NFC North: Brendan Daly
If nothing else, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's visit to Detroit on Thursday served as reminder to stop making predictions for when the Detroit Lions might lose defensive tackle Nick Fairley to a league suspension.
Goodell disputed the suggestions that he always waits for the legal process to play out before making a decision, "particularly if there's a pattern of behavior," Goodell said. Fairley was arrested twice during the offseason in his hometown, but legal delays have pushed the hearing for one incident into November.
For all we know, the league has already suspended Fairley but hasn't announced it because the appeal process is still active. All we can say is that Fairley seems likely to miss some time, but whether the suspension starts in Week 1, Week 10 or in the 2013 season, we have no idea.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Lions defensive end Willie Young is getting a great opportunity during training camp because of starter Cliff Avril's holdout, writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
- Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus hasn't had knee pain this summer, according to the Detroit Free Press.
- Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is the Lions' chain mover, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times looks back at the process that led to tailback Matt Forte's contract agreement with the Chicago Bears.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune looks at the Bears' plans for their tight ends this season.
- It's going to be tough for receiver Dane Sanzenbacher to make the Bears' final roster, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Second-year player Stephen Paea appears to be the front-runner for the Bears' nose tackle position, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
- Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji is having an excellent camp at his normal weight of 337 pounds, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers linebacker D.J. Smith has proved he can play but must be patient, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wants a repeat of his 2010 season, not the MVP one of 2011, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Joe Webb has had a decidedly mixed performance in training camp as the Minnesota Vikings' No. 2 quarterback, writes Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune speaks with Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly.
- Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com speaks with Vikings defensive lineman Kevin Williams about the state of the team and his career.
In last year's version of Leading Questions, we wondered when the Bears would address the depth behind their aging defensive stars. That issue is still on the table, but of greater 2012 importance is this: How will the Bears manage their transition to new offensive coordinator Mike Tice?
Tice will retain much of the terminology and some of the philosophy from former coordinator Mike Martz. But Tice has his own spin on the "three-digit offense," and the Bears will need to realign behind a power running game and a passing approach that emphasizes downfield throws.
Tight end and receiver are two positions the Bears need to focus on this offseason, either by developing their existing players like Kellen Davis and/or acquiring a legitimate downfield threat. New general manager Phil Emery should have more than $20 million in cap space to work with, and the free-agent market should be deep with receivers.
But to make Tice's offense work, Emery will also need to ensure the return of free-agent tailback Matt Forte and find him a reliable backup as well.
In a tight salary-cap situation, can the Lions keep their nucleus together and add where needed?
Years of high draft positioning made the Lions a talented team but also one facing a cap crunch in 2012. Preliminary cap reconciliation leaves the Lions with $122 million in cap commitments, about $2 million above the estimated $120 million cap. And that total doesn't include three defensive starters who are pending free agents: defensive end Cliff Avril, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.
The Lions will need to find ways to shave from that total, whether it's borrowing from future caps -- a tool now available in the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) -- or reducing the cap figures in existing contracts.
As we've discussed, receiver Calvin Johnson should be the first target for a cap-reducing contract extension. He's projected to account for about $22 million against the cap in the final year of his rookie deal. Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch are estimated to account for nearly half of the Lions' total cap allotment.
What does all this mean? We are all figuring out the NFL's new salary-cap rules together, but it's clear the Lions must make some difficult short-term decisions and weigh them against long-term prosperity.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
What can the Packers do to improve a pass defense that gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history?
The easiest answer is to address the pass rush, which weakened in 2011 when the Packers couldn't find a suitable replacement for departed free agent Cullen Jenkins. The rush could come from the defensive end position, where the Packers have waited two years for the highly touted Mike Neal to make an impact, or through acquiring a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
General manager Ted Thompson has been reluctant in recent years to utilize veteran free agency, and the truth is that few teams allow a legitimate pass-rusher to depart without compensation. But the situation was serious enough in 2011 that Thompson will at least need to consider every avenue available for a substantial and fast-acting solution. The Packers had 29 sacks in 2011, tied for the third-worst total in the NFL.
Parallel to that issue, however, Thompson will also have to monitor a situation at safety that contributed to the Packers' defensive problems in 2011. Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins will find out in March whether he can continue his career or if he must retire because of a serious neck injury. The Packers missed his leadership and instincts in center field and would need to acquire a long-term replacement if he retires.
The development of quarterback Christian Ponder will dominate many of the Vikings' offseason headlines, but there is an equally important question hovering over the team: How fast can it upgrade its historically poor pass defense?
Vikings opponents finished the season with a 107.6 passer rating, the third-highest figure in NFL history. Their eight interceptions tied for the league's lowest total in 2011 and only one player among the back seven who started the majority of games in 2011 -- linebacker Chad Greenway -- is assured a starting job in 2012.
It's difficult to replace six starters in one offseason, but the Vikings have already begun their defensive overhaul by hiring new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, bringing back Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach and making former coordinator, Fred Pagac, their primary linebackers coach.
The personnel situation is most dire in the secondary, where two of the Vikings' primary safeties -- Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson -- are free agents. Talented cornerback Chris Cook, suspended for the final 10 games of the season following a domestic-violence incident, remains in limbo. Cook's trial date is tentatively scheduled for March 5. The future of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield must be addressed as well; Winfield turns 35 in June.
A news release made no mention of former coordinator Fred Pagac, who reportedly will share duties as linebackers coach with Mike Singletary, who will also be a special assistant to the head coach. I'll withhold most comments until later Thursday, when we should hear from coach Leslie Frazier.
In general, however, I would view these moves as more of a re-shuffling than a shakeup considering the familiarity of all involved. Frazier and Williams worked together on the Colts' staff in 2005 and 2006, and both are devoted to former Colts coach Tony Dungy's Tampa-2 defense. Williams was once part of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff that included Dungy as the head coach and former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as the defensive backs coach.
Daly was the Vikings' assistant defensive line coach from 2006-08, the final two years under Frazier. He replaced Karl Dunbar, who was fired. It is presumed that defensive backs coach Joe Woods will return in his current role. More to come.
Matt Forte's appearance Wednesday on ESPN 1000 seemed mostly optimistic to me. The Chicago Bears tailback seems to understand the likelihood he will receive a franchise tag this offseason and realizes it could prove a tool to ultimately get a long-term contract negotiated.
But if the Bears franchise him not for the purpose of negotiations, but instead as their final decision on how to compensate him in 2012, there could be trouble.
Forte: "A lot of teams franchise guys so that they can get a deal done or negotiate a deal. It just depends on what the motive of that is."
The franchise tag for running backs this offseason is expected to be a little less than $8 million. If it seems clear the Bears plan to pay him that salary, with no credible offer for an extension beyond the 2012 season, Forte implied he might not be in training camp on time.
"I wouldn't say holdout," he said, "but people probably wouldn't know where I was."
You say tomato, I say tomahto.
This is a discussion that can't begin in earnest until the Bears hire a new general manager.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- New York Giants executive Marc Ross was the third candidate interviewed this week for the Bears' job, notes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears would be in trouble if offensive coordinator Mike Tice leaves to become the Oakland Raiders' head coach, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- In a radio interview, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew admitted the team might not have been aggressive enough in addressing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's personal fouls and fines earlier in the season.
- Mayhew said in the interview that he will still be aggressive on the trade market, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke highly of tight end Jermichael Finley, a pending free agent, during his year-end news conference Wednesday. Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.
- McCarthy said that center Scott Wells was the team's best offensive lineman this year and expressed hope that he will re-sign as a pending free agent. More from Pete Dougherty of the Press-Gazette.
- One of McCarthy's biggest disappointments in 2011 was his team's poor tackling, notes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- The Packers didn't play to their "identity" in Sunday's playoff loss, McCarthy said, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Minnesota Vikings plan to hire former defensive line assistant Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach along with Alan Williams as their defensive coordinator, reports the Star Tribune.
- It's clear that an alternate Minneapolis site, on Linden Ave., is the top stadium choice of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- A group of Minnesota legislators met until late Wednesday night to discuss stadium options but reached no conclusions, according to Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
To the extent there have been rumors about a possible position change for Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports it won't happen.
There have been suggestions that Tillman could move to safety and replace veteran Mike Brown, who was told last week he won't be offered a new contract. But Tillman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to remain at cornerback, according to the report.
In the end, finding a replacement for Tillman at cornerback would have proved more difficult than replacing Brown.
Tillman won't be cleared in time to participate in the Bears' mandatory minicamp next month. He should be ready for training camp.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald believes Brown could have helped the Bears in some capacity in 2009.
- So does David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. But Haugh suggests that the Bears will miss retiring right tackle John Tait more than Brown in 2009. Haugh: "Nobody who made $11 million his first season on a new team, as Tait did in 2004, really can be described as taken for granted. But Tait was like a good paperboy in that you really didn't appreciate the job he did until somebody else tries to do it."
- Detroit guard Stephen Peterman on why he re-signed with the Lions before testing free agency: "Through all this, I'm glad to be back. I want to be a part of rebuilding this thing and win a Super Bowl." John Niyo of the Detroit News reports.
- Minnesota has hired a replacement for former defensive assistant Brendan Daly, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Diron Reynolds will work mostly with the defensive line.
- Speaking to a Rotary Club meeting Monday, Green Bay president/CEO Mark Murphy didn't get a huge crowd response when he noted the Packers set themselves up at quarterback in 2008. The Fond du Lac Reporter covered the event.
It turns out that St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo has grabbed two assistant coaches off Minnesota's staff.
Last week, Spagnuolo hired Vikings special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro as linebackers coach. Monday, the Rams announced Vikings defensive assistant Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach.
Daly worked mostly with defensive line coach Karl Dunbar over the past three years and is well-liked by players. He has also been the assistant coach who sends in defensive playcalls from the defensive coordinator, whether it was Mike Tomlin or Leslie Frazier.
The Vikings haven't announced replacements for either coach. One possibility for Ferraro's job is assistant special teams coach Brian Murphy. Overall, there are four ex-Vikings assistant coaches on the Rams' staff. In addition to Ferraro and Daly, Spagnuolo has also hired Charlie Baggett as receivers coach and retained Steve Loney as offensive line coach.
Meanwhile, the Rams hired former Green Bay strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. Former Packers and Lions assistant Sylvester Croom is the Rams' new running backs coach.