NFC North: Brandon Chillar

We have no evidence that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson plans to veer from his recent offseason policy of building exclusively through the draft. The last significant veteran free agent the Packers signed was linebacker Brandon Chillar in 2008, and in the past two seasons the Packers have won 29 of 37 games without tapping the quick fixes available in the free agent market.

All the same, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is already laying the groundwork in the event of an exception to that approach. Speaking Wednesday on his ESPN 540 radio show, Rodgers said he plans to spend some time at the Pro Bowl this week talking up the advantages of playing in Green Bay. Rodgers referenced a 2009 episode when defensive lineman Chris Canty turned down a visit and said he is trying to get "in some of these guys' ears about how we got it in Green Bay."

"Green Bay is becoming a more desirable place, I've got to think," Rodgers said. "It's not the same place that Chris Canty refused to take a trip to unless there was a contract in place. … We haven't really been a big free agent team. That being said, I think there's a good possibility that we might go out and get somebody on the defensive side of the ball, or as we've done in the past, use one of our top draft picks to pick maybe an outside rusher or maybe a defensive back."

The Packers certainly have a need for either a pass-rushing defensive end or linebacker. Typically, teams lock up established pass-rushers with long-term contracts before free agency, but the projected $120 million salary cap could flood the market with more credible players than normal. If, for example, the Detroit Lions can't keep defensive end Cliff Avril, you wonder if the Packers would considering him as a 3-4 linebacker. Stay tuned.
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.
Detroit Lions left tackle Jeff Backus is not the only NFC North player who suffered an injury during the lockout. Green Bay Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar tore his hamstring last week and has now endured the worst of lockout nightmares.

Chillar
The Packers released Chillar on Friday morning, a story first reported by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Because the injury occurred during the lockout, the rest of his contract has been voided and he won't receive the injury protection that veteran players otherwise get when they are released in the midst of an injury. The risk of such an eventuality was one of the primary reasons Packers players decided against holding full-team workouts during the lockout.

No one will be crying for Chillar, who received about $10 million of the $19 million deal he signed in 2009. And it's possible the Packers would have released him anyway because of multiple shoulder injuries he has suffered. In a radio interview, Chillar told ESPNMilwaukee.com he knew his Packers career was over the moment he heard his hamstring pop during a private workout and said he has "no hard feelings."

"As a pro, you have to be real careful on how you train," Chillar said. "And I was. It was just a freak accident."

The Packers have spent much of this week clearing veterans from their corps of linebackers. The count is now up to three: Chillar, Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga. By my count, their departures created $12.38 million in salary-cap space for 2011.

Per their philosophy, the Packers will spend a good part of training camp developing and evaluating their depth at inside linebacker behind starters Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk.

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 receiver James Jones. To little surprise, the Packers told Barnett he will be traded or released.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I guess we can't be surprised that between the hours of 11 p.m. ET and 7 a.m. ET, we had another significant free-agent agreement here in the NFC North. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Chicago Bears will sign free-agent receiver Roy Williams, who was recently released by the Dallas Cowboys.

Free agents can officially sign their contracts with teams starting at 6 p.m. ET Friday. They'll be able to report to training camp and attend classroom sessions and meetings but can't be on the practice field until Aug. 4.

*Update: ESPN.com has amended the story to note that Williams can't technically agree to terms yet because he has not shown up on the NFL waiver wire. That will happen Friday afternoon. I'm guessing it's a matter of semantics, but by rule no deal can be complete.

Williams is a rare combination: A big receiver who gets the seal of approval from offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who typically prefers smaller-sized receivers. Williams played two seasons under Martz when both were with the Detroit Lions, and they were the two most productive years of Williams' career.

We'll have to see where he is mentally and physically four years later but, Bears fans, after years of discussion, your team finally has a big receiver.

I'll have more a bit later Friday morning.

Continuing around the NFC North:
News of the Green Bay Packers' contract agreement with linebacker A.J. Hawk begs the next question: What's in store for linebacker Nick Barnett?

Hawk's five-year deal means the Packers have market-level contracts with four veteran inside linebackers: Hawk, Barnett, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar. Hawk and Bishop have the most recent contracts, so it's reasonable to assume the Packers envision them as 2011 starters. Chillar has been a multi-position backup for most of his career. But where does this leave Barnett, who has been a starter since 2003?

There is nothing wrong with depth, but Barnett is scheduled to make $4 million in base salary plus additional bonuses that bring his 2011 compensation to nearly $6 million, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That's not backup money, and it suggests Barnett could either face a contract renegotiation or be elsewhere next season.

On the other hand, it might make sense for the Packers to bring him to training camp for insurance and competition purposes. If desired, they could release him before the start of the season without having to pay his salary and with a minimal hit to the salary cap.

Conventional wisdom has suggested that either Hawk or Barnett would return in 2011. We know Hawk is in. Does that mean Barnett is out? Stay tuned.

Ted ThompsonKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTed Thompson's team-building philosophy will likely be popular around the league this offseason.
The Green Bay Packers ended the 2009 season with short- and long-term needs at both offensive tackle positions. Their ensuing plan was never in doubt. The Packers re-signed both incumbents, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, and then sat tight until the April draft -- where they patiently waited for Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga to fall to them at No. 23 overall.

Clifton started all 20 games of the Packers' run to the Super Bowl XLV championship, while Bulaga replaced an injured Tauscher for the final 16. It was a routine example of the Packers' team-building philosophy: Develop your own depth, promote from within and spend free-agent money to retain your own players.

Around here, we've gone around and around on the Packers' recent unwillingness to supplement their roster with veteran free agents. It's hard to argue with the results this season, and now it's time to find out how -- and if -- the rest of the NFL implements "The Packer Way."

The methods of all Super Bowl champions are scrutinized and often copied the following offseason. But this year, the Packers' competitors aren't likely to have a choice. The impending lockout will wipe out free agency, at least for now. Although the market will eventually open when a collective bargaining agreement is reached, it's quite possible the timing will be reversed.

The draft will come first, followed by free agency, rather than the other way around. Teams will not have the luxury of making draft decisions based on the results of free agency. Without a hard plan in place, they must, in the words of Arizona general manager Rod Graves, "approach the draft as if that's the only thing we have to focus on."

We needn't waste much time on the background. You know it well. Of all the players currently on the Packers' roster, only three -- cornerback Charles Woodson, defensive end Ryan Pickett and linebacker Brandon Chillar -- were signed as veteran free agents. Three more were acquired via trade: running back Ryan Grant, along with safeties safety Derrick Martin and Anthony Smith. The rest were either drafted by the Packers, signed as undrafted rookies, claimed on waivers or signed off another team's practice squad.

The intriguing issue is whether the Packers are uniquely equipped to navigate the offseason as it crystallizes for all NFL teams. From the outside, it sure seems that way.

[+] EnlargeBryan Bulaga
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonThe Packers waited for Bryan Bulaga to fall to them in last year's draft, and the offensive tackle was a starter most of the season.
"I'd say that our football team represents what you can accomplish building through the draft," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's a credit to [general manager] Ted Thompson and our personnel staff. We're a draft-and-develop program, we have been for the last five years, we'll continue to do so, and this is a very important draft class for our football team to keep the competition at a high level in the locker room, to keep the depth of our football team as deep as possible. The lesson we learned going through this past season is a very good experience to draw from, so we believe in the draft. That's important to us."

As he has in past years at the scouting combine, Thompson found himself answering questions last week about his approach to free agency and the draft. This year, however, there was no tinge of derision. Instead, Thompson was asked to explain how he stocked his team so well while largely eschewing a primary source of talent.

Thompson credited former Packers general manager Ron Wolf for being a "strong believer that you build the core of your team around the draft" but otherwise said: "Our guys do a lot of work."

Thompson said: "Most of our entire staff and personnel was trained by Ron Wolf and he believed very strongly in scouting and going to see players and doing due diligence and working just as hard on the seventh-round guys and the free agents as we do on the first-round guys. That's just the way we do business."

It's not as if other teams don't try their best to draft good players. But the Packers have two factors working in their favor that some others do not:

  1. A proven system for scouting, evaluating and valuing potential draft picks
  2. A single-mindedness about the draft that, without the crutch of free agency, forces them to keep looking until they find what they want

It was interesting last week listening to the disparate viewpoints of NFL general managers. Some were clearly relived to see two draft-first teams, the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, advance to the Super Bowl.

"Oh man, I love it," said Billy Devaney of the St. Louis Rams. "Isn't that awesome? I think both teams combined maybe had four starters that they got through free agency. The vast majority were draft picks, a couple of street free agents here and there, but those two organizations -- they've done it the way that everybody else aspires to do it. Putting it together with the foundation of hitting on their draft picks, and doing a great job keeping their guys."

The truth is, not everyone does aspire to it. Two disciples of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick suggested it's wrong to ignore any avenue for improving their team.

"I think you truly believe that you need to compare both sides going into every year and decide where the strengths are and where the weaknesses are and if you can fix them in the draft or in free agency," said the Atlanta Falcons' Thomas Dimitroff. " I know that was something that I was very particular about coming into Atlanta to make sure that I didn't get pigeon-holed as one type of team builder."

GM Scott Pioli of the Kansas City Chiefs suggested that patience will allow teams to stay true to their core values, whatever they may be.

"Everybody is going to build their team the same way that they believe," Pioli said. "You're going to have the draft. You're going to have free agency. None of this is going to go away. At some point everything is going to be done."

But if nothing else, the uncertainty about the timing and nature of this year's free-agent market seems likely to make the draft each team's first stop for offseason upgrades. You don't have to look any further than the NFC North to find recent examples where teams were able to focus their attention elsewhere in the draft after making inroads in free agency six weeks earlier.

The Chicago Bears, for example, signed free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers in March and then focused on safeties at the top of the April draft, eventually landing expected 2011 starter Major Wright. The Detroit Lions signed receiver Nate Burleson in free agency, relieving a primary roster need and freeing them to pursue running back Jahvid Best and safety Amari Spievey in the draft. Both players are likely 2011 starters.

This spring will be a guessing game -- for most teams. For the Packers, it will be business as usual.

Lockout'11: The future of A.J. Hawk

February, 28, 2011
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As we noted Monday morning, we're getting ready to embark on an unprecedented week in NFL history.

By Friday, it's possible we will have seen the decertification of the NFL Players Association and a counteraction by NFL owners. Or we could see the owners lock out the union if it remains intact. There could be an extension of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Mass hysteria is also a possibility.

(Hopefully Chip Diller has an easier time this go around.)

Between now and Friday, however, NFC North teams might have some more traditional questions to answer. Teams often release and/or re-sign players before the start of free agency, the news of which would normally dominate this week. Free agency won't begin until the new league year starts, and the new league year won't start until a new CBA is reached.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Hawk
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesA.J. Hawk's base salary for next season is $10 million and could be higher depending on escalators.
But we've already touched on a few of the biggest issues that would normally be facing NFC North teams this week, and could be forced to deal with at some point soon based on developments. We've noted that Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith wants to re-sign center Olin Kreutz, and we know that Minnesota Vikings receiver Sidney Rice won't re-sign with the team until he tests his value on the future free-agent market.

Because we don't know how this will all play out, let's look at one more pending issue: The Green Bay Packers' situation at inside linebacker.

As we discussed as recently as Saturday, the Packers have a glut of players at the position. They finished the 2010 season with A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop as their starters. Two other veterans, Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar, were on injured reserve. Bishop signed a four-year contract extension last fall and isn't going anywhere.

So what will the Packers do? Both Barnett and Hawk are candidates to be released, albeit for different reasons. Barnett will turn 30 in May and has suffered season-ending injuries in two of the past three seasons. Meanwhile, Hawk's contract calls for him to have a $10 million base salary in 2011. The deal includes an escalator that will push that figure to the franchise number for inside linebackers if it is higher, according to information I've seen, and the cash will be guaranteed if Hawk is on the Packers' roster at the start of the league year.

Under normal circumstances, the Packers would need to resolve the issue before Friday. But the expiring CBA could relax that deadline because the league year won't start Friday without an agreement. The Packers at some point must act on Hawk's contract to avoid guaranteeing him an eight-figure salary for 2011, be it a release or an agreement to extend the deal and spread out the cash payout.

Speaking Friday at the NFL scouting combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy made clear he wants Hawk back.

"A.J. Hawk is a Green Bay Packer as far as I'm concerned," McCarthy said. "I'm not going to get into business situations. You just hope they'll work out. ... A.J. as a football player and a person, he's exactly what you're looking for. There is a business side of this. You want all your players back. That's how coaches always view these types of situations. A.J. grew tremendously, not only as a player, but as a leader in our locker room this year. Thought he had a heck of a year. Hopefully everything works out."

We'll find out soon enough. Unless we don't. My only advice: Remain calm!

XLV: A.J. Hawk is the Packers' glue

January, 31, 2011
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AJ HawkTom Pennington/Getty ImagesA.J. Hawk never worried about his role in Green Bay's defense.
IRVING, Texas -- On Monday, one of the Green Bay Packers' long-haired linebackers was a finalist for the NFL's defensive player of the year award. The other? He sat quietly in a far corner of an interview room Monday evening, relishing his anonymity and at peace with the direction his career has taken.

Five years ago, the Packers made A.J. Hawk the fifth overall pick of the NFL draft, envisioning him as a top pass-rusher who would develop into an annual candidate for the DPOY award. As it turns out, Clay Matthews fulfilled that role a few years later.

To be clear, every Super Bowl team needs the kind of high-octane pass rushing that Matthews provides, just as it needs elite quarterback play and smart personnel decisions. No less important, however, is the glue that Hawk supplied the Packers throughout the 2010 season.

When Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers couldn't find a role for him in Week 1, Hawk managed the uncomfortable moment with class.

When injuries began to mount among the Packers' linebackers, Hawk emerged as both their primary signal-caller and leading tackler.

When the Packers signed a teammate -- and potential job competitor -- to a long-term contract, Hawk smiled and decided he would be at peace with whatever future lay in front of him.

You're going to hear plenty this week about the Packers' sizable stable of star players, from Matthews to quarterback Aaron Rodgers to cornerback Charles Woodson to nose tackle B.J. Raji. Hopefully, everyone will take a moment to remember that Hawk rescued himself from deep disappointment to produce a season that was critical to the Packers' Super Bowl run.

"I enjoyed it," Hawk said as the Packers experienced their first day of media hoopla at Super Bowl XLV. "I really did."

[+] EnlargeA.J. Hawk
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireA.J. Hawk led the Packers defense with 111 tackles.
I can't imagine Hawk was enjoying much of anything Sept. 13, when he played only on special teams in the Packers' 27-20 season-opening victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time, the Packers were using Brandon Chillar in Hawk's spot during nickel and dime situations. Capers played nickel or dime for the entire game, leaving Hawk to watch all 60 defensive snaps from the sideline.

That development was a warning sign for any veteran player, especially one whose contract was certain to be addressed this offseason. If you can't get on the field for one play of the season opener, how much could the team possibly have you in its plans?

If you've spent any time around Hawk, however, you know he's too level-headed for the kind of selfish, emotional reaction that can tear a team apart. Instead, Hawk accepted it for what it was: a by-product of playing in a defense that changes dramatically on a weekly basis, and pointedly, not a demotion.

"I felt pretty confident that was a unique situation for that game," Hawk said. "I don't plan on that happening for [the Super Bowl]. But I know anything can happen in this defense, and I'm open to whatever. I wasn't going to complain. I wasn't going to go public with anything. They knew I wanted to be on the field. It's no secret. I think coaches want guys who want to play. They communicated well throughout the whole thing. Things here can change week to week for sure."

How did Hawk know it was a "unique situation"? He calmly grabbed some tape of the Packers' next opponent, the Buffalo Bills, and recognized their offense would lend itself to the defensive sets Capers usually included him in.

"I knew right after that game that the next game wouldn't be that way," Hawk said. "You could see that on film."

Chillar, of course, was long ago lost for the season to a shoulder injury. Fellow linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist) and Brad Jones (shoulder) were also gone by midseason. Barnett's replacement, Desmond Bishop, played well enough to earn a four-year contract extension. Hawk, meanwhile, has a contract that calls for a $10 million base salary in 2011, a total so high that he almost certainly will get a new deal himself or be released before the start of next season.

You want to say that Hawk proved his value as a leader and steady tackler this season, but the Packers already have Chillar, Bishop and Barnett signed to multiyear deals. Matthews' stunning performance in his first two seasons makes him a strong candidate for an extension. Would the Packers commit yet another long-term contract to Hawk, or will he be the odd man out?

No known discussions have taken place to date, suggesting the Packers have at least put off that decision. Typical to his personality, Hawk was pretty convincing Monday in insisting he hasn't considered whether Super Bowl XLV will be his final game with the Packers.

"I'm not sure about anything," Hawk said. "I've never really even, I guess, entertained that thought because there's no real reason right now. But yeah, anything's possible. I've definitely over the last couple years realized that if the team wants to do something, they can do whatever they want. They can let me go right now. But that's liberating also. I know I can be anywhere. But there's nowhere I'd rather be right now than here."

Someone, after all, has to be the glue.

Two more to IR for the Packers

November, 30, 2010
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Thirteen.

You read that correctly.

It's the number of players the Green Bay Packers now have on injured reserve after adding linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and tight end Spencer Havner (hamstring) to the list Tuesday. Both players suffered recurrences of previous injuries in Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and the Packers apparently weren't able to carry either of them on the 53-man roster during rehabilitation.

Neither roster spot had been filled as of Tuesday afternoon.

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 22, 2010
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Getting inside the Friday injury report....

Chicago Bears: Cornerback Zack Bowman (foot) is doubtful and not expected to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Guard Roberto Garza (knee) also won't play. Safety Major Wright (hamstring) is questionable, but also unlikely to play. Linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), on the other hand, is questionable but could see some game action.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers have ruled out defensive lineman Mike Neal (shoulder) and linebacker Brady Poppinga (knee). Linebackers Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring) are questionable, but both appear on track to play Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings. The status of defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) is less clear. Right tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) is questionable, but might need another week off. Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't tip his hand on whether cornerback Al Harris (knee) and/or safety Atari Bigby would be activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but both had strong weeks of practice.

Minnesota Vikings: Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) has been ruled out for Sunday night's game. Jamarca Sanford or Tyrell Johnson will replace him. Cornerback Lito Sheppard (hand) is questionable, but he figured to fall a rung on the depth chart anyway with the expected return of rookie cornerback Chris Cook (knee). Cook seems likely to serve as the nickel back. Center John Sullivan is the likely starter after missing most of three games with a calf injury.

BBAO: Jared Allen's disappearing act

October, 15, 2010
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Where has Jared Allen been this year? Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press pursues that question Friday after noting Allen, the NFL's sack leader since the start of the 2004 season, has one sack in the Minnesota Vikings' first four games.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier suggested teams "pay a great deal of attention to him" and added: "He's going to have a bust-out game, and hopefully it will be this weekend. He's not a disappointment by any means." Allen, meanwhile, told Sansevere that he's been close on a half-dozen.
Allen: "You could count four, five, six, maybe. Look at the Detroit game. I would have had two in the Miami game. That half-step, that half-second, is huge. Huge! There's always what ifs, but eventually it comes back. They seem to come in spurts."

It's true that Allen's 29 sacks in two previous seasons with the Vikings have often come in spurts. And it's true that offenses generally can gameplan to take one player out of any game, and perhaps that's why the rest of the Vikings defense has played well all season.

But here's the bottom line: An All-Pro defensive end has to make big plays at some point, regardless of how offenses are approaching him. I don't think anyone is going to be satisfied if Allen gets to the end of the season with a couple sacks and attributes it to being "close" and constant double-teams. Would you?

Continuing around the NFC North:

Wrap-up: Redskins 16, Packers 13

October, 10, 2010
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Graham Gano kicked a 33-yard field goal in overtime Sunday to give the Washington Redskins a 16-13 win over the Green Bay Packers.

What it means: Now 3-2, the Packers are once again a game behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. The Packers have to be sick after not only losing a game they controlled for most of the afternoon, but also after seeing another injury to a significant player. The Packers led for the first 58 minutes, 39 seconds of the game. I didn't see every snap while in transit, but watching Mason Crosby's 53-yard field goal attempt bounce off the left upright near the end of regulation must have been painful.

Injury of note: Tight end Jermichael Finley didn't return after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter and was later seen standing on the sidelines with crutches. The Packers already were playing Sunday without tailback Ryan Grant, right tackle Mark Tauscher, linebacker Nick Barnett, linebacker Brandon Chillar and safety Morgan Burnett. Losing Finley for any amount of time would represent the biggest blow by far. We'll keep you updated on any details that arise, but for now Packers fans everywhere are holding their breath. Making matters worse, the Packers also played much of the game without veteran backup tight end Donald Lee, who didn't return after suffering a shoulder injury. That left rookie Andrew Quarless playing key minutes in a close game.

Think about it: The Packers' two losses have both come with less than five seconds remaining in the respective games. Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould booted a 19-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in Week 3. Sunday, Gano's 33-yard field goal came on the final play.

Flags fly: The Packers added another nine penalties to their season total, including two that helped the Redskins get Gano in position for an easier field goal attempt in overtime. Linebacker Brady Poppinga's holding penalty gave the Redskins another set of downs after failing to convert third-and-1 from the Packers' 30-yard line, and a pass interference call three plays on cornerback Charles Woodson got the Redskins out of a third-and-15 at the 30.

What's next: The Packers hope to rebound next Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Miami Dolphins.

NFC North weekend mailbag

October, 9, 2010
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Whoa. What a week. The Green Bay Packers had three starters knocked out of action this week and watched as the running back their fans coveted was traded elsewhere. A nine-sack beating put Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the sideline for the first time in his career. The Minnesota Vikings acquired a Hall of Fame receiver to go with their Hall of Fame quarterback, who had the NFL reviewing accusations that he sent racy messages and photographs to a former sideline reporter of the New York Jets. The Detroit Lions dealt with the disappointment of three close losses and an 0-4 start.

It was enough to make you pine for the weekend, when we could thrust aside off-field news and actually see some football.

Everyone's watching, to see what you will do
Everyone's looking at you, oh
Everyone's wondering, will you come out tonight
Everyone's trying to get it right, get it right


Everybody's working for the weekend
Everybody wants a little romance
Everybody's goin' off the deep end
Everybody needs a second chance, oh
You want a piece of my heart
You better start from start
You wanna be in the show
Come on baby, lets go!


As a reminder, I read everything you send to the mailbag, Facebook and Twitter. Responses are a little less frequent, but to echo Vikings receiver Randy Moss, I've had my share of slip-ups in the past. But what if I had been on that boat? What then!

Moving on ...

Yee of San Francisco notes the regional debate sparked this week by Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who argued that the Denver Broncos got the best of the Kyle Orton-Jay Cutler trade. Yee writes: Cutler and Orton will forever be tied together and compared against each other. I think it's misleading to say that Orton is having the better season. Of all the articles and comments that I've read, one key data point is constantly left out -- strength of defensive opponents they have faced. If you look at the defensive rankings for the first 4 weeks, here's the breakdown:

Cutler
Orton
In short, Cutler has faced a top-10 defense in three of the first four games whereas Orton has only faced one. The game against the Baltimore Ravens will be truly telling of how "great" Orton really is.

Kevin Seifert: Oftentimes, readers do the work for us. Thanks, Yee. The only potential hole I'd poke in your argument is that after four games, rankings can still be skewed by one particularly strong or weak outing. Does a team have a bad defense? Or is its yardage total skewed by one poor outing?

With all of that said, King's analysis was based on the start of last season -- a 20-game span where Orton has matched Cutler's win total and has a significantly better rating. And that's to say nothing of the three draft choices the Bears gave up in the deal.

This is a multi-pronged argument that might never be decided. Among other things, you have to ask if you think Orton would have had a better record than Cutler's 10-10 if he had remained with the Bears. Or perhaps you would look at it this way: Would Orton, plus two first-round picks, have made the Bears better than they've been under Cutler to this point?

You also have to consider the future. What did the Broncos do after their first year with Orton? Aggressively move up in the 2010 draft to select Tim Tebow. It's only a matter of time before Tebow displaces him. That's how it works with highly drafted quarterbacks in this league. If Orton moves on while Cutler remains behind center for the Bears, that's a pretty important point in any trade analysis.


Robert of Los Angeles writes: As a Packer fan I am a little concerned about the injuries to both Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar. However, the injury to Mark Tauscher is not that bad because it allows Bryan Bulaga to fill in. Do you think that the Packers have enough depth at the injured players position to still make a playoff run? The media has been blowing up that this has been a bad week for Packer fans and that it's pretty dim right now.

Kevin Seifert: It's been without question a difficult psychological week for the Packers. Their locker room was so morose after squeaking by the Lions last Sunday that coach Mike McCarthy had to remind players -- twice -- that they won the game. Then the bad news really started flowing on injuries to Tauscher, Barnett and safety Morgan Burnett.

The impact of each injury is independent to the rest. In Burnett's case, the Packers are going to be in a tough spot for a couple weeks. You would assume that former starter Atari Bigby could step in after he is activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but that can't happen for another two weeks at the earliest. Until then, the Packers will have to patch it together with three players they didn't plan to use on defense this season: Derrick Martin, Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush.

I don't disagree with your take on Tauscher. As we've discussed all spring, the Packers entered this season with a much better plan for depth along the offensive line this year. With two aging tackles, they needed some younger replacements. To me, Bulaga and T.J. Lang are decent alternatives.

The Barnett injury might be the most crippling of all. There is still no confirmation that he will miss the rest of the season, but he is definitely not playing Sunday at the Washington Redskins. He is an emotional leader of the defense and, with Chillar also injured, the Packers are limited in their possibilities to replace him. For now, it looks like it will be Desmond Bishop. Nothing against Bishop, but Barnett has been a critical member of this defense for a long time.


Jackson of Henderson, Nevada, writes: According to the Star Tribune, the Vikings not only gets Randy Moss, but also the Patriots' seventh-round pick in 2012. So if the Vikings do not re-sign Moss, they'd probably get a third-round pick from the NFL as compensation AND the Pats seventh rounder in 2012. Not bad.

Kevin Seifert: That's a very interesting point and one we did not get to last week. It's very difficult to predict compensatory draft picks, which the NFL awards to teams based on a secret formula of free agency gains and losses. It'll depend on many factors, including Moss' full 2010 production and whether the Vikings sign any free agents themselves, but it's certainly possible that a third-rounder could be the net result.

Even if it's a fourth-rounder, the Vikings would have in essence moved down one round to rent Moss for 13 games. I think they would find that a pretty reasonable cost.


Steven of Brick, N.J., writes: Is it just me or did the Lions steal Alphonso Smith from Denver? They gave up Dan Gronkowski, who looked pretty good in the preseason but he wouldn't of made the 53. Smith is starting to look like a 37th overall pick. He's becoming a stud.

Kevin Seifert: It's awfully early to make any judgments, but I thought Smith's interception last Sunday at Lambeau Field was big time. Normally, I would take my chances with Packers receiver Greg Jennings running down the field against anyone. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a pretty nice throw, but Smith timed his jump perfectly and simply stole the ball from Jennings. It was about as well as you can play an elite receiver, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Smith start Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Gronkowski was a decent prospect who wouldn't have played much this season behind the Lions' two-headed tight end monster of Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. The teams also exchanged 2011 draft picks. But generally speaking, I'll always take a player with potential at cornerback over a player with potential at tight end.

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 8, 2010
10/08/10
5:00
PM ET
Getting inside the Friday injury report, including a significant injury revealed in Minnesota:

Chicago Bears: To no one's surprise, the Bears declared quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion), left tackle Chris Williams (hamstring) and safety Major Wright (hamstring). All other players will be available for Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers.

Detroit Lions: Linebacker DeAndre Levy (ankle) has been ruled out, along with quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder). Levy will have missed four of the Lions' first five games. Running back Aaron Brown (hand) is doubtful and not expected to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. Running back Jahvid Best (toe), safety C.C. Brown (quadriceps) and tight end Tony Scheffler (concussion) are questionable. Best is expected to be available, but the forecast is less clear for Brown and Scheffler. Receiver Nate Burleson (ankle) will play.

Green Bay Packers: Four players have been ruled out of Sunday's game at the Washington Redskins: Linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Nick Barnett (wrist), fullback Quinn Johnson (glute), and cornerback Sam Shields (calf). Right tackle Mark Tauscher is doubtful and unlikely to play. Coach Mike McCarthy hasn't said whether Bryan Bulaga or T.J. Lang will replace him. All other players will be available.

Minnesota Vikings: The team won't classify the status of players until Saturday in advance of Monday night's game at the New York Jets, but the Star Tribune is reporting that cornerback Chris Cook is out after tearing the meniscus in his right knee. He missed the first two games after suffering the same injury in his left knee. All other players were at least limited participants in Friday's practice.
Significant injuries are starting to pile up for the Green Bay Packers.

First, it was tailback Ryan Grant (ankle). Then it was safety Morgan Burnett (knee). Then linebackers Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Nick Barnett (wrist) were sidelined.

Now, the National Football Post is reporting that the Packers are bracing for a long absence by right tackle Mark Tauscher, who hasn't practiced the past two days because of a shoulder injury suffered last Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Tauscher seems highly doubtful to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins, and his long-term status will be determined soon.

We spent part of the offseason discussing the Packers' renewed commitment to offensive line depth, and while losing Tauscher would be a harsh blow, the Packers have a better backup plan than they had last year. They have been working No. 1 draft pick Bryan Bulaga at both tackle positions, and T.J. Lang is another option to replace Tauscher this weekend. As always, stay tuned.

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