Following are some whispers we've been hearing from our sources around the NFC:
• The Cowboys might be willing to allow first-round pick Morris Claiborne to return kickoffs just as they have asked Dez Bryant to return punts. It’s dangerous, putting two of their better young players on the field for dangerous collisions, but the Cowboys apparently feel the risk is worth the reward, given their lack of juice on those units last season with Bryant banged up. They will, however, have to find a third returner option, and the leading candidate remains Dwayne Harris.
• New Redskins S Brandon Meriweather didn’t do himself any favors with the team when he was arrested on suspicion of DUI the day the draft began. The team has sought to create competition at the position by adding four players of note there this offseason and looking for them to battle in camp for starting jobs along with holdovers Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes. Meriweather might have been one of the bigger-name additions, but the former first-round pick is no lock to make the roster after being cast off by the Patriots and Bears in the past eight months.
• The Giants and DE Osi Umenyiora are at a stalemate — again. They have had an on-again, off-again relationship through two Super Bowl runs with regard to his contract extension, and GM Jerry Reese has tried to emphasize that the team wants Umenyiora on the roster. It’s clear that Umenyiora is a valuable piece, although a far less important one than fellow rushers Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, the latter of whom was just given an extension. Reese says he has offered Umenyiora extensions the past two offseasons but that both have been rebuffed. The Giants have not actively tried to trade Umenyiora recently, but it could be a story line to follow in the coming months.
• The Eagles still could be mining the free-agent ranks for a safety, we hear, now that the draft dust has settled. They like their young players, Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, at the position but would like an upgrade over Kurt Coleman. They have talked with Yeremiah Bell, who was released by the Dolphins.
• One of the players most affected by the Vikings’ drafting of S Harrison Smith in Round One is Jamarca Sanford, who likely has no chance at a starting job now and likely will be relegated to special teams — where he has stood out — if he makes the final roster.
• How big is the loss of Packers three-time Pro Bowl FS Nick Collins, who was released the day before the draft after the team decided his return to the team from a career-threatening neck injury suffered early last year was too risky? “It’s huge,” Packers CB/special-teams ace Jarrett Bush told PFW. “You can’t replace his intelligence on the football field, how he handles different situations, and his tackling, tenacity and presence in the locker room. He makes the other players around him better and is a teacher on the football field. I can’t say enough about Nick Collins. He was our fail-safe.”
• After embracing a special-teams mentality as a rookie last season, Falcons LB Akeem Dent will be battling veteran Lofa Tatupu to replace Curtis Lofton as Atlanta’s starting middle linebacker. If Tatupu, who sat out all of last season and comes with concussion and knee concerns, can stay healthy, the job will likely be his. The Falcons are optimistic about Tatupu, but the coaching staff was also impressed with Dent last season, and he will get a legitimate chance to compete against a player who has plenty of experience but much to prove after a long layoff.
• The Buccaneers view Da’Quan Bowers as the best fit to be their base left defensive end, but they felt strongly enough about Michael Bennett’s pass-rushing ability to place the first-round tender, which he signed, on him this offseason as a restricted free agent. The two players are expected to compete at the position, and Bennett will, at minimum, contribute in the sub package.
• The Saints’ plan at linebacker is taking shape, but commissioner Roger Goodell will still have a say in deciding which players the Saints have available at the position next season. The league has yet to announce player sanctions for “Bountygate,” and there is still speculation that MLB Jonathan Vilma, who is coming off knee surgery, will be among the defensive players facing suspensions. Interim head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches the team’s linebackers, indicated that free-agent addition Curtis Lofton will move from the middle to the strong side if Vilma is healthy and able to play, with David Hawthorne on the weak side. Scott Shanle would likely play on the strong side when Lofton is at his more natural position in the middle.
• Our Cardinals sources feel confident that former first-rounder Dan Williams will bounce back from an uneven 2011 season that came to an end prematurely when he broke two bones in his left arm in late November. There are some who think Williams could get a pretty strong challenge at nose tackle from second-year pro David Carter, a big surprise as a sixth-round rookie. “Carter could challenge him if Williams isn’t ready,” said one team insider. “But Williams will be spending the entire offseason with the team medics and (strength-and-conditioning coach John) Lott, and that should make a big difference.”
• One particular move our Rams sources wondered about was the decision to cut the cord with free-agent P Donnie Jones, who wasted little time signing with the Texans. “He had an off year last season, but in his four years with the team before that, he was very good, always among the league’s top five,” said one team insider. “I really wonder if they’ll end up regretting letting him go.”
• The Niners appear to be well-stocked behind starting CBs Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. “They love Chris Culliver and consider him a future starter for sure,” one daily team observer said of the team’s No. 3 cornerback. “He’s a big, tough corner who is very dedicated and intimidating, and he figures to keep getting better. They also thought No. 4 corner Tramaine Brock was playing well before he broke his hand (early last season). And free-agent addition Perrish Cox is a high-risk, high-reward guy. He’s had off-the-field problems, but he’s a first-round talent.”
• Did the Seahawks decide to re-sign veteran CBs Marcus Trufant and Roy Lewis due to concerns about Walter Thurmond, who was lost in Week Seven last season with a cracked fibula and has apparently suffered a setback that could make him a strong possibility to start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list? “That’s part of it,” said one team insider. “They also were able to get back two veteran guys who really know the system at a much more cap-friendly price.”