NFC North: Brandon Pettigrew

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A few hours after Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said his running back, Reggie Bush, had missed the past two days of practice due to "rest," Bush eliminated any doubt about his status.

Bush
Bush
Bush returned to practice Tuesday with the Lions, leaving the team with just three players not practicing: Don Carey (hamstring), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (abdominal) and defensive end Jason Jones.

It is likely this was just a veteran's day of rest for Jones, who was in the locker room prior to practice.

Some other nuggets from the short media practice viewing:
  • Both of Detroit's waiver claims from Monday -- Emil Igwenagu and Michael Egnew -- were at practice. Egnew is wearing No. 49 and working with the tight ends. Igwenagu is wearing No. 44 and working with the running backs. How cruel is the NFL world sometimes? Jacob Maxwell, who was cut Tuesday, wore No. 49 on Monday and Chad Abram, who was cut Monday, wore No. 44.
  • Linebacker Shamari Benton continues to not have a nameplate with his No. 44 jersey (on defense). Considering he was signed over a week ago, typically the Lions have been pretty good about making sure names are on jerseys.
  • Tight end Brandon Pettigrew had guests from the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit at practice on Tuesday.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It all came at Joseph Fauria really fast last season, from training camp, where he was trying to find his way onto the Detroit Lions roster as an undrafted free agent, to learning a different way to play the position he excelled at during his college career at UCLA.

That’s part of the conundrum of playing tight end in a spread-type offense in college, where the tight end is essentially a larger wide receiver and not playing with his hand down or next to the offensive line. Blocking? It's essentially not required in that kind of offense. So while Fauria was trying to make the Lions in 2013, he also knew he had to learn something fairly foreign to him through no fault of his own.

Fauria
Fauria
In the NFL, blocking was going to be a requirement.

Fauria realized this early on as he began the season on the roster but the clear backup to Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Then Scheffler suffered another concussion and was eventually released, while Fauria became a legitimate threat in the red zone, using his 6-foot-7 size and reliable hands to make a rookie impact.

Except Fauria, even then, stressed he wanted more. He knew his key to longevity in the NFL and to seeing more than red-zone snaps was to run his routes crisper and focus more on the part of the game he didn’t have to worry as much about before: his blocking.

This was his offseason focus -- and so far, so good for the second-year tight end.

“(I’m) a tremendous amount more comfortable, just because I’m not going from standing up the whole year in college to now just putting my hand down the whole time,” Fauria said. “Now I’m mixing it up a little bit, have a year under my belt and I know what to do as a pro.”

Yes, that includes blocking -- which Fauria handled well, opening up holes for backs to run through. Pro Football Focus gave him a positive grade on his run blocking, which the site said he did for 11 plays. He knows, though, his blocking will have to be consistent for him to be on the field more this season, especially with rookie Eric Ebron vying for some of his snaps.

But Fauria has shown throughout the first two weeks that he has improved at his perceived weakness -- blocking -- and still provides the reliable hands and large target he did during his rookie season.

Through a few weeks, though, Fauria looks like a more complete player than he was a season ago, and that should be expected. Unlike last season, he has less theoretical off-field stuff to worry about, so he can concentrate on what he needs to do to stay on the field during the entirety of games.

“More so not worrying about doing the numbers game, if I’m going to make the team or if I’m going to do this or if I’m going to do this dance of if I’m going to be able to stretch before practice because I don’t know the schedule because I’m a rookie,” Fauria said. “All those things kind of were messing my brain up a little bit because it was my first year in the NFL.

“Now I’m a veteran and I know what to expect and it just comes with me doing my job.”

Lions Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The biggest news of the day, as covered here earlier, is Nick Fairley appearing to run with the second team. Fairley wouldn't talk about it. Jim Caldwell said it wasn't necessarily the second team -- although any defensive unit without Ndamukong Suh is likely not the first group -- and Fairley's replacement, C.J. Mosley, was pretty buttoned up in his answers. The one obvious thing was Fairley did not appear happy after practice. Considering how much attention was paid to him during the offseason and the team did not pick up his contract, this has to be at least a mildly discouraging sign for the Lions and something worth monitoring. Also worth monitoring -- Fairley's weight. He doesn't look quite as svelte as he did during the spring. The Lions are going to need him to be successful this season, there is not much question about that.
  • In non-Fairley news, Detroit added music to its practice Monday afternoon to help prepare for crowd noise as the Lions head to Oakland for their second preseason game Friday. There wasn't a ton of it -- three songs including what sounded like “Planet Rock,” the 1982 classic by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force. Caldwell said the players are allowed to submit playlists for practice with one caveat: No profanity. “Obviously it creates some distraction for you. We were trying to do the same thing basically with the music,” Caldwell said. “One day here we had a Motown session. We have different music to try and accomplish the same thing. What we're trying to do is simulate crowd noise so they can't hear. They have to communicate a lot louder with one another. If it happens to be something that they like, they tend to catch the rhythm of it. But some things, obviously, I'm not quite certain what songs they were.”
  • Matthew Stafford's interception-free streak during training camp ended with a thud of the hands Monday afternoon, as a ball from Stafford tipped off the hands of Brandon Pettigrew and right into the waiting arms of cornerback Bill Bentley, who might have had a pick-six had the Lions been wearing pads. The play was immediately followed up by another interception, this one from Dan Orlovsky that tipped off a leaping receiver's hands.
  • Ryan Broyles had the offensive play of the day, jumping in the air to catch a ball thrown by Orlovsky. It showed just how much better Broyles feels now than a season ago, when he was still rehabilitating his torn ACL. Talked with Broyles a bit after practice about his mindset and where he is right now, so look for that Tuesday.
  • There were some new faces missing from Lions' practice Monday. Larry Warford was not at practice at all -- and MLive reported it is an illness. I did not spot Ezekiel Ansah at practice. He may have been there, but the media's angle during indoor practices cuts off part of the closer sideline. He remains on the active PUP list. TJ Jones also remains on the active PUP list. Don Carey missed practice as well. When asked why he was out he said, “Everything's everything, baby. I'll talk to y'all later.”
  • Actor Jeff Daniels showed up at practice Monday.
  • The Lions return to practice Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. ET for a practice closed to the public but open to invited guests.

Lions Camp Report: Day 2

July, 29, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the players making a big early impression in a position of competition is wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. Tucked in a tight battle with Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller for receiving spots behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ogletree has spent time with the top unit both days as the No. 3 receiver. This comes on top of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singling him out during the spring as someone who impressed him. Ogletree has speed as well as the ability to make catches both over the middle and the sideline. Johnson, meanwhile, called Ogletree “smooth” when discussing him Tuesday.
  • An interesting thing occurred during individual periods Tuesday. Instead of working on their own, the Lions split their tight ends up between the offensive line and with the pass-catching receivers and running backs catching passes. So Brandon Pettigrew, for instance, was working with the line blocking while Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron were catching passes. This, Pettigrew said, was different than how the Lions operated under former coach Jim Schwartz.“We rotate and go down there during periods,” Pettigrew said. “We have five guys here, why not split it up and have some guys down there and some guys down here.” Pettigrew sees this as not only helping his blocking fundamentals, but an aid to Ebron and Fauria as well.
  • It’s early, but the kicking situation is going to be something to watch. Detroit hasn’t done many pressure field-goal situations over the first two days, but the Lions did have both Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio attempt a 49-yard field goal under pressure in the final moments of practice. It did not end well and went counter to their supposed strengths. Freese had the distance but missed wide left. Tavecchio was right on line -- but about a yard or so short. It’s only one day, but this is going to be a major thing to pay attention to throughout the next few weeks.
  • It would appear the Lions are going to give both Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle an equal shot at right tackle. Hilliard worked with the first team during the first practice Monday and Waddle received the first-team snaps Tuesday. We’ll have more on the offensive line Wednesday, but this appears to be the one true spot up for grabs on what is otherwise a fairly strong front five.
  • The Lions have managed to have fairly short practices the first two days, wrapping up in well under two hours. Some of it might come from the team still practicing without pads, but Lions safety Glover Quin explained the reason for the shorter practices is kind of simple: The team has plays they want to run through and things they need to accomplish. If they limit mistakes and run through the plays at a good pace, they finish quicker. It’s a long way from the marathon practices of the past, although practices should get longer once the team goes into pads.
  • Ownership made its first public appearance at camp Tuesday as Martha Ford, the wife of the late William Clay Ford Sr., attended practice. Ford gained controlling interest in the team after her husband’s death in the offseason. Also visiting practice Tuesday were some of Michigan State’s football coaches, although head coach Mark Dantonio was not spotted, as he was in Chicago for Big Ten media days.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times in the spring where Brandon Pettigrew would be in the huddling, listening, waiting and waiting some more for the quarterback to finish calling the play.

  This year with the Detroit Lions, one of the biggest transitions for the offense has not been picking up the actual offense, but understanding all of the words associated with almost every call Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky or Kellen Moore has had to make.

What might have been four or five words before has now become eight or nine in the huddles. And while every word is important, there are times it can drag on a little bit. For receivers and running backs and tight ends, it hasn’t been that much of a change. However, for the quarterbacks, it can be a bit much to understand and then spit out.

“They are the ones that actually have to say the terminology,” Pettigrew said. “Especially if it’s a long play call, they have to actually spit it out and a lot of times we’re just listening so we can hear it coming and we know what’s about to be said, they actually have to get it all the way out. They can’t just halfway say it because we know what’s coming.”

This is part of the spring and early training camp for the Lions, which begins Monday with the first practice. Short hand is not allowed. This is all necessary, though, as the Lions are trying to make sure their offense is a bit more explosive this season.

From what Pettigrew has seen in the fall and hopes for during the season, the moves Detroit made -- including re-signing the tight end -- should make for a more dynamic offense once the play calls and verbiage become instinctual instead of a learning process.

It should also shift Pettigrew’s role. Last season, he played everywhere -- from the slot to on the line -- and occasionally lined up outside depending on the formation. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi should at least have something similar as far as movement, if not more.

Pettigrew indicated there are a lot more plays in this offensive scheme than the one run the past five seasons by Scott Linehan, now with Dallas. A lot of it has to do with the same plays being run with either different positioning for players or differing personnel on the field.

And Pettigrew anticipates more coming once training camp really gets going -- although he isn’t sure exactly what that means for him.

“We’ve got three or four guys at tight end, got receivers,” Pettigrew said. “I’m not sure fully what the plan is but whatever it is, it’s going to be awesome regardless.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- You good?

Eric Ebron heard the question and it took a second for him to reconcile it all not because of when it was happening -- as he lined up during a play earlier this week -- or what was being asked. The shock came because of who, exactly, was asking him the question.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
Elsa/Getty ImagesEric Ebron got his first real taste of life in the NFL on Friday.
It came from Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and the team's first-round draft pick had an answer. Kind of.

"I'll be like, 'Yeah, I'm good,' " Ebron said. "But you still shaking because you're lining up beside Calvin Johnson."

And he wasn't lying -- or so Ebron says. If anything, it was more excitement and maybe a little bit of awe because, as he put it, "I was beside Calvin Johnson. In a play."

That feeling will eventually disappear for Ebron. If he is anything close to what the Lions expect out of his rookie year, he'll be doing it often throughout the next month and then in training camp and during the season. At least that's the hope for Detroit, a team that invested the No. 10 pick in the draft on the North Carolina tight end.

And on Ebron's first day of real practice after his first real week as a professional football player, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said the tight end was exactly what the team expected. During the media portion of practice, Ebron only worked on blocking and short routes. Overall, though, Caldwell appeared impressed by his first Lions draft pick.

"He's just what he's supposed to be," Caldwell said. "He's a big, athletic guy that certainly moves extremely well, covers a lot of ground and he's learning quickly.

"He's adapting and doing all the things you would anticipate he would do. Let's just put it this way, his reputation preceded him and he's living up to it."

Not bad considering Ebron called the entire first week of his Lions tenure a challenge, from learning the playbook to trying to figure out everything else attached to being a professional football player and a first-round draft pick.

He compared the amount of things he has to learn to what a quarterback might have to pick up, minus working on dropping back. Essentially, though, as he's picking things up he's still having fun with everything.

He used that word -- fun -- a few times during a five-plus minute chat Friday. And for him so far, everything has been just that, fun, even as he's learning at the same time. Part of it might be what he already sees, that there could be opportunities for everyone in this offense.

He picked that up from lining up next to Johnson.

"It's going to be incredible," Ebron said. "I'll work my way into the starting position eventually. Maybe this year, maybe next year. However it goes. Definitely getting an opportunity to play beside [Brandon] Pettigrew, Calvin, Reggie [Bush] and Golden Tate and all those guys.

"You can see how the playbook and my position can open up the voids and the areas where those guys can shine from the attention that I receive."

That's why Detroit needs Ebron to be good -- both when Johnson asks and when he actually starts to play.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After the Detroit Lions hired Joe Lombardi earlier this season and the new offensive coordinator made it obvious he was going to pattern the team after what he learned in New Orleans, the thought of Jimmy Graham has been prevalent.

When the Lions spurned defense Thursday night to take tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of the NFL draft -- despite already having two capable tight ends on the roster, a fairly deep draft class at the position and major needs on defense -- it focused the team's dependence on the position even more.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsEric Ebron gives Detroit the option of running more three-tight-end sets.
Then Lombardi mentioned something more interesting. When asked about the role tight end Joseph Fauria could still provide, he said he could envision the Lions lining up three tight ends on the field at one time. In the past, that type of package typically has meant a jumbo-type set designed for short-yardage or goal-line offense.

Not now. Not in Detroit.

The Lions could use three tight ends all across the field. Between Lombardi's talk about the formation and the six tight ends currently on the roster, it's clear there will be more emphasis on the position overall.

"Listen, Joseph is still going to have a strong role in the red zone," Lombardi said. "There is nothing to say that we aren't going to have three tight ends on the field at some point."

In Lombardi's five years with New Orleans, where he was primarily the quarterbacks coach, the Saints played 141 snaps with three tight ends on the field at once, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They ran the ball 69 times out of that set and also completed 44 of 71 passes in those five seasons.

The team used it the most in 2013, for 49 snaps, scoring seven touchdowns when three tight ends were on the field. The Saints completed 16 of 32 passes with a three-tight-end look last season, good for 185 yards and four touchdowns. Interestingly, 100 of those yards were after the catch, likely signifying it wasn't only used in the red zone.

Ten of those 16 catches in the formation went to tight ends.

At the very least, drafting Ebron probably means the definitive end of the favored formation under then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan last season, which was one running back, three wide receivers and Brandon Pettigrew somewhere on the field.

Now, it could be Calvin Johnson, Ebron, Pettigrew and Golden Tate lining up a bit of everywhere. So don't think Ebron will be primarily in the slot. At North Carolina last season, Ebron caught the majority of his passes lined up as a wide receiver.

"I never want to say primarily anything," Lombardi said. "He is going to line up all over the place and you are going to have to find him. That's kind of one of our goals in not wanting to be predictable for defenses.

"We don't want them to say, 'Calvin is always here, we know how to deal with it.' You just want to keep mixing it up so the defense can never really hone in on what your plan is."

Realistically, Detroit is not going to sit Ebron or Pettigrew very often -- not after drafting Ebron in the first round and guaranteeing Pettigrew $8 million of his new four-year deal. So the multiplicity of the Lions' offense in 2014 could give Detroit a crazy amount of options. It can use anything from two-back sets with Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, to three- and four-receiver sets, to sets with one, two or three tight ends at once.

This is probably why the Lions felt comfortable drafting offense so early at the expense of addressing the defense.

Detroit will likely cater its offensive plan to what Ebron can do once he arrives this week and starts working in rookie minicamp this weekend. Once the Lions see how well he runs, and how far away his blocking or in-line capabilities might be, then they can further assess his value.

If the team really does view him as what he was at North Carolina, which was a bulkier, taller wide receiver with a tight end designation, Detroit could place him anywhere on the field, much like they do with Johnson. It is also highly likely Ebron's role at the start of the season will be different from his role at the end.

He is still learning the position. He only really started playing football his junior year of high school, after he was offered a scholarship by North Carolina following a one-day camp he attended. So his room for growth is large, and as he improves, the opportunities for Detroit's offense are likely to multiply.

Don't expect Ebron to become Graham, though. He was adamant about that after he was drafted. While he might play a similar role in the Detroit offense as Graham does in New Orleans, it isn't fair to compare Ebron to Graham, a converted basketball player.

If you're looking for a clue of how he'll be utilized, and how the Lions might end up using their tight ends, New Orleans is a good place to start.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With top cornerbacks, the top safety and top defensive tackle on the board, the Detroit Lions instead chose to add to their offense on Thursday night, selecting the draft's top-rated tight end, North Carolina's Eric Ebron.

Ebron
To find out more about Ebron, ESPN ACC blogger Andrea Adelson gave this scouting report on him.

"Ebron is essentially a glorified wide receiver, and became the biggest threat in the North Carolina pass game last season," Adelson wrote. "An ESPN.com first-team All-American, Ebron set school records for single-season receptions (62) and receiving yards (973), and career receptions and career receiving yards for a tight end. To further prove his threat in the pass game, Ebron became the first North Carolina tight end to lead the team in receiving since Mike Chatham in 1979 and 1980.

"There are some questions about Ebron, however. He is not known for his blocking ability, and he has also his share of dropped passes. North Carolina runs a high-tempo spread offense, so because the Tar Heels want to spread the field, Ebron was utilized more for his pass-catching ability. He is not your prototypical blocking tight end by any stretch. But if Detroit envisions using him as a complement to Calvin Johnson, Ebron could thrive."

Ebron becomes the sixth tight end on the roster, joining Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Mike Williams, Matt Veldman and Jordan Thompson.
On the eve of free agency two weeks ago, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

Only three of the original 15 remain unsigned as free agency enters its third week. One of them, former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, could remain that way for a while because of his neck injury.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released shortly after free agency opened. He signed with the Packers on March 15.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed in the last week:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Trying to come back from neck fusion surgery, Finley remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks during free-agency's first week. According a report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette over the weekend, the Seahawks failed Finley on his physical during the visit, leaving his status in doubt.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year, $4 million contract.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: After going unsigned during the first week of free agency, Jones signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Oakland Raiders. The deal was similar to the three-year, $9.6 million deal he signed with the Packers three years ago.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Was weighing an offer from Seattle, where he has visited twice since the start of free agency. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys that could become a four-year deal if the team exercises an option after the first year.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Signed a three-year, $9 million with the Atlanta Falcons after the Bears decided not to pursue an extension with the kick return specialist.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.

The Detroit Lions are bringing back Brandon Pettigrew and this ensures one thing in Detroit: While the team will have an offense that might look schematically like the New Orleans Saints' offense, this guarantees it won’t be Saints-like.

At least not in the same construct of what New Orleans likes to do.

Pettigrew is not a Jimmy Graham-like tight end. He won’t stretch the field. He won’t create an obvious mismatch against anyone who lines up against him. Though Detroit had said he was a priority free agent throughout the offseason, he is a different type of tight end than Graham.

He is more of a dual-threat tight end, as much of a blocker as a pass-catcher. He was integral in Detroit’s running game as a player who can line up on the line of scrimmage as well as in the slot and even outside. His versatility and flexibility has been one of the more attractive things about him.

He will not, though, break a defense.

In his five seasons in Detroit, his longest-ever reception has been 35 yards. In 2010. He has had only four games in which he had a reception of 30 yards or more, and only one of them came after the 2010 season. Last season he had fewer yards (416) than any season but his rookie year, and also fewer drops (four) than any season in his career. His two touchdowns were his fewest since his rookie year.

He also had declining receptions the past two seasons after an 87-catch, 826-yard season in 2011.

While Pettigrew is still productive and still young enough at age 29, part of the reason Detroit might have brought him back is the lack of experience at the position otherwise. If the team had not kept Pettigrew, the only tight ends on the roster would have been Joseph Fauria, Michael Williams and Matt Veldman. Fauria and Williams were rookies last season, and of the three, only Fauria had any extended playing time or even caught a pass.

Williams spent last season on injured reserve and Veldman was signed for the last game of the season from the practice squad.

With a thin tight end market, there were not going to be any options better than Pettigrew available for Detroit to sign as a veteran. Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley and Dustin Keller all could have been intriguing options, but they have significant injury histories that made them more of a risk than Pettigrew, who the team drafted in 2009. And Pettigrew has developed a rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Pettigrew’s signing also probably means the team might avoid taking a tight end early in May’s draft, although depending on how the Lions really feel about Fauria and Williams, it might not completely preclude them from doing so.

But this was the safe signing for Detroit. He was the player the team knew and the one the front office was the most familiar with. With little other options out there, it was also the one that ended up making the most sense.

Even if he can’t do some of the things the team might want him to be able to in the offense.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC North

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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A few deals have been signed around the NFC North in the days leading up to free agency, but plenty of valuable players are about to hit the open market.

Here is a ranking of top NFC North free agents, with information provided by ESPN.com reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears).

We will update this periodically throughout the next several weeks.

1.Sam Shields, Packers CB: Emerged as the Packers' top cover cornerback last season while playing for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million and was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period Saturday. His 2014 total pay of $15 million makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid cornerback for next season.

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: The No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State, Pettigrew spent the past five seasons as one of Detroit's primary tight ends, specifically known for the ability to both block and run routes effectively.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Had surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck but expects to be cleared by his doctor. Gambled two years ago in free agency, signing just a two-year, $14 million deal in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: The NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman started eight games last season before finishing on the injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Bears hope to bring back Tillman but might not be able to come up with a suitable offer.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer from the Packers last season, which might have been a sign that he preferred to play in a system that gave defensive linemen more freedom. After a disappointing season, his value has gone down, and as of last week, he was close to signing a one-year deal to return.

Cassel
Cassel
6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year deal with the Vikings on Friday, just before teams could start contacting his agent. He will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3. Young turned into one of the more disruptive players up front, making 47 tackles, recovering two fumbles and recording three sacks.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen’s time in Minnesota is likely over. He could come back as a situational pass-rusher on a reduced salary, but after making $14 million last season, Allen might head elsewhere for a bigger role and bigger paycheck.

McCown
10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: He proved he is capable of filling in for Jay Cutler in a pinch and is instrumental behind the scenes for nearly every skill player on the offense. It's not a slam dunk he will be back, and talks with the Bears haven't been especially productive.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Melton's representatives fully expect him to test the market in free agency because the Bears haven’t shown a ton of interest. Coming off a torn ACL, Melton probably won't command top dollar in the first wave of free agency.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Became strictly a return specialist for the Bears last season and is still one of the league's best at his position. Probably expects a payday similar to what he's gotten in the past.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Mathis signed with Detroit during the 2013 preseason and became one of the team's starting cornerbacks by the third week of the season. He played in 15 games, making 47 tackles and often drawing the opponent's top wide receiver.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: The 26-year-old cashed in on Sunday by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota. He should flourish in new coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: The 26-year-old was released by Detroit with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014. Has played in 65 games for Detroit over five seasons, with 328 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also had five sacks and four fumble recoveries.

Free agency primer: Lions

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

.Key free agents: QB Shaun Hill; RB Joique Bell (restricted); WR Nate Burleson; TE Brandon Pettigrew; DE Willie Young; CB Rashean Mathis; S Louis Delmas.

Where they stand: Of Detroit’s major free agents, Bell is almost certainly returning to the team and Burleson and Delmas almost certainly will not after being released as cap cuts last month. The rest are likely headed toward free agency when it opens Tuesday. Detroit already took care of some of its free agents, Dominic Raiola and Don Muhlbach, bringing them back with one-year deals. Pettigrew and Young are likely to test the market fairly heavily and should have multiple suitors. Mathis’ age is a question, but he will end up somewhere next season. Whether it is in Detroit is an unknown. Hill has to make a decision if he wants to go somewhere he can push for a starting gig or if he is content backing up Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s other free agents either won’t be back with the team or should come cheap if the Lions want them back.

What to expect: The Lions are going to make a run at wide receivers and potentially some secondary help in free agency. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit try to bring back Pettigrew, and to do it sooner in free agency before he can talk to more teams as one of the top free agents at his position. Pay attention to sure-handed wide receivers, as that was a major issue with the Lions last season. Also, the team could go after a mid-level safety and possibly a mid-level cornerback if either is available at the right price. Other than that, Detroit might look at value plays to bolster the offensive line and front seven. Backup quarterback could be interesting -- Luke McCown could be a target -- but again, that has to be at the right price.
In the past two days, the Detroit Lions have been given an idea of what the team might see when free agency starts March 11.

And they have had to make no moves of their own to do so.

By Philadelphia re-signing wide receiver Riley Cooper and Baltimore hanging on to tight end Dennis Pitta, two of the positions the Lions will potentially look to the most in free agency, Detroit now has a base of what could be expected.

Cooper signed a five-year, $25 million contract after a breakout season where he caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. In a deep crop of free agents at his position, Cooper was part of a tier of player that the Lions are likely going to look at to potentially fill a need, so this gives them a market value to work off of.

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
Pitta’s signing, as first reported by the Baltimore Sun, does more to shape Detroit’s free agency than Cooper’s will. Pitta’s contract will be five years for $32 million, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, and it could give an idea of what the Lions’ own comparable tight end in the free agent market, Brandon Pettigrew, might want.

It would be logical to think that Pettigrew would at least seek out a deal similar in value to Pitta and depending how Detroit feels about that situation, could give an early indication whether the team might feel that is worth it to pursue.

Pettigrew actually put together better statistics than Pitta during the overlapping parts of their careers -- Pettigrew has one more year of service than Pitta -- but they are capable of doing similar things. Both are tight ends who are considered dual-purpose, meaning they can block and catch, so that helps set the market even further.

The final piece of this, and perhaps the reason why Pettigrew might end up leaving Detroit, is he might now be the top free-agent tight end. With New Orleans using the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham and the signing of Pitta, Pettigrew and Buffalo's Scott Chandler are now the top free-agent tight ends likely to hit the market in less than two weeks.

That could drive the value for Pettigrew higher than it might have been had Pitta not re-upped with the Ravens.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL combine a week ago that Pettigrew is a priority free agent for the Lions, but like with every move the team makes, everything will be interconnected both with comparative value through the rest of the league and also how it fits with other free agents the Lions are going to try and acquire.

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