At the February combine, Bears coach Lovie Smith scoffed at the notion that running backs are being devalued. "Not in Chicago," he said. "With our philosophy, there will always be a premium placed on the running back." Interesting, then, that the Bears appear no closer to a long-term deal with Forte, the all-purpose back who over the past four seasons ranks seventh in the league in rushing yards, second in receptions among backs and sixth in yards from scrimmage. At least three of his backups made more than Forte during that time, and last week Chicago signed former Raiders back Michael Bush to a deal that guarantees Bush $7 million in 2012. That's only $700,000 less than Forte will make if he signs the one-year franchise tender.
THE COLTS CLEAN HOUSE
No club has undergone greater changes this off-season. Team architect Bill Polian? Fired. Coach Jim Caldwell? Fired. Leading passer from 2011? Released. Second-leading rusher and receiver? Cut. Top two tight ends? Gone. Oh, and Peyton Manning left, too. New G.M. Ryan Grigson wanted to make a clean break, understandable after last year's 2--14 disaster—and he and Pagano will have something to build around whether they take Luck, as expected, or decide that Griffin is their man.
DREW BREES LANGUISHES
One big surprise heading into free agency was the Saints' failure to come to terms on a long-term contract with their record-setting, All-Pro QB. The team did apply the franchise tag to Brees and retains his rights, but at week's end he had yet to sign the tender, and it's possible he could sit out until he gets a deal to his liking. As if there's not enough turmoil in New Orleans, drama over Brees's status would further darken the mood around the Saints.
KRIS DIELMAN WALKS AWAY
A guard's retirement doesn't normally make waves, but Dielman's departure after nine seasons with the Chargers is significant for its reason: his concern about brain trauma. The four-time Pro Bowler sustained a concussion in an Oct. 23 loss to the Jets and suffered a seizure on the plane home. He did not play the rest of the season but was medically cleared to return in 2012. Instead Dielman, 31, retired over unanswerable questions about the potential long-term effects of another concussion. And with all the data coming out about the dangers of brain injury, it won't be surprising if more players follow his lead.
THE COWBOYS AND REDSKINS TEAM UP
They may be enemies on the field, but they're allies in a fight with the league. On March 12 the NFL announced it was docking Washington $36 million and Dallas $10 million in salary-cap room, claiming the teams flouted league warnings by front-loading contracts during the cap-less 2010 season—Cowboys receiver Miles Austin, for instance, reportedly got $17 million in '10—to create payroll flexibility in later years. Both teams say they did nothing wrong and are appealing the ruling; the Players Association may wonder whether the league's caution to owners regarding the uncapped year amounted to collusion to suppress wages.
HINES WARD SAYS GOODBYE