Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the NFC:
• Even though 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman caught a fair amount of flak for QB Colin Kaepernick’s ill-fated option pitch to Ted Ginn that was recovered for a TD by the Rams in St. Louis’ overtime victory in Week 13, we keep hearing Roman's name mentioned as a possible head-coaching candidate. Some close observers have been wondering out loud whether there might be a team or two interested in a package deal of Roman and QB Alex Smith, whose future with the Niners beyond this season is not looking real bright all of a sudden. “There’s no question he’s got a great offensive mind,” one team insider said of Roman. “But I honestly have no idea if he knows how to handle a defense.”
• Word from Dallas is that ORT Doug Free, who has committed eight false starts, six holds, two of which were declined and allowed seven sacks (per STATS LLC), is on a short leash and must play better to return. Next season, Free is owed a base salary of $7 million next season and the Cowboys would take a salary-cap hit of more than $10 million, per league sources, if he was on the roster. They are still on the hook, cap-wise, for more than $8 million guaranteed after he redid his deal in March to help the Cowboys ease some accounting woes and push money up into the guaranteed category. It appears the Cowboys would consider releasing Free, and they could turn to developmental OT Jermey Parnell, who has made huge strides since joining the team from the Saints’ practice squad. Even if Free comes back, he most certainly will have to rework his deal.
• We keep hearing Alex Boone continues to greatly exceed expectations as the Niners’ starting right guard. “He’s come along really well, he’s learning every week,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of Boone. “You see a lot of different styles of defender, a lot of different styles of defense and Alex is the kind of guy we want, a guy that’s pushing to get better very week. So he’s doing a great job. When he gets out in space, he can get rolling, a bit like an 18-wheeler going down a hill.”
• In a perfect world, we hear the Rams would prefer to have a bigger body at left guard than Rob Turner. That was the big reason fifth-round rookie Rokevious Watkins, referred to by one team insider as “a walking mountain,” had earned the starting nod before getting hurt and being placed on injured reserve. But after doing yeoman’s work starting in place of the injured Scott Wells at center, Turner keeps turning the heads of daily team observers with his steady play at left guard. “He’s been better than solid,” one team source said of Turner, who is operating on a one-year, $700,000 deal and is a good bet to be re-signed this offseason. “He’s very tenacious and very smart. Ideally, though, he’d be the first inside guy off the bench.”
• The Giants like what they have seen from CB Prince Amukamara now more than they did even in the beginning of the season. He’s contesting the run well, tackling and, most importantly, judging deep passes far better than before. In the past, he would mistime his break, get caught looking into the backfield or interfere with receivers. Now, it appears he has far better recognition and comfort level on those passes farther down the field.
• Eagles DT Cedric Thornton has been a bright spot on a subpar DL unit. Jason Babin has been cut. Mike Patterson is a health concern and is battling viral pneumonia now. Cullen Jenkins could be released in the offseason. But Thornton has come on to the point where it’s likely that he could be an anchor along with Fletcher Cox inside and DEs Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham on a new-look defensive line in 2013.
• One silver lining in the Lions’ recent struggles: defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes what he’s seeing from DTs Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. Suh’s disruptiveness is no secret, but Fairley has also come on in his second NFL season. “I’ve never seen two guys do things they’ve done the last two or three weeks,” Cunningham said leading up to Week 14, according to the club. Cunningham said that Fairley and Suh get along well and that each are getting a better “feel” for how the other plays.
• Our sources say DE Da’Quan Bowers would be starting at right end for the Bucs if not for the fact that he’s not 100 percent healthy yet and probably will need a full offseason before he will be back to full strength. DE Daniel Te’o Nesheim continues to get the starting nod and play nearly 80 percent of the snaps at the position. Bowers surprised some league observers with the speed of his recovery when he returned in Week Eight from the torn Achilles he suffered in May.