Around the league: Jets playing Patriot games

Before they even play Sunday's game vs. New England, the New York Jets are engaging in a little gamesmanship.

For the second straight week -- and in the week in which they open their season at home against the Patriots -- the Jets are interviewing New England's former players.

The Jets met Tuesday with former Patriots wide receiver Reche Caldwell, whom New England released last weekend.

Caldwell did have a big day against the Jets last November, catching nine passes for 90 yards and a touchdown in a game New York won, 17-14. And he caught five more for 50 yards during New England's 37-16 playoff win.

But it's entirely possible the Jets were interested in more than Caldwell's receiving abilities.

The Jets didn't stop with Caldwell. New York also signed to its practice squad Tuesday former New England guard/center Mike Elgin, whom the Patriots drafted in the seventh round in April and then released last weekend.

Elgin reported to work immediately for the Jets, with an innate and up-to-date knowledge of the Patriots defense.

And the Jets didn't stop with Elgin and Caldwell. Last week, they met with former Patriots defensive back Artrell Hawkins, whom New England released earlier this summer.

Seemingly anyone that spends some time in Foxboro, Mass., has a decent chance of winding up in Hempstead, N.Y., even if it is for so much as an informal visit.

In recent seasons, the Jets have signed former Patriots such as cornerback Hank Poteat and linebacker Matt Chatham, and added coaches such as Eric Mangini and quarterbacks coach Brian Daboll, whom New York hired last offseason. Daboll is now viewed as the successor to head-coach-in-waiting Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets offensive coordinator.

But this much is clear: the Jets are playing Patriots games even before playing the Patriots Sunday.

INCENTIVES TO EARN

While the New York Giants try to figure out how much to play Michael Strahan in their season opener at Dallas, a similar question is being asked in Denver with the Broncos newest defensive end, Simeon Rice. Though Rice is coming off a significant shoulder injury and though some teams said the defensive end would not be healthy enough to start the season, the Broncos plan to play him Sunday at Buffalo against the Bills.

Denver needs Rice –- badly. Its starting defensive ends are John Engleberger and Elvis Dumervil. Their backups are first-round pick Jarvis Moss and second-round pick Tim Crowder, who has been hobbled this summer with a sprained ankle.

Rice will play, and he will have a chance to start reaching some of the incentives the Broncos laid out for him in their one-year, $3 million deal that included a $2.18 million signing bonus and an $820,000 base salary.

Denver will pay Rice a $250,000 bonus if he rings up 10 sacks. Rice then will get an additional $250,000 for 12 sacks, another $250,000 for 14 sacks and a final $250,000 for 16 sacks. The sack incentives give Rice the chance to earn up to another million, though he never has had more than 15.5 sacks in a season.

From 2001 through 2005, Rice had at least 11 sacks and no more than 15.5 in each of those five seasons. So if he is healthy, it's realistic for Rice to think he could make an additional quarter- to half-million dollars from Denver.

THE HEIR TO MCNAIR

Behind closed doors, the Baltimore Ravens are trying to sign their Heir McNair.

Three days after the Jacksonville Jaguars released quarterback Byron Leftwich, the Ravens have emerged as the leaders to sign him. Leftwich would like to pick a new home as soon as possible.

The Ravens are the most logical fit. In 2003, the Ravens intended to draft Leftwich with their first-round pick, only to see Jacksonville pounce on him with the seventh overall selection. Then, at No. 10, Baltimore drafted linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Now Baltimore could wind up with each player, landing the quarterback from the Washington D.C. area. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has talked with Leftwich's representatives, though he does believe another teams could lure away the quarterback.

Baltimore is looking for a quarterback to one day succeed the 34-year-old Steve McNair, who is entering his 13th NFL season. Leftwich could be an ideal replacement, though Baltimore also has other ideas.

Knowing backup quarterback Kyle Boller is entering the last year of his contract, the Ravens have been working to sign him to an extension. Baltimore has made him its offer, what it thinks is a fair offer, and it would like to prevent Boller from hitting the market.

Baltimore looks at the last five games that Boller has played and sees the quarterback that it traded up to acquire with the 19th overall pick in 2003, the same draft that, ironically enough, produced Leftwich.

Many have thought Boller's departure from Baltimore is a foregone conclusion. It is not.

END OF THE ICE AGE

For the first time, there are subtle signs that the icy relationship between the Oakland Raiders and No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell might be thawing.

Ever so slightly.

But maybe enough to help consummate a deal.

Another face-to-face meeting between the two sides is expected to take place in the next 24-48 hours that could provide the necessary push for the No. 1 overall pick to be the last one to sign.

Both sides still are talking, both know the talks are down to their final key points, and both know a deal is not as far off as it was throughout the summer.

Both sides recognize the season is about to kick off, and it could be more difficult than ever to hammer a deal if one is not in place before this weekend's games commence.

It's in both sides interests to get a deal done, so allow some subjectivity to seep into what should be an objective report.

Men: Get together and get it done. This has gone on long enough.

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