NFC North: Adrian Wilson
Our guys at Scouts Inc. rate Chris Gamble, released by the Carolina Panthers, as the top cornerback available in free agency. Another veteran cornerback without a team is Aaron Ross, who was let go by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Meanwhile, two starting-caliber safeties were released Friday: the Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the Jaguars' Dawan Landry.
With Louis Delmas set to test free agency, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the Lions would seem to be in the market for a safety. The same could be said at cornerback if they do not re-sign Chris Houston. A safety wouldn't be a bad idea for the Minnesota Vikings or Chicago Bears either.
Teams can start negotiating with pending free agents (or at least their agents) after midnight tonight. No deals can be official until Tuesday. We'll keep you updated.
- No matter how many years he has played or how well he has played this season, quarterback Brett Favre demonstrated he can still be flummoxed by an innovative defensive scheme. NBC’s cameras did an excellent job of documenting how the Cardinals disguised their coverage by clustering near each other at the snap of the ball. That strategy, along with keeping linebacker Karlos Dansby deep downfield at times, led Favre down his old path of throwing wildly into coverage. Were it not for Adrian Wilson’s two drops, Favre would have had a four-interception game. Go back and look at the replay of Dansby’s interception. Favre was so out of sorts he was looking to his right and he released the ball down the middle.
- I’m sure a few fans were aghast when, at one point of the first half, the Vikings had Artis Hicks at left tackle, backup center Jon Cooper at right guard and Ryan Cook at right tackle. That was the necessary shuffle after right tackle Phil Loadholt and left tackle Bryant McKinnie briefly departed with injuries. Both players returned at less than 100 percent and need to make a quick turnaround to be ready for Sunday’s matchup against Cincinnati. I, for one, was totally onboard with the Vikings’ decision to run the ball on third down with that lineup. No sense putting Favre in danger of a missed communication.
- I don’t blame NFL owners for planning to rescind the supplementary revenue sharing plan that aids revenue-poor franchises like Minnesota. Imagine you’re the McCaskey family. Because you have new-stadium revenues in Chicago, you are required to contribute to a pot that benefits a division rival. Then the Vikings go out and use that collective money -- anywhere from $5 million to $10 million per season -- to help them acquire big-name players like defensive end Jared Allen, Favre and even former Bears receiver Bernard Berrian. Assuming the NFL is successful in abolishing this program, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf will have to further subsidize the franchise if he wants to maintain his current payroll.
How much will the Vikings miss linebacker E.J. Henderson? I don’t want to be crass or cold-hearted at a time when a fractured femur has cast long-term doubts on Henderson’s career. But the team successfully navigated his 12-game absence last season and has the capacity to do the same again in 2009. The Vikings have been looking for ways to get outside linebacker Ben Leber on the field more, and Leber has experience calling defensive signals. One workable solution would be to use hard-hitting rookie Jasper Brinkley on early downs and then move Leber inside in the nickel.
That list included middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury. More on that in an upcoming post.
I can’t think of one thing the Vikings did better than the Cardinals on Sunday night. They were outmuscled on both lines of scrimmage, netting 62 rush yards while never sacking Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner in 32 pass attempts. Their top-ranked special teams gave up a 64-yard punt return in the first quarter, setting off a 30-3 scoring run by the Cardinals.
Most surprisingly, the Vikings were outschemed by an Arizona defense that had quarterback Brett Favre confused all evening, forcing his first two interceptions since the end of October. Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson dropped two other possible interceptions as Favre struggled through his worst game of the season, making it difficult to completely discount the stamina issue we first considered last spring.
(For those who forgot: Favre’s performance has dipped precipitously after his 11th game in each of the past four seasons. Sunday night was game 12 of 2009.)
The loss left Minnesota two games behind New Orleans for the top record in the NFC, meaning it will be very difficult for the Vikings to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. Keep in mind that the Cardinals (8-4) are only two games behind the Vikings. Should the Vikings fade over the final four games -- and their schedule isn’t easy -- the Cardinals would win the head-to-head tiebreaker for playoff positioning.
Remaining on the Vikings’ schedule is a home game against 9-3 Cincinnati, night games at Carolina and Chicago, and the season finale against the New York Giants at the Metrodome. It’s important not to hit the panic button after any loss, but the Vikings definitely have their work cut out for them to sustain a dream season.
Matt of Little Falls, Minn., admits he sometimes sees Green Bay games through “green-and-gold tinted glasses.” Nevertheless, Matt asks for another look at the illegal contact penalty against linebacker A.J. Hawk in the fourth quarter of the Packers’ 38-28 loss at Tampa Bay.
As you might recall, the penalty wiped out Hawk’s interception with 6:48 remaining in the game, allowing the Buccaneers to continue their march toward a go-ahead touchdown. After watching the replay, there are two issues to consider:
- Did the contact occur inside or outside the 5-yard marker?
- Should it have been classified as incidental?
On the former question, referee Peter Morelli’s crew absolutely got the call correct. The replay clearly shows Hawk grabbing Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow at the 44-yard line. According to the official gamebook, the line of scrimmage was the 50.
On the latter, here’s how the NFL’s rule book defines Hawk’s parameters in this situation: “A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot initiate contact that redirects, restricts, or impedes the receiver in any way.”
This part is a judgment call. But when I looked at the play, Winslow seemed to gain a step on Hawk. In response, Hawk reached out and grabbed Winslow, in essence to redirect him. Technically, that’s an illegal play.
The contact wasn’t particularly blatant or physical. But on both counts, I can’t argue with the call.
Meanwhile, there were plenty of Bears players and coaches who were upset about the offensive pass interference call on tight end Greg Olsen in the second quarter of their 41-21 loss to Arizona. The penalty wiped out Olsen’s 16-yard reception to the Cardinals’ 14-yard line and stalled what had been a promising drive.
The replay shows Olsen releasing off the left side of the line of scrimmage, which was the 30. He collides with Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson at the 24-yard line and both players push each other. Olsen then cuts the route off toward the sideline and is wide open when he catches Jay Cutler’s pass.
Referee Ed Hochuli’s crew was quick to make the call, and the NFL rule book is pretty clear. One definition of pass interference -- offensive or defensive -- is “initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating a separation in an attempt to catch a pass.”
So who initiated contact on this play? Technically, it looks like Olsen. He ran a pattern directly toward Wilson, who seemed to be sitting in a zone. As with many calls, you could argue whether the contact was violent enough to give Olsen an illegal advantage to get open. But as with the Hawk call, I can’t argue with Hochuli’s decision. Olsen would have been better served to make his break before or during the contact rather than after.
Now, on to our Challenge Tracker, which went unchanged this week:
Based on your concerns as expressed regularly in the mailbag, it's appropriate to re-visit the brewing contract situations in the NFC North.
The timeframe for resolving these issues is multi-faceted. Chicago and Minnesota have concluded their offseason workouts and might not resume serious business until the middle of July. (Yes, even NFL coaches and contract negotiators take vacation.) Green Bay and Detroit, meanwhile, will hold mandatory minicamps next week before breaking for the summer.
The Lions, of course, have already signed No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford and have no major contract concerns that I'm aware of. But let's take a spin through the other situations, in order of urgency:
Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield
Contract status: Entering the final season of a six-year deal originally signed in 2004. Current deal calls for a $6 million base salary in 2009. Would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2010. Nearly 32, Winfield is an unlikely target for the franchise tag.
The rub: Winfield would like to parlay his 2008 Pro Bowl performance into a market-level deal for a No. 1 cornerback. Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha set the bar this offseason with an unprecedented three-year, $45.3 million deal. Winfield won't fetch close to that number, but it has given him a ceiling that has made it difficult to find common ground. The Vikings have concerns about paying a rich deal to a player who will be 33 in its first year. Another factor not to be discounted: The Vikings are conserving salary-cap space in the event they sign retired quarterback Brett Favre.
The future: Winfield is serious enough about these negotiations that he skipped organized team activities after negotiations broke down. Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said Wednesday the team will do whatever it can to retain him. But the sides have a lot of work remaining before a deal could be completed. There have been no indications that Winfield would hold out of training camp.
Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings
Contract status: Entering the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2006. Base salary is $530,000 this season. Would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2010. If the NFL fails to extend its collective bargaining agreement, he would be a restricted free agent.
The rub: The Packers have been working on his deal for much of the offseason. Jennings' participation in offseason workouts suggests he is satisfied with the progress of talks. One contract to keep in mind is the deal Minnesota gave Bernard Berrian last year: Six years and $43.4 million, including $16 million guaranteed. Jennings produced significantly higher statistics than Berrian in his first three seasons. So does that push his targeted guarantees toward the $20 million mark? And what about the average annual pay? Should it approach $9 million?
The future: Jennings has developed into the Packers' No. 1 receiver and has appeared to be the top priority on a long list of near-future free agents on their roster. That list means Green Bay must be prudent with Jennings' deal, but there is every reason to believe an agreement could occur long before free agency begins in 2010.
Green Bay safety Nick Collins
Contract status: Entering the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2005. Base salary is $3.045 million this season. Would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2010. But he would be a restricted free agent if the NFL fails to extend its collective bargaining agreement before then.
The rub: Collins would like his deal extended after making the Pro Bowl last season, but it's clear the Packers have prioritized at least one player (Jennings) ahead of him. That delay is at least one factor in Collins' decision to skip most of the Packers' offseason program. His absence has been especially noteworthy as the Packers shift to a new defensive scheme. The NFC's other Pro Bowl safety, Arizona's Adrian Wilson, recently signed a new deal that will play him $15.5 million over the next two years.
The future: It will be interesting to see how Collins plays the situation next week at the Packers' mandatory minicamp. There is no reason to believe he won't attend. But to what extent will he participate? And has his starting job been compromised by the offseason absence? You can only assume that some of his teammates are further along in the schematic adjustment. Beyond that, it's clear the Packers don't feel the urgency to extend his deal on an accelerated timetable.
Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye
Contract status: Entering the final season of a six-year, $33.4 million deal he signed in 2004. Agent Drew Rosenhaus has approached the Bears about an extension. Without one, Ogunleye would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2010
The rub: Ogunleye will turn 32 in August and managed only five sacks last season. He hasn't had a double-digit sack year since 2005 and would seem to be approaching the final stage of his career. What's an appropriate figure for a player in that profile? Based on last year's numbers, not much. General manager Jerry Angelo recently suggested that some veteran players will have to take care of their business on the field this season in order to get the type of deal they are looking for.
The future: Ogunleye has told reporters that he understands this is a prove-it season and has no expectations of a new deal until next winter. His stance all but ensures harmony during the 2009 season.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Well, Tarvaris Jackson just showed us something.
With the Cardinals and their home crowd back in the game, Jackson just executed a perfect pump-and-go with receiver Bobby Wade for a 59-yard touchdown pass. It's now 35-14 as we open the fourth quarter.
Jackson now has four touchdown passes, doubling his previous career high. It's also the most touchdown passes the Vikings have had in a game since Daunte Culpepper had four against Green Bay on Nov. 11, 2004.