Black Monday in NFL:

Around the League: Cardinals look to lock up young talent

The SportsXchange

Third-year linebacker Daryl Washington, whose importance to the team was recently cited by general manager Rod Graves, isn't the only Arizona player under consideration for a contract extension.

The Cardinals have quietly begun extension talks with fourth-year veteran return man and special teams ace LaRod Stephens-Howling, and could make the former seventh-round pick one of the higher paid non-kicking special teams players in the league.

Stephens-Howling is signed to a one-year restricted tender at $1.927 million, and the Cardinals would like to lower that cap number with a multi-year deal. Not to mention being able to keep Stephens-Howlings, who has worked hard to make himself a vital part of the roster.

--Pittsburgh coaches are excited by the early work of Willie Colon, who is moving from right tackle to left guard on the team's revamped offensive line, in camp. But the team wants to see how Colon, who has essentially missed the past two seasons because of injuries, responds to all of the pulling and trapping and counter-blocking the Steelers' offense historically asks of the left guard.

And how well he gets downfield to lead screen passes that figure to be a bigger part of Haley's design. So far, while Colon has mauled people in camp in the move to a position many always felt could be his best spot, the running plays have mainly been.

More on the Pittsburgh line: The smart money so far is on veteran Max Starks, not second-round rookie Mike Adams, opening the season as the team's starting left tackle.

--There has been incremental progress on the talks aimed at finishing a contract extension for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, but still a few rough spots with which to contend. One positive is that Ravens' vice president Pat Moriarty and agent Joe Linta have demonstrated a great deal of mutual respect. Discussions have been well based and avoided acrimony.

--There was nothing ulterior about the Eagles' acquisition this week of Indianapolis cornerback Kevin Thomas for a pair of linebackers who probably weren't going to make the Philadelphia roster anyway. Just chalk it up, one Philly assistant said, to the belief you can never have enough good corners, not to any unhappiness with the players at the position.

Thomas was a guy the Eagles liked in the 2010 draft, the former third-rounder has some starting experience, and he should fit well as a No. 4 option behind Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and camp flash Curtis Marsh.

--Eagles special teams coordinator Bobby April, who promised the team's return game would be much better this season, is pumped by the performances of rookies Brandon Boykin (kickoffs) and Damaris Johnson (punts) so far.

--Houston coaches were impressed early on with third-round rookie guard Brandon Brooks, viewed as a steal despite not having attended the combine last February, but the former University of Ohio standout won't legitimately challenge for a starting job until he gets his weight better under control. The shortcoming has caused Brooks some problems with the heat in camp.

--The early results with Tim Tebow running the "Wildcat" offense for the Jets have been positive, but no one is suggesting the former Heisman Trophy winner will be anything more than a change-up quarterback, given his continuing lack of accuracy. Still, Tebow "presents a problem (for defenses)," acknowledged safety Yeremiah Bell. "I was in Miami when they had Pat White operating the (Wildcat) offense," Bell said. "The big thing with (White) was that he could add a throwing dimension, but he didn't. Tebow definitely can."

--Free agent tailback Cedric Benson remains prominent among the remaining unsigned veteran who could catch on with a team in the next few weeks of camp. But not until Benson lowers his salary expectations.

--The old camp adage that you can never have enough offensive linemen, basically because they sustain so many injuries in the summer, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy for some clubs. There are teams who are really poring over "ready" lists at the position to fill in because of injuries. Witness, the Cowboys working out guards Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery and tackle Daniel Loper.
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