News & Info/Headlines
I'll go ahead and use this brief calm before the storm to cover today's more interesting Fantasy-specific moves so we can head into the signing period with a relatively clean slate.
I'll also remind those of you interested in keeping up with signings on an ongoing basis to keep an eye on the News & Views section of the site. As always, I'll be following all the latest on Fantasy-specific (primarily offensive skill player) signings and signing-related news and rumors as they come to my attention in coming days.
Those interested in a broader look (including defensive players and linemen) might want to keep an eye on our ESPN News Feed page.
I'll also continue to post slightly more in-depth roundups like this in the Headline News section as needed to help less-frequent visitors play catch up a bit easier. ...
With that out of the way, we'll get the ball rolling tonight in St. Louis, where receiver Isaac Bruce's days with the Rams are over. Bruce, the last remaining player from the team's 1995 move from Los Angeles to St. Louis, was released after each side failed to reach a lower salary number.
With a $2 million roster bonus due on Friday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Jim Thomas reports that Bruce apparently declined to accept a pay cut proposed by the club, leading to his release. Bruce, 35, was due $5 million overall -- $3 million in the form of base salary for '08, plus the $2 million roster bonus.
The team's final offer to Bruce apparently was $3 million -- in other words, the base salary minus the roster bonus.
So Bruce, who was cut but then re-signed this time last year, will finally move on, leaving the Rams with Torry Holt and Drew Bennett as their top two receivers.
"It's a tough choice for the franchise," head coach Scott Linehan said on the team's official web site. "It's like anything else. We make decisions as a franchise on the business side and that's the part that makes it the most difficult."
Linehan said the "possibility is always open" for Bruce to re-sign with the Rams.
But that doesn't seem like a realistic possibility.
Bruce is third on the NFL career list with 14,070 yards receiving, trailing only Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. He's sixth in receptions with 942, has been to four Pro Bowls and caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Kurt Warner in the Rams' Super Bowl victory over the Tennessee Titans in 2000.
Bruce was second on the team last season with 55 catches and had a 13.3 yards-per-catch average and four touchdowns. He has eight 1,000-yard seasons with the team and had 119 receptions for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1995.
For what it's worth, Belleville News-Democrat staffer Steven Korte and Pro Football Weekly have both suggested in recent weeks the odds are strong that Bruce would join up with new Niners offensive coordinator and former Rams head coach Mike Martz in San Francisco in a heartbeat.
Meanwhile, PFW notes that one of the main tasks for new Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders will be to get a lot more mileage out of Bennett, who up to now has been "a $30 million bust," according to one long-time team insider.
Bruce's departure makes Bennett the de facto front-runner for the No. 2 spot opposite Holt.
But if his numbers don't show substantial improvement, the Rams' offense could be in store for another tough season in '08.
The 6-5 Bennett, who was envisioned as a key red-zone target, managed only 33 receptions, averaging 11.4 yards per catch, and three TDs in his first season with the Rams after having averaged 61.3 catches, 14.8 yards per catch and six TDs his three previous seasons, with the Titans.
Bennett, who missed two games in 2007 due to quadriceps and hamstring injuries and performed at less than 100 percent in a lot of the games in which he played, came to the Rams with a bit of a reputation for getting nicked up; he remained fully healthy through a complete season in only three of his seven pro campaigns.
Bennett's issues have led some to speculate the Rams will be looking for help at the position. Bruce's release will add further fuel to that fire. ...
The Rams also released Gus Frerotte, the team's backup quarterback the last two seasons.
The Rams saved $6.9 million of cap room with their releases. Both were entering the final years of their contracts. Frerotte had been due a $500,000 roster bonus on Friday.
Frerotte, also a 14-year veteran, made three starts when starter Marc Bulger was sidelined by injury. Frerotte played in nine games overall. His departure leaves only two quarterbacks, Bulger and Brock Berlin, on the roster.
The Rams may be interested in free agent Todd Collins, who played for the Redskins last year when Saunders was with that team. ...
In San Francisco. ... The San Francisco 49ers have given quarterback Alex Smith a vote of confidence by exercising a buyback clause in his contract, effectively extending the deal until 2010.
If the Niners had left the clause in place, Smith's contract would have expired after the 2008 season.
"We have faith in him," general manager Scot McCloughan said. "It wasn't a tremendous amount of money but it shows we have faith in him that he's the guy."
Despite that faith, Smith is expected to compete with former third-stringer Shaun Hill for the starting quarterback job in training camp this summer.
"He and Shaun are going to go out there and compete, and the winner of that is going to be a good quarterback for us," McCloughan confirmed.
The financial cost of the move was not disclosed, but the value of the six-year deal that Smith signed in 2005 was $49.5 million, according to San Francisco Chronicle staffer John Crumpacker. Apparently, the decision was similar to one made last season by the New York Giants, who bought back two voidable years in quarterback Eli Manning's contract for a reported $5 million bonus.
In three years since the Niners made him the first overall pick out of Utah, Smith has completed 435-of-800 passes for 4,679 yards with 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions.
He has started 30 games, passing for 4,679 yards, 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions while getting sacked 81 times.
His career passer rating is 63.5, but the former Utah star played while injured last season before undergoing surgery on his separated right shoulder in early December. Crumpacker reports that Smith is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., next week with hopes of being cleared to resume throwing.
In seven starts before he was hurt last season, Smith completed 94-of-193 passes for 914 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions as the Niners went 5-11.
For what it's worth, McCloughan isn't certain who will compete with Smith and Hill for the starting job, but it's unlikely to be Trent Dilfer.
The 14-year veteran hasn't officially retired, but McCloughan anticipates meeting soon with head coach Mike Nolan and Dilfer, whose season ended in December with the last of several concussions. ...
Also in San Francisco. ... The 49ers also on Thursday demonstrated that Michael Robinson, who had just 84 touches last season, remains a big part of the team's future. As ESPN.com insider Len Pasquarelli first reported, the team signed Robinson to a three-year contract extension.
According to Pasquarelli, Robinson's multimillion dollar extension, the complete financial details of which were not immediately available, keeps him with the 49ers through the 2012 season. Under terms of his original deal, signed as a rookie in 2008, Robinson was to have earned base salaries of $445,000 in 2008 and $530,000 for 2009.
Robinson, 21, has played mostly as a third-down back for the 49ers for the past two seasons, and has also been a special teams standout.
The versatile Robinson started 17 games at quarterback for Penn State, where he also played tailback and wide receiver. San Francisco selected Robinson in the fourth round of the 2006 draft and immediately moved him to tailback.
In 31 appearances, Robinson has logged 64 carries for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He has 20 receptions for 120 yards.
In addition to lending further credence to the notion Robinson's role as the third-down back will increase in 2008, the extension also leads me to believe the team has lost interest in former Panther DeShaun Foster, a player the Niners were said to be in talks with as recently as this past Monday. ...
In San Diego. ... All-Pro fullback Lorenzo Neal was released Thursday by the Chargers. General manager A.J. Smith confirmed that Neal requested his release in hopes of quickly jumping into free agency.
When Smith declined an immediate release last month, Neal asked to be traded.
Neal, who fully believes he's still starting material, knew that he wouldn't be that if he remained in San Diego. Head coach Norv Turner's offense does not place a high value on the fullback position and the Chargers are ready to hand whatever fullback reps there are to Andrew Pinnock. ...
In Houston. ... The Texans agreed to a multi-year contract with free agent receiver and kick returner Andre' Davis on Thursday, just hours before the start of free agency.
Davis is expected to the sign the contract on Friday.
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken notes, Davis emerged as one of Houston's top receivers last season when Andre Johnson missed seven games with a knee sprain. Davis finished with 33 catches for 583 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season, including two in Houston's season finale against Jacksonville.
Signing Davis was a priority for Houston with the status of one-time Pro Bowl kick returner and restricted free agent Jerome Mathis up in the air. Mathis made the Pro Bowl as a returner in 2005, but spent most of the last two seasons on injured reserve before being charged earlier this month with assaulting his pregnant common-law wife.
As PFW recently noted, Davis could be overtaken as the club's No. 3 receiver by Jacoby Jones, but the Texans were still open to paying Davis because of his value as both a receiver and a kickoff returner.
Davis told Houston television station KRIV the agreement "allows me to really, truly concentrate on football and not worry about the finances."
"I am just extremely excited I am going to be able to be able to continue my career in Houston," Davis said.
And if NFL Network insider Adam Schefter has the numbers right, it's not hard to understand what Davis was talking about. According to Schefter, Davis' new deal is worth $16 million over four years, with guaranteed money close to $8 million. ...
In Carolina. ... With only a few hours remaining before he was to become an unrestricted free agent, fullback Brad Hoover reached a contract agreement with the Panthers.
According to Charlotte Observer staffer Charles Chandler, Hoover, the team's long-standing lead blocker in the running game and a fan favorite, agreed to a new three-year deal Thursday night.
The Panthers had begun preparing themselves for the possibility of losing Hoover and having to replace him. Both sides appear to be pleased that won't be the case.
"He's just happy to stay a Panther," Hoover's agent, Tim Irwin, told Chandler. ...
That said, some observer question whether Hoover is a capable enough blocker.
Gaston Gazette reporter Steve Reed recently suggested a bigger, more aggressive blocker (in the mold of Neal) could do wonders for this running game. ...
In Miami. ... The Dolphins on Thursday signed wide receiver David Kircus. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Kircus, 28, returns to the NFL for the first time since being cut by the Broncos prior to the 2007 season. Kircus, a sixth-round pick by Detroit in 2003, played with the Lions in 2003 and 2004 but was cut before the 2005 season.
He has played in 28 career games, starting two. He has 15 receptions for 308 yards and one touchdown, also returning six punts at an average of 14.3 yards and fielding two kickoffs for a 19.0-yard average. ...
That's it for this installment. ... Again, I'll remind those interested in following along more closely to keep an eye on the News & Views and ESPN News Feed sections of the site. And as always, those looking for something a little more in-depth should keep an eye out here, in the Headline News section.