Jan 15, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (80) is unable to make a catch while being defend by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb (21) and strong safety Bernard Pollard (31) during the second quarter of the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at M

NFL Rumor Mill

Rumors run rampant pretty much the entire NFL season. Some have legs, some don’t, but some make you stop and think for other reasons.

The Preseason is a fun time for the NFL, especially the first couple of games when we get to see a lot of new faces on the field. It’s interesting because sometimes a franchise will find TOO much talent at one spot and have to let someone go that will obviously be picked up by someone else. It’s a process, but interesting if you follow it.

It’s also a double-dose of newbies time. Not only do this year’s rookies get a fresh new look, anyone injured early as a rookie last season does too.

Take the Houston Texans as an example. Andre Johnson has been a top-3 WR for some time now along with Megatron and Fitz. Last season, he got dinged up and missed considerable playing time. He’s entering his 10th NFL season, and while WRs can be productive well into their 30′s, he’s 31 and of the age where some players start that decline as injuries heal more slowly and recovery week-to-week gets harder.

With AJ still nursing injury, Lestar Jean is a player that has created some buzz in Houston. Apparently, last season in the abbreviated training camp, he displayed a lot of skill before he went down due to injury for the season. This year, perhaps he’ll get a closer look. The Texans have been seeking a good #2 WR to put opposite Andre J., but they may be looking for guys to start in place of him if he can’t stay healthy this year. Kevin Walter is in Houston and they’ve drafted some talent there too, so it will be a battle for Jean to see the field.

Another sleeper-type guy I kinda like is Dezmon Briscoe of the Bucs. Vincent Jackson’s signing got all the press, and Briscoe was a role-player even last season. He’s now entering his 3rd season and with a new head coach he gets a fresh start and new look too. What impressed me about this kid is his prodcution really started to pick up the final month of last season and that’s what you want to see both as a coach and a player.

His stats last year weren’t great – 35 rec 387 yds 11.1 yds/catch, but he had 6 TDs. 3 of those came in the last 3 games of the season and 2 of those were in the final contest against the playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons. He’ll have JUST turned 23 when the 2012 season starts, so he entered the league quite young. Now that he’s had a couple of years of experience and his body has likely finished developing, he’s worth keeping an eye on especially if you’re into deep fantasy leagues. He could be worth a late-round flier as your 4th or 5th WR, with significant upside potential as defenses will focus on V-Jax.

Did you know the Bengals have no less than SIX former first-round picks at CB on their roster?Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Jason Allen (a horrible mistake made by Nick Satan drafting his former LSU player for the Dolphins), Terrence Newman, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, and this year’s top pick, ‘Dre Kirkpatrick. If they cannot find 2 solid starters AND a good nickelback out of that group, they will need group therapy for the entire management and coaching staff.

One good QB camp battle to watch is Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. The Cardinals spent a “Glob for Kolb,” but when he got injured last year, Skelton outplayed him. If that happens again this season in training camp, look for Whisenhunt to put Skelton out there despite Kolb’s salary. He wants wins, and Kolb has shown a fragility nobody likes to see in highly-compensated players – especially at QB.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have to play some catch-up in a couple of weeks. Mike Wallace hasn’t reported for OTAs and this contract situation looks to have some legs. It could wind up being similar to V-Jax in 2010, where he held out the entire camp and a large part of the season, only reporting so he wouldn’t lose a year’s worth of service to count toward his time toward becoming an unrestricted free agent. With Hines Ward’s retirement, the Steelers are a bit thin at receiver and Wallace is one of the top deep-threat receivers in the entire league.

They also won’t have David DeCastro OR Mike Adams – two rookies drafted as probable starters, and DeCastro should be a lock to start at guard – because both Stanford and THE Ohio State University haven’t finished their academic years yet. That means neither guy can join their teams until June 7th. With Todd Haley installing a new offense, it would help to have Wallace around to pick it up for opening day.

I’m sure Big Ben is not happy about Wallace’s absence but has to know it’s just business and must be happy for the new drafted protection, as he spent much of last season hobbling on a bad ankle. There’s also the drama over RB Rashard Mendenhall’s New Year’s Day torn ACL. Chances are he’ll start the season on the PuP list (Physically unable to Perform) while he rehabs the knee. The Steeler offense is in disarray and they’ll need every moment of the summer to get the pieces put in place.

Then, there’s Dallas: Just put Jerry Jones in Larry Hagman’s character sans Stetson hat and you wouldn’t be far off. With Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne likely ahead of him on the depth chart, Mike Jenkins has been demanding a trade from the Cowboys. The ‘boys have said they’re not trading him.

Lots of dynamics are going on here: Carr was signed to a big contract and will play, Claiborne is the most highly-touted CB in the 2012 draft class, and Jenkins is coming off shoulder surgery in the final year of his contract. Tim McMahon of ESPN.com had a good take on this when he compared the situation to the Eagles’ trading Asante Samuel for a 7th-round pick: The Eagles wanted to dump his salary for cap space, but the Cowboys don’t have that issue at this time. Why trade him for a 7th-rounder now while you’ve got probably the best nickel-corner in the NFL now (or a top one at least) for the season to use, he’s also there as injury insurance for the other two starters, and they can just let him go into free agency after the season and wind up with a compensatory pick that will be higher than the pick they’d get by trading him.

In a nutshell, it makes sense for Dallas to keep him around this year for several reasons. Look for him to remain a Cowboy this year, but watch him to see if he mopes about it or plays lights-out in hopes of landing a big contract with another team following the season.

These are just some of the episodes of NFL: the Soap Opera that airs new episodes daily for a few months between the draft and the end of full-blown training camp. Stay tuned for more…it always, always comes along.

Tags: Andre Johnson Dallas Cowboys David DeCastro Houston Texans Jerry Jones Lestar Jean Mike Adams Mike Jenkins Mike Wallace Pittsburgh Steelers Rashard Mendenhall

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