Following are whispers we've been hearing from around the AFC:
• Other than CB Champ Bailey, the Broncos' next-biggest free-agent decision will be on ORT Ryan Harris. The former All-Pro tackle struggled at times last season but came on strong late in the season after fully recovering from a left ankle injury he suffered in Denver's final preseason game. We hear that Harris was nearly sent to Chicago at the trade deadline last season before the deal fell apart at the last second. Harris improved in the second half of the season, leaving the Broncos with a tough decision to make.
• Raiders head coach Hue Jackson said recently that "there's no question" Jason Campbell is the team's starting quarterback. It was a signal to QB Bruce Gradkowski, who started four games for Oakland last season, that if he wants a chance to earn a starting job, he'll have to look elsewhere when his contract expires this offseason. Gradkowski apparently has not ruled out staying put, however. Gradkowski told PFW earlier this week that he knows he's an NFL starter, but he still would like to stay in Oakland. "I'd love to stay out here," Gradkowski said. "I think the Raiders want me back, as well. Hopefully it makes sense for everyone and it works out. Whatever my part is, I just want to be a Raider and help this team win and go from there."
• We hear that the Chargers' decision to elevate secondary coach Steve Wilks to assistant head coach was a sign of good faith. Although he lost out to Greg Manusky in the running for defensive coordinator, the team still wanted to reward Wilks for his excellent work with the defensive backs. The Bolts ranked 31st in pass defense when Wilks arrived in 2009, but in '10 they finished with the league's No. 1 pass "D." Wilks replaces Rob Chudzinski, who left to join the Panthers' staff, as assistant head coach.
• Last year when he was taken in the second round, the Jets envisioned Vladimir Ducasse as a left guard. However, with Matt Slauson being so productive at that position last season, the team has moved Ducasse to right tackle for 2011. With Damien Woody still recovering from knee and Achilles injuries, Ducasse has a chance to win the starting job with an impressive training camp.
• The Patriots made a slew of coaching changes last week, and nothing was too surprising, but one notable assistant got a promotion. Bill O'Brien, who had been calling plays for two seasons as the team's QB coach, is now the offensive coordinator. While the play on the field shouldn't change, having the title itself could help the team in an organizational way. O'Brien is well-liked and has been very successful with the Patriots. Head coach Bill Belichick will continue to serve as the de facto defensive coordinator, and there won't be many complaints about that, considering Belichick is one of the best defensive minds in the game and guided one of the league's younger defenses to lead the NFL in turnover margin.
• The hiring of Pat Shurmur as head coach clearly signaled the Browns were starting over on offense. The release of four key defensive players just days after the Super Bowl, most notably NT Shaun Rogers, was a reminder that changes were coming on defense, too. While not a starter a season ago, Rogers was undoubtedly one of the Browns' more talented defensive players, someone who would fit well in a 4-3 scheme, which Cleveland will be implementing as its base defense in 2011. But it's clear the Browns were ready to move on after Rogers had a disappointing 2010 season.
• Jacksonville could be a perfect landing spot for former Colts SS Bob Sanders, the way we hear it. The safety position is one of Jacksonville's more pressing needs, and Sanders, if he can somehow manage to stay on the field, would immediately upgrade the Jacksonville defense. He could also provide a mentor for young S Courtney Greene, whom the club remains high on. The biggest obstacle in bringing Sanders to Jacksonville will be from a financial standpoint. The Jaguars would have to hope Sanders would be willing to accept less guaranteed money in order to perhaps cash in on an incentive-laden deal, but the reports from Indianapolis suggest that is exactly what the Colts tried to offer him before eventually cutting ties with the former Defensive Player of the Year.
• Asked for his initial impressions of the Titans' offensive personnel, new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer shared the following in his introductory press conference: "Obviously the running back (Chris Johnson) is special. I think he's a guy that, just sitting and watching film with Mike (new head coach Mike Munchak) and finding out what he likes, does he like a guy in front of him? (Former Jets RB) Curtis Martin didn't like a fullback in front of him; he liked to have him offset. You've got to learn about the players. What's Kenny (Britt)'s best route? I'm anxious to talk to those guys and see what their forte is and how good they are at doing certain things. I was impressed with the tight ends. The (Jared) Cook guy, I want to get my hands around him right away and find out what he's all about, because I think he's a special talent. And the thing that I liked was the offensive line." Of the line, Palmer noted, "There's a chemistry that you can see on film that's intriguing to me."
• Titans head coach Mike Munchak said Feb. 18 that the club would soon make a decision on whether to use the franchise tag. The way we hear it, it seems unlikely that the Titans will designate a franchise player.