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NFC Whispers

Bears expected to push to re-sign Idonije

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By PFW staff

Following are some whispers that we've been hearing from around the NFC:

• Their decision-making process on potential free agents won't kick into high gear until the Bears hire a new general manager, but indications are the Bears will push to re-sign Israel Idonije, who started every game opposite Julius Peppers at defensive end in 2011. Idonije has the support of the coaching staff and is favored by some of the most powerful members of the front office.

• Cowboys observers expect the strong side of the defense to look different next season. That means the team is likely to replace DRE Kenyon Coleman and allow LOLB Anthony Spencer to test the free-agent market. Coleman was a placeholder, nothing more. Although he's a strong run defender, Spencer simply hasn't developed as a pass rusher the way the team had hoped. He could return, but the Cowboys won't spend a lot to keep him.

• We know the Redskins plan to seek a new starting quarterback. But could either Rex Grossman or John Beck return? Could both? Don't rule out either one coming back. The team knows its strengths and weaknesses well, and though Grossman is what he is — a talented but mistake-prone pocket passer — there is some hope that Beck could develop slightly. He will never be a starter but Beck might have backup potential. And he comes cheap.

• We hear that the Eagles plan to make re-signing OG Evan Mathis a priority. He was brought in after serving mainly as a reserve in Cincinnati but he had an excellent season in 2011 and was the hidden glue in what ended up being a very strong line. Mathis has said he would like to come back to Philly.

• There is some doubt as to whether Vikings OLG Steve Hutchinson will be back next season at age 34. He ended the past two seasons on injured reserve, the first time since 2002 that he missed games because of injury, and he privately told some teammates that he was considering retiring after the 2012 season. The Vikings won't bring him back at nearly $7 million — he would either need to take a major paycut or not come back.

• After guiding the Panthers' offense to dramatic improvement in 2011, coordinator Rob Chudzinski has been under consideration for at least two head-coaching jobs this offseason. He was passed over after interviewing for the position with the Jaguars, who hired Mike Mularkey, and he also interviewed with the Rams, who went with Jeff Fisher. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has had to prepare a plan in case Chudzinski is rewarded with a promotion, and it doesn't include major changes to scheme or personnel, he said. "No matter what happens, we still have to go forward and we'll still have the same players and pretty much the same scheme, so we'll see how things unfold," Rivera told PFW.

• WR Steve Smith decided he wanted to stay with the Panthers last offseason after considering other options, and he went on to have his best season since 2008, making the Pro Bowl for the first time since that season. To say he was reenergized by the arrival of QB Cam Newton would be inaccurate, though. Smith told PFW. "There are passes that Cam threw me that I could have went and got (during the 2010 season), but they just weren't thrown to me," he said. "How do you recharge a battery when it's never been dead? You're going to update my software and I already have the iPhone 4S? What are you reenergizing? (Newton) isn't making me run. What makes me run is my fans, my three kids, my wife. … Cam has been a missing piece that we've needed, but he hasn't reenergized any of these batteries that were already juiced up."

• The Buccaneers are looking for an enforcer who can bring discipline to their young team as they search for a new head coach, and CB Aqib Talib has the potential to be a roster casualty of the looming culture change. The new head coach will have some say in whether Talib is with the team for the 2012 season, although GM Mark Dominik ultimately makes decisions on personnel. Talib is due in court in March to face charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon stemming from an incident last March.

• The Cardinals have some interesting decisions to make concerning three aging free-agent special-teamers — 35-year-old PK Jay Feely, 33-year-old P Dave Zastudil and 35-year-old LS Mike Leach. "That's a pretty tough trifecta," one team source said. "I could see them signing Feely to a one- or two-year deal. He finished strong and has been pretty reliable. But they might want to go younger in the case of the other two guys, especially Zastudil, who has had injury issues." 

• The feeling in Seattle is that free-agent FB Michael Robinson, whose value is enhanced by his special-teams play, is a much better bet to be re-signed than free-agent RB Justin Forsett, whose time as the team's starting back before Marshawn Lynch arrived on the scene seems like a distant memory. This season, Leon Washington threatened Forsett's stature as Lynch's backup, and we're told it would not be a shock if recently signed ex-Panther Tyrell Sutton supplanted Forsett as the Seahawks' third-down back. 

• 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman likes what he sees from backup rookie QB Colin Kaepernick. "Mechanically, yes, he's definitely improved," Roman said. "Obviously as a college football player, he operated more from a pistol formation. … He's coming along mightily and continues to get better. As a person, he is a really solid guy."

• At the very least, look for the Rams to try to significantly restructure the contracts of OT Jason Smith and OG-C Jason Brown, who are currently scheduled to count $13.3 million and $7.2 million against the 2012 salary cap, respectively.

• While outside linebacker is widely considered to be the Packers' greatest need entering the offseason, we hear it's a different story at inside linebacker, where the team seems quite satisfied with starters Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk and backups D.J. Smith and Robert Francois, who did commendable jobs replacing Bishop and Hawk when both starters were injured in Weeks 13 and 14.

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