NFL Nation: Duke Preston
And it's a good place to be.
This offseason is no different, as this chart put together by ESPN's Kevin Seifert indicates.
As the data shows, the Packers will be able to roll over nearly $10 million -- $9,820,459 to be exact -- in unused salary-cap space from last season.
Combine that with the fact that the Packers were already projected to be between $17 million and $18 million under the 2014 salary cap and it means that -- depending on the exact salary-cap limit for this season, which has yet to be finalized -- they will have between $27 million and $28 million in available cap space this offseason.
The question is how will they use it?
They will need roughly $5 million to sign their rookies, but that still leaves plenty of room for other moves. Certainly, they will re-sign some of their own players scheduled to be free agents with cornerback Sam Shields as the priority (and the most expensive) and perhaps work on extensions for players like receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, who have contracts that expire after this season.
But will this finally be the year general manager Ted Thompson returns to the free-agent market in earnest?
We're not talking about low-level signings like tight end Matthew Mulligan (who didn't even make the team last season) or offensive lineman Duke Preston (who also didn't make the team when he was signed in 2009), but rather bona fide impact players like Thompson signed in 2006 with cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
With a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season and was short on playmakers save for Shields, Clay Matthews and perhaps cornerback Tramon Williams (whose own contract situation may have to be addressed given that he's scheduled to make $7.5 million this season), Thompson may see fit to work the open market more like he did in 2006 (when he also signed safety Marquand Manuel, who lasted only one season).
That's the way at least one national reporter sees it. According to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Packers plan to address some of their defensive needs -- including getting more athletic and versatile up front -- via free agency.
Thompson gave no indication recently that he planned to alter his approach to free agency, telling ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan at last month's Senior Bowl that he believes the draft-and-develop policy is the best approach to roster building.
"We just think it's a good model to use under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement and that sort of thing," Thompson said at the time. "We just feel like your best policy is to try as best you can -- and it doesn't always work out because sometimes you have to do different things -- but if you draft good people, you develop them, you get a good coaching staff that coaches them up, they like it there, so you try to retain your own players as much as you can and you don't [always].
"We lose players just like everybody else. But if we can, we like to keep our own and continue adding guys through the draft and through free agency."
It has been widely assumed that Saturday would join forces with longtime teammate Peyton Manning, who plans to play this season for the Denver Broncos. But the Packers' apparent interest in Saturday at least means they haven't ruled out the possibility of signing a veteran to replace Wells. Other options include veteran Dan Koppen, who missed most of last season because of a fractured ankle, and Samson Satele, who spent the past three seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
The Packers haven't dipped their toes into veteran free agency often in recent years, having last done so when signing the immortal Duke Preston in 2009. If they don't sign a veteran, the Packers could either elevate backup Evan Dietrich-Smith or draft a center -- possibly Wisconsin's Peter Konz -- and insert him immediately into the lineup.
Potential unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland
Potential restricted free agents: NT Junior Siavii, WR Miles Austin, DE Stephen Bowen, CB Cletis Gordon, DE Jason Hatcher, WR Sam Hurd, T Pat McQuistan, C Duke Preston, G Cory Procter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears, S Pat Watkins, K Shaun Suisham.
What to expect: Anything is possible with Jerry Jones in charge, and the Cowboys could make a big splash after an underwhelming offseason a year ago. But in terms of team needs and what is required to take the next step, Dallas really doesn’t need much. A big-time impact safety makes some sense and could make a very good defense great, but that might be a project for the draft in a trade-up scenario for someone like Earl Thomas. But Darren Sharper might pique their interest. They also need to get younger along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, but that seems like a draft-day project, too. Maybe Jones gets real aggressive in the wide receiver market, as Roy Williams certainly is not living up to his billing, but the Cowboys are still rather stacked with pass-catchers. All in all, this is a team that is sitting pretty and doesn’t have a prominent unrestricted free agent who is poised to leave.
New York Giants
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins
Potential restricted free agents: WR Domenik Hixon, TE Darcy Johnson, DE Dave Tollefson, G Kevin Boothe, S C.C. Brown, DT Barry Cofield, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Derek Hagan, WR Sinorice Moss, T Guy Whimper, LB Gerris Wilkinson.
What to expect: Big things could be in the works here, as there are already rumors swirling that New York could be a prime suitor for linebacker Karlos Dansby. An impact linebacker is certainly near the top of their wish list and Dansby fits the bill. Plus, he is extremely versatile. Getting faster on defense is a huge priority with new coordinator Perry Fewell stressing the ability to cover a lot of ground. However, Dansby isn’t really the thumper they need in the middle and is more of an outside linebacker for this system, although he would be great on passing downs. This is a group of decision-makers who might be starting to feel some heat, so do not rule out a big move or two.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracy White
Potential restricted free agents: LB Akeem Jordan, P Saverio Rocca, WR Jason Avant, C Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, LB Chris Gocong, CB Ellis Hobbs, G Max Jean-Gilles, TE Alex Smith, FB Leonard Weaver.
What to expect: There are questions on the offensive line, but overall, the Eagles are in a prime situation to improve their defense, particularly up front and at safety. Remember, they have quarterbacks to dangle as trade bait and really do not have any unrestricted guys that they need to bring back. This is a possible landing spot for Julius Peppers and he would be terrific on the opposite side of Trent Cole, who is among the most underrated players in the game and could blow up with someone taking pass protection attention away from his side. Count on the Eagles being aggressive in the free-agent and/or trade market. It might just be enough to get them that ever elusive Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened.
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, DE Phillip Daniels, T Levi Jones, C Casey Rabach,
P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, TE Todd Yoder.
Potential restricted free agents: DE Lorenzo Alexander, T Stephon Heyer, LB Chris Wilson, QB Jason Campbell, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, C Will Montgomery, CB Carlos Rogers.
What to expect: This is a difficult team to get a grasp on in terms of what they might do in free agency, but I think it is safe to say that ownership will not hold Mike Shanahan and company back from opening up the check book and signing (and even overpaying) players whom they desire. It would be wise for Washington to have an excellent idea of what they are going to do with the fourth overall draft pick in terms of going quarterback or offensive tackle before really devising a free-agency plan. Rebuilding the offensive line is a must and Shanahan needs lighter, quicker (and younger) linemen than are on the roster. A running back they can trust wouldn’t hurt either, although it looks as though Clinton Portis will return, which they may regret. But don’t forget, this is a team that -- unwisely in my opinion -- is switching to a 3-4 scheme, so inside linebacker help is required, as are defensive linemen who fit the new scheme. The Redskins have a long wish list, but also have the ownership to endorse big spending when free agency opens.
Now let's look at today's inactives list. No surprises here. For the Cowboys, special teams ace Pat Watkins has returned from a sprained knee and he replaces rookie safety Michael Hamlin on the active list.
Cowboys: Emergency QB Stephen McGee, CB Cletis Gordon, S Michael Hamlin, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, LB Curtis Johnson
Vikings: Emergency QB Sage Rosenfels, WR Jaymar Johnson, CB Karl Paymah, TE Garrett Mills, LB J Leman, C Jon Cooper, DE Jayme Mitchell, DT Letroy Guion
Cowboys: QB Stephen McGee, S Pat Watkins, CB Cletis Gordon, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C/G Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, LB Curtis Johnson
Eagles: QB Kevin Kolb, CB Geoffrey Pope, FS Quintin Demps, T King Dunlap, C Dallas Reynolds, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Martin Rucker, DT Trevor Laws
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Cowboys closed out the preseason Friday with a heart-stopping 35-31 victory over the Vikings. OK, maybe no one's heart stopped, but there were some fairly interesting things to discuss following the game. Some players sealed roster spots. Others simply confirmed their tickets out of Dallas. Now let's take a look at my Cowboys-Vikings observations. And yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing my final commentary on a preseason game.
- Second-year tight end Martellus Bennett was the offensive star of this game. He led the team in receiving during the preseason and he added three more catches for 51 yards in the first quarter. At 6-6, he offers Tony Romo and Jon Kitna a big strike zone. And he's very graceful in making catches. On his 31-yard catch on the opening drive, he positioned his body perfectly to shield the ball from the safety. Witten and Bennett have to be considered the top tight end duo in the NFC (and maybe the entire league) heading into the season. I also liked how Bennett sold that he was blocking down on the Kitna waggle, and then he bolted out to the right to provide an easy target. Bennett's poised for a breakout season -- and one Dallas columnist flew all the way to Minneapolis to chart his progress.
- Kevin Ogletree, welcome to the 53-man roster. Not that I had any doubt heading into this game, but the free-agent rookie out of Virginia validated all the praise he's received in the preseason with a nice catch on third down and a 5-yard touchdown on the Cowboys' first drive. He's a smooth route runner who has a knack for getting wide open in the end zone. When the Vikings busted coverage, Ogletree came racing across the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
- Some people will say that Ogletree took Isaiah Stanback's spot on the roster. But even if Ogletree hadn't flashed, Stanback needed to go. He finished with one catch in the preseason -- and he fumbled that one. He started against the Vikings on Friday, but I don't think Jon Kitna ever looked his way. Stanback also muffed a couple of kickoff returns. He's obviously an excellent athlete, but it really doesn't translate to anything on the field. I'd be shocked if he's not one of the cuts Saturday.
- Why can't Jon Kitna take a snap from center? We've been over this before. Kitna and Cory Procter had problems, so the Cowboys tried another center (Duke Preston) Friday. This time, Kitna left the snap on the ground and the Vikings recovered. Kitna still has a live arm, but he has to figure out what's going on with the snaps. It's almost like a mental thing at this point. By my count, Kitna has been involved in at least four botched snaps. You don't want to overreact to anything that happens in the preseason, but it certainly has to be something the Cowboys are concerned about.
- Oops, someone forgot to tell Steve Octavien he wasn't supposed to make the team. The former Cornhusker looks small (6-0, 238) when he lines up at outside linebacker, but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He and fellow rookie Victor Butler could be called upon to give DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer a rest at some point. If that happens, I really like Octavien's chances. He has really good instincts and his quickness was giving the Vikings' reserve left tackle fits.
- Patrick Watkins isn't going anywhere. I thought the former Florida State player was on his way out early in camp. But on Friday, he was Cowboys' best defensive player on the field. Wasn't even close. He finished with seven tackles, a blocked field goal and an interception return for a touchdown. He had the best first half of his career, and then he backed it up in the third quarter. At 6-5, you always thought Watkins could cause problems for wide receivers. But he's only started showing that recently. With Friday's performance, there's no way you can keep him off the 53-man roster.
- The reserve offensive linemen seem to be penalized at the worst-possible moments. A promising drive in the first quarter was interrupted by a Doug Free holding penalty. The play nullified a first-down run for Tashard Choice. On another play in the first half, Pat McQuistan tackled a defender right in front of the officials. Easiest call of the game. That wiped out a nifty run by Tashard Choice -- and it was so unnecessary. McQuistan was completely out of the play. It's maddening watching these two guys. The first time Kitna was stripped, it was because McQuistan hesitated for a moment to look inside and then let a Vikings defensive end beat him to the outside on a speed rush.
- Wade Phillips had to enjoy watching backup nose tackle Junior Siavii blow a third-and-short play for the Vikings late in the first quarter. Siavii held his own for most of the game. Nothing flashy, but he clogs up the middle. Completely different style than starter Jay Ratliff, who uses his speed and quickness.
- It's way too late, but we finally had a Manny Johnson sighting. The former Sooner was taken by the Cowboys in the seventh round, but Johnson never made much of an impression during training camp. He made a nice grab along the sideline for 11 yards. And he also showed his speed on special teams. He might be a good practice squad candidate.
- Is it just me or was Bobby Carpenter really unimpressive in the first half? I try to watch Carpenter on running plays and he's always getting pushed at least five yards backwards. He's still not aggressive enough in taking on blockers and I wouldn't trust him to play an entire game -- if something happens to one of the starting inside linebackers. He simply gets caught inside way too much. The Vikings had a long touchdown drive in the first half and I thought Carpenter was exposed in a big way. It was like the Cowboys wanted no part of Vikings reserve running back Ian Johnson.
- Still too early to panic about the special teams? Joe DeCamillis' unit allowed a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. But in DeCamillis' defense, Jesse Holley and Scott Chandler were in great position to make a tackle. Obviously things didn't work out. This is happening way too much. Sort of similar to last season's unit, but I think the Cowboys will get it turned around early in the regular season. It's not like the special teams had any continuity in a game like that.
- We saw good Mike Mickens and bad Mike Mickens on Friday. It's obvious the seventh-rounder out of Cincinnati is talented, but he's taking too many chances. What he has to learn is that going for an interception and missing can end up costing you about 50 yards. But on the next play after he allowed a big gain, he came back and broke up a pass. I think he'll be a good player eventually. Way too early to count on him at this point.
- I almost forgot Watkins' play near the goal line. He recovered nicely to tackle Sage Rosenfels for a loss when the Vikings went for it on fourth down. Watkins bit on the original play, but he quickly made up the ground and dragged Rosenfels down. Outstanding play.
- I think rookie tight end John Phillips has a little something. He did a great job of competing for the ball on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. That play didn't lead to anything, but it was nice to see that he had a little explosiveness.
- Who were you guys impressed with? Let me hear from you. And remember that we'll have full cut-down day coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Thanks for joining us.
The Bills knocked on Wood with the No. 28 pick they received from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Jason Peters trade. Wood was considered the second-best center in the draft behind California's Alex Mack, who went No. 21 to the Cleveland Browns.
Bills coach Dick Jauron said the Bills will keep free-agent acquisition Geoff Hangartner, who also can play both positions, at center. The Bills allowed both of last year's centers Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler to walk via free agency.
"We see Hangartner as our center," Jauron said. "Eric will come in, we'll plug him in at guard and see how that goes.
"We're very optimistic about that. We really like his play, like his demeanor, like his toughness, like his intelligence. He gives us depth at two positions at the very least.
"We were kind of holding our breath when it came close to that pick and ultimately he got there."
Wood measured 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds at the combine. He started 49 straight games at center for Louisville, but he played guard in the Senior Bowl and said he has no qualms about switching for the Bills.
Many thought the Bills had to replace Peters, but they needed to rebuild the left side of their line. Not only did they trade their two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, but they also cut their high-priced left guard, Derrick Dockery.
Our non-Jay Cutler morning roundup allows us to close the book on Matthew Stafford's private workout with Detroit officials.
David Birkett of the Oakland Press got Stafford on the phone Tuesday night, finding Stafford satisfied that he had put his best foot forward.
Stafford: "I think I did well. At this point I'm not going to say what I feel like my chances [of going No. 1] are. I feel like I've done everything I can. I feel like I've done well every time we've met together. Whether they go with me or with somebody else is not up to me, but I can rest easy at night knowing that I did everything I could."
Stafford said he spent about 90 minutes diagramming plays in a classroom session. A total of eight Lions officials were present, he said, and the on-field drills were led by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Stafford: "It was good to get out there and get in front of all those people and show them that I had some knowledge of the game.
Lions officials are scheduled to attend USC's pro day Wednesday and are hoping to meet afterwards with quarterback Mark Sanchez. I suspect they'll also be monitoring the Cutler situation from afar.
A few other non-Cutler links for you:
- Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette profiles receiver Greg Jennings, who has been working with a personal chef and a nutritionist to improve his conditioning. Jennings said he believes "in his heart of hearts" that he will sign a long-term contract extension with the Packers at some point.
- Offensive lineman Duke Preston's contract with the Packers is a two-year deal worth $2 million, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It includes a $150,000 roster bonus and $50,000 workout bonus.
We're now T-minus one month to the 2009 draft and are entering a period in the NFL offseason when teams wrap up their scouting trips and hunker down to the basement to determine their final draft board. We'll have a trickle of free-agent news and other items of interest, but for the most part it will be all draft, all the time.
Many of the final pre-hunkering steps will happen early this week, most notably with Detroit's private workout of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford on Tuesday followed on Wednesday by the Lions' attendance at the USC pro day to watch quarterback Mark Sanchez. We'll bring you as much information as we can about both events.
For now, let's catch up on a quiet weekend in the Black and Blue:
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune hopes the Bears would never seriously consider signing quarterback Michael Vick, despite some benevolent comments recently from coach Lovie Smith.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times projects the Bears' top needs in the draft as receiver and offensive line.
- John Niyo of the Detroit News talks to Atlanta coach Mike Smith about finding a franchise quarterback. Smith and the Falcons drafted Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan last year.
- Smith tells Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press that Ryan's private workout was critical in the Falcons' evaluation.
- New offensive lineman Duke Preston will play center and guard for Green Bay but not tackle, according to told Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel knows there will be change along the Packers' offensive line in 2009, one way or the other.
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press believes the Minnesota fan base is running out of patience.
- Although the Vikings have had regular meetings with the office of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently, Josh Katzenstein of the Minnesota Daily paints a bleak picture of their hopes for a new stadium.
Preston started 11 games at center last season for Buffalo and could join the competition between Scott Wells and Jason Spitz at that position. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week Preston could provide depth at guard at well. Daryn Colledge is expected to play left guard, but the right guard position is less settled.
Here's what McCarthy said about Preston earlier this week:
"I was very impressed with Duke. Very bright. I like the way he presented himself. I found it to be a very positive visit. ... He's a big guy. It says 6-5. You watch him on film, then you meet him, and he's a big guy. He's young and I think he's got a lot of good football ahead of him."
Preston joins safety Anthony Smith as the two unrestricted free agents the Packers have signed this offseason. They also matched an offer sheet for defensive back Jarrett Bush, who was a restricted free agent.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Minnesota must decide Friday whether to match the $1.4 million offer sheet that fullback Naufahu Tahi signed last week with Cincinnati, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Coach Brad Childress said earlier this week that the team was in no rush to announce a decision because of salary-cap implications. I'll have a comment on that stance later Friday based on the team's decision.
- Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune isn't a big fan of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler: "The central question to any discussion involving the Bears and the possibility of acquiring Cutler is not how much general manager Jerry Angelo would be willing to give up in a trade or how the offensive scheme would have to be tweaked to accommodate all of his considerable talents. It's this: You're going to entrust the Bears' offense to a guy who, at the first indication of 'adversity,' basically quits on his team?"
- Quarterback Drew Stanton, a second-round draft pick in 2007, is an afterthought in Detroit's plans for 2009, writes David Birkett of the Oakland Press.
The Chiefs have the No. 3 pick and Curry is expected to be the first defensive player off the board. The Chiefs' primary needs are on defense. Kansas City's interest in Curry is no surprise. If he is on the board and the team doesn't want to trade down, he could be the likely selection.
The word around the lobby at the NFL owners' meeting was that the West Coast teams aren't overly thrilled with the fact that East Coast teams are getting a break coming out West. Some West Coast representatives argued that their teams are at a disadvantage because they have to travel to the East Coast and often play in games that start at 10 a.m. Pacific.
Still, don't expect any change. The NFL feels restricted enough in its scheduling and to schedule every game of a West Cost team playing on the East Cost for a 1 p.m. Pacific start is not going to happen.
There will be some history made when Oakland and Denver play on Thanksgiving. The Raiders haven't played on Thanksgiving in 39 years and Denver hasn't hosted a Turkey Day game in 46 years.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was kind enough to step into the Black and Blue late Monday afternoon here at the NFL owners meetings. We'll sprinkle his comments into the blog all week, but here are the newsiest portions of the interview:
McCarthy acknowledged that safety Nick Collins, who is entering the final year of his contract, hasn't yet participated in the offseason program. Collins is hoping to jump-start negotiations for an extension but thus far the Packers have not acquiesced. McCarthy predicted the sides will "work it through" but offered no timetable for Collins' return.
"He's got [the contract] on his mind," McCarthy said. "That's obvious to everybody. It's important, really, in my conversations with Nick, we both agreed you need to separate football from business. And that's what we're going to do here in the near future."
McCarthy said Collins has kept "everybody in the building" informed of his plans.
"What you always ask from players when you have disagreements is to make sure there is constant and open communication. He's done a very good job of that. He's talked with [safeties coach] Darren Perry. He's talked with everybody he's needed to talk to. I've talked to him a couple times."
McCarthy also provided some insight into the evolving situation at offensive line, confirming that free agent Duke Preston visited Lambeau Field last week. If signed, Preston would provide depth at guard and center.
Daryn Colledge is likely to wind up at left guard rather than right tackle, McCarthy said, and Jason Spitz is expected to compete with Scott Wells for the starting center job. Overall, McCarthy reiterated he plans to elevate the competition along the offensive line with the hope that it "will take a big step" in 2009.
"I've said it over and over again and I'm going to say it again," McCarthy said. "I do want to create competition upfront and let those guys do their jobs, and try to get a little more continuity in the way we practice and the way we play."
DANA POINT, Calif. -- This might not be the name that Green Bay fans have been asking about, but the Packers have expressed interest in free-agent guard/center Duke Preston and could know whether he will sign with them before the NFL owners' meeting ends this week.
Preston started 11 games at center last season for Buffalo and the Bills remain interested in re-signing him. The Packers would seem to be set at center with incumbent Scott Wells, but both guard positions are in flux.
Preston was scheduled to visit Lambeau Field last week. He was originally the Bills' fourth-round pick in 2005.
The Chargers' running back situation remained the hot topic in the AFC West as Monday wore on.
ESPN's John Clayton reported that the contract talks between the team and running back LaDainian Tomlinson have been amicable and there is no team-imposed deadline to get a deal done. While both sides would like a resolution soon there is no deadline.
Still, if Tomlinson and the team don't come to an agreement to a new contract, he will likely be cut.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Union Tribune reports that reserve running back and return man Darren Sproles hasn't signed his franchise tag tender yet and he could conceivably miss a portion of the offseason before he signs it or until he signs an extension.
While Sproles could conceivably miss time there is virtually no way he will miss any time during the regular season because there is no way he will forego $6.62 million in 2009 salary.
Meanwhile, San Diego assistant coach and former Chargers receiver Charlie Joiner received a new bronze bust for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. His previous bust was destroyed in a fire two years ago.
While tackle Khalif Barnes is moving on with his visits, the word around the league is that Oakland is still in play for Buffalo center Duke Preston.
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