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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Digging into NFC North rosters

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

I have (NFC) West envy. Alex, Dwight and David S. were among a number of readers who caught Mike Sando's excellent analysis of the NFC West salary-cap situation last week and requested a replication of the post in Black and Blue terms.

 Brown
 Culpepper

So I played with the numbers and possibilities for a while. Here is where I landed: Unlike a few NFC West clubs, no NFC North team will be hindered by its salary-cap status this offseason. You will see players cut and signed to contract extensions. A few will have their deals renegotiated and there might be a trade or two. But none of the moves will be forced by a shortage of cap space, thanks to smart management and a steadily increasing cap. (It's expected to be at least $123 million in 2009.)

  Clifton
  Frerotte

Ultimately, there are two questions when it comes to the NFL salary cap: (1) Can teams make the moves they want to make? (2) Will they be forced into any moves they don't want to make?

Without fail, the NFC North answers to those questions are, "Yes" and "No," respectively. So if the cap isn't the primary engine of player movement, what is? In short, football priorities and cash-flow issues. (The latter should not be underestimated. Amid the national economic downturn, some NFL teams are losing sponsors, laying off employees and freezing ticket prices. It's only natural to assume player payroll budgets will be tight.)

During the next three weeks, NFL teams will make final decisions on their existing rosters before the start of free agency. So on Feb. 10 in the NFC North, the most instructive exercise is to run through the cash flow and football issues of each team to help project which players are at least under consideration for a move this month.

As always, we'll structure ourselves in alphabetical order as a way to fool Chicago fans into thinking we give the Bears top priority on this blog.

CHICAGO BEARS

Estimated working cap number as of Feb. 27: $20-$25 million

Cash flow: The Bears announced they will freeze ticket prices while absorbing a 1 percent increase in the City of Chicago's amusement tax. Team President Ted Phillips said revenues will decrease but the football budget hasn't.

Potentially targeted players:

DETROIT LIONS

Estimated working cap number as of Feb. 27: $35 million

Cash flow: The Lions have frozen most ticket prices and dropped others. They must budget a hefty sum of guaranteed money, perhaps $35 million, to sign their pair of No. 1 draft choices. Those issues suggest the Lions won't be heavy spenders on the free-agent market.

Potentially targeted players:*

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Estimated working cap number as of Feb. 27: $25-$30 million

Cash flow: President/CEO Mark Murphy has said that revenues are down. But the Packers' unique ownership structure makes them relatively insulated from economic ebbs and flows.

Potentially targeted players:

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Estimated working cap number as of Feb. 27: $30 million

Cash flow: Owner Zygi Wilf has made a capital call to his investment partners in each of the three full years he's owned the team. Wilf has said he will never let finances get in the way of building the team, but it's likely the Vikings will take a more conservative approach in 2009.

Potentially targeted players:

(*The Lions have already released the following players: Cornerback Leigh Bodden, tight end Dan Campbell, offensive lineman Jon Dunn, receiver Mike Furrey, guard Edwin Mulitalo and safety Dwight Smith.)