Following are some whispers we've been hearing from around the NFL:
• The Patriots have a host of starters that are up for unrestricted free agency, with none more important than Wes Welker. But who is the next biggest priority for the Pats? One daily team observer believes it could be DE-OLB Mark Anderson, who broke out in his first season with the Pats. We hear that Anderson wants to be back in New England and likes how he was used in the defense. Anderson had 10 sacks, 16 QB hits and two forced fumbles in the regular season. He added 2½ sacks in the playoffs. Anderson saw his playing time increase late in the season after Andre Carter went down in Week 15. The Patriots still need to improve defending the pass and keeping a pass rusher like Anderson, who fared well in 2011, would be beneficial to the unit.
• The two teams being mentioned most frequently as possible trading partners with the Rams for the second overall pick in the draft are the Browns and the Redskins. Cleveland has two first-round picks (No. 4 and No. 22) sources believe it could be willing to deal in exchange for the No. 2 pick (we hear the Rams would also probably want a second- or third-round pick also thrown into the mix). The Redskins, who have the sixth overall pick, might have a leg up on other suitors because of the close relationships of Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and Rams COO Kevin Demoff and Redskins GM Bruce Allen.
• Jaguars GM Gene Smith revealed at the NFL Scouting Combine that his team will not spend as much in free agency in 2012 after heavily spending in 2011. The news came as a bit of a surprise, as Jacksonville is one of the teams furthest under the salary cap. The way we hear it, the Jaguars will still spend — they just don't want to get out over their skis. After spending $142 million in 2011, we hear new owner Shahid Khan is prepared to spend roughly $130 million this offseason. Wide receiver and defensive end head Jacksonville's free-agent shopping list.
• Assuming Dwayne Bowe is given the franchise tag and brought back, don't expect the Chiefs to add any more wide receivers this offseason. After drafting Jonathan Baldwin in the first round last year and signing Steve Breaston, the team invested a lot at the position last offseason. This year, the focus will be on other parts of the offense. If a pass catcher is added to the roster, we hear it is expected to be a tight end.
• Both Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves sent strong signals at the Combine that they might be leaning toward re-signing former first-round OT Levi Brown at a reasonable price. "Over the last half of this past year, when we needed it the most, Levi probably played his best football," Whisenhunt said of Brown, the team's starter at left tackle in 2011 who is due an increase of $9.4 million (to $16.9 million) in the final year of his rookie contract. "It was consistent. It was something that was important to our team, and hopefully that was a point where he was starting to get it from that standpoint."
• Our Rams sources are guardedly optimistic regarding the returns of UFA OGs Jacob Bell, the starting left guard much of last season, and Tony Wragge, who ended the season starting at center over Jason Brown. "He did a great job for us," Rams new head coach Jeff Fisher said at the Combine about Bell, whose first four years were spent in Tennessee under Fisher. " ... He's still got ability. I thought he played much better toward the end of the year." Word is Wragge has been making a strong impression working out almost every day at Rams Park since the season ended.
• Should he remain the Seahawks' starting QB, just how much progress can Tarvaris Jackson make in his second year in Seattle? "That's a great question," Seahawks GM John Schneider said at the Combine. "Just with the pec alone. He was literally playing with a frayed (muscle). It was all arm, all shoulder. I think he can make a lot of progress, but we're always looking to upgrade that position." Schneider also had good things to say about third-string QB Josh Portis. "He had a phenomenal preseason and made a lot of progress throughout the year as well," said the Seahawks' GM. "He's working his tail off right now, trying to prepare as much as he can on his own, and as soon as he can get with the coaches, that would be a great thing for him."
• We hear Anthony Levine, who spent the last 11 weeks of this past season on the Packers' practice squad, could get a decent shot at making his presence felt at the safety position in 2012.
• We hear the odds are strong that Seahawks UFA S Atari Bigby will re-sign with the team and continue to play a very valuable role as both a key reserve on the field and a solid mentor for the younger players off the field. "They like him a lot, the way he handles that nickel safety role like (Giants and former Seahawks S) Deon Grant," said one team source of the ex-Packer. "I don't see him being paid as a starter elsewhere."
• Our sources in San Francisco suspect one of the toughest free-agent calls the Niners are facing involves UFA OL Adam Snyder. Said one team insider: "He really likes it in San Francisco, and he can play all five spots. But the team still might be thinking about replacing him, possibly with (second-year pro Daniel) Kilgore. Snyder also could get some interest on the market."
• Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh was asked at the Combine if second-year RB Kendall Hunter, who displayed some interesting flashes as a rookie, will be used more in 2012. "You saw a lot of Kendall Hunter last year," Harbaugh said. "Don't think there would be any reason not to. He did a fabulous job for us in two phases — offensively and in the area of special teams. And he just works so darn hard at it. And he likes football so much, willing to spend extra classroom time."
• Arguably the Texans' greatest need this offseason is at wide receiver, where the club was badly exposed with Andre Johnson on the shelf much of the 2011 season. Houston is expected to draft a receiver in the early rounds in April, with Jacoby Jones potentially being released. Although the Texans are thin at the position, one player to keep an eye on is 6-3, 205-pound Lester Jean. After signing as an undrafted free agent last spring, Jean spent the season on injured reserve. Word is Jean is raw and athletic with major upside. With the Texans looking for help at the position, he will be in the mix for a roster spot next season.
• Panthers head coach Ron Rivera expressed confidence in January that his offense wouldn't have been dealt a setback it couldn't overcome if up-and-coming coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who interviewed to become head coach of the Jaguars, Buccaneers and Rams after the season, had departed. Rivera, though, isn't going to discount how much retaining Chudzinski could benefit QB Cam Newton heading into his second season. "The last four years now Cam has had a different voice in terms of his offensive coordinator," Rivera said at the Scouting Combine. "I think for the first time he's going to have him for back-to-back years. I'm excited about the potential for growth as far as he's concerned."
• The Falcons will be searching for new leadership on their offensive line if they don't re-sign C Todd McClure this offseason. McClure, 35, has spent all 13 of his NFL seasons with Atlanta, but he's due to become an unrestricted free agent March 13 and intends to continue playing. "Todd has had a great four years since we've been here," head coach Mike Smith told PFW. "I can't speak to Todd in terms of what his thoughts are moving forward, but he's been an integral part of what we've accomplished. He's kind of been the cornerstone for our offensive line the last four years."
• While Baltimore released CB Chris Carr and WR Lee Evans on March 2, GM Ozzie Newsome noted that "this does not close the door on them coming back to the Ravens." Carr, who turns 29 in April, started 21 games for Baltimore in three seasons. Evans caught just four passes in the regular season and couldn't hold onto the go-ahead TD in the AFC title game. Evans, who will be 31 on March 11, was acquired to give the Ravens an experienced deep threat, but an ankle injury keep him out of the lineup for the early portion of the season, and rookie Torrey Smith emerged as a key part of the offense. Smith and Anquan Boldin figure as the Ravens' top two wideouts entering 2012, and the Ravens have a good, young trio of cornerbacks in Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, but both Carr and Evans could be solid reserves if they were to re-sign.
• The Chargers' announcement that they plan to release DE Luis Castillo comes as little surprise. The veteran was injured for nearly all of the 2011 season after breaking his leg in Week One and the team is looking to go younger on their defensive line. We hear players such as Corey Liuget, Cam Thomas and Vaughn Martin will see more playing time next year. If Castillo is re-signed, it will be in a cheaper, reserve role.
• The way we hear it, the Bengals could look to bring back UFA Donald Lee as their third tight end behind Jermaine Gresham and Colin Cochart. We're told the club was pleased with Cochart's play a season ago, and Lee also was a solid contributor, catching 11 passes.