next level, I'm willing to do that," Burress said. "I believe I can be that person. And I want to help my team. We all want to reach that level, but it's going to take an awful lot of hard work."

Can't wait to see if Shockey buys into that notion and shows up this week. ...

In Green Bay. ... As's Mike Vandermause suggested this week, assuming no significant free agents are signed, a giant question mark looms over the Packers' offense.

This is a team that finished in the bottom third of the NFL in scoring last year and froze in the red zone. This is a team that lost featured running back Ahman Green. A team that signed no free agents on the offensive side of the ball.

So, how are the Packers going to score this season?

Vandermause went on to wonder -- if they ranked near the bottom of the league last year -- what's going to change in 2007 with Brett Favre a year older and no experienced workhorse ready to replace Green?

For now, it's a very good question.

According to Vandermause, it appears the Packers will use a running-back-by-committee approach that includes holdover Vernand Morency and rookie Brandon Jackson.

"The role Ahman played and the job he did is going to have to be shared by some people," general manager Ted Thompson, who seems content to work with the talent on hand this year, said. "I think it's going to be more of a group effort."

That might be the Packers' best and only option, since Jackson never started a full season in college and Morency has been strictly a change-of-pace back in the NFL.

The rest of the contenders for playing time -- Noah Herron, P.J. Pope and Arliss Beach -- fall short of even that distinction. But it's the hand head coach Mike McCarthy has been dealt and he's ready to play it as it lies.

"Obviously, everybody will be watching. But I think that it'll sort itself out," said McCarthy. "No one in that group has been 'The Guy' before at this level. And you never know until you put those guys in that position. I think it's going to be a very competitive group."

Morency, who carried 96 times for 434 yards and two touchdowns last season after coming over from the Texans in the Samkon Gado trade, is the leading candidate to replace the franchise's second-leading, all-time rusher.

But Jackson took a small step toward competing with Morency with a solid rookie orientation camp.

A second-round pick from Nebraska, the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Jackson rushed for 989 yards and eight TDs on 188 carries as a junior last season while also catching 33 passes for 313 yards and two more TDs.

According to Wisconsin State Journal staffer Jason Wilde, Jackson made a good first impression on McCarthy with his quickness.

"He definitely has the quick feet and the explosiveness that we saw on film," McCarthy said. "I think he has the ability to be a playmaker from that position."

A playmaker.

An interesting choice of words by a man who in the same conversation insisted a lack of same wasn't a weakness last season.

"We didn't at the end of the day say, 'Well, we just don't have enough playmakers,'" McCarthy tried to explain. "We have players here that we need to put in position to be successful. If we do that and everybody does their job, we'll be more productive."

But it certainly wouldn't hurt if somebody -- whether it be Jackson or somebody else -- emerges as a play-making threat. ...

In Philadelphia. ... It might not seem like a big deal, but when Donovan McNabb went on a public-relations blitz Tuesday -- far away from the protective eyes, ears and hands of team officials -- he didn't inform the Eagles of his intentions.

Instead he just had his new publicist, a longtime Eagles employee whom the team recently let go, set up interviews with the Inquirer and a few other media outlets so McNabb could make it clear he's not upset that the team used its top pick in last month's draft on a QB.

Instead he isn't happy that there is a perception that he is upset.

For the record, McNabb had the same reaction most fans had when the Eagles selected Kevin Kolb. "It was shocking," the veteran said in one interview.

But the real issue -- at least as it's seen in Philadelphia -- is the unexpected media tour.

According to Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Ashley Fox: "The Eagles have a problem. A big problem. They've lost control of their franchise QB, and that has the potential to get real ugly. ..."

Fox went on to explain the Eagles did not know about McNabb's scheduled interviews until she told them. In her words, they "were dumbfounded. In one second, they had lost control."

That McNabb's new publicist, Rich Burg, was recently fired by the team adds to the intrigue. Although Burg apparently had some inadequacies the Eagles decided they no longer could live with, McNabb still trusts him.

Apparently more than he trusts the Eagles. ...

Meanwhile, McNabb thinks he is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from knee surgery. But as Philadelphia Daily News staffer Rich Hoffman suggested, "Ahead of schedule" is kind of a term of art.

It means different things to different people on different days.

Still, McNabb says he feels good and figures on being ready for the opening of training camp and being ready to play in two or three of the Eagles' four exhibition games.

But an exact timetable?

"It's hard to say," McNabb said. "It's not to the point where you want to push it. I just want to continue to stay patient with it.

"I think we'll all be, not cautious, but smart," he said.

The quarterback tore up his right knee in the 10th game of last season against Tennessee and underwent surgery soon after. It was described at the time as requiring 8 to 12 months of rehab. McNabb seems to be operating on the good side of those initial parameters.

"I would like to say it, but everybody says to be patient, because you don't want any setbacks," he said. "This is around the time where the setbacks can kind of kick in, if it happens. You've just got to be able to handle it. I'm just taking it slow.

"I'm running. I'm dropping [back]. I'm running on the treadmill."

All that said, McNabb isn't taking part in this weekend's mini-camp. ...

In Dallas. ... When Owens had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right ring finger in January, the veteran receiver said his goal was to catch passes by the end of May.

And all indications heading into this weekend's mini-camp -- the first under new head coach Wade Phillips -- have been the star wideout would be in attendance but that he wasn't scheduled to do any on-field work.

Guess what?

Owens was going through drills with the rest of the receivers on Saturday morning, catching passes and all -- apparently doing so without many drops.

According to Dallas Morning News staffer Tim MacMahon, some media types were speculating that T.O. wanted to make this mini-camp all about him, so he fooled the world into thinking he wouldn't be practicing.

As MacMahon further suggested, if that was indeed the plan it's all but guaranteed to work. Expect wall-to-wall Owens coverage in coming days. ...

Also of interest in Dallas. ... Julius Jones is getting the majority of the reps with the first-team offense, but he hasn't necessarily made a great impression on Phillips.

The coach pointed out that Jones is one of the only guys that hasn't been working out at the Cowboys' facility. Jones opted to work out in Arizona instead.

Phillips noted that Jones, who is chiseled as usual, appears to be in great shape and knows the team's new pass protection schemes. But Phillips prefers his players to work out with the team strength coaches. Phillips also believes the off-season conditioning program is important to the "team aspect."

As McMahon suggested: "It's tough to build chemistry with your teammates when you're 1,000 miles away."

With the harder-running (in my opinion) Marion Barber coming off a 14-touchdown season last year, seems like Jones would want to do everything in his power to get on solid footing with the new boss. ...

In Kansas City. ... Priest Holmes told San Antonio News-Express staffer Tom Orsborn last Saturday he is unsure of his future, mainly because the Chiefs have told him the door remains open for him to participate in training camp.

Despite the invite, Holmes added: "The Chiefs haven't put any pressure on me to make a decision. In fact, they've told me, 'The key is underneath the mat whenever you are ready to return.'"

Holmes, who is under contract through the 2009 season, hasn't played or practiced since a helmet-to-helmet collision midway through the 2005 season.

But Holmes says he will meet with GM Carl Peterson in the next month.

"I would not be surprised by anything Priest Holmes does," Peterson says. "He's an amazing guy and an amazing football player. He hasn't made any decisions, but I would not be surprised if he was playing in 2007."

While he hasn't ruled out a return, Holmes said he would retire if unable to play for Kansas City.

It should be noted that Holmes' most recent medical examination was favorable and he plans on meeting with team physicians soon, too.

But I don't sense much urgency in his approach.

"Right now, I am following the advice of my doctors, and they have just told me to take it easy," Holmes said. As I've said all along, don't be surprised if that "take it easy" approach continues.

Holmes, who turns 34 in October, also admitted he isn't sure he could muster the necessary drive to don pads again.

"It really is about turning the switch on and deciding whether or not this is exactly what you are going to do, deciding are you willing to take the risk," he explained. "You really have to have your mind right, your body right and really be focused about returning."

I think it's safe to say Holmes lacks that focus at this point in time. ...

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.