NFC North: 2011 NFL free agency

MANKATO, Minn. -- I came up about, oh, 85 players short Wednesday of talking to everyone on the Minnesota Vikings roster. So I can't say for sure that no one was upset by the decision to release longtime left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who reported to training camp weighing nearly 400 pounds.

Here's what I can tell you, however: Some players would have been upset if the Vikings hadn't released McKinnie.

[+] EnlargeBryant McKinnie
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesViking cornerback Antoine Winfield on Bryant McKinnie: "All we had to do is come in and come in shape. Coaches really had no choice but to do what they did."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield, for one, said he thought coach Leslie Frazier would give McKinnie a chance to get his weight and conditioning under control. But ultimately, Winfield agreed, "no one is untouchable."

Winfield added: "We all understood, everyone as professionals, that all we had to do is come in and come in shape. Coaches really had no choice but to do what they did."

The Vikings have a predominantly veteran roster, most of whom went to great lengths to stay in shape during the lockout. Winfield looked as fit and trim as ever. Left guard Steve Hutchinson said he is "in the best shape I've been in the last seven or eight years" after participating in Twin Cities workouts with six teammates. Defensive end Jared Allen, meanwhile, laughed when asked about his approach to working out this offseason.

"My philosophy is this is my job," Allen said. "This is my livelihood. You've got to assume the lockout is going to be done at some point, so it's your job to stay in shape. Everybody can find a gym."

No one blasted McKinnie nor expressed disappointment that he had left them searching for a left tackle in the first week of August. In my opinion, after watching McKinnie's immature behavior and dispassionate play for years, few of them counted him as part of the trusted core of veterans.

"You can't be mad at him," Winfield said. "I'm sure he's disappointed in himself. That's kind of embarrassing. But I think he's going to have to deal with it."

In the offseason, Winfield said, "guys do different things. Some guys relax, some guys travel. Some guys like to party. But you have to be disciplined. All you have to do is go work out, stay in some kind of shape, and perform."

McKinnie wasn't a disciplined teammate or player. That's why I don't think anyone who works as hard as Winfield, Allen or Hutchinson was really ruing his departure.

"Realistically," Hutchinson said, "if you came and showed up at camp with the hope that every player was in tip-top shape, I don't think anybody can whole-heartedly say, 'Yeah, everyone is going to be in the best shape of their life.' I'll admit, as you get older, you're not 23 years old anymore. It's hard to kind of get up maybe sometimes on your own and go run in the heat of the day, and push yourself to do the things that you would do when you're in an offseason conditioning program with all of the guys."

But that's just the point, isn't it? Hutchinson got a group together that included center John Sullivan, linebacker Heath Farwell and linebacker Chad Greenway, among others, to push each other on days when there were no conditioning coaches on top of them and no football coaches getting reports on their progress.

If you are a player who has paid the proverbial price, how much do you care about what happens to someone who didn't? And how would you have felt if that person got a free pass from training camp to do the work he should have done before it started?

You might be upset, and it's a double standard that coach Leslie Frazier avoided by quickly dispatching McKinnie. Frazier wouldn't discuss his reasoning behind the decision while speaking with reporters other than to say: "We made a decision for our organization for our organization that we thought was the best thing as we're trying to bring a world championship to Minnesota."

The Vikings could have left McKinnie on the non-football injury list for a while, hoping he would lose enough weight to regain his effectiveness by the start of the season. Frazier had a choice between extending McKinnie's career-long coddling session or standing up for the veterans who don't need or want to work in that kind of environment.

He chose the latter, and it needs no further explanation.

"Guys need to be on their jobs," Winfield said. "They're not untouchable."

Nor should they be.
A few Tuesday training camp tidbits in quick-hitting fashion ...

Item: The Chicago Bears signed tight end Desmond Clark to a one-year contract.
Comment: It's not entirely clear what the Bears are up to at tight end. Clark was inactive for 11 of 16 games last season and didn't seem to fit into the team's plans. But he has been a locker room pillar for years and might have extra value now that we know center Olin Kreutz won't return. Said Clark: "I think the way the Bears viewed me as a leader had a great deal to do with it."

Item: After mulling retirement, Kreutz wants to play somewhere this season, according to his agent.
Comment: Kreutz didn't encounter a ton of interest on the free-agent market, but someone will need a veteran center in the next few weeks, if not before.

Item: The Indianapolis Colts signed former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
Comment: Four sacks in two years.

Item: The St. Louis Rams signed former Green Bay Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga.
Comment: Poppinga is expected to compete with another former Packers linebacker, Na'il Diggs, for a starting job. He'll certainly bring an aggressive attitude to the Rams' defense.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings might still be in the market for free-agent receiver Malcom Floyd, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
Comment: Could Floyd bulk up and play left tackle?
In the chaos of Scramble'11, the Chicago Bears added two big receivers in Roy Williams and Sam Hurd. They re-signed two important role players, defensive tackle Anthony Adams and cornerback/special teams ace Corey Graham. They even added the luxury of a third veteran running back, Marion Barber, who might or might not help them in short-yardage situations.

[+] EnlargeChris Spencer
Tony Medina/Icon SMINew center Chris Spencer will have a short time to grasp Chicago's complicated scheme.
What they haven't done, however, is substantively address their universally acclaimed roster weakness. Other than their much-debated swap of center Olin Kreutz for Chris Spencer, the Bears haven't added a single guard or tackle to their roster. They reportedly pursued free agent tackle Willie Colon, but ultimately Colon re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

During a news conference with reporters Sunday, general manager Jerry Angelo suggested there aren't many intriguing possibilities left on the free agent market and implied the Bears were prepared to take their lumps while developing their own incumbents.

"These offensive linemen are tough to find," Angelo said. "We've got a good nucleus of young guys with traits we look for, but they've got to come together. We can't just run up and down the starting line, get a guy with a few games under his belt, and think that's the answer. They've got to come together. We like our young players. We need to develop some of them. How are you going to develop them if you don't play them? And if you don't play them, then how do they know you believe in them?"

"It's a catch 22. We brought in an experienced center who is in the prime of his career. That's the best we could do."

Angelo went on to chide reporters for identifying problems rather than offering solutions. ESPN.com's free agency tracker will show you all of the offensive linemen who re-signed with their previous teams and those who were willing to jump. That latter list includes guards David Baas (New York Giants), Daryn Colledge (Arizona Cardinals), Harvey Dahl (St. Louis Rams) and Robert Gallery (Seattle Seahawks).

But what's done is done. There is no sense harping on the Bears' decision/failure not to add experienced veterans to this group. It's more productive to look ahead at how the Bears will deal with the hand they've dealt themselves. In short, this situation gives offensive line coach Mike Tice the most difficult job of any NFC North assistant for the second consecutive season.

Once again, the Bears will ask Tice to build a line from scratch in the shortest timetable imaginable. Last season, it took nearly half of the regular season before the Bears found a happy medium between their scheme and personnel.

In addition to working Spencer into the mix, Tice will have to bring along rookie Gabe Carimi, who has opened camp as the second-team left tackle but almost assuredly will replace Frank Omiyale with the first team in short order. Tice will have to coax significant development from left guard Chris Williams and right tackle J'Marcus Webb, and he'll have to hope that Roberto Garza's shift between guard and emergency center doesn't set him back.

I'll agree with Angelo on this much: An aggressive move on free agency doesn't guarantee improvement. As it stands now, two of their five positions -- center and left tackle -- are likely to have been turned over by the start of the regular season. Is that enough? Or have the Bears sentenced themselves to another year of fits and starts on offense?

Earlier Sunday, I joked that some kind words from quarterback Aaron Rodgers had started a countdown on the return of free-agent fullback John Kuhn to the Green Bay Packers.

I guess it was no joke.

Kuhn
Jones
In a matter of hours, the Packers re-signed both Kuhn and another Rodgers favorite -- receiver James Jones -- to three-year contracts. Here's the Kuhn story from Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Perhaps Rodgers already knew about both moves when he spoke with reporters, but you have to wonder if Rodgers' public (and private) lobbying didn't play at least a partial role in the returns of both players.

Rodgers told a group of reporters that "we need to add John Kuhn back" because he and Jones "are important to us." Speaking later to Don Banks of Sports Illustrated.com, Rodgers added: "I'm a leader on this team and my voice carries a little bit of weight in the locker room. You don't get better by taking from the whole. You need a guy like [James] Jones back. You need a guy like John Kuhn back. We need guys like that to win.''

Kuhn returns to a crowded backfield that also includes tailbacks Ryan Grant, James Starks and rookie Alex Green. But the versatility Kuhn displayed last season after moving to tailback, and the free-agent departure of fullback Korey Hall, clearly made him a valued piece of the Packers' puzzle.
For those who like to dig up old blog posts for a "gotcha" moment, I'll beat you to the punch. Here's what I wrote near the end of draft weekend in April:
I have no problem if the Detroit Lions, three years removed from the worst season in NFL history, continue drafting without regard for position. In the long run, it's the best approach for re-stocking a once-barren roster.

In the short term, however, I'll say this: There better be more on the way.

Sunday afternoon, it is now undeniable that the Lions have held up their end of the bargain, even if it was via an unexpected path. In the past week, they've signed two starting linebackers and two cornerbacks who will have good opportunities to start as well. When you add linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant to cornerbacks Eric Wright and Chris Houston, you've got a reputable and responsible follow-up to a universally praised draft class.

Houston is their most recent move, having agreed to a two-year contract after Houston spent a few days testing his value on the market. Houston started 15 games last season and there is every reason to believe he'll be with the first team when the Lions open the regular season. But with Houston, Wright, Alphonso Smith and Nate Vasher, the Lions finally have a group of at least semi-established cornerbacks from which to choose a starting lineup. If Aaron Berry stays healthy this summer, you can add a fifth name to that list.

The Lions hit a couple of speed bumps when camp opened -- injuries that forced Smith and left tackle Jeff Backus to the non-football injury list. But as they resume practice Monday, it's clear they have both addressed their needs and built on their strengths this offseason. Well done.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- All available evidence suggested that the Green Bay Packers and receiver James Jones would amicably separate this summer. Jones was no doubt seeking a market-level second contract, and the Packers already have a full house of established pass-catchers and added a high draft choice to the mix this spring.

It made sense that Jones would sign elsewhere and the Packers would roll with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb at receiver, with a fully healed Jermichael Finley at tight end. But two things happened on the way to what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Silverstein first reported was a three-year contract agreement between the Packers and Jones. (ESPN's John Clayton has confirmed the deal.)

[+] EnlargeJames Jones
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesThe Packers and receiver James Jones have agreed to terms on a three-year deal.
First, quarterback Aaron Rodgers began publicly lobbying for Jones' return, saying Jones should be the Packers' No. 1 offseason priority. (Clearly he was not, because their first move was to re-sign place-kicker Mason Crosby.) Jones confirmed to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com that Rodgers, as well as Driver and Jennings, went to bat for him.

"Having your teammates push for you and want you back, not a lot of guys would do that, two high-profile guys like them, two dudes," Jones said. "And for Greg and Donald [to] want me back on that team, that shows how unselfish we are."

Speaking in the Packers' locker room shortly before Sunday's agreement, Rodgers said the Packers "need" to re-sign both Jones and running back John Kuhn, another unrestricted free agent. (The countdown for Kuhn's new deal begins in 3, 2, 1 ...)

"Those are two guys out there that are important to us," Rodgers said. "It's not my decision, but I'm definitely pulling for those guys to come back."

Why was Rodgers so adamant about Jones, whose otherwise productive seasons with the Packers have been marred by some high-profile drops? Ultimately, I think it comes down to human nature. People like what they know and they worry about what's next. Rodgers has devoted four years to developing a level of chemistry with Jones. Why not continue capitalizing on that experience for as long as possible?

Second, a number of teams that originally expressed interest in Jones went in different directions. As we discussed Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings agreed to terms with receiver Michael Jenkins. On Sunday morning, coach Leslie Frazier said he had the group "we're going to roll with," indicating Jones was no longer a possibility.

An hour or so later, the New York Jets -- another team linked to Jones -- agreed to terms with free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress.

Ultimately, I think the Packers were by far the best situation for Jones. We've all cringed at free-agent moves that seem destined to fail from the start. Is James Jones ready to be another team's No. 2 receiver? The fresh start of free agency sometimes jump-starts a career, but my guess is that Jones didn't need that. What he needs is to continue growing in an established system with one of the NFL's top quarterbacks while in the relative comfort zone of one of the league's deepest receiving corps.

If he one day succeeds Driver as the Packers' No. 2 receiver alongside Jennings, then so be it. He'll be better suited than he would have been with another team right now.
Running back Marion Barber's arrival in Chicago begged an immediate discussion about current backup Chester Taylor's future with the Bears. As of Sunday morning, however, Taylor was still with the team and told reporters he had been given no indication that Barber would be given his job.

Asked to explain why he thought the Bears signed Barber, Taylor said: "He's a big back, he can help us out on goal line and short yardage as well. [He can] just come up here and bring us that toughness we need. Hopefully help us throughout the season when me and Matt [Forte] wear down or something like that."

Barber
(Hat tip to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com for passing along the quotes.)

Whether he intended to or not, Taylor accurately identified the biggest deficiency of the Bears' backfield entering camp.

For all of his attributes, Forte has been ineffective near the goal line over the past two seasons. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has five touchdowns in 57 goal-to-go (GTG) carries since the start of 2009.

The NFL's top goal-line runners average about one touchdown on every three such carries. Last season, Mike Tolbert of the San Diego Chargers led the league with 10 scores on 21 goal-to-go carries.

The Bears hoped that Taylor would offer a stronger alternative last season. He scored three touchdowns in 13 opportunities, and it's quite possible the Bears view Barber as a better alternative in short-yardage situations.

Barber is a notoriously hard runner, but his difficult season in 2010 also extended to his success near the goal line. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he scored on three of 18 opportunities.

Taylor is signed for a relatively modest $1.275 million in 2011, so there is little risk for the Bears if they keep him on the roster at least until they know exactly what they can get from Barber. But the window is pretty narrow for Taylor if Forte is going to be the starter and Barber the short-yardage specialist.
On Saturday, we discussed the previously-unexplored possibility of the Detroit Lions adding veteran linebacker Nick Barnett. On Sunday, we learned they snagged a player most of us considered their top target all along.

Free agent Stephen Tulloch has agreed to a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s a surprisingly short-term deal, possibly reflective of tepid interest on the free-agent market, but for now means the Lions have formed a young and potentially long-term trio of competence.

Tulloch, 26, never missed a game in five seasons with the Tennessee Titans and seems likely to play middle linebacker for the Lions. That will shift DeAndre Levy, 24, to one outside position while free agent Justin Durant, 25, mans the other.

Tulloch is the second former Titans defender that coach Jim Schwartz has brought with him from Detroit. Schwartz, once the Titans’ defensive coordinator, recruited defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch last season. Like Vanden Bosch, Tulloch no doubt passes the character test Schwartz has applied while trying to re-shape the team’s locker-room culture. Tulloch will play hard, hit hard and no doubt be happy doing it behind a defensive line that will draw maximum attention from opponents.

The Lions finished the draft in April with remaining holes at linebacker and cornerback. They have aggressively filled the former, while taking a pickier approach at the latter. Based on the one-year deals they gave Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright, along with the two-year contract Durant received, it seems clear the Lions managed to hide their desperation to fill those positions and are giving each player the motivation to increase his value with a strong season in 2011.

Tulloch obviously didn't get the lucrative long-term deal he was looking for, which could raise warning flags about the rest of the NFL's opinion of him. But still, it's a win for the Lions. When is the last time you could say they had three legitimate linebackers under the age of 27? In the end no team fills every roster hole before training camp, especially not with established starters.

Regardless, I think we should all agree that the Lions have improved themselves over the past week. No team is perfect, but the rest of the NFL should hear the clock ticking: Three years removed from the Armageddon of a 0-16 season, the holes are closing rapidly in Detroit.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- So I walked out to Green Bay Packers practice Saturday at about 8 p.m. ET.

Over the next two hours or so, e-mails with these subject lines showed up on in my inbox:
  • BEARS AGREE TO TERMS WITH AMOBI OKOYE
  • BEARS AGREE TO TERMS WITH MARION BARBER
  • AGENT: OLIN KREUTZ LIKELY LEAVING BEARS

Whew.

I'll post some Packers practice thoughts in a few minutes. (Promise.) But first, I think we have to address the growing spectacle emanating from a couple hundred miles southwest of here. The Chicago Bears have continued their flurry of free agent moves but have yet to address their biggest personnel weakness and apparently stand on the precipice of a crisis on their offensive line.

Our friends at ESPNChicago.com are reporting that Kreutz began informing Bears players this evening that he won't re-sign with the team. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, said: "It doesn't look like it's going to happen."

Let's make clear that stalled negotiations sometimes go public with claims more exaggerated than reality. And it's only fair to note that Kreutz obviously hasn't jumped to sign somewhere else yet. I am in no way ruling out the possibility of the Bears reaching a deal with Kreutz, especially if they have a few more practices marred by botched center-quarterback exchanges.

The truth is the sides have a few more days to work this out. Kreutz wouldn't be able to practice before Aug. 4 no matter where or when he signs. So there is nothing wrong with continuing this game of chicken, as long as the Bears are relatively sure they will eventually get their man. They know Kreutz better than anyone else. If they think he can still play, they will re-sign him. If they don't, they'll offer him a deal they don't think he'll accept. We'll know soon enough.

What's not clear is if the Bears have a true backup plan if in fact Kreutz moves on. Saturday, Roberto Garza and Chris Williams manned the position in practice. Edwin Williams, who can't practice until Aug. 4, would also have seen time there. None of those possibilities sound great to me. Do the Bears have a backup free agent plan in mind? That's a question we might not want to have answered.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Bears will pay Barber $5 million over two years. Barber has played six physical seasons and there is no telling how much he has left. Did the Bears sign him as a spot player behind starter Matt Forte and Chester Taylor? Do they plan to release Taylor, who is due a relatively modest $1.275 million this season? Those are questions the Bears will answer for us in the coming days.

I view the Okoye signing much as the decision to bring in defensive end Vernon Gholston. Once highly touted, Okoye now has the opportunity to play under one of the game's best defensive line gurus in Rod Marinelli - at no financial risk to the Bears.

It sounds like the Bears have had an interesting start to training camp. I can't wait to see what happens next.
James JonesMike DiNovo/US PresswireIt doesn't appear James Jones will be headed to Minnesota.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A synergy of sorts settled moments after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that free agent receiver Michael Jenkins had agreed to terms with the Minnesota Vikings. As I sat in the media room at Lambeau Field, I wondered: Does this mean James Jones now has a better chance of returning to the Green Bay Packers?

Backtracking a bit: We've discussed the natural connection between the Vikings and Jenkins, whose career with the Atlanta Falcons overlapped that of new Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Jenkins will be the only Vikings offensive player who will know the scheme from the moment he steps foot in training camp. He'll be a reliable target for quarterback Donovan McNabb amid a veteran group that will be struggling to catch up schematically.

The Vikings, of course, have a big hole to fill after bidding farewell to free agent Sidney Rice. They've had at least some discussions with the agent for Jones, who remained unsigned as of Saturday evening, and have a long history of signing former Packers players. I'm not sure if Jenkins' signing rules out Jones' candidacy in Minnesota, but it almost certainly means the Vikings wouldn't feel compelled to commit big money to him.

So what does that mean for the Packers and Jones? According to ESPN's John Clayton, the New York Jets are still courting him. The Arizona Cardinals have interest as well. The Packers haven't bowed out of the conversation, according to Clayton, but it's not clear if they're willing to pay top dollar for a player who likely would be their No. 3 receiver.

General manager Ted Thompson didn't shed much light on the situation a few moments ago in his annual pre-camp news conference. Asked about the possibility of re-signing some of the Packers' unrestricted free agents, Thompson said: "Rest assured that the fans should know that we're doing everything we can to be a good football team."

I asked Thompson if he would be influenced from an unusually strong lobbying effort by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said earlier this week that James should be the team's top priority in free agency. Thompson's reply: "All of our players and all of our free agents are very well liked in the locker room and I get little things like that from time to time."

Thompson asked reporters and fans to "hang with us" through the frantic first days of free agency. So we'll do that. We've got nothing better to do on a Saturday night, anyway. Back with you after practice.

Bears offensive line* revealed

July, 30, 2011
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For months, we've been discussing the Chicago Bears' offensive line* with a presumed asterisk. All five of their starting positions were pending post-lockout moves. We wouldn't know their first-team lineup, it seemed, until the start of training camp.

Even now, however, it's impossible to know if what the Bears trotted out during their opening practice Saturday in any way resembles their intentions for Week 1 of the regular season. For the record, here is what they used during the early portion of team drills:

Left tackle: Frank Omiyale
Left guard: Chris Williams
Center: Roberto Garza
Right guard: Lance Louis
Right tackle: J'Marcus Webb

Here's what I think we can glean from that grouping:
  • The Bears aren't eager to move Webb to left tackle, as some have discussed this offseason. If they were, it stands to reason he would have opened training camp there even if the rest of the group is in flux.
  • For similar reasons, it appears the Bears want Williams to be their left guard first and foremost. They could conceivably work him at left tackle or even a center, but if they wanted him to play either of those positions on Sept. 11, you would think they would have started him there right away.
  • Garza is at center because Olin Kreutz remains unsigned. The Bears would much prefer to play Garza at right guard, but in the short-term it couldn't hurt them to get Garza some work as an emergency center. The real question is if he would be their answer if Kreutz pulls a surprise and signs elsewhere.

Where does this leave rookie Gabe Carimi? For the moment, it's no surprise that he wasn't working with the first team in his first NFL practice. But he will get his work at left tackle, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes, and at some point this summer he should overtake Omiyale. In that scenario, Omiyale could ultimately serve as an expensive but experienced backup at both guard and tackle positions.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Greetings from Titletown, where the temperature gauge read an even 90 degrees when I pulled into town. In a few hours, I’ll check out the first training camp practice of the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

Barnett
Barnett
But first, we should note a potential news item about a former Packer. According to the NFL Network, linebacker Nick Barnett is scheduled to visit the Detroit Lions on Saturday evening. The Lions completed their second training camp practice Saturday morning and are off Sunday, so it’s possible Barnett will make other visits before making a decision.

The Lions obviously haven’t spoken about the possibility of signing Barnett, but if they do, it would make sense for him to play middle linebacker and for DeAndre Levy to move to the outside. That would give the Lions a respectable trio of veteran starters: Barnett, Levy and newcomer Justin Durant. (It wouldn't change their situation at cornerback, but that story is for another day.)

Barnett’s active Twitter feed has been full of hints and teases about playing for both the Lions and Chicago Bears, either of which would give him the opportunity to play against the Packers twice per season. He’s also been linked to the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Lions’ decision to host Barnett on a visit means they still consider their linebacker position in flux even after the acquisition of Durant. Coach Jim Schwartz said in March he would have no problem moving Levy to the outside should circumstances warrant it.

To me, the biggest concern would be the recent injury histories of both Durant and Barnett. Durant missed six games last season and has never played a 16-game season, while Barnett has suffered season-ending injuries in two of the past three seasons. Stay tuned.
Kinda hit a wall Friday evening. Happens. Now refreshed and ready for a weekend that will include our first training camp stop (more on that in a bit), let's slam through some random NFC North thoughts in quick-hit fashion:

Item: Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte reported to training camp on time Friday after general manager Jerry Angelo assured his contract would be upgraded. "He told me a deal will get done," Forte said. "He said I'm a priority of his. What that means, hopefully that means soon. I mean, there's no telling with them. But to me priority means soon."
Comment: Timing is only half of the uncertainty. Angelo's idea of a fair deal for a running back might be different than Forte's. It's good to know the Bears will make an effort. But after DeAngelo Williams scored $21 million in guarantees from the Carolina Panthers, will their effort match Forte's demands?

Item: Bears camp opened without center Olin Kreutz, who remains an unrestricted free agent.
Comment: Kreutz is in discussions with the Bears but also has interest from the San Francisco 49ers. Odds remain he will return to Chicago, but Kreutz might be wise to let the Bears have a few practices without him to emphasize his value to them. And I'm guessing he won't be too disappointed if his time in Bourbonnais, Ill., is cut short a bit anyway.

Item: The Bears signed defensive end Vernon Gholston to a free agent contract.
Comment: I just googled Gholston to find his career stats. The first suggestion was "Vernon Gholston bust." That tells you all you need to know. The No. 6 overall pick of the 2008 draft has no career sacks. But there is no downside to giving him a flyer for camp, and if anyone can get something out of him, it's Bears defensive coordinator/line guru Rod Marinelli.

Item: The Detroit Lions placed left tackle Jeff Backus (pectoral) and cornerback Alphonso Smith (foot) on the active/non-football injury list.
Comment: Originally both players were destined for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The difference? Because the injuries occurred during the lockout, the contracts of both players would void (with no injury settlement) if the Lions decide to part ways. I don't think that's going to happen in either case, but it's an available option.

Item: Referring to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's brand-building activities this offseason, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said: "There were more Suh sightings than Bigfoot."
Comment: I'm glad someone said it.

Item: The Green Bay Packers agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and others.
Comment: The new collective bargaining agreement has rendered rookie negotiations pretty uneventful, at least until agents start finding some loopholes. But at this point, it would be a surprise if an NFC North team had a rookie holdout. The Packers' first practice is Saturday night.

Item: Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his wife, Jessica, welcomed baby daughter Isabella Conroy late Thursday night.
Comment: Sure, McCarthy won the Super Bowl last season. But if he really wants to show us something, he'll take the 2 a.m. feeding throughout training camp.

Item: New Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb secured his No. 5 from punter Chris Kluwe in a deal captured on video by the team's web site. McNabb agreed to donate $5,000 to a charity Kluwe supports. He also pledged to mention Kluwe's band in five separate news conferences and finally to buy Kluwe an ice cream cone.
Comment: Kluwe, who will wear No. 4, is one of the breakout stars of the lockout.

Item: The Vikings are presumably still in negotiations to sign a free agent receiver, but coach Leslie Frazier had this to say: "Bernard Berrian is going to step up and have a great year."
Comment: Berrian could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the transition from Brett Favre to McNabb. For reasons that haven't fully been explained, Favre and Berrian never connected on a personal or football level.

Donovan McNabb knows this drill

July, 29, 2011
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Donovan McNabbJeff Fishbein/Icon SMIDonovan McNabb knows that part of his job will be to groom rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even before he takes his first practice snap with the Minnesota Vikings, Donovan McNabb knows he will soon be replaced. He even knows the identity of his successor. To me, that dynamic makes for unique and compelling theater this season in Minnesota.

For McNabb? It's old hat.

McNabb, of course, knew full well what the Philadelphia Eagles were up to in 2007 when they drafted Kevin Kolb. It took three seasons, but ultimately McNabb gave way to Kolb in Philadelphia.

Speaking via conference call Friday to Twin Cities reporters, McNabb said he will approach his current situation in the same manner: looking forward but with his eyes wide open. He made clear that "when you trade for a guy who's been a starter for 12 years, you're not bringing him to be a backup." But at the same time, he pledged to "be professional" and show rookie quarterback Christian Ponder "how to be a pro and how to be great at your job," all while accepting his long-term fate.

"For those who can't handle that aspect of trying to lead a guy into the role in which you're in, well ... everybody is different. I'm not that way," McNabb said. "Things happen. Obviously, when they drafted Kevin Kolb in Philadelphia, I never gave him the cold shoulder. I just continued to work with him, communicate with him, still talk to him to this day. And he's had his opportunity now to become a starter in Arizona.

"You can't play this game as long as Brett [Favre] did all the time. There is going to be a time when the young guy is going to step into that role. You just have to make sure that when you're all done and you decide to walk away from the game that he's ready to play."

I thought McNabb mixed appropriate levels of realism, confidence and humor during about 15 minutes of questions and answers. He wouldn't reveal the length or terms of his renegotiated contract, other than to joke (I think) that it is for "20 years for $20 million." He made no excuses about his performance for the Washington Redskins last season, saying "sometimes you have a down year." And most importantly, he seemed to accept he is in the shortest of short-term positions.

"I want to end my career [here]," McNabb said. "Absolutely. So obviously there is going to be talks with that and everything else. [But] I can't focus on the future. I can't focus on who is going to be where and what. I can only focus on what's going on right now, and right now I'm a Minnesota Viking."

What you just read is a cliché from start to finish, but in this case it's the only mindset McNabb could possibly have. McNabb and the Vikings are focused on making this work in Week 1. After that, they'll start worrying about Week 2.

"We all want to see [McNabb] succeed," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's why we brought him here. We're going to support him. We've got some players around him. As they get to know him, they're going to support him because they want to win. We trust that he's going to lead us to victories in the 2011 season. I didn't have to prep him about any of those things. He's experienced this before."

The Vikings obviously consider this situation the best of both worlds: a veteran quarterback who can win now and a blue-chip quarterback in development behind him. I'm open to the possibility but convinced of only one thing: The success of their season depends on it.

Even in a normal training camp, you can't get two quarterbacks ready to play. Given the unique circumstances of this summer, training camp repetitions will be at the highest premium imaginable.

McNabb will spend the next week or so doing classroom work before he is eligible to begin practicing Aug. 4. After that point, if they want McNabb to learn a new offense and develop chemistry with his new teammates, the Vikings will have to make Ponder's development a very secondary priority. If McNabb rewards their confidence, it's a win-win. If he doesn't? We'll leave that one alone for now.
Earlier this month, we noted the Green Bay Packers would be close to the NFL salary-cap limit of $120 million when free agency began. Salary-cap rules remain a bit of a mystery here during this post-lockout frenzy, but from what I can see, the Packers have created at least $19 million in cap space over the past few days.

That total is the sum cap values of the five veteran players they reportedly plan to release. The most recent name added to the list is longtime offensive lineman Mark Tauscher, who managed only 12 starts over the past two years because of injuries. The list also includes defensive lineman Justin Harrell, along with linebackers Brandon Chillar, Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga.

It's possible the Packers have created more space by renegotiating some veteran contracts, but if that's the case, it hasn't yet been reported.

If you're hoping the Packers will use that money to sign a veteran free agent, you've obviously not been watching how they have operated over the past few years. Some of the money will go toward signing their draft class. (Their rookie pool assignment was about $5.1 million this year.) Some of it might go to receiver James Jones, if he re-signs, and then I presume the Packers will consider contract extensions for some of their young starters, from guard Josh Sitton to tight end Jermichael Finley to receiver Jordy Nelson.

More details for the curious: It's been a while since the NFL salary cap has mattered, so let's touch a bit on what is happening.

The NFL salary cap is operating under post-June 1 rules. That means when a team releases or trades a player at this point, his entire salary cap figure for 2011 disappears from their books. The remaining "acceleration," if any, from his contract then counts against the team's 2012 salary cap.

That acceleration is known as "dead money" because it is cap space devoted to players no longer on the roster. So the Packers will have some dead money charged to their 2012 cap as a result of these 2011 moves. My pea brain is spinning too much to figure it out, but it will be a relatively small number.

Recent Packers posts: Who might replace left guard Daryn Colledge? The Packers trust Mason Crosby as their place-kicker of the future. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers really, really wants the Packers to re-sign Jones. To little surprise, the Packers told Barnett he will be traded or released. Chillar suffered a cruel fate.

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