NFC North: Blake Costanzo

Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can't be executed until 3 p.m. CST March 11 when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago's pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the fourth part of our series we'll post all week.

2014 free agent: Blake Costanzo

Position: Special teams/linebacker

2013 statistics: Special teams -- 17 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery; Defense -- two tackles

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $25,000 workout bonus -- $740,000 cash value

Outlook: Costanzo led the Bears in special teams tackles but the team has made no attempt to re-sign him since the end of the regular season. The outspoken Costanzo didn't seem to click with first-year head coach Marc Trestman. However, Costanzo is a valuable contributor on special teams. He is sure to find work, but the prospects of him returning to Chicago are bleak. Costanzo received a $400,000 signing bonus from the Bears when he inked his two-year deal in 2012. That would be a great guaranteed number for Costanzo to strive for in the next round of free agency that begins March 11.

2014 free agent: Eben Britton

Position: Guard/offensive tackle

2013 statistics: None. Played in 13 games with four starts as an extra tight end.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and no bonuses and $4,200 workout bonus -- $718,200 cash value

Britton
Britton
Outlook: Didn't play the first three games before making his Bears debut Sept. 29 and later starting four games as an extra tight end in some of the club's run sets. In all, Britton played in 13 games and is a valuable backup with extensive experience as a starter. In fact, Britton could attract interest in free agency from teams wanting him to come in to compete for a starting job. Chicago will let Britton test the market to see how things shape up for him, and if he doesn't receive consideration as a potential starter, the Bears might look into bringing him back as a reserve with a veteran-minimum salary.

2014 free agent: Patrick Mannelly

Position: Long snapper

2013 statistics: One special teams tackle

2013 salary: $940,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus -- $945,250 cash value

Outlook: When Mannelly recovers from offseason hip surgery he will have a one-year, veteran minimum salary waiting for him from the Bears. Entering his 17th NFL season, Mannelly's skills are still sharp. Maybe he doesn't snap like he did five years ago, but he certainly appears capable of being effective and his usual near-flawless self for the Bears in 2014. There is a chance Mannelly, who turns 39 next month, could decide to walk away from the game on his own terms. That is always a possibility. But if the Bears' all-time leader in games played still has the itch to snap in the NFL, the Bears are expected to welcome him back with open arms. Why wouldn't they?

2014 free agent: Jonathan Scott

Position: Special teams/linebacker

2013 statistics: None. Inactive for all 15 games he spent with the team.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary -- $672,941 cash value

Outlook: The Bears cut Scott in early September of last season to avoid being strapped with guaranteeing his salary for 2013 due to the fact he was a vested veteran. The Bears brought him back less than a week later, and although Scott was with the team for the final 15 games, he never saw action. Scott, 31, will test the market, according to his representatives, and it's unlikely the Bears will look to re-sign him unless they run into trouble finding younger players capable of contributing as reserves.

Cutler (groin) limited on Wed.

November, 6, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (groin) would have been limited on Wednesday if the club had conducted a full-practice, instead of an abbreviated workout due to the short week, according the league’s official injury report.

Cutler is expected to test out his injured groin muscle on the practice field on Thursday to give the Bears an idea of where he is at physically in regards to potentially starting at quarterback Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.

In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) would not have participated on Wednesday.

Mannelly is considered week-to-week and is not expected to be active this weekend, while Ratliff told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Monday that he is still “a couple of weeks” away from returning from his injury.

Linebacker Blake Costanzo (back), tight end Dante Rosario (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were also listed as being limited.

Packers report: Jones says he's 50/50

November, 2, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- James Jones’ sprained left knee is feeling better, but he doesn’t know if better will be good enough to play on Monday night against the Chicago Bears.

Jones
Jones
The Green Bay Packers receiver practiced on Saturday, albeit in a limited fashion, for the third straight day and was listed as questionable on the official injury report.

The previous two weeks, Jones was listed as questionable and doubtful and didn’t play in either game.

“We’ll see how my knee reacts coming in tomorrow,” Jones said after Saturday’s practice. “[Hopefully] get no swelling or anything like that. Felt good, so we’ll see. I don’t know if I’ll go this week, next week, but [it] felt better.

“I’m not a betting man, I don’t know. But if I was a betting man, I don’t know, 50/50.”

Jones has not played since Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. He did not practice for two weeks but returned to the field on Thursday.

“He did a little more than yesterday,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Saturday. “So we’ll see where he is. Frankly, it’s up in the air, but he’s doing everything he can.”

The injury that kept cornerback Sam Shields out of practice on Saturday was to his toes, McCarthy said. Shields got stepped on during Saturday’s practice.

“Frankly, I just held him for precaution,” McCarthy said. “I’m hopeful it’s nothing more than that.”

Here’s the full injury report:

Packers

Out – TE Jermichael Finley (neck), OLB Clay Matthews (thumb).

Doubtful – OLB Nick Perry (foot, did not practice).

Questionable – WR James Jones (knee, limited participation).

Probable – LB Brad Jones (hamstring, full participation), CB Sam Shields (toes, did not practice), TE Ryan Taylor (knee, did not practice).

Bears

Out – LB Lance Briggs (shoulder), QB Jay Cutler (groin).

Questionable – WR Joe Anderson (abdomen, limited participation).

Probable – LB Blake Costanzo (knee, full participation), CB Charles Tillman (knee, full participation), S Major Wright (knee, full participation).
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Blake Costanzo returned to practice on Friday inside the Walter Payton Center.

Tillman
Tillman was excused on Thursday for personal reasons, and Costanzo (knee) didn’t participate. Linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (groin) have not been cleared to return to work with the team. Tillman is expected to play Monday night at Green Bay.

“I was happy to see Charles out there. He worked the entire practice, got reps,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I know you'd be interested in that. He would have to tell you how he felt. I haven't had a chance to talk with him, but he did work through the entire practice and got a number of reps and went at full speed, and that was certainly good to see.”

According to the official injury report, Tillman participated in a limited capacity while receiver Joe Anderson (abdomen), Costanzo and safety Major Wright (knee) took part in the entire practice.

The Green Bay Packers declared tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) and linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb) out for Monday night’s game earlier in the week.

The Packers held out linebacker Nick Perry (foot) for the second consecutive day, while receiver James Jones (knee) and tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) worked in a limited capacity. Linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) participated fully during Green Bay’s practice on Friday.

If Jay Cutler left the Bears in a tight spot on offense because of the torn groin muscle that will keep him out at least four weeks, then Lance Briggs gave the defense a near-insurmountable task: to somehow improve without him on the field.

That’s right. The loss of Briggs weighs more heavily because at this point, he means more to the defense than the quarterback does to the offense. It sounds silly, but that’s simply the state of affairs these days at Halas Hall.

We expected the defense to fall off a notch this season, with the loss of linebacker Brian Urlacher and the acquisition of two new faces (James Anderson and D.J. Williams) and the hiring of a new coordinator in Mel Tucker. But what we’re seeing is an injury-induced dive off a cliff.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Khaseem Greene
AP Photo/Scott BoehmThe Bears likely will choose between Khaseem Greene, above, and Blake Costanzo as the replacement for Lance Briggs.
In all, the defense -- which has allowed 21 points or more in every game, and gave up 499 yards to the Redskins -- has lost five starters. Briggs, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level, is expected to be out at least six weeks because of a small fracture in his left shoulder.

"There’s no simple answers. There are a lot of teams in our position in the National Football League,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Defensively, we’ve got to improve our fits, our assignments. We’ve been completely inconsistent. At times we’ve been outstanding, and at times we just haven’t done the right things.”

That’s what comes with thrusting young, inexperienced players into key roles. It’s a situation not likely to improve soon. The team still hasn’t decided who will call defensive signals in Briggs’ place. Right now, Jonathan Bostic and James Anderson are the likely candidates.

Bostic made the calls in the loss at Washington on Sunday after Briggs left the game in the third quarter.

The club also will choose between rookie Khaseem Greene and veteran Blake Costanzo as Briggs’ replacement.

“We’re losing a great leader in Lance,” Trestman said. “Arguably we’re going to have to work very, very hard to recover, but that doesn’t say we can’t. It’s been done before, we’ve got time to work through it and there’s no reason why as a football team that we can’t be confident we can rally around that position, find a way to win games.”

On the offensive side of the ball, that’s an easier proposition due to the quality of the replacement, the club’s revamped protection, not to mention all of the weapons surrounding him, with running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Cutler’s replacement, Josh McCown, demonstrated as much Sunday when he completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown to Bennett before finishing the game with a passer rating of 119.6 as the offense put up 34 points.

A 10-year veteran, McCown has logged 20 starts in the NFL and is considered “a glue guy” by general manager Phil Emery, and “a captain,” by Marshall “without the 'C' on his chest.”

Emery called McCown’s “ability to play the position” the backup’s greatest asset in his bid to replace Cutler without the offense skipping a beat.

“And probably foremost, just in terms of Josh and the person and the leader he is, the buy-in he has from his team in terms of being able to be a positive part of winning football on Sundays,” Emery said. “I didn’t notice it because I don't always watch the huddles, but Josh McCown is in every special teams break before they go out on the field. That to me signals to everybody what type of person this guy is. He could be content staying over on the sidelines with the headset and a clipboard, literally, but he's not. He's a big part of this team. He's a big part of the leadership group of this team.”

[+] EnlargeChicago's Josh McCown
AP Photo/Nick WassJosh McCown is "a big part of the leadership group of this team," general manager Phil Emery said.
McCown’s teammates agree. Cornerback Tim Jennings admitted Monday “it’s going to be tough not having Jay out there, but I also think Josh came in there and played great, and he gave a lot of confidence to the guys in this locker room.”

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod said he has “all the confidence in the world” in McCown because “he came in yesterday, and he did his thing. He spread the ball around. He got us in good positions, and we had a chance to win the game.”

McCown, meanwhile, says the structure in place gives him a leg up from where he was two years ago, when the Bears first asked the veteran to start a game. It was 2011, he had been coaching high school football just before the Bears signed him, and he basically went in cold for his first start at Green Bay. McCown helped the Bears put up 21 points in a loss to the Packers, but helped the club break its five-game losing streak the next week in the season finale at Minnesota.

McCown says “I’m in a better spot right now,” having learned Trestman’s system from the ground up from Day 1 of the coach’s tenure in Chicago.

“The structure is in place and the emphasis has been put on individuals to do their job and do their part,” McCown said. “If we continue to get that, and we felt like we got that yesterday, it allows the quarterback to step in there, whether it’s Jay or myself, to function and play, because guys are going to be coached to be where they are supposed to be and do what they’re supposed to do. It’s going to look different between Jay and I; our skill sets are different.”

On offense, the highly productive results likely won't change, either. The same can’t be said for an already reeling Bears defense without Briggs.
CHICAGO – Defensive starters for the Chicago Bears in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns:

LE – Cornelius Washington
DT – Christian Tupou
NT – Zach Minter
RE – Aston Whiteside
WLB – Khaseem Greene
MLB – Blake Costanzo
SLB – J.T. Thomas
LCB – C.J. Wilson
RCB – Demontre Hurst
SS – Brandon Hardin
FS – Anthony Walters

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 28, 2012
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Let's get inside our last Friday injury report of the 2012 season. Sniff, sniff…

Chicago Bears: Linebacker Brian Urlacher practiced for the first time since injuring his hamstring Dec. 2, but he was limited and is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. It's more likely that Urlacher was beginning the process of returning for the playoffs if the Bears make it that far. The Bears listed tailback Matt Forte (ankle) as probable, but they also elevated running back Harvey Unga from the practice squad because backup Armando Allen is questionable because of a knee injury. Defensive lineman Henry Melton (chest) is questionable as well. Safety Chris Conte (hamstring) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (calf) are out.

Detroit Lions: Defensive lineman Sammie Hill (toe) is out of Sunday's game. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) is out, but all other players should be available.

Green Bay Packers: Receiver Randall Cobb (ankle) returned to practice Friday in a limited fashion and is listed as questionable. Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that Cobb looked good but that a decision on his status for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings hasn't been determined. Receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is probable, as is defensive linemen C.J. Wilson (knee) and Jerel Worthy (hamstring). Cornerback Davon House (shoulder/hip) is doubtful.

Minnesota Vikings: There appears a good chance the Vikings will have all 53 players on their roster available for Sunday. Defensive end Brian Robison (shoulder) is questionable but he practiced all week and appears on track to at least be in uniform, even if backup Everson Griffen takes the lead. Cornerback Antoine Winfield did not practice this week because of a broken hand and is listed as questionable. Winfield did some work on the sidelines Friday and seems set to play with padding on his hand.

Lions-Bears: Saturday injury report

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
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We have the final injury report for Monday night's game at Soldier Field, and it indicates that one of the contestants will be thin at cornerback. The details:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) had already been ruled out of this game, and otherwise the Bears are healthy. The only player whose availability is in question is safety Sherrick McManis (hip). Receiver Devin Hester (quadriceps) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb) are probable.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback Jacob Lacey (concussion) was ruled out and cornerback Bill Bentley (shoulder) is doubtful, which likely means the Lions' top three cornerbacks Monday night will be Chris Houston, rookie Jonte Green and the just-resigned Alphonso Smith. On paper, that's not a great matchup. We'll see if the Lions' front four can protect the secondary with a strong pass rush. The only other player whose availability is in question is defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee), who didn't practice Saturday and is listed as questionable. There is some hope he will be able to play a role Monday night, however.

NFC North Week 7 Friday injury report

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
5:38
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Let's get inside the Friday injury report, which is actually a Thursday injury report for two of our teams because of their Monday night game:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Devin Hester (quadriceps) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (hand) returned to practice on a limited basis. Receiver Earl Bennett didn't practice because he is sick, but is expected to return Saturday. Defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Brian Urlacher sat out practice as their normal rest day.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback Jacob Lacey (concussion) was the only player who sat out of practice. Cornerback Bill Bentley (shoulder) was a limited participant. So was safety Louis Delmas (knee). Defensive lineman Corey Williams (knee) continued to be a limited participant and appears to have a decent chance of playing Monday night.

Green Bay Packers: Four players were ruled out of Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, including nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle), who participated in a portion of practice for the second consecutive day but is not ready to play in a game. Also ruled out were cornerback Sam Shields (shin), receiver Greg Jennings (groin) and linebacker Nick Perry (knee). Cornerback Davon House (shoulder) is probable and could provide depth in Shields' absence. Tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder) practiced all week and is probable.

Minnesota Vikings: Running back Adrian Peterson (ankle) and defensive end Jared Allen (groin) returned to practice as full participants and will play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. The only player who won't be available is safety Mistral Raymond (ankle).

NFC North Thursday practice report

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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Let's take a look at Thursday's practice report in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand), linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb), receiver Devin Hester (quadriceps) and punter Adam Podlesh (excused) all missed practice Thursday. Jeffery has already been ruled out for Monday night's game against the Detroit Lions, but Costanzo is hoping to return to practice by the weekend. Hester's injury is also not expected to keep him from playing Monday.

Detroit Lions: As we noted earlier, cornerbacks Bill Bentley (shoulder) and Jacob Lacey (concussion) didn't practice, and it's not clear if either will be ready for Monday night's game. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) also sat out, but it is believed to be a rest day for a player who just returned to the lineup last week.

Green Bay Packers: Nose tackle B.J. Raji (knee) returned to practice on a limited basis. Coach Mike McCarthy said Raji will be re-evaluated Friday to determine his availability for Sunday's game at the St. Louis Rams. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (calf) was a full participant. Cornerback Sam Shields (calf) and linebacker Nick Perry (knee) both missed practice again.

Minnesota Vikings: Defensive end Jared Allen (groin) and tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) both sat out practice Thursday, but coach Leslie Frazier said there is no concern about either player's availability for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals. Receiver Jerome Simpson was a full participant in practice and appears on track to play, and collect his $59,375, Sunday. Safety Mistral Raymond (foot) retuned to practice on a limited basis, and there is some hope the Vikings could get him back for their Nov. 4 game at the Seattle Seahawks. Finally, defensive lineman Everson Griffen will leave the team Thursday evening for the funeral of his mother, who died last week. Frazier said Griffen will be accompanied by general manager Rick Spielman and will return in time to play Sunday.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Two Green Bay Packers players suffered season-ending knee injuries in Sunday night's game at Reliant Stadium. A third appeared fortunate to have avoided the same. As we discussed in Monday's Free Head Exam, it's fair to wonder if the Packers would draw any connection between the injuries to linebacker D.J. Smith and running back Brandon Saine -- and the apparent near-miss of linebacker Nick Perry -- to the stadium's unique grass surface.

The field consists of grass on 1,250 portable trays and requires maintenance at the seams. As Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com points out, Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn't dismiss the injuries as coincidence.

"Their surface is definitely different," McCarthy said during a news conference. "It's something we've never played on before in my time here, so just the way it's brought into their seams just because of the design of it, for grass I thought it was hard. I'm not an expert on if that had any factor in the injuries."

Meanwhile, McCarthy was asked if the hit that caused Smith's injury was dirty. It occurred when Texans tackle Duane Brown blocked Smith away from the play from the side.

McCarthy: "It's something you obviously don't want to see happen. It's unfortunate. It was an avoidable. It probably depends on what side you’re coaching. I think the offensive lineman was trying to finish the play, the play was close to being over. They were behind the tackle. But it was an ugly play and D.J. suffered a serious injury."

We'll see if the NFL weighs in on that one.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk will play a big role for the Packers moving forward, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers faced a similar situation with multiple injured players in their run to the Super Bowl in 2010, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • In a radio interview, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz did not rule out the possibility of activating running back Jahvid Best from the physically unable to perform list before a three-week window closes next month. Justin Rogers of Mlive.com explains.
  • The Lions might have released veteran running back Kevin Smith if Best was cleared to practice, notes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Lions rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff is pushing for additional playing time, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Chicago Bears haven't forgotten their chippy game with the Lions at Soldier Field last season. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • Bears special-teams ace Blake Costanzo is planning to return to practice this week after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand, according to Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was inaccurate on 11 of his 17 incompletions Sunday against the Washington Redskins, according to film review from Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson clearly wasn't happy to have been deactivated for Sunday's game against the Redskins and let it be known during a terse interview session Monday, according to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
  • Receiver Percy Harvin on his heavy workload, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "I'm a little sore. But no sorer than anybody else. I've got two days off. I'll be ready to go Wednesday."

 

NFC North free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Chicago Bears

Key additions: Running back Michael Bush, linebacker/special teams Blake Costanzo, quarterback Jason Campbell, receiver Brandon Marshall (trade), receiver Devin Thomas, receiver/returner Eric Weems.

Key losses: Running back Marion Barber (retired), cornerback Zack Bowman, cornerback Corey Graham.

Come on back: Lost in the shuffle of the Marshall trade were the return of three free agents who should play key roles in 2012. Tight end Kellen Davis figures to get an expanded role in offensive coordinator Mike Tice's scheme, especially as a receiver. Cornerback Tim Jennings should retain his starting role opposite Charles Tillman, with D.J. Moore in the nickel. And safety Craig Steltz will provide reliable depth at safety and will be one of the Bears' special teams leaders after the departure of Graham and Bowman.

What's next: There is no urgency yet, but the Bears will need to make peace with tailback Matt Forte at some point before the summer. Forte isn't happy that he's been made the Bears' franchise player and briefly lost his public composure when Bush signed a deal that guaranteed him about the same amount of money as the franchise tag will pay Forte. It's not a big deal if Forte skips the Bears' offseason program or even misses a few days of training camp, but the Bears will want to find a way to eliminate this issue by early August. Meanwhile, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears address their offensive line during the draft.

Detroit Lions

Key additions: Defensive end Everette Brown, cornerback Jacob Lacey.

Key losses: Cornerback Eric Wright.

All in the family: With the exception of Wright, the Lions were able to retain the core of their 10-6 team. Among those who re-signed: Tackle Jeff Backus, safety Erik Coleman, defensive end Andre Fluellen, quarterback Shaun Hill and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And don't forget that receiver Calvin Johnson is locked up for perhaps the rest of his career. He signed a new eight-year contract worth $132 million.

What's next: The Lions appear interested in adding competition at safety, having hosted free agent O.J. Atogwe earlier this month. Adding a safety remains a possibility, if not through free agency, then probably through the draft. And while Backus is re-signed for two years, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions look for a long-term replacement in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Key additions: Defensive lineman Daniel Muir, center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Key losses: Quarterback Matt Flynn, center Scott Wells.

Shocker: The Packers usually do whatever it takes to keep their own players and avoid having to search the free-agent market for other the castoffs of other teams. They started off that way by re-signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract, but when they were unable to sign center Scott Wells, they quickly targeted veteran Jeff Saturday and made him their first starting-caliber free-agent signee in five years. General manager Ted Thompson also authorized the acquisition of Hargrove and the pursuit of Dave Tollefson.

What's next: It's not out of the question that the Packers will add a veteran pass-rusher, whether at defensive end or linebacker. Then they'll get back into their comfort zone and start preparing for the draft, where it's reasonable to think they'll use at least one of their 12 picks on a center while also continuing to pursue pass-rushers.

Minnesota Vikings

Key additions: Cornerback Zack Bowman, tight end John Carlson, running back Jerome Felton and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.

Key losses: Nose tackle Remi Ayodele (release), guards Anthony Herrera (release) and Steve Hutchinson (release), tight end Jim Kleinsasser (retire), running back Jerome Felton.

Methodical methodology: The Vikings made one big-money signing, bringing in Carlson as a new weapon for quarterback Christian Ponder, and otherwise have spent their offseason getting younger and signing complementary players. General manager Rick Spielman wants to end a cycle of seeking blue-chip players via free agency and instead count on the drafts for his difference-makers.

What's next: One way or the other, the Vikings need to find a deep threat for Ponder. The draft would seem the most likely place for that will happen. They are also midway through a rebuild of the secondary that could use at least one more cornerback and perhaps two safeties.

A big day for the Bears

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
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An editor we'll call "John" emailed Tuesday night with a simple subject line: "Bears = day 1 winner." And that was before the Chicago Bears signed one of the better special teams players on market, former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Blake Costanzo.

After watching the Bears wheel and deal for Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and backup quarterback Jason Campbell, while also re-signing starting cornerback Tim Jennings, I would agree even if "John" weren't my boss.

If the goal of free agency is to improve your team, I'm not sure that anyone made more strides Tuesday than the Bears. They have some remaining issues to address, most notably at defensive end, but each of Tuesday's moves were a clear win.

It looks like that will be it for Tuesday. Let's do it all over on Wednesday, OK?

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