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Cowboys likely to switch Smith to OLT in 2012

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By PFW staff

• Sources in Dallas indicate that the strong play of rookie ORT Tyron Smith and the sub-par season (following a $32 million contract extension) from OLT Doug Free could lead to the two players switching positions. Yes, this had been discussed from the minute the Cowboys drafted Smith with the ninth pick in 2011. But given Smith's age (he just turned 21 in December) and inexperience, the team wanted to wait a year to make the long-term call. It appears you can expect Smith on the left and Free on the right in '12.

• A source close to RB Matt Forté told PFW this week that it was business as usual for Forté, despite the departure of GM Jerry Angelo. Forté was unhappy with the contract offer Angelo made him before the season, but with Angelo moving on, we hear Forté is no more optimistic about his chances of getting a long-term deal done with the Bears than he was before Angelo was dismissed. The franchise tag remains an option for the Bears to consider using on Forté before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March, but Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said Tuesday that the team wants to keep Forté long-term.

• Our Packers sources tell us the team is not quite convinced that veteran OLT Chad Clifton will be ready to return to his starting role full time in the playoffs with his back still not feeling 100 percent. While it's likely Clifton will be in the starting lineup a week from Sunday, don't be surprised if he ends up sharing the load at left tackle with Marshall Newhouse.

• A vocal minority of Falcons fans have railed against Mike Mularkey at times during his four seasons as the team's offensive coordinator. It's the nature of the business for play-callers to sometimes take too much blame when things go wrong or receive a disproportional amount of credit in the best of times, but his steady presence has earned him respect in the locker room, and it's part of the reason the Jaguars and Buccaneers are showing interest in him as a head-coaching candidate. A veteran Falcons player told PFW that it's not at all difficult to envision him being a successful head coach.

• TE Jeremy Shockey battled through some nagging injuries at times during his first season with the Panthers, but he played in 15 games, matching his career high for a single season, and scored four touchdowns — the most he has had in one season since 2006. All indications are the Panthers are interested in bringing him back to complement TE Greg Olsen, and Shockey would like to stay put. Shockey signed a one-year deal with Carolina after he was cut by the Saints last offseason.

• It would not be a surprise to see the Falcons give LB Mike Peterson a chance to make the team next season. Peterson, who signed a one-year deal before the 2011 campaign, was placed on injured reserve with a torn triceps after Week 16, bringing his 13th NFL season to an end. His chances of making the roster for the 2012 season may appear slim, but he's inexpensive and has no issues with playing a supporting role. Peterson did not enter the season as a starter, but he did start four games (a career low for a single season) when injuries created an opportunity for him.

• A few weeks ago, with the regular season winding down, our Cardinals sources told PFW that they thought TE Todd Heap was probably a long shot to return to the team after he was damaged goods for much of the season. But Heap, who is under contract for one more season, now has more than a few daily observers thinking he might have something to offer in 2012 after his solid play the last three weeks of the season. "He finally showed the team what they had hoped for from him at the end of the season," said one observer. "He doesn't make a ton of money, so maybe he can come back and make an impact after all. Let's see how the personnel shapes up this offseason."

• Could Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable be in demand this offseason after the excellent job he did holding together the line despite the loss of three starters to injuries? "To hear Pete Carroll tell it, if a team has an opening and does not consider Cable, they're nuts," said one team insider. "But Cable is from around here, and he has a lot of power and autonomy in his current role with the Seahawks. I think it would probably take a head-coaching offer for him to actually consider moving on."

• We hear the Niners could possibly give fifth-round rookie OG Daniel Kilgore a long look at right guard next season. Both Chilo Rachal, the starting right guard entering the season, and Adam Snyder, who eventually replaced an ineffective Rachal and has done a good but not great job according to sources, are unrestricted free agents who aren't considered priorities to re-sign, and word is the team believes Kilgore has some genuine potential.

• Eagles players and coaches expect OL coach Howard Mudd to return for one more season. The line was a team strength the final quarter of the season, and Mudd has told people at the NovaCare Center that he would like to be back. Although the group started slowly, it was playing at a high level down the stretch.
• A pair of injured Redskins, RB Tim Hightower and TE Chris Cooley, believe they will return to the team. But they could come back as reserves. Hightower would have to fight for a starting role with the emergence of rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster, and Cooley might be the second-best receiving tight end now on the roster behind Fred Davis. Still, the team likes both players and deals could be made to keep them.
• The Vikings will not make a call on CB Chris Cook until his court proceedings are finished, and the chances are very good that he remains a piece of the franchise going forward. The team is in dire need of young DB talent, and Cook started showing strides before his legal troubles. He could end up being a No. 1 cornerback if he continues progressing, stays out of trouble and sticks with the program.

• Saints head coach Sean Payton, who's seen top-caliber QB play up-close throughout his New Orleans tenure with Drew Brees under center, gave his take on Matthew Stafford's strengths leading up to the wild-card round: "He's got that stature, that arm strength, and I think, just as importantly, that anticipation you look for in the position. He does a real good job at the line of scrimmage with his checks and his audibles and I think what you see is someone who's playing with a lot of confidence and you see that not only with the quarterback, but with his teammates."



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