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NFC Whispers

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By PFW staff

Here are whispers that we've heard from our sources around the NFC:

• Although there's plenty of talk in Seattle suggesting that a franchise tag is imminent for free-agent RB Marshawn Lynch, we hear the team would much prefer to re-sign Lynch to a long-term deal. Word is the team also definitely intends to go out of its way to re-sign free-agent DE Red Bryant, the key to the team's run defense, as well as a locker-room leader. MLB David Hawthorne, the team's leading tackler the last three seasons, is another key free-agent re-signing target, but we hear the Seahawks will not break the bank on Hawthorne's behalf because of his durability issues.

• Aside from DE Calais Campbell, who is considered to be a strong candidate for the franchise tag, our Cardinals sources tell us the team's top re-signing priority is probably CB Richard Marshall, a free-agent pickup last offseason who ended up being a lifesaver due to his ability to play both cornerback and safety after starting FS Kerry Rhodes went down with a lengthy foot injury. Marshall, a two-year starter for the Panthers before heading to the desert, played well enough to have some decent value on the open market this offseason.

• While a return to action by Cardinals 2011 second-round draft pick Ryan Williams, after missing his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury, might greatly limit Alfonso Smith's touches next season, word is the team still believes Smith has something to offer. "I keep thinking he has potential," one team insider said of Smith, who will be entering his third season. "He's pretty slender, but he did an OK job running between the tackles and is very fast."

• With the Niners considering free agents QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers and S Dashon Goldson, among others, as bigger priorities, we hear the team could have a hard time hanging on to unrestricted free-agent LB Ahmad Brooks, who has off-the-charts ability but hasn't always toed the line the way the team would like. The prospect of dynamic first-round OLB Aldon Smith moving into the starting lineup in Brooks' place is hardly a stretch.

• Our sources in St. Louis would not be totally shocked if Rams CB Ron Bartell, a medical risk coming back from a fractured neck, becomes a salary-cap casualty.

• Outside all the talk about DeSean Jackson's future in Philadelphia, there also is the matter of what to do with CB Asante Samuel. Our sources close to the team suggest a trade remains a real possibility, with the team wanting to shed some salary at the position and get a better look at some young players who might vie for more playing time there, as well.

• Redskins TE Chris Cooley might have to restructure his contract (he currently is set to make $3.8 million next season) coming off injuries, but the team still values his place on the roster. Even if fellow TE Fred Davis is franchised, it remains a strong likelihood that Cooley will return in some form or another.

• OL Chris Williams is heading into his contract year at the same time that the Bears will transition to an offense more oriented to the power running game, and league evaluators say his style of play may not be a great fit for the system Mike Tice wants to put in place. Williams is expected to return before training camp from the wrist injury that landed him on injured reserve last season, but it appears he's going to have to participate in some heated battles to keep a starting spot whether the team continues playing him at guard or moves him back to tackle.

• Just because the Vikings have said they will not bring Randy Moss back for a third go-around doesn't mean that a receiver isn't very high on their shopping list this offseason. They know they need to help out QB Christian Ponder with another big target in the passing game, and that player could very well come through free agency.

• The consensus among our Packers sources seems to be that there's no way Blake Baratz, the agent for free-agent TE Jermichael Finley, will win his argument that Finley should be designated as a wide receiver rather than a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. The $4 million difference Finley would net with wideout status is an obvious incentive for Baratz to push hard for that designation. But even though Finley lined up as a wideout more than one would think (about 46 percent of his snaps), he still put in more time as a tight end, pure and simple.

• Don't be surprised if Packers CB Jarrett Bush, who provides a great deal of extra value with his stellar special-teams ability, commands a surprising amount of interest in the free-agent market.

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