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Are any teams contacting their players?

Sports Xchange Len Pasquarelli
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*Date (un)certain: The FOXSports.com report on Thursday that an AFC team is "very aggressively" sending playbooks to its players is the latest suggestion that clubs are adopting some unconventional methods to communicate with the rank-and-file in violation of the lockout guidelines.

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Here's another possibility: An AFC assistant told The Sports Xchange this week he was party to a conversation just after the draft in which it was suggested that the team distribute playbooks, but with the postdate on the office mail machine manipulated to reflect a date during which the lockout was lifted for four days in late April, when it was legal, albeit temporarily, to talk to players.

Did his team actually carry through with the gambit?

"I don't know and I don't want to know," the coach said. "But I wasn't born yesterday, either. I know there's some stuff going on around the league, because (coaching) friends tell me about it."

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NFL officials have steadfastly contended that they've investigated such claims and unearthed no shenanigans that would breach lockout rules. Given the lack of success by the Raiders in recent seasons (although the franchise seemed to get things righted a bit in 2010), it might be hard to believe for some that Davis has been a visionary. But for much of his career, he was. And those who know him well insist he still has an excellent knowledge of the game.

*Birthday boy: The league might consider Al Davis unpatriotic at times, given his numerous legal assaults on the NFL, and his long tenure aptly has been marked a lot of the time by fireworks. Still, it bears mention on this Fourth of July weekend that the Oakland owner will celebrate his 82nd birthday on Monday.

Yeah, born on the Fourth of July is one of Davis' many curiosities. The Raiders haven't been to the playoffs since 2002, when they won the AFC West, and have finished in last place in the division four times in the eight years since, posting losing records in seven of those seasons.

But for all his critics, Davis has been an innovator in the league and, for the media at least, has made the journey a lot more interesting.

*The Harris poll: In the last couple weeks, The Tip Sheet has attempted to identify a few four-year veterans who could merit more attention than perhaps the public perceives if the threshold for unrestricted free agency is dialed back to four seasons of accrued service, as it was prior to 2010.

The news that recent neck surgery will force San Francisco center Eric Heitmann to miss a second consecutive entire season prompted a few personnel guys in the league to cite Tennessee interior lineman Leroy Harris as a player who might be catapulted into the group.

A fourth-round draft choice in 2007, Harris had only three starts before last season, then started 15 games in '10, but at left guard. Center is the more natural position for Harris, 27, and the fact that one-quarter of the franchises in the league might need a new snapper in 2011 figures to boost his profile.

The former North Carolina State standout is a stout interior blocker who can get out to the second level, and the fact he played guard in 2010 shouldn't detract much from his attractiveness as a center.

There aren't a lot of great free agent options at center, especially if a team is looking for a younger guy. Carolina's Ryan Kalil has already signed the one-year franchise offer tendered him by the Panthers. Five-year veteran Chris Spencer hasn't lived up to his promise in Seattle, the Seahawks likely won't make a strong effort to re-sign him, and the plan seems to be to replace the former first-rounder with Max Unger. David Baas, who replaced the injured Heitmann in San Francisco, is more a guard.

Of the six-best remaining unrestricted free agent prospects, four have nine or more seasons of experience. Three have more than 10.

*Center of attention: Continuing the center theme, it's worth mentioning that, while six-time Pro Bowl snapper Olin Kreutz likely will return to the Chicago Bears — middle linebacker Brian Urlacher recently suggested it's a priority for the team to keep the unrestricted free agent — it's not a slam-dunk the 13-year veteran will just automatically come back to the only NFL franchise for which he's ever played.

As was conveyed to The Sports Xchange the past few weeks — then expounded upon by The Chicago Tribune on Friday morning — Kreutz, who'll be 34 in about another week, might have some options.

As noted above, this is not a particularly strong center class in free agency — as is often the case at a position where longevity is a hallmark and where players rarely move — and that'll boost Kreutz's popularity and price tag, even at his age.

And there is, as well, a distinct lack of young centers ready to make the step up. There were 13 centers taken in the first three rounds of the six drafts from 2005-10; this year, the only snappers chosen in the first five rounds were Stefan Wisniewski (Oakland) and Rodney Hudson (Kansas City), both of whom were second-rounders.

Last year's draft alone produced Pittsburgh Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey and J.D. Walton (Denver), both of whom started all 16 games for their respective teams, and Matt Tennant (New Orleans), who could replace starter Jonathan Goodwin for the Saints this year, if the latter departs in free agency.

The departure of Kreutz would be an upset, for sure, but contemporary Matt Birk left Minnesota for Baltimore in free agency at the age of 33.

*Jerry-rigged: The failures of Colts first-round pick Jerry Hughes as a rookie in 2010, with the former TCU standout collecting only six tackles and no sacks in his NFL debut season, are magnified by the Mathis situation.

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If the Colts were able to count on Hughes, the 31st overall pick in 2010, they'd possess some leverage beyond the fact Mathis is under contract for '11 and can be fined for his absences from any mandatory events. But Hughes, ostensibly chosen to provide the Colts a pass-rush threat beyond the Freeney-Mathis pairing, was a monumental washout in his first season in the league.

Only seven first-round choices appeared in fewer games than Hughes, and five of them either came into the season with injuries — or experienced injuries once the campaign began — and a sixth was a quarterback, Tim Tebow.

The only other three first-round picks not to log a star were all defensive linemen: Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants), Derrick Morgan (Tennessee) and Jared Odrick (Miami).

Bill Polian acknowledged during the season he may have erred in not choosing offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, who started 16 games at left tackle after St. Louis grabbed him in the second round, instead of Hughes.

Hughes might blossom as a pass-rush force in 2011, because a player generally makes his most meaningful progress in his second season, but the Colts would like to have had him as a realistic negotiating tool when dealing with Mathis' demands.

*The Price isn't right: People who have seen the Tampa Bay unofficial workouts seem convinced second-year defensive tackle Brian Price won't be ready for training camp, no matter when it begins, and that he's a likely candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform list.

A second-round pick in 2010, Price was expected to join first-rounder Gerald McCoy to provide the Bucs a strong, young interior around which to rebuild the defense. But Price appeared in just five games (no starts) before pelvis surgery landed him on injured reserve. His recovery from extensive surgery has been slow. There haven't been any major setbacks, but he remains nowhere close yet to being able to play.

The good news, if it can be termed that, is that Tampa Bay discovered that Price's replacement, Roy Miller, is a pretty solid player in his own right. Miller's only a two-year veteran, so when Price is ready, the upstart Bucs should have an excellent inside rotation.

*Sly ol' Fox: In transitioning back to the 4-3 under new coach John Fox, the Denver Broncos plan to use 3-4 linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers at end. And the Broncos grabbed Von Miller, the consensus best pass-rusher in the draft, in the first round. But it's still expected that Fox will push for the team to be suitors for Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson, a pending unrestricted free agent.

Fox, of course, coached Johnson with the Panthers. Only a four-year veteran, and just 24 years old, he had 11.5 sacks in 2010.

Green Bay Packers

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Randall Cobb isn't the only player looking to have a breakout season in 2011.

Fox, whose track record with ends and "edge" players in general is pretty solid, believes you can't have enough pass rushers, even if a lot of people feel the Broncos' biggest defensive need is at tackle, a position they didn't address in the draft.

*Punts: Good to see that former Bengals' star quarterback Ken Anderson confirmed this week he's mentoring Terrelle Pryor and his preparation for the supposed supplemental draft this summer. Last Friday, The Sports Xchange reported Anderson was one of the candidates for the job. A day later, The Sports Xchange noted that Anderson was supervising Pryor's workouts. ... Speaking of the Pryor practices, a person who's seen at least two of them says the most impressive wide receiver of the bunch assembled by agent/mouthpiece Drew Rosenhaus has actually been free agent Donte' Stallworth. The itinerant Stallworth has played for five teams his last five seasons in the league — he missed the 2009 campaign because of legal problems — and caught only two passes for Baltimore last year. But word is, at age 30, the eight-year veteran hasn't lost any speed, is in good shape and can force secondaries to respect his deep burst. ... On the subject of guys who haven't lost any speed, Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told The Sports Xchange that Bills' seven-year veteran Lee Evans "still runs as good as ever." Evans, 30, posted career lows in receptions (37) and receiving yards (578) in 2010, and scored only four touchdowns. The occasionally offensively-challenged Bills have a blossoming, young wideout corps led by Steve Johnson (82 catches and only 25 years old), but Fitzpatrick seems confident Evans will have a rebound season in the second year under coach Chan Gailey. ... The mention of Manning above prompts the rumor that his agent, the powerful Tom Condon of CAA, is pushing for a CBA agreement that would do away with all franchise designations, and, thus, make his client an unrestricted free agent. Condon represents a ton of high-profile players/quarterbacks, with Drew Brees among them, and such a provision would obviously benefit them. It's worth noting, though, that even with the CAA imprimatur, Condon doesn't have quite as much influence over CBA negotiations as he once did. Condon was represented by the late Gene Upshaw, the former NFLPA executive director. ... The Cincinnati home of Carson Palmer sold this week, the latest suggestion that the eight-year veteran has no intention of returning to the Bengals in 2011 and will retire instead. Despite that, team officials still contend they won't cave and trade the veteran quarterback. ... Many of the draft choices at the NFLPA Rookie Seminar this week told players association officials they're running short of money and that their agents, some of them also cash-flow impacted, are reluctant to grant them further advances. As for the NFLPA, well, we're still waiting for them to respond to questions about why they told The Sports Xchange they expected 177 players to turn out for the seminar, and the actual number was closer to 150. ... Make Atlanta offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, one of the best in the business and a man who has achieved great results in his three seasons with the Falcons, one of the guys most on the spot in 2011. The Falcons are expected to build on a '10 season in which they had the NFC's best record, but the club figures to lose three of its five line starters — guards Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl, and right tackle Tyson Clabo — in free agency. The Falcons have three young players they feel are prepared to move into the starting lineup, but Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley have a total of zero regular season starts among them.

*The last word: "I honestly think social media has made people cowards. Where I'm from, if you had a problem with somebody, you said it to their face, and that was it. I think now, people are hiding behind computers and smart phones to get out something (they've) got on their chest." — New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, on the recent Twitter battle between Philadelphia tailback LeSean McCoy and teammate and defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Titans, Colts, Saints, Giants, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Panthers, Ravens, Olin Kreutz, Matt Birk, Osi Umenyiora, Lee Evans, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Charles Johnson, Leroy Harris, Roy Miller III, Robert Ayers Jr., Brian Price, Matt Tennant, Jerry Hughes, Tim Tebow, Mike Johnson, Von Miller

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