Patriots apply franchise tag to WR Welker

The New England Patriots have used their franchise tag on WR Wes Welker, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The team later confirmed the move in a release.

“Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007,” the Patriots’ statement read. “Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come.”

Discussions between the Patriots and Welker on a long-term contract stalled in late February, a source told the Boston Herald.

The tag guarantees Welker a one-year deal worth about $9.4 million. Welker made $2.15 million last season.

Welker caught 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

Steve Smith expected to suit up for Eagles

UPDATE: Smith wasn’t included on the Eagles’ list of inactive players. Young was.

ST. LOUIS — Eagles WR Steve Smith is expected to play in Sunday’s season opener against the Rams, according to a team source.

Smith, who left the Giants to sign with the Eagles during the offseason, has been recovering from microfracture surgery on his knee.

The source also said that backup QB Vince Young (hamstring) isn’t expected to play for the Eagles. Mike Kafka will be Michael Vick‘s backup.

As for Smith, the team has certain packages that will include him. Those likely will be four-wide sets with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.

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Falcons NT Peters carted off with leg injury

Atlanta Falcons starting nose tackle Corey Peters was carted off the practice field with an apparent lower left leg injury on Sunday.

Head coach Mike Smith said he did not have an immediate update.

If Peters, a second-year player who established himself as a rookie, is unable to return soon, former first-round pick Peria Jerry is expected to step in.

Banner says Eagles entertaining offers for Samuel

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Eagles president Joe Banner joined this week’s “Cover Two Podcast” with my co-host Bucky Brooks and gave a very candid look into the Eagles’ roster-building process.

Banner openly discussed how the team is actively entertaining trade offers for cornerback Asante Samuel, who could be the odd man out in the secondary after the acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha (free agency) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (trade).

“We are open and in fact engaged with conversation with people that are interested in acquiring one of our cornerback,” Banner said. “Teams that need a corner have inquired about the depth at the position and we’re listening to them. In the end as we’ve tried to do in every situation, we’ll make an evaluation as to what leaves us with the best team.”

Banner added that the Eagles had no idea that they would be able to land all of the players that they have, including defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and defensive end Jason Babin.

On the subject of DeSean Jackson‘s contract holdout, Banner said once the wide receiver reports and begins doing his job, work can start on possibly extending his deal.

And for the “dream team” label the Eagles now bear, he’d rather not go there.

Brooks also breaks down how, with the addition of running back Ronnie Brown, the Eagles could now develop the “Wildcat 2.0,” with Michael Vick and Vince Young being the other components.

Newsday‘s Jets beat writer Rod Boone also stopped by to shed some light on the team adding Plaxico Burress, re-signing Santonio Holmes and how Mark Sanchez plans to be more of a leader instead of trying to pacify his weapons.

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Bucs ramp up intensity in preparation for season

TAMPA, Fla. — If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggle this year, it won’t be for a lack of preparation.

The Bucs, who have packed this month with Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and a minicamp, went through a pretty lengthy and intense session Monday, which I am told is par for the course.

Quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson took the brunt of the snaps, as these long workouts seemingly are intended to get each player as much work as possible — especially Freeman, the starter.

Coach Raheem Morris told me that Freeman has begun the process of establishing ownership of the team with his work ethic and by directing the offense. Freeman’s evolution in Year 2 — his first as the starter from Week 1 — will factor heavily into Tampa Bay’s success, or lack thereof.

He still seems to be working through some of the nuances of the Bucs’ version of the West Coast scheme and the coaches are adding more plays and reads for him and his new group of receivers.

As for Freeman’s targets, the wide receivers are a physically imposing group, especially rookies Arrelious Benn (6-1, 219) and Mike Williams (6-1, 221). Williams is the more vertical threat of the pair and based on things people in the organization told me, the Bucs have big plans for him if what he’s doing in shorts and a practice jersey translates when the pads come on.

The player who’s been generating the most buzz is CB Aqib Talib. Things apparently are starting to come easily to Talib, a highly talented — and emotional — player who is entering his third season.

First-round draft pick DT Gerald McCoy‘s progress is hard to gauge because these are non-contact drills, but the reviews have been favorable. Second-round pick Brian Price has not attended voluntary workouts because of the rule that prevents players at universities still in class from participating. The defensive tackle is expected to join the team later this week.

Owners table vote to extend overtime rule


IRVING, Texas — NFL owners decided not to vote Tuesday at the NFL Spring Meeting on extending the new overtime rule changes to the regular season.

The new rules, which could allow both teams possession in overtime, will only apply to the postseason. At the NFL Annual Meeting in March, owners voted to change the overtime rules for the playoffs beginning with the upcoming season, and there had been momentum to apply those changes to the regular season. But that momentum waned at these meetings.

Owners could re-visit the issue after the season, two league officials said.

More to meetings than 2014 Super Bowl

IRVING, Texas — The awarding of the 2014 Super Bowl is the major issue for the NFL League Meetings on Tuesday (watch the announcement live on NFL Network and, but there are some side agendas that will be discussed.

The possibility the owners could vote to enact new overtime rules could take place, although that seems to be on the backburner. In March, owners voted to enact rules that change the sudden death format for playoff games only. A vote could occur to apply those changes to regular-season games.

There will be discussions about the “enhanced” regular season, in which one and maybe two regular-season games could be added in exchange for a reduction in preseason games. A formal decision on such a radical change is not expected.

Prospective St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s proposal to assume majority ownership of the team also will be discussed. Kroenke, who already owns 40 percent of the Rams and also owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, is expected to explain how he will meet the NFL’s cross-ownership rules.

South Florida, Tampa face long odds

IRVING, Texas — Despite the seemingly long odds to be named the host city for Super Bowl XLVIII, the bid committees for South Florida and Tampa have been diligently rehearsing their presentations that they will deliver to owners for a vote on Tuesday.

Former Dolphins player Nat Moore, a member of the South Florida contingent that seems to have the longest shot at the bid, said his group is working hard to state its case. Another person from Tampa said its group feels that fears of the cold weather in New York/New Jersey and Tampa’s history of hosting Super Bowls could work in its favor.

Not this time. The groundswell for a cold-weather game in New Jersey at the New Meadowlands Stadium makes the pending annoumcement seem like a slam dunk.

— Steve Wche

NYC/N.J. has support to host Super Bowl XLVIII

IRVING, Texas — A minute or so before conducting an NFL Network interview with Jonathan Tisch, co-chair of the NYC/N.J. Super Bowl “Bid” Committee, on Monday, Tisch and another member said they hope that by Tuesday afternoon the group can change its title to the NYC/N.J. Super Bowl “Host” Committee for Super Bowl XLVIII. Nice touch.

There seems to be pretty widespread support at the NFL Spring Meeting for NYC/N.J. to host the game. Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he’s a huge proponent of the Super Bowl going to New York and that he loves the fact that the game could be played in nature’s elements.

I asked a handful of other owners if a winning bid by NYC/N.J. to host the game would be a predecessor to other cold-weather, dome-less stadiums hosting Super Bowls. Nearly everyone said that this isn’t the time for that discussion. Kraft also said he doesn’t think New England would be in consideration any time soon.

“I think that ship has sailed,” he said.

— Steve Wyche

Growing sense is owners won’t vote on overtime rule

IRVING, Texas — NFL owners and front office officials began arriving for the NFL Spring Meeting early in the afternoon Monday, poised to vote on the host city for Super Bowl XLVIII, but unsure if they’ll vote for amending changes to overtime which they approved at the NFL Annual Meeting in March.

The possibility of tabling the overtime vote is the most interesting development at these meetings. In March, owners voted to change overtime rules for the playoffs beginning with the upcoming season, and there was tremendous momentum to go ahead and apply those changes to the regular season. That push seems to have lost a lot of steam — for now. The new wrinkle, of course, is that if the team who has first possession in overtime doesn’t score a touchdown but kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball.

If the overtime rule is tabled, which is the growing sense, it likely won’t be revisited before the season. The new overtime rules would then apply only in the playoffs — something that bothered a lot of coaches, who don’t want to have to adjust to new rules with a shot at the Super Bowl at stake.

Although the Super Bowl XLVIII vote won’t take place until Tuesday, it is widely assumed that New York/New Jersey will beat out South Florida (Miami/Fort Lauderdale) and Tampa for the game. The fact that the game could be played in an outdoor stadium in cold weather has generated a lot of conversation, but it’s clearly not a deal-breaker. It could prompt more regions (New England, Seattle) to bid on future Super Bowls.

— Steve Wyche

Hard-hitting LB Thomas to announce retirement

Free agent linebacker Zach Thomas, 36, is expected to sign with the Miami Dolphins, with whom he played 12 seasons, and then announce his retirement Thursday at a 4 p.m. ET news conference. Thomas’ career in Miami ended in 2007. He signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, playing one season there. He was released by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2009 preseason.

Thomas was drafted in the fifth round by Miami in 1996 and his emergence prompted him to replace current Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio at middle linebacker. Del Rio, who was cut in preseason, went on to retire. The undersized, hard-hitting Thomas was the anchor of the Dolphins defense for 12 seasons and was among the most productive linebackers in the NFL for years before a series of concussions sidetracked his career.

Cushing’s failed tests break ground

Writers who vote for The Associated Press NFL awards are going to re-cast their votes for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year following the four-game suspension of Texans LB Brian Cushing, who violated the league’s steroid policy. Cushing will still be eligible for the award, but if the voters thought he should win it, a quick survey might have told them not to take the measures they’re about to take.

I think Buffalo defensive back Jairus Byrd is about to get the award. And while Cushing is now as tainted as the urine tests that showed his guilt were, he’ll have more to worry about than the long-time whispers of his alleged chemical help that have now turned to shouts.

Houston pretty much has to make the playoffs next season, or the staff that drafted and coached him could get bounced. The Texans have been stockpiling talent and making strides under coach Gary Kubiak and it’s time for them to cash the playoff check. By not having this standout player available for any other reason beside injury isn’t good, and if the Texans’ defense gets gashed early on, Cushing is going to catch even more heat. He was that type of impact player.

When he comes back, Cushing needs to be a better player than he ever was, because his team might need him. He also needs to show that he can be a good football player without chemical aid, whatever chemical that may have been. If he can’t, then it’s a setback on a lot of different levels for both Cushing and the Texans. If he does, people will chalk it up to being young and stupid.

The other interesting point about this is the Pandora’s Box that has now been opened by voters for awards, many of whom are close friends of mine and are very smart people. Will do-overs for award voting be held only for players who violate tests for performance enhancers, or could behavior-related arrests or failed drug tests also come into play?

Maualuga tries to comfort old pal Cushing

Bengals LB Rey Maualuga said Monday night that he has gained perspective on many things after his January DUI arrest in Kentucky forced him to confront a drinking problem. One of the things he has learned is to support folks when they’re having issues — something he has done for former USC teammate and current Texans LB Brian Cushing, who on Friday received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

“I’m just thinking about what happened to me with the DUI (arrest in February), how I didn’t want anybody to talk to me,” Maualuga said. “I’m not saying I know how he feels, but I’m just comparing it to how I felt, with people calling and texting and asking me, ‘What happened?’ All I did was say, ‘This, too, shall pass. You’ll be all right, bro.’ He said, ‘Thanks. I appreciate it.’ He knows I have his back.

“I know he’s going through a lot. A lot of people are going to say that he’s a cheater and all that. His success came from working hard. He’s one of hardest-working guys I know.”

Chiefs rookie Berry signs deal with adidas

Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with adidas, the athletic apparel company announced on Tuesday.

The fifth overall draft pick joins fellow rookie C.J. Spiller of the Bills, Saints running back Reggie Bush and Texans defensive end Mario Williams as NFL players who endorse adidas apparel.

“I’m very excited to continue my relationship with adidas,” Berry said in a press release issued by adidas. “I wore the three stripes at Tennessee and feel very comfortable in the gear.  I am confident adidas products will help me take my game to an even higher level in the NFL.”

“We are looking forward to watching Eric Berry at the next level,” said David Baxter, head of sport performance for adidas America.  “He is an incredible athlete and football player, and we think the adidas brand can help him get even better.”

Campbell’s acquistion spells doom for Russell

The Raiders’ acquisition of QB Jason Campbell in a trade with the Redskins for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick is a sign that Oakland is done experimenting with JaMarcus Russell. This is hardly a motivational ploy to get Russell’s attention because if he hasn’t read the tea leaves the past year — mainly his benching — then he really has no idea what the NFL is about.

In a telephone interview Saturday on NFL Network, Campbell said that in his conversations with the Raiders, he was led to believe he was the starter. He really didn’t need to be told. The Raiders added one year to his contract through the 2011 season, meaning they are giving Campbell a grace period to develop into the system — not Russell, who had more than enough time.

Though Russell — the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 — remains on Oakland’s roster for now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s released in the near future. The Raiders already have paid him more than $30 million, but they can dump the remainder of his salary now because there is no salary cap in 2010. Thus, Oakland wouldn’t face any cap ramifications.

For Campbell, things couldn’t have worked out better. He didn’t fit into the Redskins’ plans after the trade to acquire Donovan McNabb. Campbell now goes to a team that, based on this draft and some of the strides it made late last season, appears serious about getting back to being a legitimate NFL team. Yes, he’ll have to work under a new offensive coordinator for the eighth time in 10 years since his days at Auburn, but that also would have been the case had he remained in Washington.

By dealing Campbell, the Redskins — who save $3.1 million — showed some class to move the classy Campbell to a situation where he has a chance to play. In the past, being dealt to the Raiders might have felt like punishment, but for Campbell, it has to feel pretty good.

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