Here are some whispers we've been hearing from around the NFL:
• Our sources in St. Louis tell us the Rams continue to court Bengals free-agent WR Jerome Simpson, along with three or four other teams, despite Simpson’s off-the-field issues. Recently sentenced to 15 days in jail plus three years’ probation for a felony drug charge involving marijuana, Simpson is also likely facing a league suspension, which league sources believe will be of the four-game variety.
• Some eyebrows were raised among the daily Seahawks observers we talk to when free agent Aubrayo Franklin, formerly a franchised nose tackle for the division-rival Niners, showed up for an apparent visit. Franklin would appear to be a better fit for a 3-4 scheme, although Seattle’s 4-3 defense contains some 3-4 elements every now and again.
• Even though we’re told the Niners believe promising reserves C.J. Spillman and Colin Jones will have no problem filling the gap opened up by the departures of veteran safeties Reggie Smith (signed with Panthers) and Madieu Williams (signed with Redskins), we hear the odds are strong that the Niners will have their sights set on another safety with at least one of their 2012 draft picks.
• We hear the Cardinals are pleased with the veteran presence expected to be provided in the secondary by free-agent additions William Gay and James Sanders at cornerback and safety, respectively. Both Gay and Sanders are widely perceived as intelligent players who go out of their way to make sure everybody is on the same page defensively, very much like CB Richard Marshall, a versatile lifesaver in the Arizona secondary last season who signed with Miami a month ago.
• The Vikings are continuing to evaluate WR Percy Harvin, whose contract runs out after the 2012 season. Although most people at Winter Park believe Harvin is due for a big season if he can stay healthy, there has been concern about his sometimes erratic behavior. Don’t expect any extension talk until after the coming season.
• With Packers starting OLG T.J. Lang becoming a free agent after the 2012 season, don’t be shocked if the team looks for his eventual replacement in the draft. The Packers are already on the hook for $35 million with starting ORG Josh Sitton (signed through 2016), and it’s unlikely GM Ted Thompson will spend an exorbitant amount on two guards.
• The Bears have seen their depth at defensive tackle diminish this offseason. They cut Anthony Adams, and Amobi Okoye departed for the Buccaneers in free agency, but no one has been signed to replace them yet. It’s an area the Bears could address in the draft or free agency, but it’s also possible that the Bears feel confident in 2011 second-round pick DT Stephen Paea’s ability to take a big step in his second season after a relatively quiet rookie year in which he recorded two sacks in 11 games. Paea played nose tackle last season, but some evaluators say he would be a better fit at three-technique, where Henry Melton is in line to start, in the Bears’ defense. “(Paea) needs a lot of technique work,” one evaluator told PFW.
• One bit of unfinished business for the Falcons this offseason is adding veteran depth at safety. They attempted to replace S James Sanders, who signed with the Cardinals after playing in 15 games and making six starts for Atlanta last season, with Madieu Williams, but Williams decided to sign with the Redskins instead. The Falcons would like to have a player with starting experience backing up SS William Moore, who has missed significant time with injuries in two of his three NFL seasons.
• The Redskins are collecting depth at the safety position, hoping that it creates good competition. But because few of the players they have brought in appear to be sure things, we hear there remains a chance that the team could draft a safety.
• The Cowboys continue to look at tight ends in the free-agent market. We hear they are not thrilled with the draft class at the position but could take one after the first round if the right player is available.
• When the Tim Tebow trade first went down, cries began of a publicity stunt by a Jets organization that is no stranger to getting attention. The brass denied that, and one daily team observer believes that the Jets truly are excited to have Tebow aboard for his abilities in the “Wildcat,” not because of his fame, and that Rex Ryan wants to get the formation back in the mix. From 2006-10, Brad Smith ran the Jets’ version of the “Wildcat.” He rushed for more than 200 yards in both ’09 and ’10, but the Jets didn’t have a reliable option to run it last year after Smith left for the Bills. Tebow has had plenty of success running the football in the NFL, as he rushed for 660 yards last season and 227 in 2010. He has 12 career rushing touchdowns — Jets RB Shonn Greene has only 10 career scores in three seasons.
• The Bills have never been one of those teams with the "draft a quarterback every year" mantra. In the last five drafts, they have selected two quarterbacks, both of whom are no longer with the club — Trent Edwards (2007, third round) and Levi Brown (2010, seventh round). The Bills signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a contract extension last season, and despite his second-half struggles, the organization is still very confident in him. One daily observer believes, though, that Buffalo will use a pick on a quarterback in this draft, potentially to groom Fitzpatrick's eventual replacement, or a better No. 2 than Tyler Thigpen. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins visited Buffalo, and according to Alex Marvez of Fox Sports, he watched film with head coach Chan Gailey. Cousins has the intangibles to fit the position in Gailey's offense but may not be available for the Bills' second-round pick (No. 41).
• The mysterious eye injury sustained by Jaguars DT Terrance Knighton has not led to GM Gene Smith and Co. regretting their decision not to tender versatile backup Leger Douzable, who signed with the Titans, we hear. A source close to the situation said that Smith always preaches that knowing one’s team and personnel is of the utmost importance, and that the versatile Douzable likely wouldn’t have been in the team’s plans regardless of Knighton’s condition. Instead, Jacksonville will count on 2010 third-rounder DT D’Anthony Smith, who is still waiting to make his NFL debut after suffering Achilles and toe injuries in his first two offseasons, and veteran C.J. Mosley to fill the bill if Knighton’s injury prevents him from being ready to go when the season begins.
• The Texans this week signed former Cowboys ILB Bradie James to compete with Darryl Sharpton for the starting job vacated by now-Eagles MLB DeMeco Ryans. James has plenty of experience in coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense from their time together in Dallas, but the veteran saw a considerable drop-off in production last season, in part, we hear, because he doesn’t take on blockers in the running game as well as he once did. The Texans are very high on the run-and-hit ability of Sharpton, who remains the front-runner to win the job, but he will need to prove that he can stay on the field after injury-shortened seasons his first two years in the league.
• Broncos TE Julius Thomas recently had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right ankle and is hopeful to be ready for training camp. The team is hopeful, too, as it has high hopes for the second-year tight end. A former basketball player, Thomas was the most athletic player in Denver’s training camp last year, according to one team insider. He missed almost all of his rookie season with the ankle injury and is third on the depth chart behind free-agent pickups Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme.
• Chargers GM A.J. Smith told reporters this week he is open to trading the team’s first-round pick, No. 18 overall. In recent years the team has both moved up and moved back, and Smith has not ruled out doing either this year. “We’re wide open,” Smith said. “We have been always since I’ve been here, and we’ve done everything. We’ve gone up in the attack. We’ve bailed out in the past, and we’ve stayed where we are. It depends on circumstance.” The Chargers are likely in the market for interior offensive line help or a pass rusher with their first-round pick.
• With Thomas Howard playing well as the Bengals’ weak-side linebacker in 2011, the club’s decision to deal Keith Rivers to the Giants did not come as a major surprise. Rivers did not play in 2011 after offseason wrist surgery, and the way we hear it, a fresh start is probably best for both the team and player.
• Two positions that don’t shape up as major needs for Pittsburgh but could still be addressed in the draft are outside linebacker and wide receiver, the way we hear it. A team can never have enough pass-rush help, and the bottom of the Steelers’ WR depth chart could use a boost.