News and notes from around the league as the offseason restructuring begins.
There is growing speculation the Giants may move Jeremy Shockey via trade during the offseason. League sources cited Eli Manning's improved play with Shockey out of the lineup and Kevin Boss's emergence during the playoffs as top reasons for the Giants potentially shopping their four-time Pro Bowl tight end.
Shockey, who still ranks as one of the top-five players at his position, would likely command a second-round pick from a team seeking his services. And that may be enticing enough for the Giants to pull the trigger on the deal. With the cap hit ($3.5M) being palatable, that is if the move is executed as a June 1 transaction, the Giants have plenty of options to move their disgruntled superstar -- if they so choose.
• By signing Shaun Hill to a three-year extension (reportedly three years for $6 million), the 49ers officially opened up the competition for their starting quarterback job. Hill, who completed more than 68% of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception, appears to be a good fit in new coordinator Mike Martz' wide-open offense.
Hill enters the offseason with the confidence of his teammates after having led the 49ers to consecutive victories in his two starts. With Alex Smith recovering from shoulder surgery, Hill will take most of the snaps during the offseason and have a decided edge in the competition heading into training camp.
• The Patriots' Super Bowl loss likely signifies the end of their dominant era, as we know it. With the likely free-agent departures of Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Donte Stallworth and possible retirements of Rodney Harrison,Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau, the Patriots will field a completely different team in 2008.
But the lack of depth behind those aforementioned players, will force the Patriots to be very aggressive in free agency and the draft. Because of Bill Belichick's preference for veteran linebackers, due to their experience and ability to assimilate into his complex scheme, the Patriots will likely sign one or two mid-level linebackers while attempting to address the rest of their needs through the draft.
Also, don't expect Randy Moss to leave New England. The Patriots have the option of using their franchise tag to prevent the Moss from testing the free agent waters. But given the Patriots' history in contract negotiations, expect the sides to come to an agreement on a deal that comes in below market value.
• Speaking of Samuel, he leads a stellar free agent crop of cornerbacks set to hit the market on Feb. 29. Samuel, Marcus Trufant and Nmandi Asomugha are the gems of the class, but only Samuel is expected to hit the open market. According to league sources, the Raiders and Seahawks will use their respective franchise tags to keep their shut-down corners on board.
• The Carolina Panthers face a difficult decision regarding the status of Julius Peppers. The pass rusher is coming off a disappointing season that saw him get only 2 1/2 sacks, but his enormous cap number ($14 million in 2008) makes it necessary for the Panthers to rework his original deal.
As a three-time Pro Bowl selection with 56 career sacks, Peppers will seek a deal that surpasses Dwight Freeney's (six years, $72 million with $30 million in guarantees) signed in 2007. Freeney, who has 56.5 career sacks, was rewarded with that contract after only netting 5 1/2 sacks the season before the deal. Though Peppers' dramatic dip in production last season is a major cause for concern, his age (28), career production and skills as a premier pass rusher will make it tough on the Panthers to not extend him this spring.
• One player who is closely monitoring the Peppers' situation is Terrell Suggs. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end is slated to be a highly coveted unrestricted free agent. Suggs, who has 45 career sacks in five seasons, has emerged as one of the game's top pass rushers and would be an ideal fit as an edge rusher in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. With few other pass rushers available on the open market, teams will have to overpay Suggs for his pass rushing skills.
• Despite Tennessee's current negotiations with pending free agent receiver Justin Gage, expect the Titans to add another big-play receiver during free agency. New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger wants to surround Vince Young with more weapons in the passing game, and a vertical receiver would give Young the playmaker needed to take advantage of the eight-man fronts used to combat the Titans' rushing attack.
The Titans ranked 29th in receptions of more than 20 yards (29), and their inability to stretch the field allows defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage. After unsuccessfully attempting to address their receiving woes through the draft the past few years, the Titans will turn to free agency to add the missing piece to the puzzle. Look for the Titans to make a play on Bernard Berrian or Donte Stallworth when free agency begins.
• This offseason has seen a new trend emerge as more teams are carefully crafting succession plans for their head coaching jobs. Jim Mora, Jim Caldwell and Jason Garrett are all in-line to become head coaches of their respective teams in the near future. Clubs have long used the assistant head coach title to justify lofty pay increases for their top coaches, but more teams are using the designation literally by tabbing those coaches as successors to the current regime.
When asked about the succession trend, one NFC West official said, "It is a great way to maintain the continuity of a successful program, and to secure a talented coaching prospect that you feel good about." He went on to say, "You also avoid a lengthy interviewing process because your next head coach is already in-house."
With several young coaches held in high regard (Josh McDaniels, Brian Schottenheimer and Mike Singletary), it will be interesting to see if other teams begin to use succession plans for their head coaching jobs.