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Cornerbacks making out well in this wild free agency period

IN THE USO-MOBILE, ON I-81 IN CENTRAL VIRGINIA -- Camps are open. Football's back. I'm on the road, writing Monday Morning Quarterback in the cab of a big rig near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Intrigue's happening. Life is good.

First, the headlines of the morning:

• Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, chair of the NFL's labor committee, told me Sunday night at Panthers camp that if the players hadn't backed down on their last-minute demand for an opt-out provision in the 10-year CBA, "That would have blown the agreement up. It would have been a deal-breaker.''

• Just after 1 this morning, the Jets kissed and made up with Antonio Cromartie, signing him to a four-year, $32-million deal. That comes on the heels of the Jets surprising some close to Plaxico Burress -- many thought he'd do a deal to play with Mike Vick in Philadelphia -- by getting him to commit to a one-year contract worth about $3 million. That means the top three corners in the Weird Free-Agency Class of 2011 are signed to deals averaging ...

$12 million: Nnamdi Asomugha. Eagles$9.75 million: Johnathan Joseph, Texans$8 million: Antonio Cromartie, Jets

• The Eagles wouldn't have signed Nnamdi Asomugha without a simultaneous middle-of-the-night exchange of text messages between GM Howie Roseman and the agent for Asomugha, Ben Dogra, 15 hours before he agreed to terms with Philadelphia.

• Players are euphoric about the new work rules that eliminate two-a-days in training camp, give them a day off after working six in a row, require them to wear helmets on the field only once a day, and, during the season, restrict padded practices to only 14 in the regular season.

John Abraham of the Falcons started giggling with glee when I asked him about it; he's 33 and said he's thinking it will add a year to his career. His teammate Dunta Robinson added, "I'm sure guys will play longer. Guys who normally played 10 years, now they'll play 12.''

• Peyton Manning on Sunday found three different ways to say he'll never play outside of Indiana.

• Stat men and former quarterbacks at ESPN want to overthrow the passer rating stat and replace it with ... The Dilfer Dimension? Just kidding. "I told them, 'Do not associate my name with this, or nobody will ever pay any attention to it,' '' Trent Dilfer said.

• If the New Star of the Week in the crazy landscape of the NFL was Albert Breer last week, it's agent Ben Dogra this week. As of 3 a.m. Eastern, he'd signed 14 clients to deals with $137.8 million in guarantees and $303.8 million in total dollars. This was after getting corners Antonio Cromartie (Jets) and Kelly Jennings (Seahawks) signed to new deals after midnight.

Driving home from his St. Louis office at 3:29 a.m., he said: "When you condense the biggest free-agent class in history into such a short time, you're not going to have much time to sleep.''

I got to eavesdrop (with permission) on Dogra's negotiation jousting with the Falcons over guard Justin Blalock Friday night/Saturday morning, and I'd call Dogra's method more of a friendly filibuster. Whatever, it's working.

"I got another big fish in play for a big deal,'' he said before dropping off to sleep not long before dawn today, and he somehow mustered through a hoarse voice lots of enthusiasm for it. The next big deal? Tight end Zack Miller of the Raiders, who has emerged as a force in a struggling offense over the past three years.

So, yes, the NFL got what it wanted in This Offseason in a Very Small Box. Wall-to-wall action.

***

The Asomugha story's the most interesting of the first week back.

How'd we all miss Nnamdi to the Eagles? Because Dogra shut up; he wasn't talking to anyone in the media. And Roseman, Andy Reid and Joe Banner can keep a secret with the best of them (Vick signing, McNabb trade). On Sunday, Roseman told me the Eagles were sure they were out of the Asomugha sweepstakes after dealing for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade Thursday. He even told Dogra Thursday night they were out of it, and he was sorry it didn't work out.

Then, at precisely 12:38 a.m. Friday, Dogra pressed the button on a text message to Roseman that said: "Are u sure ..... be bold. Best deal in history.''

At almost the split second that Dogra sent the message, one time-stamped 12:38 a.m. popped into his phone from Roseman, sent obviously before Roseman had read Dogra's text. "Thanks for taking the time today. I appreciate the process. We need more of ur guys here.''

Dogra thought it was eerie that their texts passed in the ether. And he wanted Roseman to not think it was over, because he knew how much Asomugha wanted to play in Philadelphia. It was true Asomugha liked the Jets too, but he thought the Eagles gave him the best chance to win a Super Bowl in the next three or four years.

Dogra picked up the phone. No sooner did Roseman say hello than Dogra's cell phone beeped in his ear. Call-waiting. Asomugha.

Dogra let it ring to voicemail because he had a message to deliver to Roseman first. "Don't you think it's strange we haven't communicated in five or six hours, and all of sudden we send each other texts at exactly the same time? Are you sure we don't want to explore this one last time?''

And they did explore it, even though Roseman knew he already had two Pro Bowl-caliber corners on the roster. He said Sunday that he and Dogra negotiated until 3 in the morning. And it got done the next afternoon.

Dogra's no mystic, but he'll always believe there was something eerie going on when two texts were sent simultaneously, and two phone calls made within 10 seconds of each other, all by the three people involved in making a deal happen.

***

The aftermath of the CBA.

This I knew: Jerry Richardson had his heart transplant on Super Bowl Sunday between the Steelers and Cardinals. He got the phone call to hustle into the hospital in Charlotte for the surgery late that afternoon. This I didn't know: It was an NBC game that day, and when Richardson was being prepped for surgery, he had one request before being put under. "I wanted to hear that Faith Hill song,'' he said. The NBC theme song for the football game was the last thing, other than some personal words from his wife, he heard before the transplant.

"One of the things that drove me to get better is I wanted to get back and help get a new labor deal done,'' he said Sunday night while watching the Panthers practice for the second day under new coach Ron Rivera in South Carolina. "Since April 2008 [when the owners opted out of the 2006 labor deal], except when I was in the hospital almost dying, that's been on my mind every day.''

Four things about the deal he loves: it's for 10 years, no regular-season games were missed, teams can make stadium-construction and other long-range decisions knowing they've got labor pace until 2021, and the TV networks will be able to make a better deal knowing there's game certainty for 10 more years. In fact, the current TV deal expires in 2013, so the league actually may choose to negotiate a new TV contract twice over the course of the next 10 years.

Richardson is sure the inclusion of an opt-out clause would have been destructive. A week ago this morning, there was drama in the talks. Player reps, who hadn't been in on the talks between the NFLPA Executive Board and the 10-man labors committee surprised some of the player leadership with their vehemence about being able to opt out of the 10-year deal after five or six years.

Richardson told me Goodell "delivered the message'' that such a demand would be damaging to the deal. Another source told me ownership said if players wanted an opt-out, the owners would have to have one too. I'm told that it wasn't until very late morning or early afternoon that the players gave up on the opt-out provision.

On the players' side there was universal praise for executive director De Smith's ability to keep disparate views from the membership. Board members Domonique Foxworth, with his hard but intelligent edge, and Jeff Saturday, with his hard and conciliatory ways, kept pushing for players' rights while accepting the owners' view that they needed to be motivated to grow the game. "They understood clearly that we had to invest in the gameday experience,'' said Richardson. And so they accepted the concept of the owners getting 60 percent of the revenue from local investments like stadium improvements.

Sean Morey was insistent on less contact in practice, and several people I spoke with said he was vital in the institution of work rules that have made the players much happier with the deal. Morey had to retire because of post-concussion syndrome in 2010, and his push for players to wear helmets only once a day in training camp was lauded. Drew Brees didn't back down and was on the front line of those who told Smith if he had to miss a paycheck or three from his $10-million annual salary, he was willing.

For the owners, Richardson built a bond with Foxworth early in the summer during a private, one-hour visit to a park near the hotel where the talks were taking place in Illinois. Richardson refused to divulge what was said, but explained, "After that, I understood his views a lot better, and I hope he understood mine.''

On the labor committee, Goodell credited Giants owner John Mara for conciliatory and forceful work on the new work rules, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt for creativity on the economic structure of the deal, including stadium credits for owners spending their own money on stadiums, and Pittsburgh's Art Rooney II for working on internal league revenue sharing.

Jerry Jones, he said, "had the most incredible energy when the other guys were frustrated that the process was slow. He'd say, 'Guys, until we get this point solved, we can't get to the next point. So let's keep working on the first point.' '' New England's Robert Kraft built a bridge with the players by convincing them he wouldn't let them make a bad deal, or else they'd be back in the same boat they were when the 2006 deal broke down.

I rarely heard of Cincinnati's Mike Brown or Denver's Pat Bowlen in the process; Goodell said Bowlen kept driving home how the players had to understand owners would stay united and fix the economic structure of the game, and Brown was insistent when the talks broke down in March that this was a historic occasion, and the league would be better for it. "I needed to hear that,'' Goodell said.

San Diego's Dean Spanos provided a moment of clarity, when, after hearing several times during the talks what the players couldn't give in on or couldn't do, he said, "What can you do?'' Green Bay's Mark Murphy, a labor leader during his playing days, ruffled feathers according to one player source by "forgetting where he came from;'' but his knowledge of labor history, from both sides, was used when the sides were at loggerheads.

One last point: Richardson, for the first time, refuted at length that he was condescending with players in a February labor meeting, or belittled their knowledge of business, as YAHOOSports reported. YAHOO reported one of Richardson's targets was Peyton Manning. "I was shocked when I heard that,'' he said. "I was not disrespectful toward him in any way. When I heard about it, I immediately called Archie [Manning, Peyton's father], who I know, and told him, 'If I offended your son, I apologize.' Archie told me Peyton was not mad at me, and he said it was some other [player] in the meeting [who made the accusation about what Richardson said]. As I recall, there was talk in that meeting about how you arrive at favorable cash flow, and I spoke to Peyton, but I certainly was not disrespectful.''

So that become part of the lore of the deal now.

Last December, Richardson told me if Goodell was in office for 25 years, this would be the most important decision (or series of them) he ever made. I asked him last night how he felt Goodell did.

"He was by far the driving force to getting this deal done,'' Richardson said. "when we picked this man five years ago, what a decision we made. He's 52 years old now, and he's demonstrated clearly his ability to take complex situations and make the best of them for our league. He got a 10-year deal in this climate in the sports business? Amazing.

"I played the game when Bert Bell was commissioner. Pete Rozelle was a major help to us when we tried to get the franchise for the Carolinas, and, of course, I owned the team when Paul Tagliabue was commissioner. Now Roger. I think he will stand up when it's all done to be the equal of all of them -- and, with his vision for the game, he could exceed them.''

***

Five thoughts about the opening of camps:

• I understand everything about why the league and players have to wait for the ratification of the CBA by the players before allowing veterans to practice. I guess I do, even though I find it ridiculous to consider that half of the players in the league, as of this morning, haven't voted to approve the deal. But the one group that I feel for the most is the exclusive-rights free-agents group, the men who have only two years of experience and are unsigned.

The other day, I watched the Falcons practice and saw backup quarterback John Parker Wilson in shorts and T-shirt and ballcap, missing his second day of practice with the possibility of five more missed practices before the labor deal's approval, allowing him to practice. Why does this stink? Wilson has a chance to unseat Chris Redman as the backup to Matt Ryan. He can't do it standing on the field instead of throwing. "I need to be out there,'' he said Saturday. "It's frustrating.'' Madness is a better word.

• Watching Cam Newton Sunday night in Spartanburg, S.C., three things were evident: He's a confident kid, even though he doesn't know half of what he needs to know yet. He's very well-liked by the fans, and that's helped by signing as many autographs as any Panther in camp so far. And though his accuracy is very much a work in progress (he missed six or eight open receivers Sunday), he does throw a beautiful deep ball -- as he did to wideout David Gettis late in practice, a 45-yard throw that landed in Gettis' arms perfectly.

• If Kelly Gregg is healthy, the Chiefs have themselves a heck of a run-stuffing defensive tackle.

• I don't recall seeing the Jets lose a player they really wanted. That's why Asomugha to the Eagles was so stunning. I asked Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum just after 7:30 this morning how it felt to take such a hit. "Nobody bats a thousand in this league," he said. "When something like this happens, I try to learn from it and get better as a general manager. And I think I will. Nnamdi made a decision and then we were able to go out and re-sign Antonio Cromartie. We really like Antonio. We will be fine. I'm happy with where we are."

• One more reason why all teams should go to small college campuses, the way the Panthers do at Wofford College: They eat in the student union, and hang out there after lunch, with the real people -- students who might be on campus, media, fans. On Sunday, one of the Panther players went to the piano in the corner and began playing a Mozart sonata. There's nothing wrong with that.

"WOW''

-- Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson, upon getting a text Friday evening that Nnamdi Asomugha had signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, not the New York Jets.

We're not likely to see many of these for a while -- Ocho sounds like he's going to be either cloistered up there in Foxboro or shutting up so as not to rub the Hoodie the wrong way, or both -- but I liked these four Chadisms from his interview session Saturday:

On going from Cincinnati to Foxboro: "It's good to be in heaven.''

On leaving his Cincinnati insanity behind: "There's no need to do some of the stuff I did before.''

On his approach with New England: "I've always been a chameleon, so I'm going to blend in and do it the Patriot way.''

On ... well ... on what he said before leaving the gaggle of reporters: "Before we go ... I don't know you guys. Can I get a group hug? Like really quickly? Please? ... Thank you.''

"It is official that I will be an Indianapolis Colts for my entire career. I will not play for another team. My last down of football will be with the Colts.''

-- Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, in the team's Sunday news conference announcing his new contract that, ostensibly, will take him through the 2015 season.

"Somebody wrote, 'The Eagles are all in,' and that's how we look at it. We're doing anything and everything. We're being aggressive about it, and the expectations are high.''

-- Eagles president Joe Banner, after the trading/spending spree that brought Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Vince Young to the team (did I miss anyone?) in four days.

"Hi, Matt. I'm Mike Mularkey, the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Nice to meet you.''

-- The greeting from Mike Mularkey to Matt Ryan after the two men, who hadn't spoken in over six months, according to Ryan, saw each other the other day at the Falcons' training camp in Flowery Branch, Ga.

"I think to make it the most competitive for our team, Tarvaris needs to be our starter right now. Tarvaris brings so much continuity to us.''

-- Seattle coach Pete Carroll, after naming Tarvaris Jackson the team's starting quarterback on Saturday.

"Continuity.'' Interesting word choice when discussing a quarterback who agreed to a contract five days earlier. Of course, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell coached Jackson in Minnesota through the end of last season, so clearly Jackson has more experience with the Bevell offense than second-year Seattle quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. But it does sound funny to have "Seattle quarterback,'' "Tarvaris Jackson'' and "continuity'' in the same thought bubble.

ESPN will release this week a proposal for a new passer rating, called the Total QBR, or Total Quarterback Rating. It has been developed by several quarterbackmeisters at the network -- most notably Trent Dilfer -- and by some stat heads in the network's production analytics department. The point: Passer rating, developed in 1973 to measure a passer's efficiency, does that, but it doesn't necessarily measure what makes a quarterback great.

So the analysts at ESPN have taken every game played in the NFL since 2008 and measured the quarterback's contribution to the result on every play except handoffs. They say they've divined a system to rate quarterback performance in every game, and for full seasons, on a scale of 1 to 100 (no more 158.3 rating).

"This is a game-changer,'' Dilfer said. "Mark my words: This is the number scouts and coaches and the media will use to quantitatively discuss and judge the ability of quarterbacks going forward.''

If it sticks, of course. You know how the sporting public (and the larger American public) is with new ideas. But judge for yourself. ESPN will explain the proposed Total QBR in a special Friday night show at 8 Eastern with Dilfer and the Monday night crew -- Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden.

Passer rating has probably declined in significance, with some of the smarter analysts all but ignoring it. But it still has juice. The problem, of course, is that in passer rating, so much is ignored. A series of short completions with big yards after the catch mean the same thing as a series of harder-to-complete long passes. The ESPN formula weighs out the yards after the catch, and weighs in things like lost fumbles in the pocket and sacks taken. And timing. A 17-yard completion in a tie game with two minutes left gets a quarterback more credit than the same completion in the middle of the first quarter -- as it should.

"We've included every play that a quarterback has direct control over,'' said Jeff Bennett, the senior director of production analytics at ESPN. "We think a rating system should evaluate all the quarterback's contributions in the context of the game.''

It's be interesting to see if the Total QBR gets traction and usurps passer rating. I think we're ready for a system that scores on a scale of 1 to 100, takes more factors into account than passer rating, and involves the measurement of so-called clutch play. Like OPS (on-base plus slugging) and WAR (wins above replacement value) in baseball, it's time for a more thoughtful number to judge how quarterbacks play. Is this the one? I don't know. But I like rethinking passer rating.

Nnamdi Asomugha got his first NFL interception in his 50th professional game.

So I'm on the road in the Mobile USO, a 40-foot truck/RV the troop-serving agency uses to get to troops who have no USO facility near or on their bases. There are four in our little traveling troupe -- drivers Leigh Edmunds (from Greensboro) and Lou Resendez (from Pueblo, Colo.), SI.com videographer John DePetro (from Staten Island) and me.

I started the camp trip Friday in Flowery Branch, Ga., working on a story that will run in the magazine this week, and the crew joined me Saturday at Falcons camp. I ride in the big rig with the drivers, who alternate driving while I write in a captain's chair on the passenger side; only two guests can ride in the big vehicle at once. And the other two ride in a trailing minivan. The USO provides the Mobile USO; SI is paying all expenses.

On Sunday night at Panther camp, some troops from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and some North Carolina Marines came to watch practice and take in the fun of the Mobile USO. They watched practice from the sidelines. Owner Jerry Richardson talked to them, as did quite a few players and coach Ron Rivera.

Then Lou climbed into the driver's seat and we started buzzing up I-85 toward Redskins camp in Northern Virginia, 490 miles of bumpy bliss while writing this column. Let's just say I would have written longer overnight if the interstate highway system in this country weren't as much of a roller coaster.

For those who have asked about my schedule ...

(News or other events may force a change or two along the way):

Today -- The Redskins, in Ashburn, Va. One of the mystery teams in the league. Good buddy Dan Graziano is threatening to make it a Nationals evening tonight in D.C. We shall see.

Tuesday -- The Ravens, in Owings Mills, Md. Baltimore will try to get over the Steeler hump in 2011.

Wednesday -- The Jets, in Florham Park, N.J. Very seldom have the Jets been bridesmaids in player-chasing. We'll see how they feel.

Thursday -- The Patriots, in Foxboro, Mass. It's certainly set up nicely for Albert Haynesworth to be a big factor. That is, of course, if he can actually get on the field.

Friday -- The Eagles, in Bethlehem, Pa., in the morning ... Canton in the evening for the Hall of Fame dinner. No question this will be the most interesting day of the trip, for many reasons. Vince Young throwing at Nnamdi in the morning, Deion throwing out one-liners in the evening.

Saturday -- The Steelers, in Latrobe, Pa. Hmmm. Doesn't look like I'll see my old NBC pal, Tiki Barber.

Sunday -- The Bills, in Pittsford, N.Y. Last time I was at Bills camp, T.O. was the big star. Seems like 15 years ago.

Monday, Aug. 8 -- The Lions, in Allen Park, Mich. Looking forward to talking to Jim Schwartz about his music tastes and his heavy-metal-loving tweets.

Tuesday, Aug. 9 -- The Packers, in Green Bay. Night practice in full pads on the Don Hutson fields. Now if that doesn't say football, I don't know what does.

Wednesday, Aug. 10 -- The Bears, in Bourbonnais, Ill. Memo to the drive-thru Starbucks about two miles from the Bears practice fields: We'll be stopping by for a couple of ventis that morning. I'll need a transfusion.

Thursday, Aug. 11 -- The Vikings, in Mankato., where I will get to replace the nifty gray and purple Minnesota State T-shirt I bought a couple of years ago, the one I left in some hotel somewhere.

Friday, Aug. 12 -- Home, mercifully, for 2.5 days of writing before I rejoin the crew for the second half of the trip, Sunday night at the Kansas City International Airport.

This gem happened between Arizona kicker Jay Feely (@jayfeely) and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio (@ProFootballTalk) on Wednesday, shortly after Olindo Mare agreed to a four-year, $12-million contract with Carolina. Florio, a lawyer, streams his site on NBCSports.com.

2:29 p.m., @ProFootballTalk: "It's a four-year, $12 million contract with $4 million signing bonus for Mare. A kicker.''

2:46 p.m., @ProFootballTalk: "Of course, Mare hasn't actually 'signed.' He agreed to terms. Which gives Panthers two days to come to their senses.''

2:52 p.m., @jayfeely: "NBC gave a lawyer w/no football experience a big contract.''

2:58 p.m., @ProFootballTalk: "@jayfeely ... At least we have something in common. Neither of us has actually played in an NFL game.''

3:52 p.m., @jayfeely: "now you sound like Skip Bayless. Come to camp, see if they can find shoulder pads small enough for you & we can find out''

Can't we all just get along?

"Welcome to #Arizona, Kevin Kolb. Our enchiladas are better than those cheesesteaks! Go Cards!''

-- @SenJohnMcCain, the Arizona senator, after Kevin Kolb was officially dealt from Philadelphia to Arizona Thursday.

"In my 7 yr NFL career Olin Kreutz is the toughest football player I have EVER played with #PERIOD''

-- @chrisharrisNFL, Chicago safety Chris Harris, who also tweeted that the inability of the team to sign Kreutz to a new contract, allowing him to go to the open market, "won't sit well in the locker room for a few days.''

Gotta love Twitter.

1. I think the Peyton Manning contract (five years, $90-million) looks to be good for both sides, because the way it's structured -- with $69 million in the first three years -- seems to be with the implicit understanding that Manning will redo the deal in 2014. That's a significant year. It's when the salary cap could go up appreciably because the TV deals will go up appreciably.

I expect the network TV increases from 2013 (the last year of the current deals with ESPN, NBC, CBS and FOX) to 2014 to be anywhere from 55 to 70 percent overall. If I'm Manning and agent Tom Condon, although Peyton is not one to grouse or insist about opening a contract early, I'm thinking about getting one last contract bump when the Colts can afford it better in 2014.

2. I think you're all going to jump up and say, "Oh, you work with Florio, so you're pumping him up'' after this item. I guess I am. But if you want one sign that profootballtalk.com and czar founder Mike Florio have become power brokers in football, consider this. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has a big-screen TV monitor with touch-screen capability in his office, and he has loaded with a few things. There's his roster (with detailed bio and scouting information on each player), the Weather Channel and The Rumor Mill on profootballtalk.com. Dimitroff walks up to the screen a few times a day and clicks his fingernail on the PFT logo, and up it comes.

3. I think if you wonder why some free agents who are expected to re-sign with their teams have yet to sign, one of the reasons is pretty easy: If veteran players can't practice until later this week (Aug. 4 is the current projection), teams that haven't changed systems might be trying to win a couple of final concessions before signing players.

4. I think Pete Carroll naming Tarvaris Jackson his starting quarterback tells me this: The Seahawks feel they don't have their long-term starting quarterback in-house, believe they'll be in the quarterback-drafting business next April (hello, Matt Barkley) ... and there's not much of a belief in Charlie Whitehurst. To put it mildly.

5. I think my British friend Neil Hornsby has done the fans of the hidden game of football a good service with his deep analysis of players on profootballfocus.com. The site tracks every player's plays in the league, and its finding of who actually is playing well and who isn't is often a surprise. On Sunday, after the Eagles signed an invisible guard named Evan Mathis, Neil came out with this gem: Mathis has played 724 snaps over the past two years and allowed zero sacks. I asked Neil to give me his best deals of free agency so far. Here are his top five:

Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles (5 years, $60 million). The Eagles haven't just picked up a great player; they got him at a great price. The simple fact of the matter is the NFL is low on shutdown corners, which Asomugha is. In three years he's been thrown at 87 times; 25 cornerbacks were thrown at more than that in 2010 alone.

Ray Edwards, Falcons (5 years, $27.5 million). It's a mystery why the market for Ray Edwards never developed. He's young and consistently productive at defensive end. Edwards is getting half of what Charles Johnson got in Carolina, and while Johnson does have a higher ceiling, Edwards was one of the most productive pass rushers in the league last year with 69 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 416 pass rushes. (Johnson had 81 on 481).

Josh Wilson, Washington Redskins (3 years, $13.5 million). How did the Redskins pull this one off? They've upgraded on Carlos Rogers (because like Rogers, Wilson can also play outside and move into the slot in sub packages) and done so without shedding a lot of money. Wilson's excellent play last year got lost playing with names like Lewis, Reed, Ngata and Suggs, but he was superb once he cracked the starting lineup. He allowed just 46.9 percent of passes to be completed, intercepted three balls and had nine pass breakups.

Takeo Spikes, San Diego Chargers (3 years, $9 million). You know, even if Spikes only plays one year he's nearly worth that amount. The surest tackler in the league (he's missed just four in three years), he's been playing in the shadow of the excellent Patrick Willis so long most people have forgotten how good he is. He's also one of those rare inside linebackers that not only can get off blocks and make plays, but also is effective dropping into coverage. He's an upgrade on both Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett.

Quintin Mikell, Rams (4 year, $28 million). Mikell has long been one of the best safeties in the league no one has heard about. He can play the run, as evidenced by his safety-leading 27 defensive stops (a tackle Pro Football Focus considers a defeat for the offense). He can play the pass too, with his 11 pass defenses being more than any other safety last season.

6. I think I'm really looking forward to seeing the Sabols and others in Canton Friday night. Interesting to note that most of you who tweet me and email me -- I'd say the vast majority -- are more interested in the Sabol family drama (and I mean that in an affectionate way) than anything else at the Hall of Fame induction.

7. I think one of the "wow'' things to me early in camp reports I saw was rookie Gabe Carimi lining up at left tackle with the Bears' first offense from the start. He hasn't been there exclusively, but the point is interesting -- Lovie Smith and Mike Tice aren't fooling around with their production on the line. Not that he isn't the best man for the job; I don't know if he is or isn't. But it's an obvious sign the Bears feel they don't have anything close to an NFL-caliber blind-side protector on the roster. So why not put Carimi there from day one, put his feet to the fire, and let him know they have the confidence in him to get it done from the first day of camp?

8. I think the Kyle Orton-to-Miami deal isn't dead, though it seems to be a long shot. If I were Orton, I'd be pushing for it. Hard. Tim Tebow might not keep the job, but he's certainly going to have a good shot to win it this year at some point, and maybe very soon. I don't care what Orton would have to do to his contract to make it happen. Five years down the road, if he doesn't end up in Miami, he'll be saying to himself, "I should have redone my contract back in 2011. I should have figured how much they wanted to go with Tebow, and how I could have started from day one in Miami.''

9. I think I wonder why the Bears ever drafted Greg Olsen in the first place. Since Mike Ditka roamed Soldier Field as a player, have the Bears ever had a great offensive tight end? Ever used a tight end as a downfield offensive threat? That's a near-waste of a pick if you ask me. Interesting watching Olsen catching fastballs off the JUGS machine at Panthers camp Sunday night. One-handed.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. The Phillies must have the greatest minor league system of all time. It's brought them Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt in the last two years.

b. Ubaldo Jimenez looked too risky to trade major prospects for.

c. On the other hand, I kind of like the Erik Bedard deal for the Red Sox, because they didn't have to give up anybody good, and Bedard's been good in four of his last five starts.

d. Like what Texas did in getting Mike Adams from the Pads. Really underrated eighth-inning guy.

e. Finally saw the Curb Your Enthusiasm from last week. (DVR runs my TV life.) Agree with Rich Eisen and others it was an all-time great. Among other things, the episode reintroduced "Koufaxed'' into the vernacular. On fire in the show: Funkhauser, Leon, Susie ... and Sammy is moving up the list a bit. Advice to the producers, and to Susie Essman: The angrier, the better, particularly at Jeff.

f. Coffeenerdness: You do not want to get the coffee I tried at the CITGO in some small town off I-85 in South Carolina around 10 last night. Trust me. When you walked in the place, you smelled the burners. I think my coffee was brewed last April.

g. Beernerdness: Not many to discuss, honestly. Did have a nice Paulaner Hefeweizen Saturday at my hotel in South Carolina. The nice waitress even put a lemon on the rim of the glass for me. That's the hotel where the USO crew and I discussed first names with the waitress, who changed hers from "Lindsay'' to "Linzy'' at age 13. We didn't ask many questions. Nodded and said, "That's nice.''

h. I don't know what Jim Irsay was doing this morning at 1:09 Eastern time, but the Indy owner did manage to tweet these words: "Lenny Bruce is not afraid.''

i. I'm having a great time visiting America. Hope to see you. Feel free to say hello if our paths cross.

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