Vikings not likely to take QB in first round

Some whispers I’ve heard from reliable sources while waiting for the NFL draft to kick off Thursday night:

  • The Vikings have been linked to Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen and Florida QB Tim Tebow in the first round, but I’ve been told the team is headed in another direction with the 30th overall pick. Minnesota could go cornerback, safety, defensive tackle or running back instead. The Vikings could select a quarterback during the three-day process, but unless there’s some sudden change of direction, it won’t happen Thursday.
  • Buccaneers brass has discussed using the No. 3 pick on Tennessee safety Eric Berry. I’ve been told that Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy or Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh likely will be the pick, but a contingent in Tampa Bay really likes Berry. I can’t see the Bucs passing one of those defensive tackles, though.
  • Speaking of Berry, more and more signs point to him being selected by the Redskins at No. 4. That could prompt a shift on the draft boards in Kansas City (No. 5) and Cleveland (No. 7). If that happens, a top offensive tackle such as Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung or Oklahoma’s Trent Williams would be available to the Chiefs.

NFL considering ending season with divisional games

The undefeated Colts lost to the Jets in Week 16 after resting Peyton Manning and others during the second half. (AJ Mast / Associated Press)

ORLANDO, Fla. — In an effort to have teams play their top players through the final games of the season, the NFL is considering making the final week — and possibly weeks — of the season all divisional matchups.

“Potentially Week 17 will all be divisional games,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday during his closing remarks of the NFL Annual Meeting. “That will address this to some extent. It will not necessarily eliminate the issue.”

Goodell said the league actually is considering making the final two games of the season divisional games for teams.

While teams who have clinched playoff berths routinely have rested key players late in the season, an uproar of sorts erupted when the unbeaten Colts sat many starters in the second half of a Week 16 game they eventually lost to the Jets.

The rationale — as it is for teams that sit players — is to minimize injury risks and to have key players as healthy as possible for postseason play.

By scheduling teams against division opponents in the final week (or weeks), it could force teams to play key players because a divisional title — and playoff berth — could hang in the balance.

Phillips: You don’t have to worry about Romo

ORLANDO, Fla. –- Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said roughly 30 players have been working out over the past week, well ahead of the scheduled offseason training program. Though he didn’t say quarterback Tony Romo was among that group, Phillips did say that Romo is one of the most diligent players in that regard.

“Tony Romo, you can count on,” Phillips said at the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL Annual Meeting. “You can count on him any time. You can count on him during the season, you can count on him as a player, you can count on him during the offseason. I don’t think he’s missed a workout since I’ve been the coach here.”

Owner Jerry Jones and Phillips have said the team is still working on signing restricted free-agent wide receiver Miles Austin to a long-term deal. Phillips also said he doesn’t think any of the team’s three running backs – Marion Barber, Felix Jones or Tashard Choice – will be traded.

“They’re all good workers, they’re all talented and they’re just going to get better and better,” Phillips said. “We like what we have.”

Reid: Eagles ‘listening’ to trade offers for QBs

 

ORLANDO, Fla. — Eagles coach Andy Reid said the team is “listening, keeping our ears open,” to trade offers for all three of the team’s quarterbacks. Reid, speaking at the NFC coaches’ breakfast at the league meetings, said teams have called about quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick, but he did not elaborate on whether any conversations have elicited enough interest to actually entertain a deal.

Reid, who did not mention any teams that called about his quarterbacks, then reiterated the position that he’s taken for weeks that “Donovan is our starter. I can’t make it clearer than that.” Reid added that Kolb is second on the depth chart, Vick third. Reid did admit that McNabb’s spot atop the depth chart was how they things stand “today.” He later said that he could envision all three players being on the roster once the season started.

Several coaches not thrilled with OT vote

ORLANDO, Fla. — The new overtime playoff rule change was not welcome by all coaches, some of whom were not pleased that the vote, which owners approved 28-4, took place earlier than expected and while many of them were out golfing.

Coaches did not have a vote, but some felt duped that owners opted to move forward knowing a lot of coaches would be outside of the Ritz-Carlton Resort where the meetings are being held.

“Kind of interesting the vote could be 28-4 when one of the owners was out on the [golf] course with us,” said Vikings coach Brad Childress, whose owner, Zygi Wilf, was one of four owners to vote against the new overtime rules. “I’m sure they have kind of a proxy system here. [The results of the vote] got to us about Hole 15. Their prerogative.”

Several coaches expressed their displeasure, as several owners expected, but said they’ll just move forward.

There was sentiment among some of the coaches at the NFC breakfast Wednesday that even though the overtime changes were voted in for the postseason only, they might as well be used in the regular season, too. That possibility had some momentum before Tuesday’s vote and it could come up for a vote — at least serious discussion — at the league meetings in May.

“It’s the old analogy: a soldier should never do anything for the first time in combat,” Childress said. “I wouldn’t want to be experiencing that for the first time, mindset-wise for my guys, the elation that, ‘We won it,’ then, ‘No, we didn’t. We’ve got to keep playing here.’

“You can explain it, explain it, explain it, but once again, you’ve got to practice things, be it the two-minute drill, come-from-behind, red zone. It’s got to be examined. There’s probably some unforeseeable unknowns in the rule.”

Tomlin expects Polamalu at offseason workouts

Steelers SS Troy Polamalu is expected to work out with the team after a torn knee ligament kept him out of 11 games last season. (Kevin Terrell / Associated Press)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that strong safety Troy Polamalu shouldn’t be hampered by the torn knee ligament that kept him out of 11 games last season and that he will participate in some of the team’s offseason workouts.

The absence of Polamalu, who didn’t have surgery to repair a torn posterior cruciate ligament, greatly affected Pittsburgh’s defense and clearly played a part in the unit not being as consistent in the secondary as it had been in the past.

“He’s feeling good,” Tomlin said of Polamalu at the NFL Annual Meeting. “For him, he usually works out in California in the offseason, but he’s generally around for all team-oriented things such as minicamps. He’ll make an appearance at his share of OTA days. In terms of his health, he’s progressing fine, and I don’t see any reason why he’d be prohibited in 2010 with what hampered him in 2009.”

Tomlin also said medical reports have indicated that Polamalu’s knee problem won’t be chronic.

“If another 300-pounder falls on it during a blocked field-goal situation, it could be a problem,” Tomlin quipped.

Kampman recovering, on track for training camp

Recently signed DE Aaron Kampman, who was injured in November, is expected to work out with the Jaguars during training camp. (Seth Perlman / Associated Press)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said recently signed free-agent DE Aaron Kampman is recovering well from reconstructive left knee surgery and remains on track to be on the field when the team begins training camp.

Kampman tore his anterior cruciate ligament in November in what turned out to be his last game for the Packers, with whom he played for seven seasons. The Jaguars signed the relentless Kampman to beef up the worst pass rush in the NFL.

“He’s doing well, rehabbing right now,” Del Rio said Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting. “He will join us in the offseason in terms of doing the workouts that he can do, but no on-the-field (work) until training camp. We’ll bring him in like we do anybody that has played for a number of years. We’ll look for opportunities to spell him during double days and not just grind him through like a real healthy young guy or a young guy that needs more reps and timing just to learn the system.

“With Aaron, you’re going to get a veteran that will know what to do, and we need to make sure we do all we can do get him to the ballgames.”

Culpepper seeking audience for next opportunity

ORLANDO, Fla. — Free-agent QB Daunte Culpepper is making the rounds at the NFL Annual Meeting, hoping to get some conversation with a team, or two, at the least. The former Lions quarterback represents himself, so he said he figured this forum would be the best way to gain an audience since his phone hasn’t been ringing.

Culpepper lives and trains in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and drove about three hours to the meetings Sunday night. He said he’s in good shape and would be ready to work out for a team right away.

Culpepper is a big guy, so it was hard to tell what type of shape he is in — at least to the naked eye.

Dressed in a white T-shirt and denim shorts, Culpepper told me he’s willing to play any role as long as he’s given a chance. With so many quarterbacks — including Charlie Whitehurst, Jake Delhomme and Derek Anderson, among others — already changing teams and finding work, it will be interesting to see how Culpepper is viewed and if a team will give him an opportunity. I would think so. Culpepper has been in this position before and has found work. He’ll probably have to wait until close to training camp to get an offer, but better late than never.

As awkward as it was watching him hustle for an audience, I give Culpepper credit for making an effort.

Whisenhunt views Porter same as he did in Pittsburgh

As the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt was around Joey Porter for seven years. That experience helped the now-Cardinals coach overlook the linebacker’s bombastic reputation and supposed diminishing skills while recruiting him to Arizona.

Porter agreed to a three-year deal with the Cardinals on Friday afternoon.

“There’s been a lot said and written about Joey — the bulletin-board material he gives to other teams and all that stuff — but in my experience with him, he believes in the team concept and knowing that being successful is about being unselfish,” Whisenhunt told me Friday night. “He brings an intensity and passion and will keep that level up throughout the game on defense.”

In other words, Whisenhunt was in search of a little more swagger on a defense that was gashed for 90 points in two playoff games last season. Since then, the Cardinals’ defense lost FS Antrel Rolle and LB Karlos Dansby. Whisenhunt mentioned Porter, DT Darnell Dockett and SS Adrian Wilson — the latter two Pro Bowl players as Cardinals — as focal points with enough versatility to allow the defense to move forward.

Porter, 32, wasn’t brought to Arizona as a piece but as a full-time, three-down starter. We’ll see how that works out.

The Dolphins had enough of Porter and eventually cut him two weeks ago. Last season, Porter still had nine sacks — 16th in the NFL — but there’s a lot of talk that he’s clearly no longer one of the league’s fiercest pass rushers. What Porter is and what he was didn’t matter to Whisenhunt and the Cardinals, who badly want to upgrade their pass rush and opted to delve in the shallow free-agent pool for immediate impact.

“I watched more than 400 snaps, and I still see his ability to make those plays,” Whisenhunt said of Porter. “He also fills an area we needed to address.”

The Cardinals need to get after the quarterback, and they will go about re-tooling their defense to do so. Porter is just part of the process. With the retirement of Bertrand Berry, Arizona could very well draft another edge rusher to develop.

Porter was said to have preferred Arizona over Washington, which is making a transition to a 3-4 defense — a scheme the Cardinals have played for years. Arizona’s version is different than the traditional schemes of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England, and the multiple fronts the Cardinals use could play to Porter’s strengths.

The Cardinals aren’t saying if they felt they might have lost Porter to Washington — Porter visited Arizona first — but Porter’s trek to Redskins Park sure did make things come together pretty quickly Friday.

Whitehurst weighs offers from Cards, Seahawks

Charlie Whitehurst received offers from both the Cardinals and Seahawks. (Paul Spinelli / Associated Press)

The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks have extended contract offers to Chargers restricted free-agent QB Charlie Whitehurst, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Whitehurst, San Diego’s No. 3 quarterback behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek, will make a decision on which offer sheet to sign within the next 48 hours, according to the source.

Once Whitehurst signs a contract, San Diego has seven days to match the offer. If the Chargers decline, the team that he signs with would owe San Diego a third-round pick (the restricted tender the Chargers placed on Whitehurst) unless other terms could be negotiated. Seattle currently doesn’t have a third-round selection in the 2010 draft because it traded it to Philadelphia last year in order to move up in the draft and select WR Deon Butler. However, Seattle has discussed other forms of compensation that have met guidelines approved by San Diego.

The fact that the Cardinals and the Seahawks have extended offers to the fourth-year veteran who has yet to throw an NFL pass means, at the very least, that they plan to add depth behind Matt Leinart and Matt Hasselbeck, respectively. It is more likely that Whitehurst could get an opportunity to compete with both quarterbacks, who aren’t locks to start for their teams in 2010.

Alabama LB McClain reveals he has Crohn’s disease

 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama LB Rolando McClain, who was projected to be the first player taken at his position and a top-15 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, revealed Wednesday following his pro day workout that he suffers from Crohn’s disease.

After completing the session of linebacker drills, a fatigued McClain knelt down on a knee and held his stomach. He later revealed that his discomfort probably stemmed from his Crohn’s disease, which he said was diagnosed when he was in ninth grade.

McClain said he treats the condition — an inflammatory disease of the intestines — with seven or eight pills daily. McClain never missed a game at Alabama or had to leave a game because of the condition, according to his agent, Pat Dye Jr.

NFL teams are aware of the disease, Dye said, adding that McClain hasn’t tried to hide it. Dye added that no teams expressed any concern about McClain’s health to him.

Jaguars QB David Garrard also has Crohn’s disease and has been outspoken about his condition.

Whitehurst to meet Seahawks, has talked with Cards

Chargers restricted free-agent QB Charlie Whitehurst will visit the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Whitehurst spent Wednesday visiting the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are looking to add quarterback help.

The Chargers placed a third-round tender on Whitehurst, their third-string QB. If a team signs Whitehurst to a free-agent offer sheet, the Chargers have seven days to match. If they opt not to, the team that signs Whitehurst must give San Diego a third-round draft pick in return.

The Seahawks don’t have a third-round pick in this year’s draft, but the team is working on acquiring one through a trade, the source said.

Arenas pulls out of Alabama pro day

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama CB/PR Javier Arenas didn’t take part in the school’s pro day Wednesday because of a pulled hamstring he sustained while running the 40-yard dash at the recent NFL Scouting Combine.

Arenas said he will hold an on-campus workout for NFL scouts March 30.

All 32 NFL teams were represented at Alabama’s pro day, including Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Panthers coach John Fox.

Meanwhile, LB Rolando McClain, who did take part in drills at the combine, will participate Wednesday. McClain is considered the top linebacker available in the draft.

Lastly, NT Terrence Cody weighed in at 349, five pounds less than what he weighed at the combine and drastically less than the 370 pounds he weighed during the Senior Bowl.

Dunn embraces new role as part-owner of Falcons

Warrick Dunn is still a popular guy among NFL players, although the recently retired running back is part of a group of folks whose views on the league’s problematic labor issues are quite contrary to theirs. He was a player not long ago and was very much on that side of things. Not anymore.

Dunn, you see, was recently approved as a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons.

Warrick Dunn can sympathize with today's NFL players but, as part-owner of the Atlanta Falcons, he understands the issues facing NFL franchises in the current labor dispute.

“Every player that I talk to says they would rather be on my side – because so many guys have a desire to be an owner,” Dunn said. “To sit in the box while the game is being played and to be part of an elite … group of guys: Owners. There are a lot of guys saying that’s going to be them one day. I’m saying it now.”

Dunn, 35, recently became one of seven minority partners in the Falcons ownership group, led by majority owner Arthur Blank. Dunn, who played with the Falcons from 2002-2007, says he wrote a sizeable check without saying how much.

“Like everyone else, I had to go through the whole process,” said Dunn, among a select group of running backs to rush for more than 10,000 yards (he’s 19th on the all-time rushing list with 10,967). “I am official. I have to get a business card that says, ‘Owner Atlanta Falcons.’”

Dunn said he explored all the typical routes players explore post-football: broadcasting, coaching, etc. Not for him. As a player, he was known as someone more civically involved than most players – he often said the recognition for his community service might have overshadowed his on-field production – so he planned to tread a different path.

Becoming part of an ownership group of an NFL team, though, seemed more whimsical than a reality. Then Blank called a few months ago and got Dunn to consider coming on board. A thought became reality quickly; Dunn saw this as an investment opportunity that could lead to bigger things – perhaps, one day, becoming a majority owner of an NFL franchise.

“I think outside the box and wanted to be a part owner and learn the game from a different perspective,” Dunn said. “I’ve got to think big. My whole life I’ve worked my way up. Now I need a helluva lot more money than I have now to own a team but by being on the same field as these guys now, I can figure out what I need to do to make more money and where the game is going from this level.

“The process could take me 30 or 40 years but, you never know.”

Dunn said he is exploring business ventures to help him increase his capital but has yet to finalize his direction. He’s hoping some of the connections he makes as an owner will help him figure things out. Dunn has moved from Tampa to Atlanta full time and said that he will be very visible, but his role, as a whole, is being defined – by him. His popularity surely will be used to his and the team’s favor as will his ability to deliver advice to players who still aren’t too far removed from remembering him. Dunn’s not too worried that being on the owners’ side of labor issues that could lead to an eventual work stoppage will affect any relationships.

“I am going to be around,” Dunn said. “I have to pull for my team, the Atlanta Falcons, for us to win. We win on the field; we win with merchandising, we win in sales. I’ve got to think along those lines. I want to be visible so people have access to me. The more that I learn about the game on the business side, the personnel side the better. I have a lot to learn and a lot of knowledge to be put in this head.”

– Steve Wyche

Ex-Jets RB Jones strikes two-year deal with Chiefs

Free-agent RB Thomas Jones has agreed to a two-year deal with the Chiefs, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Jones, 31, was released by the Jets last week before a nearly $3 million roster bonus was due. He’s coming off a career-best 1,402-yard season — his fifth consecutive with at least 1,000.

The Chiefs hope the punishing Jones will form a stout backfield tandem with game-breaking speedster Jamaal Charles, who surpassed 1,120 rushing yards last season on just 190 carries. Jones also will provide some veteran leadership to a young offense.

UPDATE: The Chiefs confirmed the deal Tuesday night and said it was signed.

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