MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings already have commitments for more than 33,300 seats in their new stadium, the team announced Wednesday as it marked a milestone in its ticket drive.

The Vikings' new stadium preview center opened a year ago Wednesday, featuring an interactive display and sales center for the 65,000-seat facility that's scheduled to open in August 2016. In that time, the team said, 70 percent of ticket holders from the Metrodome have committed to seats in the new stadium, with nearly 800 accounts upgrading to lower-level seats.

The preview center has hosted more than 34,000 people in its first year, the Vikings said. Fans can begin selecting their seats as early as March 16.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Matt Cassel's strange saga in Minnesota -- which took him from backup to starter twice in 2013, and from starter to injured reserve in September 2014 -- is over. The Vikings traded him and a sixth-rounder to the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday afternoon, giving the 32-year-old one more chance to start in exchange for a pair of late-round picks.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltMatt Cassel was the starter for the Vikings when the 2014 season opened, but a broken foot opened the way for Teddy Bridgewater.
Cassel seemed like a nice luxury for the Vikings in 2015; he could be a mentor to Teddy Bridgewater, and a serviceable starter in case of emergency. But Cassel was due for a $500,000 roster bonus on the seventh day of the league year, and there was a growing sentiment he might want to go to a team where he'd get a better chance at the starting job next year. He'll be part of a quarterback competition in Buffalo, while the Vikings will be in the market for a backup quarterback.

It's not likely to be Christian Ponder; the 26-year-old is a free agent and has said he's looking forward to a fresh start somewhere else in 2015. It's probably more prudent to look at players who have a history with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, such as Brian Hoyer, Charlie Whitehurst and Jason Campbell, and as the market shakes out in the coming weeks, the Vikings could wind up with one of those players.

The ideal scenario would be for the team to land a veteran backup and bring in another young passer, who could develop behind Bridgewater and a veteran. That player could eventually turn into a long-term backup, or a trade chip. It has been a long time since the Vikings had this much confidence in their QB hierarchy. With Bridgewater, a stable backup and a good set of coaches, there's reason to keep looking for growth stocks at the position.

But if Cassel's two years in Minnesota prove anything, it's the value of a good insurance policy at the game's most important position. Cassel stepped in when Ponder flopped, waited out the strange (and brief) Josh Freeman experiment, and was there to steady the ship while the Vikings looked for Bridgewater in the 2014 draft. Cassel came to the team after he'd been run out of Kansas City and left with another chance to be a starter. In the end, things seemed to have worked well for all parties. And as the Vikings head back out into the quarterback market, they should know the value of a sturdy veteran. They tried to go without one in 2012 and wound up losing a playoff game in Green Bay when Joe Webb couldn't run the offense in Ponder's absence. Now that the Vikings are on the rise with a promising young starter, it's doubtful they'll make that mistake again.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Wednesday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings will finally get what they've wanted for months: Mike Zimmer, in a room with Adrian and Ashley Peterson, talking candidly to the couple about the Minnesota Vikings' promising young roster, his vision for the team, and how well a fully committed Peterson would fit into it.

There won't be any agents, business executives, sponsors or reporters at Peterson's home outside Houston in a meeting that a league source said Peterson agreed to "because of his respect for Zimmer." When the coach and general manager Rick Spielman arrive for the sit-down, Zimmer will get a chance to make his pitch to Peterson. It's probably not a stretch to call it the Vikings' best shot to keep him.

[+] EnlargeZimmer/Peterson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVikings coach Mike Zimmer has the respect of Adrian Peterson even though they have been together for only one regular-season game.
When Peterson told ESPN last month that he was "uneasy" about returning to the Vikings, who he felt hadn't supported him after he was indicted on child injury charges last September, he was quick to point out his deep respect for Zimmer. "Coach Zimmer -- I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him," Peterson said. It was a face-to-face conversation with Zimmer last spring that pulled Peterson out of his funk after the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier, and the coach's ability to shoot straight with Peterson and his wife could have the same effect Wednesday.

If Zimmer is driving the conversation, though, we shouldn't expect him to beg for Peterson's return. The coach has made it clear there needs to be reciprocal interest, and while he'll undoubtedly try to sell Adrian and Ashley Peterson on the upside of being in Minnesota -- both on and off the field -- he won't have any desire to bring back a malcontent. The Vikings begged Brett Favre to return in 2010, with disastrous results, and Peterson would see through such an approach anyway.

"I wish it was that simple as a conversation, but it’s not, it’s way deeper than that," Peterson told ESPN last month. "I’ve prayed about it a lot. It's definitely not that easy, just to have the conversation. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better. I discovered that a long time ago, and I’ve seen it in the past year."

Rather, if Peterson tells the Vikings he doesn't want to be back, the team can begin to make other plans. The Vikings haven't been able to sit in a room with the running back for nearly six months, and Wednesday's meeting will help them get an unfiltered sense for Peterson's mindset. There's no doubt the Vikings want Peterson back, and they're in a strong enough cap situation to pay him his full $12.75 million salary next season. But Peterson said last month that the decision comes down to more than who can pay him the most.

"As far as me being happy, my family being happy, it's bigger than [money]," he said.

There's no doubt Peterson's situation put the Vikings in a bind last fall, and we can debate whether the Vikings have anything for which to apologize. In the end, though, the only thing that matters is what's going on inside Peterson's head, and Wednesday is the Vikings' best chance to figure that out before the new league year starts Tuesday.

The meeting outside Houston is a productive step in that process -- it strips away the layers between Peterson and the Vikings' football operation -- but the Vikings' best move is to let Zimmer talk. Both men value directness, and it's that quality about Zimmer that helped win over Peterson in the first place. If things go well Wednesday, the Vikings will leave knowing more about what Peterson wants. Maybe they'll even leave with a commitment from the running back to return next season. Getting Zimmer and Peterson face to face, though, is the best development in this saga for the Vikings in quite some time.
When Darryl Tapp had his exit interview with the Detroit Lions' coaching staff in January, he left with an inkling he would be returning to the franchise for a second season in 2015.

What surprised him, though, is how soon he ended up back with the Lions.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesDarryl Tapp shined for the Lions last season after the team cut him following training camp.
The Lions actually re-signed Tapp to a one-year deal a little bit after the NFL combine, but the deal ended up being announced Monday -- still way earlier than he expected to be brought back. And that left Tapp, who just moved into a new home in Northern Virginia and has been training with Lions defensive end Devin Taylor during the offseason, pretty happy about his situation.

“I wanted to be here and I feel like this is a great situation, the way they do things,” Tapp told ESPN.com Monday afternoon. “The way everybody is on the same page as far as the powers that be upstairs, the players, everybody was together.

“That’s so unique on this level, the NFL, that’s very rare. I’m just happy with the way they do things around here.”

Tapp saw that early in his tenure with Detroit. He was cut following training camp last season but team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew told him there was a good chance the team would bring him back soon -- essentially after the team placed Kyle Van Noy on injured reserve-designated to return.

What impressed him, though, was that instead of waiting until after the first week of the season, when veteran contracts would not be guaranteed for the season, the team brought him back for the first game of the year. That meant his contract as a vested veteran would be guaranteed.

That was something the Lions didn’t have to do, but did -- leaving an impression on Tapp.

Tapp, who turns 31 this season, had 17 tackles and a half-sack last season as a rotational defensive end and emergency defensive tackle. He said the Lions haven’t told him what they envision his role being in 2015, but that might have to do with the questions surrounding many of Detroit’s other defensive linemen, including Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley, Andre Fluellen, George Johnson and Ndamukong Suh.

As for Suh, Tapp said he’s paying attention to what happens with the defensive tackle he considers a “little brother” much like everybody else in the NFL.

“I’ve played with this guy for an entire year,” Tapp said. “I’ve seen how he prepares and seen how he does things, which is the right way. The intensity that he brings to practice, takes care of his body and he’s a consummate professional.

“He deserves everything that he gets and will get and I just hope that it’ll be in the Honolulu blue.”
The Chicago Bears plan to host free-agent receiver Brian Hartline on a visit at Halas Hall on Wednesday, a source confirmed.

Profootballtalk.com first reported the visit.

Released by the Miami Dolphins to clear cap space, Hartline caught 39 passes for 474 yards last season and scored a pair of touchdowns. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Hartline's role gradually shrunk last season to the No. 4 option in the team’s passing game.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hartline and Brandon Marshall
AP Photo/Charles KrupaBrian Hartline and Brandon Marshall were teammates for two seasons in Miami.
So despite speculation regarding the uncertain status of Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, the team’s interest in Hartline doesn’t appear to mean it is looking to replace Marshall, who prior to an injury-riddled 2014 campaign put together seven consecutive seasons in which he gained at least 1,000 yards receiving.

The Bears likely view Hartline as a potential option in the slot.

Hartline reportedly visited the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday, but could wind up re-signing with Miami as team owner Steve Ross reportedly called the receiver shortly after his release. A source said the Dolphins remain interested. So Hartline could be using his free-agent visits to determine his value on the open market.

Hartline started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2014, yet produced the fewest receiving yards (474) of his career after putting together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2012 and 2013.

In six seasons with the Dolphins, Hartline has 298 receptions for 4,243 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Interestingly, Hartline and Marshall have maintained a close relationship since the latter joined the Bears. They were teammates for two seasons in Miami (2010-11).

So although it’s apparent the Bears are interested in Hartline, the team could also be using the free-agent visit to glean more information about Marshall.

Remember, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox held off on committing to Marshall for the 2015 season when asked last month at the NFL combine about the receiver, who is due $7.5 million next season in base salary and counts $9.575 million against the cap.

Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who enters the final year of his deal in 2015, are tied for ninth in the NFL with the most 100-yard receiving games (eight) in the NFL since 2013.

It’s likely that the Bears view Hartline as a potential secondary target as former seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson, after a training-camp injury, struggled during a 2014 season that was supposed to be his breakout year.

Wilson played in seven games last season with six starts, but generated just 17 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Green Bay Packers announced last week that they would open up Lambeau Field to fans for Brett Favre's induction into the Packers Hall of Fame, former team president Bob Harlan offered a glimpse into what this summer's ceremony might entail.

"We have featured people coming in to participate in the ceremony," said Harlan, who now serves on the Hall of Fame's board of directors. "To say it's going to be a historic evening when you see the people who are going to be here, you can't say enough about how historic it is."

The guest list is typically left up to the inductee, but it's safe to say plenty of Favre's old coaches and teammates will be present.

In fact, the invitations for the July 18 event already have gone out.

Thanks to Indianapolis Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who began his career as one of Favre’s understudies, we can see exactly what the invites look like:

In a telephone interview, Hasselbeck said he will do everything in his power to make it back for the event and expects many of Favre's former teammates to do the same.

"I think there's just a lot of respect for certain things, and that's a dead time in our offseason," said Hasselbeck, who spent three seasons (1998-00) in Green Bay. "Aside from some family commitment that I don't know about yet, I'm going to do everything in my power to be there. I think it's really cool. Thanks to Brett for [the invitation]."

Hasselbeck was one of several quarterbacks the Packers drafted, developed and then traded away during Favre's 16 years with the team. The list also includes Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell and Aaron Brooks. Hasselbeck, a sixth-round pick in 1998, said he actually became closer with Favre after the Packers traded him to the Seattle Seahawks in 2001.

"My first year, Brett was still a wild man," Hasselbeck recalled. "That second year he was trying to quit drinking and then the third year he did, so that third year it was a totally different experience. All those other guys that Brett had been with -- Chewy [Mark Chmura] and Frankie [Winters] -- were gone."

Like Favre, Hasselbeck got his first chance to start under coach Mike Holmgren, who left the Packers after the 1998 seasons to coach the Seahawks.

"When I left, Brett was really, really helpful," Hasselbeck said. "It was really hard for me that first year in Seattle. I had gotten hurt. I essentially got benched for Trent Dilfer and Holmgren was so, so hard on me. The only thing that gave me hope was that I knew that Holmgren had been harder on Brett. So I can remember phone calls with him [talking] about that."

Hasselbeck said he was on the fringes of Favre's inner circle during his time in Green Bay.

"I did Thanksgiving with the Favres and Christmas with the Favres, but it was probably Chewy, Frankie and Deanna [Favre] that got me the invite," Hasselbeck said. "And I was probably closer in age to Brett's daughter, Brittany. When I'd do Thanksgiving over there, I'd end up playing Battleship with Brittany while everyone else sat around watching football."
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBears quarterback Jay Cutler signed a seven-year $126.7 million extension last January.

At least 10 former Chicago Bears staffers from the Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman regimes said recently they believe the team can't consistently compete for championships as long as it fields a lineup with Jay Cutler under center.

That sentiment might explain why head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace remain uncommitted to Cutler as the team's starting quarterback for 2015. Deciding whether to commit to Cutler has a time element. If Cutler is on the Bears' roster on March 12, $10 million of his 2016 salary is guaranteed.

Cutler declined comment through a team spokesman. His agent, Bus Cook, said questions about whether the Bears feel they can win with Cutler should be directed to the team.

Two teammates, who also asked to remain anonymous for this story, characterized Cutler as a divisive figure with whom they'd rather not continue to play.

In six years with the Bears, Cutler has gone through four offensive coordinators, two head coaches and a pair of general managers. Yet Cutler remains very much in play as the team's potential long-term solution at the position, in part, because of the seven-year, $126.7 million extension the quarterback signed in January 2014.

One more former staffer said the Bears could win with Cutler as long as the coaches handcuff him to the system.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports"I don't think there's any question that there's ability and talent there," new Bears coach John Fox said recently of Cutler. "[But] there's a lot more that goes into it, and we're evaluating that as we speak."
But that's precisely what the staff did when Mike Martz served as offensive coordinator during the 2010 and '11 seasons, according to another former coach, and Cutler and Martz were often at odds.

Although Smith let Martz go after the 2011 season, there's no denying Cutler played some of his best football as a Bear during a six-game span that year in which he completed 60.7 percent of his throws for 1,359 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions for a passer rating of 91.3. Cutler led the Bears to a 5-1 record during that stretch before breaking his right thumb in a Nov. 20 win over the San Diego Chargers.

“We're going to take our time on this,” Pace said recently. “We really have until mid-March. We're going to maximize that time and make thorough decisions through this whole process.”

But video evaluation of Cutler may not prove as beneficial as speaking with teammates and perhaps his former coaches. Remember, Pace worked with former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in New Orleans, and it would come as a surprise if the new GM didn't pick Kromer's brain about Cutler. Kromer is the same coach who apologized during a team meeting for admitting he was an anonymous source in a story that characterized the Bears as harboring buyer's remorse for signing Cutler to the long-term contract. When the Bears cleaned house in December before Pace came on board, Kromer's contract was the only one terminated of all the assistants remaining on the staff.

“I don't think there's any question that there's ability and talent there,” Fox said recently of Cutler. “[But] there's a lot more that goes into it, and we're evaluating that as we speak.”

Despite Pace's and Fox's refusal to commit to Cutler publicly as the starter, it appears -- based on the staff they've set up -- the Bears are prepared to give the quarterback one last shot. The Bears hired two pro-Cutler coaches in offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

According to multiple sources, Cutler started to grow close to Gase after spending time with the former Broncos offensive coordinator at the wedding of former Bears quarterbacks coach Shane Day, a disciple of Martz. Cutler has wanted to work with Gase for a while, the sources said. Martz tried to hire Gase in 2010 as Chicago's quarterbacks coach, but Denver wouldn't allow him out of his contract, which led to the hiring of Day.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler completed 66 percent of his passes last season and threw for 3,812 with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions on a Bears' team that finished 5-11.
Back in 2012, Cutler wanted Smith to hire Loggains, but he wasn't allowed out of his contract with the Tennessee Titans. Cutler and Loggains have a close personal relationship, according to a sources, and both the quarterback and coach have wanted to work with one another for quite some time.

It's unknown how Cutler and the new staff will get along if he's still on the roster in 2015, and one former coach said he believes it's time the organization stops catering to the quarterback until he delivers a return on the club's investment.

One staffer said that while Cutler was injured and Josh McCown was flourishing as the replacement in 2013, there was a significant faction in the locker room that believed the latter should've remained the starter. Another coach said that fairly early in the 2014 season, it was apparent the team had made two mistakes: (1) not re-signing McCown, and (2) continuing to stand behind Cutler after it was clear he was not going to consistently operate within the confines of Trestman's offense.

That same coach said he believed McCown gave the Bears a better chance to win than Cutler because he simply executed the scheme the way he was asked, without freelancing.

Pace and Fox met with McCown during the NFL combine, but there will be no reunion as McCown signed with the Cleveland Browns.

Some may view the disparaging remarks from Cutler's former coaches as sour grapes on the part of scorned staffers. Nobody on the current staff has told Cutler he's on the way out or that his tenure in Chicago is in jeopardy.

But every one of the former staffers interviewed from the Smith and Trestman regimes pointed out similar flaws in the quarterback. Two “R” words -- “renegade” and “rogue” -- were often used by the former staffers when asked about Cutler's ability to play within the confines of an offensive system.

They all also questioned Cutler's leadership abilities. One former staffer said McCown was the offense's leader in the locker room during his final season in Chicago, adding that for Cutler “it's just not him” to embrace such a role. The staffer said that Cutler doesn't have to be a leader for the team to succeed.

But it's difficult to ignore that the most successful teams in the NFL have strong leadership at the quarterback position.

"There's a lot of things outside of the building that I think are maybe a little misunderstood. When you get to know somebody, things are different when you get to talk face to face. So yeah, that's going on,” Pace said. “I know he's a very talented player, and again it's just getting to know him as a person and kind of how he ticks.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers did not use the franchise tag on receiver Randall Cobb -- or any of their other pending free agents -- and now have only until March 10 to get a deal done with him before he's free to sign with another team.

It would have cost the Packers $12.823 million to use the franchise tag on Cobb, but it would have assured that they would retain their slot receiver for at least one more season.

They easily could have absorbed that number under their salary cap given that they have about $33 million in available space at this point, but Packers general manager Ted Thompson has rarely used the tag as a means to keep a player. He did so in 2010 with defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, who then agreed to a long-term deal shortly thereafter. He also used it in 2008 on defensive tackle Corey Williams and then traded him to the Cleveland Browns.

So what's next for Cobb and the Packers?

Between now and Saturday, the Packers still have exclusive negotiating rights with all of their free agents. But come 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, any team would be free to negotiate with Cobb even though they couldn't sign him until March 10.

Last season, the Packers let their priority free agent, cornerback Sam Shields, get to the negotiating period before they signed him to a four-year, $39 million contract. They got the deal done about six hours after Shields and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, were allowed to start talking to other teams.

Cobb's agent, Jimmy Sexton, almost certainly has an idea of what kind of money his client could get on the open market, but he might want to wait until the negotiating period officially opens at 4 p.m. ET on Friday before he goes back to the Packers with any more demands.

It's possible a team with major cap space, say the Jacksonville Jaguars (with nearly $70 million in cap space) or the Oakland Raiders (more than $56 million in cap space), could come in with an offer far above what the Packers think Cobb is worth.

Sexton did not return messages left Monday.

Cobb is coming off his best season with 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he has been primarily a slot, or inside, receiver during his four-year NFL career. Typically, receivers who play on the outside are higher paid.

The Packers plan to continue to try to work out a deal with Cobb before free agency opens. They also are trying to re-sign tackle Bryan Bulaga, who could have been franchised for $12.92 million, well above his market value.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's been a while since the Minnesota Vikings were among the NFL's movers and shakers in the early stages of free agency, and coach Mike Zimmer had already indicated they weren't likely to be terribly active on the open market this season. But what general manager Rick Spielman said at the University of Minnesota's pro day on Monday morning offered another rationale for why the Vikings could pass on some of the league's hottest commodities when free agency kicks off next Tuesday.

The Vikings, Spielman said, could have more interest in players who are cut by their teams for salary-cap reasons than players who are unrestricted free agents. Those players are not counted in calculations for compensatory picks the next year, so signing one this year would not affect the Vikings' chances to get extra selections in the 2016 draft.

It's unlikely the Vikings will get any compensatory picks this year, Spielman said, and their group of players about to hit free agency is small enough that the Vikings might not get any choices next year, either. But if there is a recently-released player who can fill the same need as an unrestricted free agent, it doesn't hurt to consider that option.

"There's a pretty good group of guys that are going to get cut, or have been cut already," Spielman said. "You weigh UFAs, but we also put in all the guys who are potential street free agents. We may look at that route."

The Vikings, Spielman said, plan to "just sit back, unless something unique pops up." The last time they used a similar manifesto before the market opened, they signed Greg Jennings at the end of the first week. The wide receiver was 2013's "unique" option, after the Vikings had traded Percy Harvin, and it wouldn't be shocking to see the team chase one expensive acquisition in free agency, especially considering it has about $20.8 million in available cap space.

But a March spending spree hasn't been the Vikings' style since the late 2000s, and it's not likely to happen now.

"We've been pretty patient through free agency, and we feel good about a lot of these young kids we have on our roster that could potentially step up and fill some voids if we do lose some of our guys," Spielman said. "[VP of football operations] Rob Brzezinski is working through some of our current guys now, before March 10. There's a lot of work we have to get done this week. And once free agency starts, we'll probably lay in the weeds a little bit and see what happens."
The Detroit Lions are slowly starting to re-sign their own free agents.

According to NFLPA records, defensive end Darryl Tapp signed a one-year deal with a base salary of $870,000 to remain with the Lions. No other details were immediately available.

Tapp, 30, signed with Detroit during free agency in 2014 and was initially cut out of training camp but re-signed with the Lions before the first week of the season after an injury to Kyle Van Noy.

He ended up as a key part of the Detroit defensive end rotation, making 17 tackles and a half a sack.

Tapp, a second-round pick by Seattle in 2006, has played in 130 games between the Seahawks, Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit. He has 271 tackles, 25.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and two interceptions in his career.

A message sent to Tapp was not immediately returned.

Tapp is the second Detroit unrestricted free agent to return to the team in 2015. Long snapper Don Muhlbach signed a one-year deal last week.

Tapp's deal was first reported by the blog Pride of Detroit.
The decision was difficult, mostly because Ndamukong Suh was the player the Detroit Lions had built so much of their defense around for the past five seasons and into the foreseeable future.

To put a franchise tag on Suh -- a decision the Lions passed on Monday morning -- would have meant potentially tying up an obscene amount of money in the defensive tackle if a long-term deal couldn't be reached for slightly less cash. It would have meant leaving little wiggle room to improve the roster through free agency, and perhaps more cap cuts for players deemed valuable to the franchise.

And it would have come with zero guarantee the Lions would have signed him to a long-term deal anyway. So it was smart of the Lions to pass on franchising Suh, although now it puts a lot more pressure on the team's front office to get a deal done before he hits the open market as one of the most coveted free agents since the inception of free agency in the NFL.

The Lions mismanaged themselves into this position. They restructured Suh's contract enough during the first four years of his deal that it left the franchise with a $22.4 million cap charge for his final season. So they had to understand if the franchise tag became something they would have to consider using, the cost would be the astronomical number it is (almost $26.9 million) instead of a much more reasonable number.

The restructures took what would have likely been a reasonable franchise tag for a player such as Suh -- somewhere between $10 million and $12 million -- and made the number almost impossible to deal with.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh, C.J. Spiller
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsNow that the tag is no longer an option, can the Lions secure Ndamukong Suh to a long-term deal?
The restructures, along with long-term deals for quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, left the Lions with the potential for three massive contracts on the books while each player was entering or just leaving their primes. It is a financial quandary that would be difficult for any franchise to deal with.

The Lions shortened the window to get something done when they shut down negotiations with Suh prior to the season. This let J.J. Watt and Gerald McCoy essentially set the market price for Suh when he tries to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, something likely to happen by the end of March, with either the Lions or another franchise. If Suh and the Lions had worked out a deal before the season, they could have set the high-end number and not had to worry about whether Suh would be around for the prime of his career.

An earlier contract could have also given more time to rework some other deals to find more room and a way to fit Suh, Johnson and Stafford under the cap and still have some money to improve the roster on the defensive line, offensive line, cornerback, running back and wide receiver. These are all areas where the Lions need to find players through the draft or free agency -- and the reason why they couldn't use the tag with the $26.9 million price tag.

It also would have made the decision to pass on emerging star defensive tackle Aaron Donald during the draft and declining Nick Fairley's fifth-year option in free agency easier to understand.

Yet the Lions did none of those things -- and continued to speak confidently about signing Suh to a long-term deal. Team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew have been saying this for over a year now, continually offering the same message: a deal, they believed, would get done.

Now, with the tag no longer an option, the Lions have a real deadline to reach a deal. And we'll see whether Lewand and Mayhew's confidence was justified, or a misjudgment of the entire Suh process if he walks to another team willing to pay.
The first part -- and possibly major conclusion -- to the year-long Ndamukong Suh free-agency drama will come to an end by 4 p.m. ET Monday, when the franchise has to make a decision whether or not to use the franchise or transition tag on the defensive tackle.

There are three types of tags that can be used: An exclusive franchise tag, which gives the team exclusive negotiating rights with Suh and assures he'll be a Detroit Lion next season for around $26.9 million unless he is able to work out a long-term deal with the club. A nonexclusive franchise tag does something similar, but allows him to negotiate with other teams. If a team makes him an offer and the Lions decline to match, Detroit receives two future first-round picks for Suh's services. The transition tag is similar to the nonexclusive tag, but with no compensation for losing Suh. If a long-term deal is not done by July 15 with the tag, $26.9 million is his figure for 2015.

So here's a quick look at the reasons for and against tagging Suh. In the past, I've said the Lions need to use the tag on Suh if they believe it is the only way to keep him around, but my belief now is the only way the franchise should use the tag is if it believes there is only a one-year window to win with this group of players.

Reasons to tag Suh:

1. The one-year window: If the Lions want to go all-in for 2015 with the understanding they might not be able to get Suh back in 2016 anyway, then it would make sense to tag him. This would likely mean the franchise believes this is the last year the team can potentially make it to a Super Bowl with the current nucleus that includes Suh, Calvin Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, Joique Bell and others (Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate, for instance, aren't going anywhere either way). If that's the case and the Lions don't believe they will get a long-term deal done with Suh, then that's a reason for the team to use the tag.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsIf the Lions put the franchise tag on Ndamukong Suh, their options in free agency will be limited.
2. Suh is a transcendent player: There is no question Suh is the best interior lineman in the NFL and one of the best defensive players in the league. Losing a player like this -- on a defense that has been built around him and the rest of the defensive line as the crux of a 4-3 scheme -- would no doubt damage the unit in 2015. Players like him don't come around very often and if the franchise believes he is that critical to a defense that was one of the best in the NFL last season, ensuring he is around might be the way to go.

An issue either way:

1. The public relations hit: The fan base appears to be truly divided on this issue. Some want to see the team keep him at all costs. Some want to see the team let him go if he doesn't want to sign a long-term deal to stay with Detroit. The Lions have done a good job keeping things positive with their fans, saying for over a year now they believed a deal would be done with Suh. If Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew can't deliver on that, it might be a bad look considering they were so confident about it. The flip on that, of course, is the Lions can say they tried everything they could (whether they really do or not) if Suh ends up leaving in free agency and isn't tagged.

The reasons against tagging Suh:

1. The money: Giving $26.9 million to Suh plus the $9.7 million in dead money that the Lions are going to have on the books no matter what in 2015 is crippling when it comes to free agency and building depth. It all but means the Lions won't be big players in free agency (although they wouldn't be huge there if Suh signs a long-term deal, either) but Detroit has holes that need to be filled on the defensive line, offensive line, cornerback, running back and receiver. Some will come in the draft, but a good veteran or two wouldn't hurt.

2. You believe Suh isn't worth it: As mentioned above, Suh is a special player. There is no question about that. But if the Lions believe they can replace him somewhat adequately between free agency and the draft and possibly upgrade at other positions (Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell, San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb and Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton are some of the possible targets out there) then the sum of what could be brought in instead of Suh might make Detroit better off in the long run. That's a risk, because there's no guarantee Detroit could sign one or all of those players.

3. You believe Suh and the Lions will come to terms no matter what: If this is the case, you take your chances, although the question would also be raised as to why the deal has not been done already if the franchise truly believes this.

These are some of the reasons either way for tagging Suh by 4 p.m. or declining to. At least for Detroit, it'll have a better idea of what's next by the end of business today.
Thanks to everyone participating in this week's Twitter mailbag.

Let's get started.

@mikecwright: I'm not sure about "fits" as you say, but the Bears are definitely interested in David Harris of the New York Jets, and Tampa Bay's Mason Foster as potential fits at inside linebacker. I think linebackers such as Jonathan Casillas and O'Brien Schofield are also players to keep an eye on as free agency approaches. I think San Francisco has some interesting things going on at linebacker as well. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman appear to be close to returning to full health, which means that last year's starters Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite could be relegated to backup roles. So perhaps new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, given his familiarity with all four players, could talk Ryan Pace into trying to trade for one of his former 49ers pupils.

@mikecwright: I could definitely see that happening. The names to look out for would be linebacker Nate Irving, safety Rahim Moore and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, aka "Pot Roast," as all three are free agents. Knighton is reportedly looking to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million per year, which seems a tad steep. Knighton played in Jacksonville and Denver for new Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. So there's a good chance Del Rio could be looking to add Knighton as well. Irving is coming off a torn ACL, which means he probably won't have much leverage in terms of landing a big-money deal. But Irving became a full-time starter in 2014, and seems to be an ascending player. Moore, meanwhile, will be one of the better safeties on the market along with New England's Devin McCourty. So there's a good chance Moore could be looking for more than the Bears would be willing to pay. In the past, the Bears didn't value the safety position in terms of handing out big-money deals. Perhaps that's changed with Pace as the GM.

@mikecwright: I think you got it right. But I go back and forth between where to put Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. In fact, I'd say Marshall probably has a better chance of returning to Chicago than Cutler.

@mikecwright: I'm sure that 5.64 time in the 40-yard dash hurt him in the eyes of some scouts, but I don't believe that will affect his draft position. What you've got to realize is that Danny Shelton has rare power and strength, and he did put up a 30.5-inch vertical leap, which means he's got the explosion that personnel evaluators covet. He's also got the strength and power to command double-teams, which in turn would keep offensive linemen off the linebackers to allow them to run around and make plays. Shelton met with several teams at the combine, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Arizona, Green Bay, the New York Giants and New Orleans, and I don't think any of those teams' interest has waned after that time in the 40. Ultimately, what the player put on tape in games is what Shelton will be judged on; not a 40-yard dash time.

@mikecwright: I like him. Personal side note: Petty's coach at Baylor, Art Briles, was head coach of the Stephenville [Texas] Yellow Jackets back when they defeated us (Wichita Falls, Texas -- Hirschi High School) 49-40 in the first round of the playoffs my sophomore year. Anyway, as much as I like Petty, I don't think he's quite ready. I think he'll need a few years to learn the nuances of an NFL system before he's ready to be a starter. So if the Bears were to draft Petty, they'd have to let him sit and learn a few years before thrusting him into any real action.

Even Petty admitted that it's difficult at this point to project how he'll fare in an NFL system because of his background in a spread offense, but said he's more of a pocket passer than most spread quarterbacks.

"We were in the spread, but at the same time, I feel like I am a pocket passer," Petty said at the NFL combine. "I want to extend plays, extend plays within the pocket. That might be a little bit different than most spread quarterbacks who want to run it out of the pocket. For me, I feel like my game can translate easier in that, and the fact that I want to play within the pocket, and I want to extend plays within the pocket and beat you doing that."

The book is called Everybody Fumbles.

Published in 2014, it is the ultimate statement by Earnest Byner, the former Cleveland Browns running back involved in the play that has gone down in Browns history as merely “The Fumble.”

[+] EnlargeEarnest Byner, Brian Brennan
AP photo/Mark DuncanEarnest Byner's fumble in the 1988 AFC Championship Game haunted him for over a year until he left Cleveland.
Byner’s miscue at the goal line late in the January 1988 AFC Championship Game in Denver came as he was about to score to tie the game. It still hurts Browns fans, and it left Byner feeling like he was drowning.

But in time he recovered.

Byner now wants to make sure another player does not go through what he did for as long as he did. Byner watched the end of this season's NFC Championship Game and saw the Green Bay Packers' Brandon Bostick misplay an onside kick, helping Seattle complete an improbable comeback.

When Byner heard Bostick talk after the game and then a couple of days later, saying that he had let an entire team and fan base down, Byner knew he had to reach out -- even though he had never met Bostick and had never talked to him.

“I didn’t want him to feel like he was alone,” Byner said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Bostick made Byner’s role clear in a first-person story written on SI.com on Thursday, a story in which Bostick revealed he still lives with his mistakes and that he received death threats on Twitter.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind,” Bostick wrote. “There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home."

"That’s one of the reasons I’m calling him and we’re talking,” Byner said. “I’m trying to make it so it’s not a difficult process for him."

Bostick was supposed to block on the kick and let teammate Jordy Nelson catch the ball. Instead, Bostick tried to catch it and lost it.

Byner heard Bostick’s anguish after the game and reached out through Packers assistant coach Sam Gash, who played for the Ravens when Byner was an assistant coach in Baltimore.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bostick
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesEarnest Byner reached out to Brandon Bostick immediately after the tight end botched the onside kick in the NFC title game.
“With the way social media is now, the weight and how much he hears it, it all happened to him a lot quicker than it did me,” Byner said. “It took me four or five months. It made me struggle after four or five months.”

Byner would hear people yell, “Hey don’t fumble.” He’d hear other barbs, snide remarks. He’d notice people looking at him, then looking away. He felt love from many Browns fans, but the weight from the negative, he said, became heavier every day.

“It was almost like a drowning,” Byner said.

Byner played for the Browns for one season after the fumble but was not himself. He said it took a trade to Washington to bring him out of his dark state.

“It took a spiritual conversation for me to actually get past the fumble,” Byner said. “I’m not preaching to [Bostick]. But to me the spiritual impact is crucial. The spirit has a way of freeing you up a lot.”

Since then, Byner has helped several players in several sports. Bostick is the latest, as the two have talked several times since the championship game. The ex-Brown feels that Bostick will benefit from being released by Green Bay. Going to Minnesota will help him start fresh.

“The next step,” Byner said, “is to get together. I need to look him in his eyes. I need to feel what he’s feeling. That way I can make a difference in the process. Not just that process, but in his life. Because the better the person, the better the player you will have.”

As Byner says when describing his book on a video on his website earnestbyner21.com: “Mistakes are critical to learning, understanding what happened and how it happened. And being able to go to the next level. Being able to ultimately become a champion, not just in sports, but also in life.”
There are two things the Detroit Lions desperately need as the franchise tries to win its first playoff game in more than 20 years: Defensive linemen and offensive linemen.

Though it is somewhat likely the Lions will go with one of those positions in the first round of this spring's NFL draft in Chicago, where they go has varied.

In his latest mock draft, Todd McShay has looked squarely at the offensive line Insider and taken the most versatile lineman out there: Florida State's Cameron Erving.

Erving would make perfect sense for Detroit because of how he plays. He's someone who will grade out as one of the best centers in the draft should the Lions -- or any team -- choose to use him there. Prior to this season, though, he was an offensive tackle for the Seminoles and did well enough there to start on a national championship team. His size, at 6-foot-5, 313 pounds, could move him to any position on the line if need be, including guard if the Lions feel comfortable with their tackle and center situations.

"When I made the switch, a lot of people asked me how I felt about it in terms of the NFL. That wasn’t on my mind," Erving said of the position switch last week at the NFL combine. "I mean, I’ve always been the type of person that does what’s best for the team. When I moved from defense (after freshman season) that was what was best for the team. And that’s how I did.

"As far as moving from tackle to center, it’s what the team needed at the time. So I did it."

Erving started his career as a defensive tackle at Florida State before moving over to offensive tackle in 2012. The other potential option here is if the Lions were to draft Erving -- or another tackle -- in the first round, this could potentially help the franchise move current left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

General manager Martin Mayhew is all about versatility -- especially in this draft -- and Erving would present the most versatile player possible on the offensive line in the Class of 2015.