Monday, March 15, 2010

Agent: Packers agree to new deal with RT Tauscher

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Veteran Green Bay Packers right tackle Mark Tauscher(notes) has agreed to terms on a multiyear contract that will bring him back to the team, his agent said Sunday.

Agent Neil Cornrich said the deal will allow Tauscher, who went to the University of Wisconsin, to play his entire football career in his home state. Tauscher was an unrestricted free agent.

Milwaukee’s ESPN 540 AM radio reported Tauscher’s return on its Web site Saturday night. The team has yet to announce the move.

Cornrich said Tauscher was thankful the team’s front office—including general manager Ted Thompson, vice president of football administration/player finance Russ Ball and coach Mike McCarthy—gave him the chance to finish his career with the Packers.

“He’s ecstatic,” Cornrich said. “Mark’s very grateful that Ted Thompson, Russ Ball and Coach McCarthy have worked so diligently to provide him an opportunity to return to the Green Bay Packers.”

Speaking at the team’s Fan Fest on Friday, McCarthy said he was optimistic about Tauscher’s return.

“I feel Mark Tauscher is definitely not too far away, and hopefully we’ll have some news for you there shortly,” McCarthy said.

The new deal for Tauscher completed a flurry of activity this weekend for the Packers, who also completed long-term deals with two cornerstones of what was a much-improved defense last season: nose tackle Ryan Pickett(notes) and safety Nick Collins(notes).

The Packers also recently re-signed veteran left tackle Chad Clifton(notes), who also was an unrestricted free agent.

“We’re focused on bringing our own free agents back, getting better as a football team, starting internally, and then we’ll add another draft class to this group,” McCarthy said Friday. “We like where we are today, but the importance of the offseason program and keeping your own players has been our focus, and that time is upon us now.”

Promising young lineman T.J. Lang(notes) could be in line to eventually replace Tauscher at right tackle. The team also is expected to look closely at offensive line prospects in the NFL draft.

Tauscher, Green Bay’s starting right tackle for most of his first nine seasons in the league, began the 2009 season out of football after a torn left anterior cruciate ligament ended his 2008 season.

The Packers brought Tauscher back in midseason after his replacement, Allen Barbre(notes), struggled on the field.

After working his way back into football shape, Tauscher returned to his starting spot, bringing stability to the NFL’s worst pass protection unit and earning praise from quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes)

Tomlinson signs 2-year deal with Jets

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Tomlinson’s agent, Tom Condon, said Sunday that the New York Jets signed the former Chargers running back to a two-year contract. The Jets confirmed that they have agreed to a deal, adding the aging star to the NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense last season.

“He wanted to go to a team that he thought had a chance to compete for the championship,” Condon told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “He wanted to go somewhere where he had a chance to have a significant role, and so with the Jets he also was going to be very familiar with the offensive system.”

The Jets reached the AFC championship game last season, eliminating Tomlinson and the Chargers along the way.

The 2006 NFL MVP, cut last month by San Diego, chose New York over Minnesota after visiting the Vikings on Thursday. Tomlinson spent Friday with the Jets, capping it with dinner with coach Rex Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and other team officials.

The Jets went after Tomlinson hard even though he turns 31 in June, is coming off his least productive season and there are questions whether he has much left. New York apparently still saw plenty to like from Tomlinson, who ranks eighth on the NFL’s career rushing list with 12,490 yards, and gave him a deal worth about $5.2 million.

Once one of the NFL’s most dynamic players, Tomlinson is expected to back up second-year running back Shonn Greene(notes), who emerged in his rookie season and made Thomas Jones(notes) expendable. Jones signed with Kansas City last week after running for a career-high 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Tomlinson was welcomed to the Jets by several of his new teammates on Twitter, including left tackle Damien Woody(notes), defensive end Mike DeVito(notes) and All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes).

“Good move by the organization,” Revis tweeted. “I couldn’t be more excited about this.”

Added Woody: “LaDainian running behind our line … I think he’ll put up better numbers than people think.”

Former Chargers teammate Antonio Cromartie(notes), acquired by the Jets before the trade deadline on March 4, said: “Congrats to my homie L.T.”

The Jets were already selling Tomlinson jerseys on their official Web site within minutes of announcing the deal. The $80 green and white replicas are without a jersey number for now; third-year cornerback Dwight Lowery(notes) currently wears Tomlinson’s familiar No. 21.

Tomlinson ran for 730 yards—his first season under 1,000—on 223 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per carry, all career lows. He scored 12 touchdowns, but his role was reduced in an offense that shifted its focus to quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) and the passing game.

He’s still regarded as an excellent route runner and superb receiver, two qualities that made him attractive to both New York and Minnesota.

Tomlinson is the latest high-profile player to be signed, drafted or acquired by the Jets in the last few years, joining Cromartie, Brett Favre(notes), Kris Jenkins(notes), Mark Sanchez(notes), Bart Scott(notes) and Braylon Edwards(notes).

With the Jets moving into the new Meadowlands Stadium, the 82,500-seat, $1.6 billion home they’ll share with the Giants, Tomlinson’s star power could potentially help the team sell more personal seat licenses.

More than that, though, New York hopes Tomlinson’s contributions on the field are greater. While he likely won’t be the focal point of the offense, as he had been for so many years with the Chargers—a role he has said he’s OK with—the Jets are hoping he can still be a dangerous presence with the ball in his hands.

He’s also familiar with the Jets’ style of offense and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who was San Diego’s quarterbacks coach from 2002-05. The Jets have Sanchez returning for a second season, along with a solid offensive line that helped pave the way for New York to average a league-leading 172.2 yards on the ground per game.

Those factors might have helped the Jets beat out the Vikings for Tomlinson’s services. While Minnesota was also just a game away from the Super Bowl, the uncertainty surrounding Favre’s return might have caused Tomlinson to hesitate about signing with the Vikings.

Tomlinson met with Minnesota team officials Thursday, but left for the New York area without a deal. He then spent all of Friday with the Jets—touring the team’s facility and the new stadium—before returning home to San Diego to mull his options on Saturday.

He was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2001 out of TCU, and immediately became a star as he helped the Chargers become a perennial playoff contender. His 138 career touchdowns rushing rank second in NFL history, and his 153 total touchdowns rank third.

NFL-Tomlinson charges across country to NY Jets

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Tomlinson, who was recently released after nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, had visited several potential teams before choosing the Jets in a two-year contract worth slightly more than $5 million, the New York Times reported.

The 30-year-old will boost a Jets team that reached the AFC championship game last season and was the top-ranked rushing team in the league.

The Jets recently released long time running back Thomas Jones(notes) and Tomlinson join second year running back Shonn Greene(notes) in the back field.

Tomlinson rushed for 12,490 yards and 153 touchdowns, won two rushing titles and was named the NFL MVP in 2006 while with the Chargers.

Walker healthy, hungry for another chance after release by Raiders

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Javon Walker was released by the Oakland Raiders earlier this week, but he says he isn't done with the NFL.

Multiple injuries and incomparable tragedy have derailed Walker's career since he caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns with the Denver Broncos in 2006. However, Walker professed Friday on NFL Network that after several surgeries — including an experimental procedure on his right knee — he's 100 percent healthy and ready to play for whatever team is willing to give him a chance.

"The NFL is all about what have you done for me lately, and you know, I haven't done anything lately,” Walker admitted. “But (I'm) just (looking for) somebody who's going to dig down deep and say, 'Let's take a look and see what this kid can do.'"

Appearing on the NFL Total Access set, Walker told host Fran Charles that a broken ankle and lingering knee problems from his time in Denver never allowed him to perform at the level the Raiders had hoped he would when they signed him to a six-year, $55 million contract before the 2008 season. Walker went on to start seven games for the Raiders that year, catching 15 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown.

Since then, Walker, who appeared in three games for the Raiders last season, traveled to Israel to have an experimental surgery (without the team's knowledge) in which cartilage from his knee was regrown, then inserted into the knee. Walker said the procedure, which is usually performed on soccer players, has allowed him to regain his explosiveness at age 31.

As surprised as the Raiders must have been to learn about Walker's lingering knee problems and the distance he traveled to fix them, the receiver said he was equally shocked when the team offered him such a hefty contract two years ago.

"It was a surprise to me," Walker said. "But, you know, like any human, if somebody offers you something good, I wasn’t going to say no. … Really, football has never been about the money to me, but what the Raiders offered, it’s not like I'm going to turn it down and say, 'Hey, you know, I don't think I deserve this.' I was like 'OK, maybe I can be a part of the puzzle to make this organization go again.'"

Walker also discussed the Thursday conviction of a suspected gang member in the murder of his friend and former Broncos teammate, Darrent Williams. Walker was in the limousine with Williams when he was gunned down in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2007.

"I'm mostly happy for his family," Walker said. “For them, obviously they can't get Darrent Williams back, but at least they get some closure on that whole situation, what occured. At least they got the guy who committed such a, to me, horrifying tragedy."

Packers defensive cornerstones Collins, Pickett locked up long term

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The Green Bay Packers signed safety Nick Collins and nose tackle Ryan Pickett to long-term contract extensions Friday, securing the services of two cornerstones in their much-improved defense.

The team didn't release details of either deal, but Collins' agents, Dave Butz and Alan Herman, confirmed a report on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Web site that their client received a three-year, $23.4 million contract.

A league source told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora that Pickett agreed to a four-year, $28 million deal, with $10 million coming in the first year. Pickett was an unrestricted free agent, but the Packers placed the franchise tag on him earlier in the offseason. Collins was a restricted free agent.

The deal marks the end of a long wait for Collins, who was angling for a contract extension before last season. But if he was unhappy with his contract status, it didn't show on the field. Collins was selected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl last season, and he has 13 interceptions in the last two seasons.

"The Packers always try to be proactive in our discussions with our current players, and we are pleased we were able to come to an agreement with Nick," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement released by the team. "Nick has been an impact player for us, and we look forward to having him continue his career as a Packer."

Pickett, whom the Packers signed as a free agent before the 2006 season, was a vital part of what was one of the NFL's best run defenses under new coordinator Dom Capers and his 3-4 alignment last season.

"We have continued to talk to Ryan and his representatives and are pleased we were able to sign Ryan to this extension," Thompson said. "He has been a key part of our success on defense, and we look forward to having Ryan be a part of our future in Green Bay."

After re-signing veteran left tackle Chad Clifton -- and watching standout pass rusher Aaron Kampman sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent -- the Packers' top remaining offseason priority is the status of veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who's an unrestricted free agent.

Also Friday, the Packers unveiled a throwback-style third jersey and uniform that the team will wear for selected games during this season, and perhaps beyond.

Redskins try to solidify backfield by giving Johnson three-year deal

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Not content with just one aging, opinionated running back, the Redskins added a second one Friday night when they signed Larry Johnson to a three-year, incentive-laden contract.

Johnson agreed to a deal with a base value of $3.5 million, but he could make as much as $12 million if he meets certain incentives.

Johnson joins Clinton Portis in what should make for an intriguing backfield dynamic under new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. Johnson is 30, Portis is 28 -- although Portis' body has been battered by 50 percent more carries. Both have been to two Pro Bowls. Both need to show some sort of resurgence rather than a steady decline toward retirement.

And both have been known to get in trouble for saying too much.

Johnson ended his season with the Cincinnati Bengals after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs in November. His six-plus years in Kansas City were marred by off-the-field problems, including two suspensions in his last 12 months with the team. The final straw came when he posted a gay slur on his Twitter account, insulted followers and questioned the competence of head coach Todd Haley.

Johnson's most productive years were 2005 and 2006, when he had back-to-back 1,750-yard seasons. He has 6,219 yards and 55 touchdowns on 1,421 carries over eight NFL seasons, plus 154 catches for 1,373 yards and six TDs.

Shanahan and Redskins general manager Bruce Allen have said Portis will be the team's running back next season, but he ended 2009 on injured reserve with a concussion. He ran for a career-low 494 yards and didn't have the burst of speed from earlier in his career.

The flamboyant Portis hasn't shied from publicly criticizing coaches and teammates in years past, and he hasn't been a fan of the team's offseason workout program.

On Thursday, Shanahan guaranteed that Portis will be in attendance when the offseason workouts begin Monday. With Johnson and Portis both on the roster, the Redskins have insurance in case one or the other misbehaves or is unproductive.

"Competition is a great motivator," Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer, said Friday.

Schaffer said Johnson also was motivated to return to the Washington area, where he grew up as a Redskins fan.

The Redskins have taken a different approach to free agency under Shanahan. Johnson is the fourth player signed in eight days, but none of the contracts have been blockbusters -- and he's by far the biggest name added to date.

"We are excited to bring in a running back that has had so much success in this league," Shanahan said in a statement released by the team. "Larry is a physical runner who will be a great addition to our backfield."

Bucs sign veteran Alston to bolster linebacker corps

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed free agent linebacker Jon Alston.

The club announced the deal Friday.

Alston was a third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2006. He spent the past three seasons with the Oakland Raiders, appearing in 39 games with eight starts.