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Alexander could have options beyond Cincy

Cincinnati is hardly the only team interested in former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander.

New Orleans also is. Denver might be. And now, after looking as if he could be stopped for no gain, Alexander could have options about where to spend the 2008 season.

The most obvious is Cincinnati, which met with Alexander on Sunday and Monday. With Cincinnati failing to draft any running backs, Alexander could provide some depth that the Bengals failed to procure last month. It also helps that Alexander, a former Mr. Kentucky football player, is revered in those parts.

But the Bengals might not be the only bidders. Like Cincinnati, New Orleans also drafted no running backs this year. But that doesn't mean the Saints will not add any competition for Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Aaron Stecker and Pierre Thomas.

For the past week, they have been planning to bring Alexander to New Orleans for a visit. It is not hard to understand why.

There are questions about McAllister's durability, Bush's ability and Stecker and Thomas in general. Alexander would provide New Orleans with another capable back, a primary every-down back. At the age of 31, the Saints and Bengals are curious to see whether Alexander can still be productive.

Additionally, the Broncos have expressed some interest in Alexander and could wind up bringing him to Denver for a visit. Denver's interest appeared to be more preliminary, yet it represented a third potential team interested in Alexander's services.

Seattle lost faith in the 31-year-old Alexander. But it now seems as if there will be at least one team that is willing to take a leap of faith on the running back that was the NFL's MVP only two seasons ago.

Thrown for a loss

Tough weekend for Pittsburgh first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall.

On Friday, during his second practice with the Steelers, Mendenhall tweaked his hamstring badly enough that he was out of action the rest of the weekend.

On Sunday night, Mendenhall flew back to Chicago and returned home to the South Side of the city –- where he was robbed at gunpoint on Monday.

Two men wearking ski masks and hoods pulled a gun on Mendenhall and told him to give them everything he had -– or else. Mendenhall gave the men his wallet, cell phone and car keys. The men returned the car keys, and Mendenhall escaped unscathed.

No arrests have been made.

Men of their word

When running back Dominic Rhodes restructed his contract in March, Oakland promised him that if it drafted Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick, it would release Rhodes.

Sure enough, after Oakland did draft McFadden, Raiders owner Al Davis and head coach Lane Kiffin kept their word. They released Rhodes, who now is a free agent.

It's unusual enough for a team to restructure a player's contract with the promise that it will release him if it drafts a trumpeted player at his position. It's more unusual for a team to keep its word.

Kudos to the Raiders for being men of their word. Classy.

Bear of a back

Chicago went into last month's draft targeting Tulane's running back Matt Forte in the second round. From the start, it planned to draft Forte if he still were there. And he was.

After watching Forte at their rookie minicamp last weekend, the Bears believe they made the right choice.

The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Forte demonstrated the ability to be an everydown back, as well as the back the Bears need to upgrade their running game.

Had Forte slid one more spot in the draft, to the 45th selection, the Detroit Lions might have pounced on him, reshuffling the looks of the running game in the NFC North. When Detroit did not get Forte, it opted for Kevin Smith with the 64th overall pick in the third round.

Name to remember

The best undrafted free agents are signed right away.

The overlooked ones are fortunate to score tryouts somewhere.

But Fresno State running back Clifton Smith made the most of his. The Buccaneers brought him to Tampa for last weekend's rookie minicamp and the 5-foot-9, 192-pound Smith made such an impression that the Buccaneers signed him Monday to a free-agent contract.

The Buccaneers believe Smith, Fresno State's team MVP last season, could be a sleeper, helping them not only in the backfield but in the return game. Last season, Smith averaged 14.4 yards per punt return.

Of course, it's a long way from now until the final cuts, but for now, Tampa Bay is encouraged.

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