News & Info/Headlines
Indeed, I'm convinced that time spent early in the year building a baseline of information will prove to be invaluable come next August and September when it's time to get down to brass tacks.
So now, as has become the custom on this site, we will once again be providing an array of off-season news, information and analysis in an effort to help you build that baseline -- including the weekly Fantasy Notebook (which will appear in this space on Sundays throughout the offseason). With that out of the way. ...
We'll get the ball rolling in Denver, where the Broncos answered one of their biggest off-season questions by agreeing with Travis Henry on a restructured contract that will keep him in Denver.
As Denver Post staffer Bill Williamson suggested, the new deal gives Henry the opportunity to atone for a miserable first year in Denver. His agent said that was the primary reason for Henry's return.
"Travis wants to make it right in Denver," Hadley Engelhard told Williamson Wednesday. "That is the big reason why he is back. He thinks it can work there."
Originally, the Broncos would have owed a large portion of a $6 million option bonus to Henry on Feb. 29. Henry still has four years remaining on his contract.
According to NFL Network insider Adam Schefter, Henry gave up the option bonus to stay in Denver.
And as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested, that might have been a small price to pay in light of the unwavering support Henry got from head coach Mike Shanahan during the tailback's problematic 2007 season.
In case you weren't paying attention last year, Henry signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Denver after being a salary cap casualty at Tennessee. He received a $12 million bonus as part of the contract.
The marriage between Henry and the Broncos started beautifully as he led the NFL in rushing after the first four games of the season. However, things went south shortly thereafter.
In early October, word broke of Henry's positive drug test, which could have resulted in a year's suspension. After a 54-day ordeal, Henry won an appeal with the NFL. Unfortunately, he subsequently suffered a series of knee and rib injuries that ruined his season.
In the final 12 week, Henry missed four games and didn't have more than 65 yards in a single game. He didn't have a carry in the season finale against Minnesota.
Late last month, Henry said his issues -- including revelations by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August that he has fathered nine children by nine women -- wore on him.
But Henry made it clear he wanted to come back to the Broncos to show he could be productive on and off the field. He talked to team officials earlier this month and they were satisfied with what they heard.
Now, Henry will work in the backfield with Selvin Young, who had a productive rookie season in 2007. According to Williamson, Henry will likely take the role of the short-field bruising back while Young offers Denver a breakaway threat.
It should be noted that Shanahan has believes Young is at his best when limited 10 to 15 carries a game. Shanahan certainly won't be asking the diminutive speedster to handle a 20-to-25 carry workload.
"No, definitely not," Shanahan said last month. "Any time a guy's been hurt as many times as he did, you know that there's no possible way he can carry the ball 20, 25 times a game."
While Shanahan clearly values Young's big-play capabilities, he just as clearly isn't sold on the second-year man's ability to handle a featured role. That being the case, Broncos officials spent some time in recent weeks studying free-agent running backs -- a group that Williamson reports included Dallas' Julius Jones and Tennessee's Chris Brown.
Williamson added: "The decision to stick with Henry makes it clear he will be a big part of the offense. ..."
The good news? Certainly from a Fantasy perspective, Henry's value will plummet from last year when he was viewed by many as a RB1. So, those willing to take a chance on a player with the chance to outperform expectations -- even assuming Young works as the primary back -- could do worse than Henry.
Remember: Henry rebounded from another injury-riddled year in 2005 by posting 1,211 rushing yards for Tennessee in 2006. ...
Also in Denver. ... With Henry's contract now secured, the Broncos will concentrate on wide receiver Javon Walker, who is reportedly being dangled as trade bait. But according to SI.com's Bucky Brooks, the Broncos are finding few takers.
As the St. Petersburg Times first reported, the Bucs had discussions with the Broncos about trading for Walker. Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Chicago and the New York Jets are also said to be potential suitors.
Still, an unnamed league source told Brooks that teams are hesitant to make a serious play for Walker due to concerns about his knee and the possibility of additional surgery.
Although teams still regard Walker as an outstanding talent, it is unlikely that the Broncos will find a willing suitor to take on Walker at his current salary number.
Bottom line? With Walker due significant roster bonuses ($5.4 million), Brooks believes Denver will simply part ways with the unhappy star if a team fails to meet their trade demands by March 4 (when the bonuses are due).
And where might they look for help at the position?
Williamson reported on Friday that team officials are studying prospective free-agent receivers to pair with Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley. Among the free agents being considered are Bernard Berrian and Bryant Johnson.
The team could also go the receiver route in the April draft. ...
In Cleveland. ... Heading into the offseason, the Browns' two biggest concerns were re-signing Jamal Lewis and Derek Anderson. They have taken care of the first one.
As Cleveland Plain Dealer staff writer Mary Kay Cabot first reported, the two sides agreed to terms on a three-year contract Thursday. The deal is believed to be worth $17 million. Lewis made $5 million last season, including $1.5 million in incentives.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers understated, Lewis proved he could be an effective every-down back in 2007.
After signing the one-year, incentive-laded free-agent deal to join the team last March, Lewis gained 1,304 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Only Hall of Famer Jim Brown has run for more yards in a season for the Browns.
Working behind Cleveland's revamped offensive line, Lewis ran with the same physical style that helped him gain 7,801 yards with the Ravens. This after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle last offseason -- a procedure that seemed to give Lewis back some lost quickness.
In addition to performing beyond expectations, Lewis counseled younger players, who were impressed by his tireless work ethic.
"Jamal has matured quite a bit since he's come into the league," Browns GM Phil Savage said following the season. "He's been an excellent leader quietly behind the scenes. He's a real pro and takes care of himself."
That last point is key.
Lewis will be 29 at the beginning of the 2008 season. He has carried the ball 2,120 times in a career that began in 2000. But there appears to be plenty of gas left in the tank -- at least based on last year's performance.
Instead of wearing down as last season progressed, Lewis got better. He rushed for 100 yards or more in four of his last six games. I'm looking for another strong effort this season as the personnel becomes better-acclimated and more comfortable with coordinator Rob Chudzinski's scheme. ...
In a related note. ... Pro Football Weekly recently suggested that Lewis' return won't result in any major changes to the team's depth at tailback. According to PFW, the Browns are pleased with Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison.
Wright rushed for 277 yards on 60 carries last season, starting one game when Lewis was out of the lineup. Wright also caught 24 passes. Smaller and quicker than Wright, Harrison impressed in limited action, carrying 23 times for 142 yards.
But neither man is a threat to Lewis' featured status. ...
Meanwhile, with Lewis under contract, Savage can turn his attention to Anderson.
Savage met with Anderson's agents in Indianapolis on Thursday night about completing a long-term deal before Anderson can become a restricted free agent.
Heading into the meeting, the Browns were focused on a three-year deal while Anderson's agents were still interested in exploring a six-year alternative. They also had substantial ground to make up on the financial terms.
How much ground?
According to Cabot, the Browns are offering a three-year deal worth about $18 million. Anderson's side is looking for a six-year deal worth at least $68 million -- but has also proposed a three-year deal with a substantially higher dollar value than the Browns offer.
Savage, initially optimistic about his chances of getting something done with Anderson by Feb. 28, was less so after the meeting. On Friday the GM began floating the notion of putting the highest tender on the QB.
The key for Anderson's camp will be determining what market exists.
There are about 8-12 NFL teams with issues this who could be interested in Anderson. The teams include Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta, Minnesota, Kansas City, San Francisco, the Jets, Miami and Washington.
So, as Cabot summed up: "If [a deal with Cleveland] doesn't get done before Thursday, Anderson's agents might have a good idea that there's a better offer out there. ..."
In Carolina. ... The Panthers released DeShaun Foster on Thursday. Selected in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Foster ranks as Carolina's all-time leading rusher with 3,336 yards and 851 attempts.
But the need to clear up cap space -- and the apparent desire to give DeAngelo Williams an opportunity to emerge in a featured role -- trumped past accomplishments.
The move clears about $4.75 million in cap space and comes after the Panthers started shopping Foster in the last couple of weeks.
"There were some conversations, but nothing came about," Panthers GM Marty Hurney said.
Despite his standing atop the team's all-time list, it should be noted that Foster has never rushed for more than 897 yards in six seasons plagued by fumbles and injuries.
Williams, Carolina's first-round pick in 2006, started getting more carries late last season. While Foster gained 876 yards to Williams' 717, Williams averaged 5 yards per carry to Foster's 3.5 and appeared to be much more explosive.
Hurney said the plan is to make Williams the No. 1 back.
"DeAngelo was a first-round pick two years ago and we have all the confidence in him and think that he's very good," Hurney said.
Some observers believe the team needs to get Williams more involved as a receiver in the passing game.
Williams has good hands and the ability to catch passes coming out of the backfield or lining up as a receiver. And as ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas recently suggested, getting Williams more touches this way would give him more opportunities to make things happen in the open field, where he's most dangerous.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Observer staffer Charles Chandler predicted on Friday the team will add a big back to pair with Williams -- a notion that head coach John Fox confirmed Saturday. Among the players expected to be available when the unrestricted free-agency signing period opens are San Diego's Michael Turner and Jones -- neither of whom are interested in playing second fiddle to anybody.
Fortunately, it is considered a good year for backs in the NFL draft. That might be a better route if finding a back to compliment Williams. ...
Giving perhaps the clearest indication that the Bucs don't expect to have Carnell Williams next season, the team has targeted the former Panther. Tampa Bay GM Bruce Allen told the Times on Saturday at the NFL combine he has spoken with Foster's agent, Joby Branion. A visit is likely to occur early next week.
Williams is recovering from a torn patellar injury he suffered last Oct. at Carolina. It is expected to take between nine and 12 months to completely heal, meaning the "Cadillac" might not be cleared to play until the middle of the 2008 season.
Improving the running back position will be one of the Bucs goals this offseason.
Already, the team re-signed Michael Bennett to a three-year contract and is negotiating an extension for Earnest Graham. Michael Pittman is hoping to join another team. ...
In Indianapolis. ... Dallas Clark might have the distinction of being a "franchise player" for the shortest time in NFL history.
As Indianapolis Star beat writer Mike Chappell first reported, the veteran tight end, who was "tagged" by the Colts on Tuesday, agreed Wednesday to a six-year contract with the team. Financial details were not immediately available, but it's believed the deal makes Clark the NFL's highest-paid tight end. It most certainly provides him a more favorable salary-cap number.
The one-year franchise designation carried a $4.522 million price.
Clark, 28, is coming off the most productive season of his five-year career: 58 receptions, 616 yards, 11 touchdowns. The receptions and TDs broke the single-season club records of Hall of Famer John Mackey.
And as AP sports writer Michael Marot noted, Clark's productivity has improved steadily since his rookie season, when he caught 29 passes in 10 games before breaking his leg and missing the rest of the season.
His yardage totals improved each of the next two seasons and while his numbers dropped in 2006, after missing four straight games with a right knee injury, he caught 21 passes for 317 yards and had a major impact in the Colts' Super Bowl run.
Clark's most valuable asset to the Colts, however, doesn't appear the stat sheet.
As Marot further explained, the versatile Clark can play tight end, play the slot receiver or even line up in the backfield as a blocking back, a combination that has allowed the Colts to continue to play with three receivers when they're short-handed.
"He's a very unique player," Colts president Bill Polian said. "He gives us a lot of flexibility we otherwise would not have. ..."
In New England. ... The Patriots did not designate Randy Moss as a franchise player Thursday. While Moss technically becomes a free agent, New England could also sign him to a multi-year contract.
In fact, Boston Globe staffer Mike Reiss and Providence Journal reporter Shalise Manza Young both suggested Thursday the team's decision could mean that the Patriots and Moss have a verbal deal in place for a long-term contract.
If Moss and the Patriots have agreed to a multiyear contract, it cannot be announced until Feb. 29. Meaning it can't actually be enforced until then, either.
In other words, as Florio suggested Thursday night, if there's an agreement, Moss can renege without consequence. All that said, Moss clearly enjoys working in New England -- and with good reason.
After taking a pay cut when he was traded by Oakland to New England last April, Moss had an outstanding season. He set the NFL record with 23 touchdown catches in a season and totaled 98 receptions for 1,493 yards.
He repeatedly has praised quarterback Tom Brady, who has said he wants Moss back.
It's safe to assume Brady will get what he wants. ...
That said, it's equally safe to assume the team's receiving corps will change to some degree this year.
Dallas Morning News staffer Albert Breer on Thursday confirmed the Patriots will not pick up the $8 million due in bonuses to Donte' Stallworth over the next eight days. That means that come Monday, the team will release the receiver.
No real surprise. The Patriots reportedly informed Stallworth of their plans earlier this month.
And while the decision not to pay the bonus money will allow Stallworth to test the market -- much like teammate Jabar Gaffney (and Moss if you're among those who believe the two sides don't already have an agreement in place), it doesn't preclude New England from re-signing him to a more cap-friendly contract.
In fact, asked on Thursday whether Stallworth might return with a new contract, agent Drew Rosenhaus (who represents Stallworth and Gaffney) told Reiss: "Like Jabar, I'd say we're in discussions. ..."
Stallworth caught 46 passes during the regular season, three for touchdowns. In the postseason, he caught eight passes, three in the Super Bowl loss against the New York Giants.
He was generally the third receiver behind Moss and Wes Welker, but late in the season he was often replaced on the depth chart by Gaffney.
The Pats entertained free agent wideout Marty Booker this week, but did not offer him a contract. ...
In Seattle. ... Profootballtalk.com began reporting on Thursday about "rumblings" from its sources at the combine that the Seahawks could be cutting running back Shaun Alexander soon.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer staffer Clare Farnsworth immediately advised readers "Don't believe it."
Not surprisingly, team officials would not even comment on the report, saying it doesn't deserve a response.
But Farnsworth went on to stress the team is not ready to give up on Alexander, yet. Farnsworth went on to suggest that if Alexander is released, it would likely come after June 1 to spread the cap hit on the remaining proration of his signing bonuses over the next two years.
But PFT's Florio claims that's not the case. Per Florio (a labor lawyer by trade), the current CBA stipulates that two players per team can be cut before June 1, and the transactions can be processed as post-June 1 moves.
Meanwhile, Florio suggested a better argument against releasing Alexander now is that the team would have more leverage to squeeze Alexander to take a lower salary if he'd be cut at a time after the bulk of the free-agency money has flowed.
That dovetails with a point Farnsworth made by asking: "Why would the team release Alexander before it knows it has a replacement, either in free agency or, more likely, in the draft?"
It's also worth noting there are those within the organization who reportedly want to see how well Alexander performs now that the club has signed veteran Mike Wahle to fill the void at left guard (a void created when Steve Hutchinson moved on to Minnesota) and hired assistant coach Mike Solari to infuse some needed tenacity into the line.
It's worth noting that SI.com's Brooks made a similar argument in Alexander's favor long before this report came up.
As Brooks pointed out, Alexander, who rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns in Hutchinson's final season (2005), has averaged only 70 yards per game the past two years and has seen his yards-per-carry dip to a career low (3.5) in 2007 after averaging over five yards per carry two seasons ago.
Although Wahle ranks a notch or two below Hutchinson as a player, he will solidify the Seahawks' left side of the line.
It might be worth noting that head coach Mike Holmgren doesn't count himself among the detractors when it comes to Alexander -- although he has a solid understanding of the veteran's status.
"I don't see it as much of a debate," Holmgren said. "We know the type of back Shaun can be. I am not ready to buy into the fact that he hit 30 and all of a sudden he can't play anymore.
"It's going to be a show-me type of year, though. ..."
Also in Seattle. ... Washington Post staffer Jason La Canfora suggested this week that -- should the Redskins fail to land a star receiver early in free agency, Seahawks' wideout D.J. Hackett could be attractive to new head coach Jim Zorn, who spent the last seven years with the Hawks. ...
In a related note. ... Brooks believes Hackett and Carolina's Drew Carter will command considerable attention when the signing period begins next Friday.
According to Brooks, Hackett is viewed a solid No. 2 receiver with the potential to develop into a 55-60 catch guy. Though scouts raise concerns about his durability (Hackett has missed parts of the past three seasons with various injuries), his potential to step as a starter in a west coast offense makes him a highly desirable option.
Carter is coveted by teams in search of a speedster capable of stretching the field.
While Carter's failure to play like a "big" receiver is frustrating, scouts are enticed by his ability to make plays down the field (three receptions over 40 yards last season). ...
And in a semi-related note. ... Brooks advised readers on Friday not to expect the Panthers to make a serious play for former Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler, who was released by Atlanta last Friday.
Though Crumpler seems like a logical fit and would open the field up for Steve Smith, the Panthers are not one of the teams he visited with over the weekend. The Panthers were one of the first teams to contact him after his release, but the discussions didn't develop into contract negotiations.
According to Journal-Constitution reporter Jeff Schultz, Crumpler decided there was sufficient interest in his services to make a trip to the combine. He expects to talk to Green Bay, Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. ...
In Chicago. ... After releasing Muhsin Muhammad last week -- and deciding against placing their franchise tag on unrestricted free-agent-to-be Berrian, the Bears' receiving corps is another one that could look significantly different in 2008.
For those keeping score at home, if Berrian doesn't stay, Mark Bradley would be the team's most experienced wideout.
In fact, as Chicago Sun-Times reporter Brad Biggs noted this week, Bradley, Devin Hester, Mike Hass and Brandon Rideau are the only wide receivers under contract. They combined for 26 receptions and three touchdowns last season.
The Bears have high hopes that Hester will have a breakout season, and general manager Jerry Angelo remains a staunch Bradley supporter, but Biggs points out that Bradley's three years have been punctuated by injuries more than anything else.
"The way I look at it now, it's just working hard, proving myself all over again," Bradley said. "I once was [a starter], and I've proven that I can be. It's just getting an opportunity to show that."
Bradley made four of his six catches in the last five games. He was plagued at the end of training camp by a sore knee, and when questioned about Bradley's status at the start of the season, head coach Lovie Smith said it was pretty simple: Bradley was fifth on the depth chart.
He's expected to be much higher than that when the offseason program begins, but if he's the most experienced wideout on the roster at that time, Biggs suggests it will be viewed as a potential disaster for an offense that was ineffective last season.
Meanwhile, Berrian believes he will receive top dollar in free agency and feels the Bears' initial offer is short. But if he doesn't get what he's looking for in free agency, he could return.
For the record, Scout.com's Adam Caplan believes Berrian is the Vikings' "No. 1 target" in free agency (although other observers expect the team to make a serious run at Oakland's Jerry Porter). Minnesota's need is understandable considering team officials granted disappointing former first-round pick Troy Williamson permission to find willing trade partners. ...
Also in Chicago. ... The Bears re-signed Rex Grossman to a one-year deal on Saturday. According to Schefter, the contract is worth $3 million, with $1.5 million guaranteed.
Grossman helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006 in his first full season as a starter, but he was heavily criticized for committing a rash of turnovers in a handful of poor outings.
The former Florida star was benched after starting the first three games in 2007, but he performed much better in five games after regaining the No. 1 job from Brian Griese. Grossman is expected to compete for the starting job with Kyle Orton, who looked impressive in closing 2007 by leading the Bears to their only back-to-back wins of the season over the Packers and Saints.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the job will be Orton's to lose this summer. Still, those who follow the team closely say many of the top offensive players wanted Grossman to stay. ...
Getting back to Williamson for a brief moment. ... Minneapolis Star Tribune staffer Judd Zulgad reported Friday that David Canter, the agent for Williamson, claims no fewer than eight of 14 teams contacted have expressed interest in the receiver since the Vikings gave Canter permission to shop his client on Thursday.
Not surprisingly, Canter did not reveal the teams that have expressed interest in his client. And instead of calling Canter a liar, I'll just remind you that part of selling any product is creating demand.
At this point, let's just say that Canter is doing his job. ...
For the record, Dayton Daily News staffer Chick Ludwig reports the Browns are No. 1 on Williamson's list because he's tight with Braylon Edwards. Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Tennessee have also been mentioned as possible destinations. The Dolphins and Jaguars appear to be more realistic possibilities.
Mike Tice, the Vikings' head coach when Williamson was drafted, is a member of the Jaguars' coaching staff. ...
In Detroit. ... Detroit Free Press reporter Nicholas J. Cotsonika reminded readers this week the Lions want to run the ball more with Jim Colletto replacing Mike Martz as offensive coordinator.
T.J. Duckett and Tatum Bell are free agents; Kevin Jones is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"The doctors say everything is fine and he's coming along and all those things, but you don't know when the starting signal is," head coach Rod Marinelli said of Jones' recovery. "You don't know. He could get to camp and then you have to wait and see how he feels in camp."
The Lions are going to look at free agents, including guys like Turner and Jones, but money is going to be a consideration in the decision.
My guess says the Lions will make a concerted effort to retain Duckett with Bell being allowed to move on, but Colletto is said to be enamored with Bell's speed and running ability.
According to Nashville City Paper staffer Terry McCormick -- citing an unnamed league source, Bell, who starred with the Broncos and Mike Heimerdinger before being dealt to Detroit, is a potential match for the Titans.
Heimerdinger signed on as Tennessee's offensive coordinator earlier this month. The source told McCormick that the two had a good relationship with the Broncos.
The Titans are in need of another running back to complement LenDale White with Brown scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. ...
Also in Detroit. ... Booth Newspapers beat man Tom Kowalski reports that Martz, interviewed at the combine, revealed for the first time that he was actually fired by the Lions.
"Oh yeah, they fired me. They absolutely fired me," said Martz, who is now the offensive coordinator for the 49ers. When asked if he was surprised why the Lions wouldn't term it a firing in their official press release, Martz said, "I can't explain anything that they do. ..."
Martz also indicated that Lions first-round draft choice Calvin Johnson was hurt a lot worse than originally believed last year. Johnson suffered a back injury in the third game of the season, against the Philadelphia Eagles, and missed the next game but played in every other game.
Johnson finished the year with just 48 catches for 756 yards but Martz said his production wasn't limited by the complexities of the offense.
"Not at all, just the opposite in fact. He did a great job in preparation," Martz said. "Calvin got hurt in that Philadelphia game and he never recovered the rest of the year. He was never 100 percent the rest of the year.
"In fact, there were games he really struggled to play and maybe shouldn't have played, I don't know. It was important to him to play and you've got to give him credit. He fought through it pretty good. ..."
And finally this week. ... The Falcons on Friday won a three-team coin flip for the third overall pick in this April's NFL Draft. In a ceremony held at the combine, Atlanta (4-12) secured the pick by winning a coin flip with the Oakland Raiders (4-12), who will have the fourth overall selection.
The Chiefs (4-12), who finished ahead of the Raiders in the AFC West division based on a better record against common opponents, will pick fifth.
The Dolphins (1-15) have the first pick and Rams (3-13) are drafting second.
The Jets, Patriots (from San Francisco), Ravens, Bengals and Saints round out the top 10.
The draft will take place at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 26-27. Everybody ready for two months of incessant hype?
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.