Here are some news and notes from around the league ...
• There is a strong sentiment in league circles that the Cowboys will make Jason Garrett the head coach in 2009. Not only does the $3 million contract given to Garrett lead to such speculation, but the selection of the defensive staff points to Garrett assuming the top job in the near future.
By hiring Dave Campo and Todd Grantham, the Cowboys have added two coaches with NFL experience as coordinators. And Jones' attempt to lure Dom Capers to Dallas as a consultant was viewed by many as an effort to assemble an all-star defensive coaching staff. The belief among league observers is that Jones wanted to surround Garrett with top defensive coaches capable of running Wade Phillips' system, so Garrett could continue to concentrate on the offense while transitioning into the head coaching position in 2009.
• The depth of the running back position in the 2008 NFL Draft may encourage teams to part ways with some high-priced veterans during the offseason. Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James and DeShaun Foster are a few of the veterans who may be jettisoned during the offseason due to a high cap number and declining performance. And with as many as five prospects carrying first-round grades (12 with third-round-or-higher grades), teams are willing to find their replacements through the draft.
Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart headline a stellar class, but Felix Jones, Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles are also garnering attention as potential top choices. Therefore, don't be surprised to see several teams pull the plug on their underperforming star runners.
• The Seahawks' acquisition of Mike Wahle is part of a two-year attempt to fill a hole created by the departure of Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson. The Seahawks underestimated the impact of Hutchinson on their running game, and his absence has been one of the reasons for Shaun Alexander's dramatic decline in production over the past two seasons.
Alexander, who rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns in Hutchinson's final season (2005), has averaged only 70 yards per game the past two years and has seen his yards-per-carry dip to a career low (3.5) in 2007 after averaging over five yards per carry two seasons ago. Although Wahle ranks a notch or two below Hutchinson as a player, he will solidify the Seahawks' left side of the line.
• The lack of franchise-caliber offensive tackles on the free agency market will lead to hefty paydays for Travelle Wharton, Sean Locklear and Stacey Andrews. Although none of the three have ever earned a Pro Bowl nomination, Wharton, Locklear and Andrews possess the athleticism and potential to command big bucks on the open market.
Wharton, who has 44 career starts at left and right tackle, is ranked as the top available tackle prospect and will sign a contract that will average $6 to $7 million a year. Meanwhile, Locklear and Andrews are likely looking at contracts that will surpass the five-year, $25 million deal that Langston Walker inked with the Bills last season.
• The Broncos are quietly shopping disgruntled receiver Javon Walker, but they are finding few takers on the market for the former Pro Bowl receiver. According to a league source, teams are hesitant to make a serious play for Walker due to concerns about his knee and the possibility of additional surgery.
Although teams still regard Walker as an outstanding talent, it is unlikely that the Broncos will find a willing suitor to take on Walker at his current salary number. With Walker due a significant roster bonus ($3.5 million), look for the Broncos to simply part ways with the unhappy star if a team fails to meet their trade demands.
• Don't be surprised to see several teams make a strong run at free agent corner Drayton Florence. With Marcus Trufant and Nmandi Asomugha likely receiving franchise tags, Florence becomes the best available corner on the market after Asante Samuel. Florence, who finished the season with two interceptions and 10 break-ups, has man-to-man cover skills that several teams covet and his ability to slide inside to the nickel position makes him a hot commodity on the open market. Look for corner-starved teams, such as the Titans and Texans, to make a play for Florence. Other unheralded corners sure to generate strong interest on the market will include Jacque Reeves, Randall Gay, Benny Sapp and Travis Fisher.
• Despite the presence of Pro Bowl safety Ken Hamlin on the open market, several teams rank Gibril Wilson as the top safety prospect available in free agency. Wilson, who is coming off his best season as a pro (four interceptions), possesses the range, ball skills and awareness that teams covet from a deep-middle player.
Although Hamlin finished with five interceptions, teams voiced concerns about his awareness and discipline in coverage. According to one AFC scout, "Hamlin had an outstanding year, but Wilson is a more dependable and steady player in the back end." An NFC scout added, "Wilson was the glue that kept the Giants' secondary together when the injury bug bit them."
• Another unheralded free agent generating a lot of interest is OLB/DE Calvin Pace. After being shuttled back and forth between outside linebacker and defensive end during his first four seasons as a pro, Pace finally displayed the pass-rushing skills that made him the Cardinals' first round selection in 2003.
Pace finished the season with six-and-a-half sacks and is held in high regard due to his motor and versatility. Teams envision him blossoming into a double-digit sack artist in the right scheme.
Expect the Cardinals to make a strong attempt to re-sign him, but look for the Jets, Titans and Patriots to be among the bidders if he hits the open market.