Updated Dec. 17, 2011 @ 11:15 p.m. ET
Here are some whispers we've been hearing from our sources in the NFC:
• Even though he has played relatively well much of this season, our Packers sources believe starting ROLB Erik Walden's recent off-the-field problems (a domestic disturbance involving his girlfriend) will probably keep him from being re-signed by the team once he becomes a free agent after this season — unless he plays out of his mind in the postseason. More likely than not, look for outside linebacker to be a top-priority position for the Packers in the draft and free agency.
• There has been some internal discussion at Winter Park about the Vikings making the move to a 3-4 defense in 2012, according to reports. Whether it actually happens prior to next season is another matter entirely, and it would take their best defender (DE Jared Allen) out of his natural position. What this chatter does say, however, is that a change at defensive coordinator is likely. Fred Pagac, a Brad Childress holdover, could be let go, making the way for Vikings LB coach Mike Singletary or someone like former Jaguars head coach (and ex-Vikings LB) Jack Del Rio to run the defense.
• The Lions aren't inclined to force the ball to WR Calvin Johnson if the coverage forces them to look elsewhere. One of the extreme examples of this came in Week 14, when Johnson was targeted just four times in a win vs. Minnesota. "As much as we want to get the ball to Calvin, sometimes it's not going to make sense," head coach Jim Schwartz said recently.
• It doesn't look as though Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz was a serious candidate for the college jobs he was rumored to be interested in. The vacancies at UCLA and Arizona State have been filled, and it appears the most likely job for him in 2012, if he wants it, is the one he currently holds. Martz's contract is up after the season, and there have been reports that he's not expected to return. Head coach Lovie Smith and QB Jay Cutler have indicated that they would welcome Martz back, though. One person who could stand in the way if Martz decided he would like to return is GM Jerry Angelo, who has yet to make it clear where he stands on the issue.
• We hear the season-ending knee injury suffered by Packers TE Andrew Quarless might have been severe enough to put his 2012 season in jeopardy, as well.
• Did the Cowboys know about Sam Hurd's alleged drug-dealing activity, which investigators say led back to his days in Dallas? We poked around Valley Ranch, and it appears that news of Hurd's arrest was just as shocking in Dallas as it was in Chicago. The Cowboys' decision not to try to re-sign Hurd was more because they believed he had not progressed as a wideout and merely projected to special teams. The three-year, $5.1 deal the Bears signed Hurd to was just out of their budget, we hear.
• Our sources indicate that although he has two years remaining on his contract, it is very possible that Jon Kitna will retire this offseason. Kitna would turn 40 after the start of next season, and his recent back problems have lingered for a while. Stephen McGee could project to be the backup to Tony Romo in 2012, but it's very possible the Cowboys will draft a quarterback somewhere in the middle rounds, possibly as high as the second. Romo turns 32 prior to next season.
• There is legitimate optimism around Redskins Park with the way the offense has performed the last month or so without a full stable of parts. Considering the team has missed many regulars and still has hit its stride with the best offensive stretch of the Mike Shanahan era in D.C., the feeling is that things only will get better next season. That optimism simply wasn't there when the Redskins were switching quarterbacks and struggling offensively earlier in the season.
• The Eagles aren't cranking up the pressure on DE Brandon Graham — not yet. They still see a player with a high motor and a lot of upside and consider the fact that he is a mere one year removed from microfracture surgery a promising sign. Graham has been in and out of the lineup since returning, and the team feels he won't be 100 percent healthy until next preseason.
• The Buccaneers have put OLT Donald Penn in tough situations, frequently leaving him in one-on-one matchups off the edge with no chipping back or tight end at his side. You won't hear any complaints from Penn about the lack of help, even though there have been instances where he could have used it. Penn, who was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career last season, has allowed more sacks and committed more penalties than he did last season, according to STATS LLC, and he had one of his worst performances of the season against the Jaguars in Week 14. Yet, we hear the Bucs are feeling good about his overall performance and viewed the Jacksonville game as an anomaly.
• In only his second season, and his first as a full-time starter, 2010 third-round pick TE Jimmy Graham has become — aside from Drew Brees — the closest thing the Saints have to an irreplaceable player. The Saints have depth at wide receiver and running back, but there is no one at tight end who can take his place without forcing the Saints to change what they do on offense. He's expected to become the first Saints skill-position player (except Brees) to make the Pro Bowl since head coach Sean Payton and Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006.
• There has been some speculation in the desert that recently fired Chiefs head coach Todd Haley might return to Arizona, where he previously served as the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. "I would say it's possible but not probable," said one team insider. "I don't think (head coach Ken) Whisenhunt wants to mess with his staff's chemistry and change the role of (current offensive coordinator) Mike Miller, who has paid his dues and earned Whiz's respect. There's no question, though, Larry Fitzgerald would lobby for the move. Fitz loves Todd."
• Last year more than a few jaws dropped in St. Louis when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was hired as the Browns new head coach after having directed a Rams offense that was mostly ineffective. This year even more jaws are dropping in the wake of rumors that current coordinator Josh McDaniels may be the top candidate to replace Todd Haley in Kansas City. "At least Spags (head coach Steve Spagnuolo) has tried to make adjustments in the defense," one team insider told PFW. "I haven't seen any adjustments being made on offense."
• We hear it would hardly be a shock if the Seahawks decided to sign red-hot RB Marshawn Lynch, who is in his contract year, to a long-term deal before this season runs its course — a move similar to what the team did right around the same time last year with WR Mike Williams, who was putting the finishing touches on a breakout campaign.
• Our Niners sources believe Jim Harbaugh's troops are showing signs of being really worn-out down the stretch after losing 2-of-3 games following a 9-1 start to the season.