Here are some whispers we've been hearing from around the NFL:
• The Vikings continue to hope that the Ryan Tannehill buzz keeps flowing. After his strong pro-day effort, there is more buzz about teams having to trade up ahead of the Browns at No. 4 to get the athletic-but-green quarterback. The Vikings will be all ears — they would love to slide down a handful of spots, pick up additional picks and still get a top-rated player. It would be the ideal situation in their minds.
• After giving SS Tyvon Branch the franchise tag earlier in the offseason, a source said the Raiders are looking to work out a long-term deal with the playmaking defender. We hear that new GM Reggie McKenzie is hopeful he can extend Branch, whose play has improved each of his four NFL seasons, with a long-term deal at some point this offseason. A new deal also would provide some cap relief to the Raiders, who are currently set to pay Branch $6.2 million for the 2012 season.
• Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said he was pleased with the way his team addressed needs in free agency, giving Kansas City the ability to go in several directions come draft time. When asked at the annual NFL meeting what the Chiefs might focus on in the draft, Crennel said, “You can never have enough speed on your team, enough pass rushers on your team. We’re always looking for corners, we’re always looking for pass rushers, we’re always looking for speed receivers."
• If you think 49ers QB Alex Smith is now living on “Easy Street” after finally signing a three-year deal that could be worth up to $33 million, think again. It turns out daily team observers have discovered that the Niners have a fairly easy-to-reach out clause in Smith’s contract after the 2012 campaign, and that a major portion of the agreement only will be paid if Smith is on the roster after April 1, 2013.
• Greatly overshadowed by the Niners’ signing of RB Brandon Jacobs is the recent addition of ex-Raiders RB Rock Cartwright, who figures to offer just as much, if not more, to the backfield as the lumbering (6-4. 264 pounds) ex-Giant. “He was brought in to be a more athletic Blake Costanzo (a free agent who signed with the Bears),” one daily team observer said of Cartwright. “But in addition to replacing Costanzo on special teams, he gives some extra value as a potential playmaking fullback.”
• We hear it would not be a shock if one of the key contributors to the “collective effort” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher envisions to replace suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is Williams’ son, Blake, the team’s new LB coach. Word is Blake Williams has as good an understanding of his father’s defensive scheme from an X’s and O’s standpoint as anybody on the team besides Fisher.
• Rams head coach Jeff Fisher revealed at the annual NFL meeting that the high ankle sprain that greatly limited QB Sam Bradford in 2011 did not totally heal until two months into the offseason.
• The consensus in the desert is that the back end of the Cardinals’ WR corps as it now stands is marginal at best, with Stephen Williams, who will be entering his third season, probably having an edge over the likes of DeMarco Sampson and Jaymar Johnson. “Williams has looked great the past two preseasons,” one team source said. “But the problem is that he plays the same position as Larry Fitzgerald and does not play special teams, which makes it difficult to activate him as the No. 4 or No. 5 guy. He’s also not real physical.”
• Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said at the annual NFL meeting that 2011 third-round RB Alex Green is well ahead of schedule in his recovery from the torn ACL that cut his rookie campaign short in Week Seven. McCarthy also said that 2011 first-round OT Derek Sherrod, who also suffered a season-ending injury (broken right leg), has been conscientiously rehabbing on a daily basis at the Packers’ facilities.
• We hear that three other teams besides the Cowboys — the Packers and Eagles from the NFC and the Steelers from the AFC — were also in the running to open up the 2012 NFL season against the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants.
• We hear the Eagles and RB LeSean McCoy continue to talk contract extension. The idea is to get some insurance for him this season, possibly with another running back coming through the draft, and get him signed long term. There is optimism from both sides, sources tell us, that it will happen sometime before the start of the season.
• The good news for the Redskins is that ORT Jammal Brown, who has been taking yoga classes to help his injured hip, expects to be able to fully participate in OTAs. The team also feels very good about the progress of WR Leonard Hankerson (hip), who is eyeing a June return to the field, and TE Chris Cooley, who is coming back from a knee injury.
• We hear the Falcons have a firm belief that the hiring of Pat Hill, who is back in the NFL after 15 seasons as the head coach at Fresno State, is a very strong addition to their coaching staff. Their confidence in Hill, who replaced Paul Boudreau as offensive-line coach, has played a part in Atlanta’s decision-making process when it comes to O-line personnel. The team still could address the position in the draft, but the Falcons have yet to invest major resources into upgrading the offensive line in free agency, and likely will not do so.
• While the Panthers and TE Jeremy Shockey’s representative will stay in touch and remain open to having Shockey re-sign with Carolina, we hear the team is very comfortable with the collection of tight ends it has under contract. With two pass-catching tight ends — Greg Olsen and Gary Barnidge — and a blocking specialist — Ben Hartsock — in the fold, the Panthers appear to view Shockey as a luxury they can afford to go without if he doesn’t want to play at their price.
• Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expects RB Rashard Mendenhall (torn ACL) to play at some point in 2012. “I am not looking at it from a totality of the season standpoint,” Tomlin said at the annual NFL meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., according to the club. “I think it is prudent to say he might not be ready at the start (of the season). We might have some options there in terms of addressing that, whether it’s the PUP list or otherwise. At some point, he is going to be ready to play, and when he is, he is going to be an asset to us.’’
• New Browns DE Frostee Rucker played his first six seasons in Cincinnati, giving Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis a unique perspective on how Cleveland’s new starting right defensive end has developed since entering the NFL. “Frostee is probably one of the guys that has transformed himself physically and mentally,” Lewis said at the annual NFL meeting, according to Bengals.com. "Since he came out of USC he really has done an outstanding job and a guy that is huge in the community, doing a great job as a football player and became a leader on the team.”
• Speaking at the annual NFL meeting, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis did not close the door on UFA WR Jerome Simpson returning to the club, but the uncertainty about Simpson’s short-term NFL future is an issue, what with Simpson pleading guilty to a drug charge in Kentucky in March. Simpson could serve prison time and face NFL discipline. The way we hear it, wideout is a position where a rookie could come in and start for Cincinnati, considering the uncertainty beyond A.J. Green on the depth chart at the outside WR spots.
• We heard following the 2011 season that the Patriots would draft not only one, but likely two receivers in April. However, with the additions of veterans Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez and Donté Stallworth in free agency — and the restructuring of Chad Ochocinco’s contract, which at least gets him to camp — wide receiver does not loom as a top priority anymore, especially compared to edge rusher and secondary. It is still believed, though, that the Patriots will draft a receiver. The team’s track record of drafting receivers in recent years is very shaky, and Bill Belichick might not want to have a rookie take up a roster spot. However, adding a rookie receiver certainly would add to what will be an intriguing competition to be one of Tom Brady’s targets in 2012.