Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the NFC:
• Is the prospect of the Cardinals actually trading star WR Larry Fitzgerald for a slew of draft picks more than just juicy talk-radio fodder in the desert these days? “It is pure speculation right now,” one team insider told PFW. “Larry will never talk about it, but it will be interesting to see if he actually does ask to be traded in the offseason. It’s conceivable, I guess. It all depends on which direction the organization decides to go. I would think it could really be hard to sell tickets without your top box-office draw. Plus, you’d be talking about a cap hit in the double-digit millions. Right now, it’s a hot topic on the airways that seems a lot less likely when you start to realistically look at the situation.”
• 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio considers himself to be a lucky man with all four of his linebackers locked up for at least three more seasons following the Nov. 27 signing of NaVorro Bowman to a five-year contract extension worth up to $45.25 million ($25.5 million guaranteed). “I think it speaks well for the organization that they’ve been able to do that in this age of the salary cap. And it’s not always easy to keep your good players together.” Fangio said. “Hopefully we can keep those guys together for a long time.”
• With Niners slot receiver-RS Kyle Williams lost for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, the best early guess was that either first-round rookie A.J. Jenkins, who has yet to see action this season, or veteran free-agent addition Randy Moss would probably take over most of Williams’ slot duties. But we hear the most likely adjustment will be for the team to use WRs Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree more in slot situations. “Manningham worked out of the slot a lot with the Giants,” one team source said. “With all those read routes, the slot could be pretty tricky for Jenkins.”
• The way we hear it, don’t be surprised if the Lions look to re-sign DT Corey Williams, who’s a free agent at season’s end. A respected defensive leader, the 32-year-old Williams is still regarded as a capable player, with one NFL evaluator who studied the Lions earlier this season noting that the club missed the veteran defensive tackle when he was out of the lineup. A knee injury has limited Williams to six games this season, opening the door for second-year DT Nick Fairley to step into the lineup. While Fairley has played well, there could well be room for both players next season.
• Before the Seahawks seriously consider re-signing any upcoming free agents such as DLs Jason Jones and Alan Branch, we hear a bigger priority could be restructuring a new contract for Pro Bowl SS Kam Chancellor. The third-year pro is signed through 2014 but is looking at a big spike in pay in 2013 after meeting playing-time escalators in his current deal.
• We hear the Rams probably will not make much of an effort to re-sign starting FS Craig Dahl, who will be eligible to hit the free-agent market this offseason.
• Falcons FS Thomas DeCoud and SS William Moore — who were part of the first and second draft classes, respectively, selected by GM Thomas Dimitroff — are among the league’s most productive safety tandems this season. They have combined for 11 of Atlanta’s 24 takeaways this season. “Both of those guys, fourth- and fifth-year guys, are really starting to get an understanding of what it takes to be a top flight defensive back,” head coach Mike Smith said. “I think they’re both playing at a very high level right now.”
• Panthers DT Sione Fua is back in the starting lineup, but only because Carolina’s top nose tackle, Ron Edwards, was placed on injured reserve this week. Fua, a third-round pick in 2011, started 11 games as a rookie, when Edwards missed the entire season because of injury. He has backed Edwards this season, and team insiders expect Fua to be a downgrade at the position.
• Bears OLG Lance Louis’ main focus at the moment is recovering from the torn ACL that ended his season in Week 12, but he has a contract situation that will need to be sorted out, too. Louis is due to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and, prior to his injury, league evaluators told PFW he was playing well enough to draw considerable interest if he were to hit the open market.