NFC Notes: Freeney, Berger, McClain, Hall

The Cardinals could still probably use Dwight Freeney this season, but depth chart and financial issues are complicating a reunion. The former All-Pro’s most recent employer plans to see what its younger pass-rushers are capable of before committing to another Freeney contract, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports.

Chandler Jones‘ arrival via trade fills a key need for one of the Super Bowl favorites, with less-experienced incumbents Alex Okafor and Shaq Riddick, along with CFL signee Tristan Okpalaugo representing the younger contingent opposite Markus Golden that are causing the team to pass on signing the 36-year-old Freeney for now. Another matter comes from Arizona’s preference to sign either Tyrann Mathieu, Michael Floyd or Calais Campbell to an extension this year, with the team’s preference that it be Mathieu.

The Cardinals possess $4.6MM in cap space and could probably afford Freeney on a veteran-minimum-type deal — the former Syracuse star played for $875K with $800K in incentives upon signing during last season — but are willing to gamble the productive situational sack artist will be available if they need him.

Freeney has visited the Falcons and Bengals in the last two weeks but indicated a seeming preference to return to Arizona, where he registered nine total sacks (one in the playoffs) in 12 games. Like Steve Keim, Dan Quinn didn’t rule out a signing down the road, so some options still likely exist for the former first-round pick.

Here’s the latest from around the NFC.

  • The Vikings are assembling one of the most experienced offensive lines in the NFL, but as OTAs progress, they don’t have a certain place in their starting lineup for Joe Berger. Pro Football Focus’ second-best center last season, Berger returns to the backup center spot he occupied before John Sullivan‘s season-ending injury last August. Minnesota should find a way to try him at another position — which would almost certainly be guard if the Vikes intend to do so — to maximize their talent up front, Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes. Berger rated as by far the best Vikings blocker last season, per PFF, and has started 26 games over the past two seasons after starting nine in his previous three campaigns in the Twin Cities. Hartman indicated next week the Vikes might reshuffle their line, which now houses Alex Boone and Andre Smith as potential right-side starters, in the near future.
  • Although the Cowboys‘ selection of Jaylon Smith in the second round this year points to a potential changing of the guard at middle linebacker in Dallas, that isn’t likely going to come in 2016. After signing a one-year, $5MM deal in March to stay in Dallas, Rolando McClain remains the projected starter there, but he’s absent from OTAs. Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News points to additional issues perhaps surrounding the 26-year-old McClain’s absence. George didn’t specify, but McClain has endured a complicated career that included a brief early retirement and continued with a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy to start 2015. Jason Garrett said McClain’s absence during the first two weeks of OTAs is related to a family matter. Combining that and the injury-related absences of Sean Lee and Barry Church should cause some concern, George writes. “It’s certainly disappointing when [players are] not here,” Stephen Jones said recently. “But at the same time we know there’s always circumstances where guys are gonna miss. And that doesn’t necessarily indicate if that guy’s gonna have a good year or a bad year. I think it certainly gives them a better chance to have a good year when they’re in our competitive offseason conditioning programs, the OTAs, all those things.”
  • DeAngelo Hall looks prepared to claim one of the Redskins‘ starting safety positions, Tarik El-Bashir of writes. The 32-year-old Hall made the switch last season, but this represents his first full offseason working as a safety. He rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 57 safety last season. David Bruton leads the competition for Washington’s strong safety spot.
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