NFC North: Amari Spievey
The dominoes: The Lions apparently chose veteran Michael Spurlock as their kick returner, necessitating the release of rookie Steven Miller, who could return on the practice squad. Spurlock is also a receiver, and for the now he is one of six on the roster, presumably because of Ryan Broyles' sore knees. The release of veteran Matt Willis means Kris Durham is the sixth receiver. You wonder if the Lions would change directions soon in that regard. The Lions sifted through their big group of veteran defensive backups by tapping Rashean Mathis as a swing cornerback/safety and Rocky McIntosh as a backup linebacker while releasing the rest. John Wendling and Don Carey are the backup safeties for now.
What's next: According to multiple reports, the Lions will place running back Montell Owens on short-term injured reserve. That can't happen until next week, so for now he is part of the 53-man roster. He must miss at least six weeks of the regular season. You would think the Lions will bring back a number of the players they cut Saturday for their practice squad, and it's worth remembering that they are No. 5 in priority for NFL waiver claims. Sunday could be a busy day.
List of players cut: WR: Corey Fuller, Matt Willis. RB: Steven Miller, Shaun Chapas. OL: Rodney Austin, Kevin Haslam, Darren Keyton, Jake Scott. DL: Andre Fluellen, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen. LB: Brandon Hepburn, Jon Morgan (waived/injured) Chris White. CB: Ron Bartell, Chris Greenwood. S: Amari Spievey, Tyrell Johnson, Martavius Neloms (waived/injured) P: Blake Clingan.
The Minnesota Vikings have a traditional leadership structure, a new stadium under development and an ownership group that is committed to the long term. In the estimation of Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, they are the most well-rounded and well-run sports outfit in Minnesota.
Souhan: "Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman have turned an organization that for decades seemed intent on embarrassing itself into a model for how pro sports franchises should operate. The Wilfs have matured into patient owners who will spend what it takes to win."
That's no small feat considering their short- and long-term history filled with unusual ownership, horizontal leadership and head-scratching decisions. Let's see where it takes them.
Let's take a look at weekend coverage in the NFC North:
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is teaming with pro bull riders to raise money for his Wounded Warriors program, according to the Associated Press via 1500ESPN.com.
- Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News profiles Detroit Lions safety Don Carey, who could be a starter if Louis Delmas isn't healthy.
- Lions safety Glover Quin was motivated to find a better way of making a living by working at Burger King while in high school. More from Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- According to Katzenstein in the News, a Connecticut judge has dropped domestic violence charges against Lions safety Amari Spievey.
- Best of luck to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com as he departs the Lions beat.
- Matt Simeone of ChicagoBears.com checks in with former Chicago Bears tailback Raymont Harris.
- Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Jordan Miller.
Not every arrest of an NFC North player merits a blog entry, and I haven't covered all of them this offseason. This week, however, we learned that the Detroit Lions' list of offseason arrests had grown to two, so I guess it's time to catch up.
Last weekend, Lions defensive end Ronnell Lewis was arrested after an altercation at an Oklahoma bar and charged with three misdemeanors, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN's SoonerNation. Lewis, who played one defensive snap last season, was booked on complaints of disturbing the peace, public intoxication and interfering with official procedure. Officers used a taser to try to subdue him during a fight, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
The arrest came a month after safety Amari Spievey was charged with felony assault and misdemeanor risk of injury to a child after a domestic dispute. Spievey has entered a counseling program and his attorney hopes to have the charges dropped.
From a legal and NFL eligibility standpoint, these arrests are relatively minor. But taken together and added to last year's string of spring incidents, they feed the Lions' reputation for employing players who find trouble in the offseason.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Lions could be thinking big at No. 5 in the draft, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- The Lions have been making calls about moving back in the draft, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
- What if Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert is the best player available when the Green Bay Packers pick at No. 26 overall? Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks into it.
- It wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers draft a safety in the first round, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Cornerbacks are among the most compelling stories in this draft, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Phone lines for the Minnesota Vikings have been buzzing this week, according to general manager Rick Spielman via Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
- Should the Vikings plan to find another backup running back assuming Toby Gerhart departs after the 2013 season? Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com explores that question.
- The Vikings should take a receiver and either a cornerback or middle linebacker with their two first-round draft picks, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Chicago Bears' Brian Piccolo Award winners were cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive end Shea McClellin, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
- Tillman on the departure of linebacker Brian Urlacher, via Dickerson: "I wish he was here, but it's a cutthroat business."
- The Bears have more needs than draft picks, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune examines the "complex"and "fluid" situation surrounding free-agent cornerback Antoine Winfield and a possible return to Winter Park.
The Vikings will bolster their receiving corps by selecting Tennessee wideout Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round of next month's draft, according to the latest mock draft from NFL.com's Gil Brandt.
Green Bay Packers
Should the Packers take the risk of drafting a talented running back like Marcus Lattimore who is coming off devastating knee injuries in back-to-back years? Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel considers.
Rick Klauer of the Journal Sentinel compiled mock draft picks for the Packers from around the Web. There's no consensus, but the name of Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert shows up most often.
The Packers' mandatory minicamp will run from June 4 to June 6, reports Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Darrius Heyward-Bey visited the Lions Wednesday and left without a deal, but the free-agent receiver is excited about the prospect of catching passes from Matthew Stafford, reports Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "It's very appealing," Heyward-Bey said after his visit. "No. 1, he's a great guy. I've known him since we were coming out in the draft. And just the ability for him to throw the ball and how smart he is. Coach lets him do his thing back there."
Amari Spievey was arrested in his hometown of Middletown, Conn., Tuesday after a dispute with his girlfriend over child support, reports Viktoria Sundqvist of the Middletown Press. Spievey was charged with third-degree assault, risk of injury to a child and disorderly conduct.
An MLive.com poll conducted over the weekend shows fans are now strongly in favor of the team using its first-round pick on an offensive tackle, writes MLive.com's Justin Rogers.
Guard Lance Louis signed with the Dolphins on Wednesday. Louis started 24 games the past two seasons at right guard and right tackle for the Bears, reports Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
In his latest mock draft, NFL.com's Gil Brandt has the Bears selecting Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o with the No. 20 overall pick to replace Brian Urlacher.
In four seasons with the Texans, Quin has missed one game -- in his 2009 rookie season. He tied a career high with 14 pass breakups last season and also had two interceptions.
Again the free agent market is always fluid, but I'm going to keep an eye on Quin's potential as another Lions target.
- Reggie Bush is headed to Detroit for a visit, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. I think there's a pretty good chance Bush will sign with the Lions to fill the role once envisioned for Jahvid Best. More on that if and when it happens. As expected, running back
- Schefter also reports the Lions have Seahawks defensive lineman Jason Jones on the way in for a visit. Jones went to high school in Lathrup Village, Mich., played at Eastern Michigan. He was a backup defensive tackle last season for the Seahawks, and his season ended in December because of a lingering knee injury. Earlier I wrote he could project as a starter at defensive end, either for the released Kyle Vanden Bosch or for Cliff Avril if he signs elsewhere in free agency, but that doesn't seem likely.
- Earlier, the Lions gave defensive end Willie Young a second-round restricted free agent tender. That suggests they have significant plans for him in 2013, possibly as a starter.
- According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, among others, the Lions have re-signed safety Amari Spievey to a one-year deal. Spievey was a restricted free agent but his concussion history figured to limit any interest on the open market.
More to come, I'm sure.
Cap Status: The Bears have a modest amount of cap space after using $8.45 million for the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton. Over the weekend, they were projected to have between $6 million and $10 million available to them.
Strategy: Conventional wisdom suggests the Bears will seek improvement at offensive line and tight end this offseason, and free agency offers the first avenue. At the moment, the Bears' best offensive lineman is right guard Lance Louis, who is still recovering from ACL surgery and is a pending free agent himself. You wonder if the Bears have enough firepower to sign left tackle Jake Long, but New York Jets guard Brandon Moore could be a reasonably priced option. At tight end, everyone loves the Tennessee Titans' Jared Cook, but he will be costly. Incumbent Kellen Davis is signed for 2013 but had a disappointing season last year as a pass-catcher.
Cap Status: The Lions won't have much cap space to work with unless they can renegotiate/extend one of the two huge contracts on their books: quarterback Matthew Stafford ($20.8 million cap figure) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($18.2 million). According to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions are projected to have $6 million in space at the moment.
Strategy: There are plenty of needs to squeeze into that small amount of cap space. The Lions would love to find a speedy tailback to fill the role once envisioned for Jahvid Best, a profile that seems to fit veteran Reggie Bush. But with only two of their 23 projected free agents now under contract, the Lions could have needs for two safeties, two defensive ends, two cornerbacks and one outside linebacker. That's because defensive ends Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are all pending free agents. The same goes for cornerbacks Chris Houston and Jacob Lacey and safeties Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey. A weekend flooding of the cornerback/safety markets could drive down prices.
Cap Status: The Packers are projected to have about $20 million in space, a number that could increase depending on whether they renegotiate the contract of tight end Jermichael Finley.
Strategy: Thompson signaled at least some participation in free agency by hosting a visit for defensive lineman Chris Canty last week; Canty had been released by the New York Giants. The Packers know they need to improve their defensive line, whether it is with veterans, drafted players or a combination of both. There is also plenty of fan support for the Packers to pursue running back Steven Jackson, who has said he would take a role as a "counterpuncher" on a passing offense if necessary. But to this point, there has been no indication the Packers are interested. Much of their cap space is likely to be devoted, one day, to contract extensions for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Cap Status: They will have a moderate amount of cap space, about $15 million, if nothing changes between now and Tuesday.
Strategy: There is no doubt the Vikings need to improve their receiving corps, but to this point there has been no indication they are interested in the pre-eminent receiver on the market: Mike Wallace. Multiple reports suggest Wallace is most likely to end up with the Miami Dolphins. Monday's trade of Percy Harvin means the Vikings could get into the Wallace mix or perhaps Greg Jennings or Brandon Gibson. Meanwhile, it's quite possible the Vikings could seek a safety on the free-agent market, and they'll have to decide what to do at strongside linebacker and middle linebacker. The incumbent starters, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, are both free agents.
Spievey's situation is relatively straightforward. He has started only two games since suffering a concussion in the 2011 wild-card playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, and his 2012 season ended early because of another concussion. Mayhew indicated the Lions might pass on offering Spievey a restricted free agent tender -- known as a "non-tender" -- as a result.
"I guess we'll have to wait and see on that," Mayhew said. Asked to explain the source of his uncertainty, Mayhew said: "It's just the total package of everything he's dealt with. He obviously was a good player for us when he was healthy, but we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach on that."
Delmas' situation is less clear -- but much more concerning if you're a Lions fan. Based purely on talent and impact, Delmas would almost assuredly be one of the team's top offseason priorities. But a knee injury that hampered him throughout last season and cost him eight games appears unresolved at the moment.
"Our doctors are still evaluating his situation," Mayhew said, "and we're still making those decisions as we speak."
I realize that general managers don't like to signal their offseason plans, but I found Mayhew's response on Delmas to be far less definitive than I would have guessed. Does it mean Delmas has a chronic injury that can't easily be corrected by surgery? At the end of last season, at least, it appeared Delmas was gutting out a miserable situation via limited practice time and game-day decisions.
That approach can work for getting through a given season, but it doesn't lend itself to much of a long-term financial commitment. If they do bring Delmas back, you wonder if it will be a short-term deal that protects the team in case the knee does not improve.
"I think anytime we look at free agents, the one thing we really focus on is the injury history," Mayhew said. "[There is also] the background, character, football character, playing ability, obviously, but the injury question always comes into play. It's something you always need to be aware of. You always want to know what you're buying, and I think that's going to be a factor moving forward for a lot of free agents."
So was Mayhew in gamesmanship mode, or do the Lions have serious concerns about Delmas' future? If there are still medical questions about his knee, more than six weeks after the season, then there is real reason to be concerned. Stay tuned.
Much of the Lions' defensive nucleus is made up of pending free agents, and you wonder how many Mayhew wants to bring back after reading some of Mayhew's quotes. He admitted it's "quite possible" he misjudged the defense's talent level entering the season, and said it needs more playmakers.
"We need guys that can impact the game," he added. "We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."
What's amazing is that even the most amateur observers have been questioning the Lions' secondary for years. It's true that safety Louis Delmas is a difference-maker when healthy, but for the most part it appears Mayhew went into the season counting on players to do things they had never or rarely done before.
Who did Mayhew expect to be his interceptors? Cornerback Chris Houston had five in 2011, but has never had more than two in any of his other five NFL seasons. Cornerback Jacob Lacey had five interceptions in three previous seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Safety Amari Spievey had five in two previous seasons. Cornerback Bill Bentley was a rookie, and thus his production was impossible to project.
Mayhew said the only defensive player who improved from 2011 was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a warning shot for everyone who is eligible for free agency and a few others as well. (I assume he skipped over defensive tackle Nick Fairley, because he was injured for most of last season.)
The free agent list includes defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson. Linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are on it, as are Houston, Delmas, Lacey and Spievey. Given Mayhew's comments, you would think that many of them will be looking for work elsewhere this spring.
Of course, Mayhew's search for "playmakers" is no different than what every other team is looking for. He won't find playmakers at every position, but in 2012, the Lions were pretty thin across the board. Most fans directed their ire at the Lions' inconsistent offense, but it rarely got help from the defense. The Lions recovered the NFL's sixth-fewest fumbles (six), had only 11 interceptions (No. 23) and ranked No. 22 in sacks per opposing dropback (5.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Again, I appreciate Mayhew's honesty. There is not much to criticize here that he did not already acknowledge. The Lions stood pat last offseason and paid for it. That doesn't appear to be a possibility in 2013.
Although the Minnesota Vikings' and Green Bay Packers' weekly routines have moved up one day because of a Saturday night kickoff, their formal injury reports remain on the usual NFL schedule. As a result, Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn't have much to say about his team's injury situation other than confirming that defensive back Charles Woodson has been cleared to play for the first time in more than two months.
It seems likely that receiver Randall Cobb (ankle) will play, but the status of fellow receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) appears very much in the air. Nelson didn't practice Tuesday and McCarthy said he would provide more information on his status Wednesday, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
The Packers have played almost the entire season without a full complement of receivers, and so in some ways it would be standard procedure to be without Nelson against the Vikings. And at best, we know that the Vikings' best cornerback (Antoine Winfield) will be playing with a broken right hand. But in the playoffs, you always hope to have all hands on deck. The Packers might not.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- It's not totally clear how the Packers will use Woodson after developing a nice rotation of defensive backs in his absence, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Packers won't be able to deny the Chicago Bears permission to interview offensive coordinator Tom Clements for their head-coaching job, notes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- The Bears' primary mission is to find a head coach who can get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- Bears general manager Phil Emery was prepared to talk Tuesday about the state of his offensive line, notes Brad Biggs of the Tribune.
- The Bears have more work to do beyond firing coach Lovie Smith, writes Scoop Jackson of ESPNChicago.com.
- The Bears are looking for the next great NFL head coach, even if he is unknown at the moment, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was loose Tuesday during his weekly meeting with reporters, notes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
- This is the most surprising season in Vikings history, according to Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune.
- This has been a trying year for Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson, writes Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Detroit Lions safety Amari Spievey has had concussion troubles for the past two years but expects to play in 2013, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
- The Lions wouldn't turn down a chance to coach at the Senior Bowl, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
- The Lions signed 12 players to future contracts, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
The Packers won't have cornerback Sam Shields (shin), who returned to practice last week but isn't ready to play. Rookie Casey Hayward will start in Shields' place, and rookie Dezman Moses will start at outside linebacker for Clay Matthews (hamstring).
The Lions, meanwhile, will again have backup safeties Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva starting for the injured Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion, placed on injured reserve Saturday). Defensive end Ronnell Lewis is inactive, allowing former Packers cornerback and new Lions addition Pat Lee to be active for this game. Cornerback Drayton Florence is also active for the Lions.
- The Detroit Lions have activated cornerback Drayton Florence from short-term injured reserve and created a roster spot by placing safety Amari Spievey (concussion) on injured reserve. Florence will play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, it's fair to question Spievey's future. He's not ready to resume playing a month after suffering a concussion. Last season, a concussion he suffered in the playoffs did not clear until spring practice.
- The Chicago Bears have ruled out three players from Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers. We already knew about quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Shea McClellin, both of whom have concussions. The Bears also won't have defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (toe). Everyone else will be available, including receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand).
- Former Bears coach and current ESPN analyst Mike Ditka, who suffered a minor stroke Friday, is hoping to be released from the hospital in time to watch Sunday's games.
Chicago Bears: Because they play Monday, the Bears won't provide game designations until Saturday. But we already know that quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) is out of Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive end Shea McClellin (concussion) also is out. It appears, meanwhile, that receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) is ready to return. Jeffery had full participation in Friday's practice.
Detroit Lions: The Lions ruled out defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and safety Amari Spievey (concussion) for Sunday's game against Green Bay Packers. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) is listed as doubtful and not expected to play. Cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) and receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) are questionable, but both are expected to play.
Green Bay Packers: Tight end Andrew Quarless (knee) was ruled out, along with three players we already knew about: Receiver Greg Jennings (abdomen), defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring). Cornerback Sam Shields (shin) is questionable, but the chances of him playing don't appear great. Linebacker Terrell Manning (shoulder) is questionable, but all other players should be available.
Chicago Bears: The Bears didn't practice so there was no injury report. We've already noted that coach Lovie Smith said quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) is improving. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has passed his concussion tests this week and is on track to play against the Bears on Monday night. Meanwhile, place-kicker Robbie Gould issued an apology for the comments he made Monday night about the playing surface at Soldier Field. Gould said he spoke "prior to having a full understanding" of the issues involved. It should be noted, however, that the Chicago Tribune reported Soldier Field will be re-sodded this week.
Detroit Lions: Missing practice Wednesday were safeties Louis Delmas (knee), Erik Coleman (eye) and Amari Spievey (concussion); along with defensive end Cliff Avril (back/concussion), cornerback Chris Houston (ankle), defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and receiver Calvin Johnson (knee). Meanwhile, the Elias Sports Bureau awarded defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a sack on a play when he touched Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder after he tripped over an offensive lineman's foot. That adds to what coach Jim Schwartz said was one of Suh's best-ever games.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers ruled out linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) from Sunday's game against the Lions. The same goes for receiver Greg Jennings (abdomen) and cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone). Defensive end Mike Neal (ankle) also did not practice. Fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) was limited.
Chicago Bears: Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) returned to practice Friday but is doubtful for Sunday night's game against the Houston Texans. It is highly, highly unlikely that Jeffery will play but could be ready for next Monday night's game at the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (calf) is also doubtful. All other players will be available.
Detroit Lions: As expected, the Lions won't have safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion) for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Nose tackle Corey Williams (knee) did not practice all week and is questionable. Receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) practiced Friday and is listed as questionable but will play. Cornerback Chris Houston (illness) returned to practice Friday as well and is probable.
Minnesota Vikings: Receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) didn't practice Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. Coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't rule out the possibility of Harvin working out before the game to see if he can contribute, but that scenario remains unlikely. As we've been discussing for most of the week, it sure appears the Vikings will have to play without the NFL's leading receiver (62 receptions). Among other domino effects, Harvin's absence probably means rookie Jarius Wright will be active for the first time this season. Nose tackle Letroy Guion (toe) was also listed as doubtful.