While much talk has been expended on the Patriots' possible interest in Randy Moss, a far more viable possibility is being dangled in Seattle. The Seahawks would like to trade Darrell Jackson for a first-day pick but not a first-round selection.
Jackson was leading the NFL in touchdowns last season when a turf-toe injury forced him to miss the final three games. The injury prevented him from reaching his third 1,000-yard season in four years, but Jackson still led Seattle with 63 catches for 956 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has made at least 60 receptions five times in seven seasons.
Trouble arose with Seahawks management two years ago after former team president Bob Whitsitt allegedly shorted Jackson on a contract offer. Jackson said he signed the deal anyway at the urging of his father. Whitsitt has dismissed the charge as preposterous, while present club president Tim Ruskell has refused to honor a promise that another person denies making. The dispute has escalated, with the Seahawks and Jackson's agents exchanging blunt letters.
When Ruskell became Seahawks president in February 2005, one of his first moves was to issue a letter to players outlining his expectations. He urged full participation in the team's offseason program, including minicamps, but Jackson let it be known he would honor his contract, but nothing more. Jackson subsequently skipped the voluntary portions of minicamps.
Problems continued after Jackson suffered a right knee injury on Oct. 2, 2005, against Washington. Jackson had bruised the knee earlier in the season and he suffered cartilage damage against the Redskins, raising questions in his mind about whether he should have been on the field.
The cartilage damage did not show up on initial tests, and the team recommended rest. The team ruled out Jackson for the next game. Jackson, acting on the advice of his agents, sought a second opinion and later underwent surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his right knee.
That led Jackson to wonder whether the Seahawks had rushed him back. He missed the next nine games, returning in time for the playoffs. He caught 20 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games and then underwent a second procedure after the season. He missed minicamps and training camp, maintaining he would be ready for the opener, which he was.
By then the Seahawks had shipped a 2006 third-round pick to Minnesota after signing Nate Burleson, a restricted free agent, and a 2007 first-round choice to New England for Deion Branch. When D.J. Hackett also flashed potential, setting career highs with 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, it made Jackson expendable. He has three years remaining on a six-year, $25 million deal, with salaries of $3.25 million, $4 million, and $4.75 million, a good value for a team without a top receiver.
Meanwhile in Oakland, many people believe Moss tanked much of last season because he didn't like quarterback Aaron Brooks. At one point, Moss asked to be traded, and when that didn't happen, the Raiders believe he went through the motions the rest of the year.
If true, that calls into question Moss's professionalism. Whatever the reason, according to Stats Inc., Moss dropped eight of 97 targeted throws last year or 8.5 percent of the passes thrown to him. In his three previous seasons, he dropped just 14 of 381, or 3.7 percent.
He sat out the final three games with an ankle injury of disputed severity. Now the Raiders are trying to unload him for a second-round pick.
Chiefs president Carl Peterson said, "It's everyone's fault except his. I thought Art [Shell] really tried to work hard this year to make him a leader, but that's not his personality.
"He's never done anything to hurt the Chiefs. He was a great talent but you can't play at that [current] level for a while and come back."
In other words, at least one team that has seen Moss play regularly the past few years believes he's finished. A goodly portion of the personnel men in the Raider organization -- although not all -- believe Moss has lost a step and will never again be the explosive touchdown-maker he once was.
Speaking of hypocrisy . . .
At the NFL combine last week, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin found it all but impossible to practice what he preaches.
Coughlin claims to be a big advocate of keeping things "in the family" -- but after retired running back Tiki Barber gave him one more kick in the pants on his way out the door, Coughlin dropped the muzzle, saying, "I think I'm compelled to say something about this. I don't necessarily like to, but . . ."
In a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do," Coughlin pointed out that before he came to the Giants in 2004, "Tiki had a very poor year. There had been some ball-security issues that obviously could have been detrimental to his career."
Coughlin said he and running backs coach Jerald Ingram watched Barber on film and came up with specific drills to teach him a new ball-carrying technique Coughlin called "high and tight."
"To his credit, he mastered that . . . to the point that in 2005 he had 411 touches and only one fumble," Coughlin said, patting himself on the back.
He went on to call Barber "an exceptional, exceptional football player."
Then Coughlin pointed out that in the last three seasons, Barber had averaged 177 yards rushing in the final game, all of which were won by the Giants, an effort to defend himself from charges that he had overworked Barber and his team.
"So while my regimen may be a grind -- and this is the first time I've ever seen that or heard that from Tiki -- the record speaks for itself," said Coughlin, leaving out the fact that his team collapsed in the second half each of the past two years. He then went on to challenge Barber's criticism of the amount of time the Giants were in pads late in the season before speaking of a sign that hangs in the Giants' locker room.
According to Coughlin, the sign reads, "Coaching is making players do what they don't want to do so they can become what they want to become."
"That kind of sums up my feelings in regard to that," said the coach.
Well, not completely.
The normally taciturn Coughlin then talked about a team being like a family and how his door is always open and how ready he is to listen, something Barber and other veteran Giants such as Michael Strahan and Jeremy Shockey seemed to dispute. Then, incredibly, he said, "If [problems] stay within, they can be handled within, things can be done to put things in the right perspective to know exactly where, if improvements need to be made, they can be addressed.
"But they don't have to be addressed through the media. They don't have to give the illusion that our team is not functioning as one because that, quite frankly, was not the case."
New Cardinals coach views Shipp as a special player
Old friend Marcel Shipp, one of the greatest running backs to come out of the University of Massachusetts, got a strong endorsement from his new boss, Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, at the NFL combine. Shipp, a free agent, has a strong offer from the Cardinals to stay put.
"Marcel Shipp has been impressive to me from what I see on tape," Whisenhunt said. "He has had some injury problems, but I see a good, physical young back. The thing that has impressed me about Marcel Shipp is his contributions on special teams.
"I think he would be a big contributor for us."
In the recent past, the Cardinals have tried to chase Shipp off with bigger-name backs such as Thomas Jones, Emmitt Smith, and last year Edgerrin James. Shipp outplayed both Jones and Smith but never succeeded in convincing the Cardinals that he deserved the ball full-time.
Now that job belongs to James, but it sounds as if Shipp has his own role if he chooses to stay, which sources close to him say he might.
Spreading the misery
As if the Cleveland Browns don't have enough problems, they recently had their entire building coated with an anti-staph-infection gel after an epidemic appeared to break out. This has led some to speculate that free agents might think twice about going there, and not simply because the Browns haven't been able to find a way to win in years. "We've been very proactive in addressing that situation," said general manager Phil Savage. "We feel like some of the occurrences we've had could very easily have come from out in the public environment rather than in our own building. I think those cases have been documented by the Cleveland Clinic. The main reason we waited [to coat the facility] is because the building is basically empty right now with all of us out here at the combine. If somebody has a question about it, a free agent player, we feel we can answer it to their satisfaction."
Needing the dough
The Vikings' salary-cap room shot up to about $30 million after the release of Brad Johnson and Fred Smoot and other bookkeeping maneuvers by Rob Brzezinski, the team's cap guru. Their cap space was about $13 million barely a week earlier.
Cowboy isn't riding off
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones acknowledges that he's concerned about Terrell Owens's upcoming finger surgery and the receiver's ability to be ready for the 2007 season, but he said the surgery and rehab will have no effect on his decision to pay Owens a $3 million roster bonus in June to guarantee his $5 million salary for next year. Jones expects Owens to attend the team's offseason program even if he's not healthy enough to participate, so he can get as much mental preparation as possible. Owens participated in only a handful of offseason workouts at the team's Valley Ranch complex last year. Owens turns 34 in December and Terry Glenn turns 33 before the season begins, so the Cowboys need to begin looking for a lead receiver for the future regardless.
Ron Borges's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.