Patriots possibly near deal with Moss
The New England Patriots did not designate receiver Randy Moss as their franchise player by yesterday's 4 p.m. deadline, but the move may not have been made because it won't be necessary. The feeling here is that Moss and the Patriots are close to a long-term deal and he won't test the free agent market. If the Pats have come to a multi-year agreement with Moss, it cannot be announced until Feb. 29, the first day of the new NFL year.

Jets Vilma to Jags or Saints?
Jonathan Vilma's days with the Jets are numbered. The popular linebacker, whose star has dimmed in two seasons under Eric Mangini, has received permission from the Jets to shop himself for a potential trade, the Daily News has learned. It doesn't mean a trade is a certainty, but it's a tacit acknowledgement from both sides that Vilma and Mangini's 3-4 scheme aren't a match. Vilma, with one year remaining on his rookie contract, also is looking for a long-term deal. Now, with the Jets' blessing, he has the ability to speak with any team. Sources believe the Jets could get a third-round pick, perhaps slightly higher, for a healthy Vilma. The Jaguars and Saints are believed to be among the potential suitors.

Eagles making push for Asante Samuel?
Andy Reid said one could not assume that both of them will return healthy in 2008, which fuels the speculation that the Eagles could make a real push for New England's Asante Samuel, the premier free-agent cornerback. The Patriots were unable to place the franchise tag on Samuel because of a stipulation in his contract that prevented that from happening once the team won 12 games.

Giants open to new Strahan deal
One year after refusing to renegotiate Michael Strahan's contract, the Giants might have a change of heart. Co-owner John Mara said Thursday the Giants might be open to redoing Strahan's deal if the defensive end decides not to retire. He is currently signed only through next season and is due a salary of $4 million. "We'll have to talk about that and see," Mara said. "I'm not ruling it out." The 36-year-old Strahan hasn't informed the Giants of his plans yet, although he's expected to do so sometime in March. "Well, we'd like to know," Mara said. "But you know what? He's earned the right to take his time. We certainly want him back." -- NY Daily News

Bucs talk trade with Broncos for Walker
The Bucs have had discussions with the Denver Broncos about trading for receiver Javon Walker. The Broncos have made no secret of their desire to part ways with Walker, who is owed an option bonus of $5.4-million March 4. Walker said at the end of the of the season that he wanted to find a 'better fit,' elsewhere. -- St. Petersburg Times

Seahawks could release Alexander
Pro football Talk is hearing multiple rumblings from our connections at the Scouting Combine that the Seahawks could be cutting running back Shaun Alexander soon. A media source told us moments ago that the move could come "in the next couple of days." It would be the last step in a dramatic fall from grace for running back the NFL's MVP in 2005. Once Alexander got rewarded with a big contract in 2006, his performance began to dip. In 2007, he was, as the league insider types say, "just a guy." -- Pro Football Talk

Rams and Bucs want Bengals DE Smith
Word around the NFL scouting combine is defensive end Justin Smith, who becomes an unrestricted free agent Feb. 29, will attract plenty of attention. His home-state St. Louis Rams need help at defensive end, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also could be major bidders for Smith. -- Cincinnati Enquirer

Favre unhappy with Packers GM?
Coming off a season in which Brett Favre finished second in the MVP voting, most figured it was a foregone conclusion he'd return. But Favre's season ended with a thud when his overtime interception helped the Giants defeat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. And a WISN-TV report earlier this week said Favre - according to a source - was unhappy that Packers general manager Ted Thompson hadn't called to ask him back. -- Milwaukee Journal

Browns' next priority is to sign Derek Anderson
Browns General Manager Phil Savage met Thursday evening with the agents for quarterback Derek Anderson, but didn't reach an agreement. With running back Jamal Lewis under contract, the Browns can now turn their attention to their other priority this off-season - getting Anderson signed before he becomes a restricted free agent next Thursday. Heading into the meeting, the Browns had their focus on a three-year deal, while Anderson's agents were still interested in exploring a six-year alternative. They also had substantial ground to make up on the financial terms. But Savage said Thursday that he's still optimistic an agreement can be reached by Feb. 28, when the Browns would have to make Anderson a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent.

Chargers Turner to Charlotte?
Panthers officials have indicated they want to have a more balanced offense with a power running attack. Perhaps the best player they could pursue in free agency starting Feb. 29 is San Diego's Michael Turner, who has averaged 5.5 yards per carry serving as the backup to All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson.

New Claim of Taping Emerges Against Patriots
The Patriots' pattern of illicitly videotaping the signals of opposing N.F.L. coaches began in Coach Bill Belichick's first preseason with the team in 2000, a former Patriots player said. The information was put to use in that year's regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Belichick's debut as New England's coach. The secret taping of signals, which is against league rules, continued at least through three championship seasons to the 2007 season opener against the Jets, when the Patriots were caught and subsequently sanctioned by the league. As coaches and executives gathered here Thursday for the N.F.L. scouting combine, many saying they were satisfied with the league's investigation and ready to move on, new details were emerging about the history of the Patriots' videotaping. According to several executives in the league, the season opener against the Jets was not the first time the Patriots had been spotted taping another team's defensive coaches at Giants Stadium. In the final preseason game of 2006, the Patriots were caught taping Giants defensive assistant giving signals, executives said.

Broncos working to deal Walker
Receiver Javon Walker ended the season saying he didn't think he was a good fit for the Broncos. Therefore, the team has had preliminary trade talks about moving Walker. Deals can't be finalized until next Friday. Among the teams believed to be interested is Tampa Bay. Other teams expected to at least inquire about Walker include Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Chicago and the New York Jets. -- Denver Post

Bears GM confident Urlacher will be ready for season
Brian Urlacher's neck surgery caught Jerry Angelo by surprise, but the Bears' general manager is confident the six-time Pro Bowl player will be fine. "Brian's doing well," Angelo said. "He's rehabbing in Phoenix under our direction. Everything we've heard has been positive based on the surgery. It did come up unexpectedly. It wasn't anything that we (knew about in advance) as in most surgeries. "But he's feeling a lot better, and we are very optimistic. What he's going to do in the off-season program and how that's all going to work out, I don't know that yet." -- Arlington Heights Daily Herald

Long-term deal for Trufant priority for Hawks
Seahwks GM Tim Ruskell still would rather sign Marcus Trufant to a long-term deal to reduce the size of that $9.5 million footprint on the salary cap. "All that cash does make it difficult," Ruskell said. "We've had to pull back on some of our other plans." -- Seattle P-I

Chargers looking to trade Neal
The Chargers will be trying to trade fullback Lorenzo Neal and will begin contract talks with strong safety Clinton Hart. Neal's agent and Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith confirmed yesterday that the team will attempt to trade the fullback rather than release him. "I talked with Coach (Norv) Turner, Lorenzo and (agent) Steve Feldman regarding his future," Smith said. "We will explore trade opportunities and see if anything works out for all parties. Lo is under contract for three more years. As always, we will do what's in the best interest of the Chargers." Neal, 37, asked to be released because he knows his role on the team will be reduced in 2008, if the Chargers decide to keep him. When Smith declined an immediate release, Neal asked to be traded.

Eagles' Reid, Banner say Patriots didn't steal Super Bowl XXXIX
While Arlen Specter still might not be convinced that the Eagles' Super Bowl XXXIX loss to the New England Patriots was on the up and up, Joe Banner and Andy Reid are. Banner, the Eagles' president, and Reid, the team's head coach, would love to believe that Bill Belichick cheated his way to victory 3 years ago in Jacksonville. They would love to blame their 24-21 loss on a guy on a grassy knoll with a video camera. But they can't. "Our view is that the league should do a thorough investigation and get all the information they possibly can," Banner said yesterday during a break at the NFL scouting combine. "But we're comfortable with the outcome of the game and the way it happened. The result is what the result is. Nothing is going to change that. We need to move forward. It's not an issue for us." -- Philadelphia Daily News

Jauron wants QB Losman back with Buffalo
Spoke to Bills coach Dick Jauron Thursday. He was rather vague on most subjects, but a couple of things caught my attention. He knows that quarterback J.P. Losman wants to be traded, but stopped short of saying the team will grant his request. Jauron clearly wants Losman back, but I just don't see how that would happen, Losman will not accept backing up T. Edwards.

Ex-Falcon Crumpler to meet teams at Combine
Tight end Alge Crumpler, who battled through injuries last year and was released by the Falcons after his seventh NFL season, plans to meet with several teams in Indianapolis beginning Friday. Crumpler listed at least seven teams that he might meet with: Green Bay, Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cowboys could redo Romo's contract?
The Cowboys will probably have to create more salary cap room by restructuring contracts or releasing players to keep all of their free agents and sign others. One possibility is restructuring Tony Romo's contract. The quarterback is scheduled to count $8.4 million against the cap, but the Cowboys can lower that figure by turning some of it into a signing bonus.

Panthers tried to trade DeShaun Foster, before release
The Panthers attempted to trade DeShaun Foster the past two weeks, but found no takers. "We had talked to some teams and basically had talked to De-Shaun and told him we're going to go in another direction at this point," general manager Marty Hurney said from the NFL scouting combine. "We're kind of re-working our look on offense." Hurney said it was a hard decision to part with Foster. "He is everything you draw up as a person and a player that we want as a Panther," Hurney said. "He's loyal. He's been an excellent player for us. "He's done everything we've asked. We certainly wish him the best because he's always going to be at the top of the list when we think about the players who were here." -- Charlotte Observer

Jets coach talks with Laveranues
Jets coach Eric Mangini said he has spoken with disgruntled WR Laveranues Coles, and even exchanged text messages, but that was before Coles reportedly said the Jets "lied" to him about his contract situation. Mangini said he and Coles "have a very good relationship" and promised "we'll sit down here, at some point when he comes in, talk through a lot of different things."

Bears GM: we aren't rebuilding
Even with the possibility of starters Lance Briggs, Bernard Berrian and Rex Grossman leaving in free agency, and the release earlier in the week of starters Muhsin Muhammad, Fred Miller and Darwin Walker, Jerry Angelo doesn't consider his team in a rebuilding phase. "I don't know if the right word is rebuilding because we like to think that the players that we have (stepping) in there are going to be quality players," he said. "They might be new, but they're going to have the traits that we look for. There's going to be some growing pains. I don't necessarily say it would be rebuilding."

Minor changes coming to Cowboys offense
As Jason Garrett looks to 2008, he said minor changes will be made to the Cowboys offense. "It's more kind of tweaking," Garrett said from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "The same things teams do year to year. We went through and watched it all. We're making evaluations of what we did that were good things and things we want to change. That's going on with all parts of our offense, but I think it'll be pretty similar to what we've been doing." The biggest change is line coach Hudson Houck, the only new member of the offensive staff. He was with Garrett with the Cowboys as a player and with him as a coach in Miami. They can speak the same language.

NFL brass say Brett Favre deserves time
Brett Favre's annual retirement decision is in full swing . . . again. And to Green Bay Packers fans everywhere, it has become a relatively annoying rite of winter. Favre, who's in his sixth year of playing the "will he or won't he" game, has kept the Packers wondering about his future for 33 days since the season ended on Jan. 20. During the National Football League scouting combine Thursday, many of the league's powers-that-be were asked their opinions about Favre's yearly dance. The general feeling was that the 38-year-old, three-time most valuable player had earned the right to take his sweet time. "Veteran guys, especially guys like Brett, they've earned the right to take some time and make a decision about what they want to do," New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "That's just my opinion" Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, agreed. "I'd tell him take whatever time he wants and I'll see you in the fall," Martz said. "And if you want me to go fishing, I'd be happy to join you. That's what I'd tell Brett."

Ravens redo Ogden's contract
The Ravens have restructured the contract of offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, which is expected to give the team enough salary cap room to keep the franchise tag on linebacker Terrell Suggs and re-sign their restricted free agents. Ogden's salary has been reduced from $7.5 million to $2.5 million, which creates $5 million in cap space, according to players union records. It's likely the $5 million has been converted into bonuses Ogden would receive if he attends offseason camps and training camp. But the Ravens might not have to pay those bonuses because Ogden said last month that he is still leaning toward retiring.

Steelers not worried about Starks health?
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert insists that the Max Starks deal was not motivated by left tackle Marvel Smith's back injury and said the Steelers expect Smith to make a full recovery for next season.

Carolina could bring back WR Muhammad
Carolina also intends to add receivers to its passing game. They're considering signing former Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who was released by Chicago, and plan to explore the health of ex-Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler to determine whether to make him an offer. -- Charlotte Observer

Packers could grab USC's Fred Davis?
Green Bay's Donald Lee had a breakout season in which he caught 48 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Lee. 27, parlayed his big season into a four-year, $11.9 million contract extension, but the Packers would love to find a younger player to complement him. Southern California's Fred Davis is widely regarded as the best tight end in this class and the only player worthy of a first-round pick. But others such as Notre Dame's John Carlson, Missouri's Martin Rucker and Tennessee's Brad Cottam, along with underclassmen Martellus Bennett of Texas A&M and Texas' Finley, could all go in the first three rounds. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Pro Bowl visitor arrivals down 3.8%
Visitors who came to Hawaii specifically for the 2008 Pro Bowl spent $28.07 million, a slight increase over last year's $28.03 million. Tax revenue from visitors who came to Hawaii for the game fell to $2.5 million in 2008, from $2.72 million in 2007, according to figures from the state. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 774 fewer visitors came to Hawaii specifically to attend the 2008 game -- 19,834, down 3.8 percent from 20,608 in 2007. The authority said 53 percent of out-of-towners this year reported household incomes of more than $75,000 a year, up from 46 percent a year ago. Attendance overall fell 1.6 percent to 49,621 from 50,410 in 2007.

Who Knew?
USA Today reported that last year, the average guaranteed contract for a first-round pick was $10.853 million. Second-rounders averaged $1.8 million, third-rounders $662,000. -- Cincinnati Enquirer

Martz: Lions 'absolutely fired me'
Mike Martz preferred to talk about his new job with the San Francisco 49ers and kept trying to steer the conversation that way, but with some persistent questioning he did drop a few interesting nuggets of information about his former team, the Detroit Lions. Martz, interviewed at the NFL scouting combine, revealed for the first time that he was actually fired by the Lions. "Oh yeah, they fired me. They absolutely fired me," said Martz, who is now the offensive coordinator for the 49ers. With neither Martz or the team declaring the departure to be a firing or a resignation, it was believed to be a mutual departure. "When they fired me, then it became mutual -- I agreed that I should probably go. That's how it became mutual," Martz said.

Browns interested in Bears Briggs?
A few big-name defenders set to hit the market might interest the Browns. One is Chicago fourth-year linebacker Lance Briggs, who had 84 tackles and two sacks last season. Another is Bengals pass-rushing defensive end Justin Smith, an eight-year pro. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

Panthers Morgan to Broncos?
There has been some cursory interest in another linebacker - Dan Morgan, late of Carolina. Morgan is only 29 but has had a history of injuries, including missing 28 games past two seasons because of a concussion & Achilles' tear.

Raiders and Bucs eye WR Berrian
Oakland and Tampa Bay are just two of the many teams that have a strong interest in Bernard Berrian. Skeptics wonder if he had too many dropped passes this season, but there's no denying his deep-threat ability. Berrian finished the season with a team-leading 70 catches for 948 yards and five touchdowns. -- Chicago Tribune