Chicago Bears: Kyle Vanden Bosch

Veteran free agents: Collusion or value?

June, 1, 2013
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Freeney
Dwight Freeney's claim that NFL owners colluded during free agency, made during an interview with CBSSports.com, brings to mind last month's post about the tough market for some high-profile and veteran NFL players. As you might recall:
(Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch doesn't appear to have received any offers after the Detroit Lions released him -- and his $7 million salary -- in February. But the presumption for months has been that Vanden Bosch, 34, will retire.)

So were Woodson, Urlacher and Winfield victimized by collusion? Or were they just valued harshly in a league that prefers younger players?

ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt, whose column now appears on SportsIllustrated.com, addressed the topic this week. Brandt noted that "far more money has been shed from veteran contracts than spent on them" but attributed it to factors other than collusion.

Brandt explained the spread of "draft and develop" franchises who prefer to use younger, less-injury prone and cheaper players rather than veterans who are past their prime. The "Moneyball" approach, placing numerical values on players, is also gaining traction, Brandt notes. Teams have also grown to appreciate the flexibility of a roster populated by young players on their first contracts.

In the end, there is a fine line: Are owners conspiring to keep costs down as a matter of course or because they think spending less on free agents is a better way to build a team? Could it be both?

Louis, Bears not fazed by Lions' D-line

October, 18, 2012
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Lions/EaglesEric Hartline/US PresswireNdamukong Suh leads a fierce and deep Lions defensive line into Soldier Field on Monday night.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears interior offensive linemen Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal shrugged off the suggestion the team could be under increased pressure Monday night when it faces a Detroit Lions defensive line that might be one of the league's best.

"They're very good, real good," Rachal said. "(Ndamukong) Suh, (Nick) Fairley, they're tough, they play to the whistle. (Kyle) Vanden Bosch outside, (Cliff) Avril outside, they're good. I wouldn't necessarily call it pressure. We have two really good coaches that prepare us really well. We know we have to execute."

In two games against the Lions in 2011, quarterback Jay Cutler suffered five sacks while throwing for only one touchdown. Detroit's defensive line has also proven adept at stuffing the run, considering that in three of the team's five games, the defense has given up fewer than 80 yards rushing.

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CampTour'12: What we learned

August, 14, 2012
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Marshall-Ponder-YoungGetty ImagesFinal training camp thoughts: Chicago is excited about Brandon Marshall, Christian Ponder has started to embrace his role as a leader, and Titus Young has been a training camp star.
We came, we saw, we conquered. Veni, vidi, vici and all that stuff. Yes, CampTour'12 wrapped up late last week, ending a stretch of spending 11 days at four NFC North training camps over a 15-day period. I took three flights, logged 938 miles on the NFC North blogmobile and limited my Jimmy John's/Chipotle intake to an average of one ingestion per day.

You can find everything I produced on location through this handy one-stop link, and the four Camp Confidential posts are all grouped here.

This division looks every bit as tough as we thought it was before the tour began, and I figure it's going to take 12 regular-season victories (or more) to win it. With that in mind, let's wrap up CampTour'12 with, well, 12, final thoughts and semi-behind-the-scenes observations from my time abroad.

1. The Chicago Bears' risk-reward: Our pre-camp discussion centered around the Bears' improvement and possible eclipse of the Detroit Lions in the standings. After seeing them in camp and in the context of the rest of the division, I still think the Bears are a really good team. But I also think they run the biggest risk of imploding among our top three teams. Already, two offseason decisions to stand part have left them vulnerable. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb has not yet demonstrated the progress expected of him, and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's now surgically-repaired knee has drawn genuine concerns about his health over a 16-game season. Those are two huge positions on this team, and neither have a credible alternative at this point.

2. Genuine excitement: It was fascinating to watch longtime Bears employees and observers during receiver Brandon Marshall's first full-pads practice Aug. 1. Marshall made the kinds of plays that only a true No. 1 receiver makes, including some fancy sideline footwork at the end of a 35-yard pass from Jay Cutler. Several people gushed that Marshall will prove the team's best skill-position player since Walter Payton. A glance at recent Bears history suggests that's a sound judgment by default. I didn't see Marshall do anything that we haven't seen, say, Calvin Johnson do in this division. But it's been forever since the Bears have had someone do it in their uniform.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Tice seems more relaxed with the Bears than when he was at the helm in Minnesota.
3. Tice games: I told Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice that he seemed less frantic and more chill than he was during his time as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach. "I still have my moments," Tice said in words that proved prophetic. Since then, he has reached deep into his bag of tricks to cajole better play from Webb, putting him in a yo-yo personnel rotation and playing him for almost all of the preseason opener. When he was the Vikings' coach, Tice once pulled fans into a non-contact drill to demonstrate mistakes to starting linemen. On another occasion, he required linemen to practice with their hands tied together to emphasize footwork. Sometimes those tactics work. Sometimes they don't.

4. Concussion impact: I wouldn't be surprised if we look back at this summer as the moment concussion treatment -- not just concussions themselves -- began impacting the game. Already, we've seen the Lions and Green Bay Packers acknowledge they are taking a much more deliberate approach to putting players back on the field after they've been concussed or if they are even suspected to have suffered a concussion. Front-line players including Greg Jennings, Marshall Newhouse and Amari Spievey missed the preseason opener because of them.

5. Traffic nightmare: Would you believe that the worst traffic in the NFC North is in the NFL's smallest market? Some of the key roads surrounding Lambeau Field have been torn up for months, including Oneida St. and Hwy. 41 near Lombardi Ave.. I pray to the construction gods that everything is finished by next month. Based on the amount of holes, gravel roads and lane closures I saw, I'm not optimistic. All I can say is to arrive early and often.

6. Camp routine: Because of the new collective bargaining agreement, players were on the field once a day in three of our locales. The only team coming close to two-a-day practices were the Vikings, whose first workout was a 60-minute, half-speed walk-through. Veterans like the Packers' Jeff Saturday were thrilled with the reduced wear-and-tear. Privately, others noted that coaches filled the time once set aside for a second practice with additional meetings. "Some really tedious days," one player said. Said another: "Sometimes the grass is not always greener, you know?"

7. Imagination movers: The Packers lead the division with unique drills and sideline gizmos. For years, they've had sideline speakers set up to broadcast the ravings of special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. This year, they added a set of red and green lights that flash exactly 2.5 seconds after the ball is snapped in team drills. In essence, they are designed to simulate the quarterback's head clock. I also saw offensive linemen catching passes from a JUGS machine and tight ends doing a basketball-like drill where they weaved the ball around their ankles and through their legs.

8. Ponder charisma: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder seems to have made some strides as a pocket passer. But I can say without a shred of doubt that Ponder has mastered the more ethereal parts of NFL quarterbacking. He has taken ownership of a young roster and moves easily between the inevitable cliques that develop. He is just as likely to share a laugh with fellow second-year player Kyle Rudoph as he is veteran receiver Jerome Simpson, a newly-signed free agent. I watched him call team staffers by name and treat them with genuine respect. Ponder has some work to do on the field, but he has the makings of a franchise pillar off of it.

9. Defensive dilemma: Much of the camp discussion surrounding the Vikings has centered around Ponder and the changes they've made to the offense. But the Vikings have just as much, if not more, work to do on defense. There are at least four positions -- nose tackle, middle linebacker and both safety spots -- where the presumed starter remains completely unproven. The San Francisco 49ers gashed them for 260 rushing yards in the preseason opener.

10. Eye-opening: Someone asked me along the trail to name the best NFC North player no one has heard of. The first two names to come to mind are both on the Lions' roster. You've no doubt heard of receiver Titus Young, but probably for the wrong reasons after his offseason fight with safety Louis Delmas. Young has been a training camp star, twisting and turning over defensive backs in every drill I watched. From a physical standpoint, Young can be a star. The other was defensive end Willie Young, who got elevated reps because of Cliff Avril's holdout and Kyle Vanden Bosch's knee injury. Willie Young is a high-energy, full-effort pass-rusher who has to get on the field more substantially this season.

11. Redshirt season?: Perhaps the most notable sign of the Lions' roster strength is that their top two draft picks might get a quasi-redshirt season, assuming the players in front of them stay healthy. Offensive lineman Riley Reiff isn't going to beat out left tackle Jeff Backus and probably not right tackle Gosder Cherilus, either. And receiver Ryan Broyles has been limited all summer because of residual soreness from knee surgery. At best, he will be the Lions' No. 4 receiver when he does get on the field.

12. Serious bid'niss: I realized how serious this NFC North race would be shortly after returning from CampTour'12. Check out this photo tweeted by Chris Jenkins of The Associated Press. It shows Saturday, Cedric Benson and Reggie Wells in Packers uniforms. These three are the kind of veteran free agents the Packers turned away from for years under general manager Ted Thompson. This season, Thompson has loaded up on a relative scale. In this division, this year, there is no time to wait for development. Answers are needed now.

Tentative NFC North salary-cap status

February, 9, 2012
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The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has brought an issue we haven't faced in a number of years: Tight salary-cap situations.

After jumping considerably in the final few years of the old CBA, the league's cap limit isn't expected to rise much, if any, for the 2012 season. That means teams will have roughly $120 million to work with as they assemble the top 51 players on their training camp roster.

Based on the numbers I've been able to dig up, it appears that three of our four NFC North teams are going to be relatively tight against that number, especially considering they need to save room for signing a draft class. All teams must be in compliance when the new league year opens, and free agency begins, on March 13.

The following is how much each team currently has committed to its 2012 cap. Keep in mind that the numbers probably will change between now and March 13 as teams re-sign, re-negotiate and release players from their rosters.
A few thoughts:
  1. We've already discussed the Lions' situation at some length. Simple math tells us they're going to have to adjust some current salaries just to get under $120 million, and the first candidate is receiver Calvin Johnson, who is projected to count about $22 million against the cap alone. As we've noted, four players -- Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch -- account for nearly half of their total cap projection.
  2. There are tricks available for teams like the Lions who want to keep or re-sign their players in a tight environment. They come with risks and the potential for future problems, but there is always a way to squeeze players into a given year's cap. The new CBA has a provision that allows teams to borrow against future caps, providing another option.
  3. One positive bi-product of the Bears' decision to trade for quarterback Jay Cutler in 2009: It relieved them of the cap commitment associated with two first-round draft picks. That's one of the reasons new general manager Phil Emery has some $18 million to work with if he wants to sign veteran free agents and/or use his franchise tag on tailback Matt Forte.
  4. The Packers have a number of veterans they want to re-sign, including tight end Jermichael Finley and center Scott Wells. With about $5 million in wiggle room, based on these numbers, they'll need to make some adjustments to fit both players in. As Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has already suggested, the Packers could carve out some space by either releasing receiver Donald Driver or renegotiating his contract. The same could happen for left tackle Chad Clifton.
  5. Still, it should be clear why it seems unlikely that the Packers would place their franchise tag on quarterback Matt Flynn for the purposes of trading him after March 13. Doing so would require a $14 million cap commitment, require more cap maneuvering than would be comfortable and likely exposing either Finley or Wells to the free agent market.
The NFL has fined Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch $7,500 for hitting Matt Forte, who was already on the ground, a league source said Thursday.

Read the entire story.

Vanden Bosch doubtful for Bears on Sunday

December, 3, 2010
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Detroit Lions listed defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) as doubtful on the latest injury report heading into Sunday's game at Ford Field against the Chicago Bears.

Read the entire story.

NFC North breakdown: Lions

July, 8, 2010
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Ndamukong SuhLeon Halip/US PresswireThe Lions are expecting big things out of rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
John Niyo of the Detroit News takes a little time out to discuss the Detroit Lions for Day 3 of our NFC North beat reporters series.

We’ve already covered the Vikings, and Packers, and plan on getting to the Bears on Friday.

Five things the Lions need to worry about

1. The secondary: It’s still a huge question mark. Another offseason overhaul means three new starters among the defensive backs. Although they have upgraded speed at the corners, are these guys really going to be able to play more press coverage? And is anybody capable of filling that starting strong safety spot next to Louis Delmas? Trust me, opponents are going to test them to find out.

2. Middle linebacker: Revamping the D-line was a primary goal this offseason, and there's no doubt they did that by adding Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch. But for the moment, it's a second-year guy, Deandre Levy, starting at middle linebacker. Another of last year's rookies, Zack Follett, a guy who started 2009 on the practice squad, is starting on the weak side. You can cover up a linebacker easier than some other positions, but obviously they're putting a lot of trust in Levy.

[+] EnlargeStafford
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMatthew Stafford missed some time last year due to injury and he's been limited in early workouts this offseason.
3. Matthew Stafford: Can Stafford stay healthy? He went down with a dislocated kneecap in Week 4 as a rookie, and then went down for the count with a separated shoulder late in the season. He looks to be healthy again this offseason, but without him -- and honestly, Shaun Hill's an upgrade over last year at the backup quarterback spot -- the Lions' offense isn't going anywhere.

4. Offensive line depth: A bad offensive line isn't what got Stafford beat up last season. But an o-line that's probably average at best did get beat up by injuries, and an offense that couldn't generate enough big plays. They've added weapons like Jahvid Best and Tony Scheffler and Nate Burleson to try to solve that last part. But the O-line depth remains a big concern.

5. Possible slow start: It's hard to look at the Lions' schedule and find a lot of wins. This is a team that's 3-37 the last two-plus seasons. But after an offseason that has people thinking optimistically again, an 0-4 start would be tough to handle. Still, they start with three division games and Philly, and three of those first four are on the road.

Five things not to worry about

1. Scoring: This offense is going to score some points. Stafford's struggles as a rookie -- and really, his numbers were nearly identical to Mark Sanchez's as a rookie -- had as much to do with the lack of talent around him as much as his own mistakes last season. Receivers couldn't get open and running backs couldn't break off big gains -- they had just five runs of 20-plus yards all season. But they've added a big-play back in Jahvid Best, who they can get creative with, a No. 2 receiver in Burleson, who can take some pressure off Calvin Johnson, and maybe most important, another big pass-catching tight end in Scheffler. Expect to see a lot of two-tight end sets with Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew. Then watch them move Best all over the place to create some mismatches.

2. Ndamukong Suh: He won’t be a bust. Sure, rookie defensive tackles historically struggle in the NFL, and many haven't proven worthy of their draft status. Almost any scout will tell you Suh is a rare specimen. And maybe one of the more underrated offseason moves -- the Lions' trade for Corey Williams -- should give the No. 2 pick a pretty good tag-team partner inside.

3. Free-agent addition Vanden Bosch: He won’t be a bust, either. A lot of people seem to think Vanden Bosch can't get it done anymore. But there's a reason coach Jim Schwartz showed up on his doorstep at the stroke of midnight the first day of free agency. He knows he's got a right-side anchor who knows this scheme, and a guy who will bring it every play, which is what this team has lacked for too long.

4. Calvin Johnson: He’s going to make the Pro Bowl this season, provided he stays healthy, which I suppose might be something to worry about. Johnson and Stafford barely got to know each other on the field last season due to their injuries. But they've had a full offseason together, and I'll be shocked if it doesn't show on Sundays. Burleson is a guy who can play the role Bryant Johnson couldn't last season, and with teams forced to respect Best's speed out of the backfield, Johnson's going to get his chances to shine. Finally.

5. The fans: After all they've been through, they're still here. This franchise has gone 33-111 since the start of Matt Millen's reign of terror, and this city and state have gotten clobbered economically. Yet I'll be surprised if the Lions don't sell out all but a couple of games this season. I don't know that they'll get a winner this year -- I'm thinking 5-11 or 6-10 -- but they certainly deserve one.

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