NFC North: Charles Gordon
Could Jermichael Finley unseat Donald Lee as Green Bay's starting tight end? That will be an under-the-radar camp battle as the Packers look to "reintroduce firepower to the position," writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Finley was a 21-year-old project last year but has made progress in learning the offense and with his blocking skills. Finley's top camp priority, according to tight ends coach Ben McAdoo, is to develop better chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If that happens, Finley's speed and athletic ability will make him a natural downfield threat and provide the Packers with a new threat on offense.
The Packers' reconstructed defense and offensive line will get the majority of attention during the early part of training camp. But the rate of Finley's progress will be just as significant.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers have full confidence in their current stable of running backs, write Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Chicago is hoping to have cornerback Charles Tillman (back) in the lineup by the final preseason game. But the long end of his recovery timetable is 10 weeks, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune notes that Tillman had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in 2007.
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times believes the Bears should pursue quarterback Michael Vick, who the NFL conditionally reinstated Monday. Mulligan: "Getting [Jay] Cutler was the hard part, but to truly stabilize the position, the Bears need more than good thoughts about second-year man Caleb Hanie and kind wishes for Brett Basanez. They need the kind of cover only Vick can provide."
- In lieu of a formal depth chart, John Niyo of the Detroit News looks at the Lions' offensive positions.
- Missed this from over the weekend: Mlive.com's Tom Kowalski believes Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is on the fast track to starting the team's opener at New Orleans. Kowalski: "The truth, though, is people in the organization believe Stafford is even better than they thought."
- The ankle dislocation that forced Minnesota to waive cornerback Charles Gordon is a "major, major injury," according to agent Kenny Zuckerman. Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune have that story and also note that the Vikings are trying to sell naming rights to the field at the Metrodome.
Minnesota made a roster move Monday morning, but it wasn't the one you've been waiting on.
The Vikings waived cornerback Charles Gordon, who hasn't played or practiced since dislocating his ankle last November. The team had already signed free agent Karl Paymah to replace Gordon as its primary nickel back, and as of now veteran Benny Sapp and rookie Asher Allen are set to compete for the dime back position.
As Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune points out, the Vikings now have 81 players on their roster. That's one over the NFL limit, meaning they'll have to make room for first-round draft pick Percy Harvin and second-round choice Phil Loadholt when they sign contracts. And another for Hewhoshallnotbenamed, if and when it comes to that.
You might not have heard of Karl Paymah before the free agent market opened -- and we're looking in the mirror here -- but chances are he'll be Minnesota's nickel back in 2009 after agreeing to a one-year contract Saturday worth $1.55 million.
ESPN's John Clayton reports the deal could exceed $2 million if Paymah reaches all of his incentives. Those aren't dime back/special teams contributor numbers. That's what you pay a player who you consider a likely candidate to be your third cornerback.
The Vikings have also re-signed both players who held down the nickel job last year, Charles Gordon and Benny Sapp. Each signed one-year deals: Gordon for $530,000 (plus $500,000 in incentives) and Sapp for $841,000. So I doubt the Vikings would have pursued Paymah and paid him what they did if they didn't think he represented an upgrade.
Want to know more about Paymah the player? Here's Scouts Inc.'s analysis as the free agent market opened:
Paymah has been a career backup who has five starts in his four-year career, while in Denver. He has more value on special teams than he does as a cornerback. He shows above-average, straight-line speed on coverage and willingness to throw his body around with abandon. He is an adequate athlete for the cornerback position and has the size and strength to press receivers at the line of scrimmage. He is inconsistent in off coverage, does not show great route recognition and will bite on fakes. He is a little stiff in the hips and comes out his pedal in stages. He lacks the premier top-end burst of speed to catch up when receivers gain separation from him, but enough speed to shadow most receivers on go routes. He is Denver's No. 4 corner, but does not have enough explosive quickness or agility to start in the league. He is getting to the stage in his career that he will be fighting for a job every year.
Let's run through our nightly catch-up of today's free agency news around the NFC North. Check back for late-breaking updates:
- Detroit re-signed running back/kick returner Aveion Cason and also signed former Tennessee linebacker Cody Spencer. That makes three former Titans who have joined new Lions coach Jim Schwartz: Spencer, cornerback Eric King and offensive lineman Daniel Loper. Spencer is primarily a special teams player who spent the past three seasons with the New York Jets. Cason has been with the Lions off and on since 2001.
- Minnesota re-signed cornerback Benny Sapp, who served as the Vikings' nickel back after Charles Gordon dislocated his ankle midway through last season. Gordon re-signed last month.
- Green Bay fullback John Kuhn, a restricted free agent, was scheduled to visit Cincinnati. The Packers will have the right to match any offer Kuhn receives.
The NFL's StarCaps case should be decided before the 2009 season begins. But not much before.
That's the upshot of Tuesday's news that a Minnesota judge has set a June 15 trial date for Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, along with three New Orleans players (two current and one former), in their lawsuit to prevent four-game suspensions for violating the league's policy on using banned substances.
Absent an out-of-court settlement, the process will drag on for at least the rest of the NFL offseason. The Vikings will be left to guess as they make contingency plans for the possibility of opening the 2009 season with both players suspended, which would be the result if the NFL prevails in the case.
Now let's continue around the NFC North:
- One possible free-agency target for Minnesota is Baltimore offensive lineman Jason Brown, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Vikings agreed to terms on a one-year contract with cornerback Charles Gordon, who missed the final seven games of 2008 after dislocating his left ankle. Gordon was set to become a restricted free agent but instead will receive up to $1.3 million in 2009. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune reports.
- Chad O'Shea, recently promoted to be the Vikings' assistant special teams coach, left the organization to become New England's receivers coach, according to Zulgad.
- Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton on the mixed messages the Bears have sent on his future: "I know [general manager Jerry Angelo is] behind me. A lot of that stuff can be taken out of context. I feel I have the support of this organization. I'm going to do everything I can to prove to them that I'm the guy." Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune reports.
- Kirkland Crawford of the Detroit Free Press provides some excerpts of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford's interview with Sports Illustrated. Stafford expressed eagerness to play for the Lions.
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel matches up players at the combine with the Green Bay Packers' needs.
Mike of Sacramento asked, and I've listened (Finally).
We're still six weeks away from free agency and the start of what we like to call the "new league year," but already it's time to start looking at the NFL's hot stove season.
So over the next four days, we'll roll out an analysis of each Black and Blue team's situation as it begins making plans for the offseason. Let's be fair and move in order of the 2008 finish, starting with Minnesota.
Minnesota Vikings offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 10-6
- Coaching changes: Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro took linebackers job in St. Louis. Replacement unannounced.
- Salary-cap space: $20.4 million before end-of-year credits and adjustments.
- Restricted free agents: Defensive tackle Fred Evans, cornerback Charles Gordon, defensive end Otis Grigsby, defensive end Jayme Mitchell, fullback Naufahu Tahi.
- Unrestricted free agents: Center Matt Birk, linebacker Heath Farwell, linebacker Napoleon Harris, offensive lineman Marcus Johnson, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, defensive tackle Ellis Wyms.
- Draft highlight: They own the No. 22 overall pick
- Free-agency comment: The Vikings seemingly have made the decision to let Birk and Sharper seek employment elsewhere, although that could always change in the days leading up to free agency. They have an in-house replacement for Sharper in Tyrell Johnson, but they'll have to further evaluate the situation at center. Among the other free agents, Farwell is a likely target as he recovers from a torn ACL.
- Three biggest needs: (1) A quarterback to compete with Tarvaris Jackson; (2) A right tackle to compete with or replace Ryan Cook; (3) A kick/punt returner to count on weekly, rather than relying on a mix-and-match approach.
It appears Madieu Williams' consecutive games streak will end at two this weekend. The Minnesota safety is doubtful for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay because of a left shoulder injury, one that apparently occurred Wednesday during the Vikings' special teams practice.
Williams missed the first seven games of the season because of a neck injury. But he had played well since his return -- intercepting a pass in the end zone Nov. 2 against Houston and tackling Green Bay receiver Donald Driver short of a first down on the penultimate play of last Sunday's 28-27 victory over the Packers.
Coach Brad Childress said he will give Williams another 48 hours before making a final decision on his status. And it should be noted that defensive end Jared Allen played against the Packers after being designated as doubtful on the injury report. By definition, however, there is a 75 percent chance that Williams won't play against the Bucs.
Speaking to Minnesota reporters, Williams said he took a "nasty" fall while lunging for a ball during the special teams practice.
After losing nickel back Charles Gordon (ankle) for the season, the Vikings are on track to enter Sunday's game without two of their top five defensive backs. Rookie Tyrell Johnson would replace Williams in the starting lineup, while veteran Benny Sapp will take over in the nickel for Gordon.
This will be the last time we mention Helmetgate. Really. We promise.
Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson addressed the issue Wednesday during a conference call with Tampa Bay-area reporters, saying he was caught up in the emotion of Sunday's 28-27 victory over Green Bay when he removed his helmet on the field. NFL vice president Mike Pereira has said that Peterson should have been penalized for the act.
It's only fair to give Peterson an opportunity to explain himself. Here's how he put it:
"I was just really caught up in the moment. Especially after having the fumble and then coming back out with the mentality I had on the last drive. For me, it was more emotional because I had just fumbled to put us in a bad situation that could've cost us the game, and then in the last drive when we needed it, turned it around and got into the end zone. I was sitting on the sidelines and just really having faith, telling myself and telling the guys, 'Hey, we're going to win, we're going to pull it out.' Needing a career drive, having the faith it was really going to happen. I was just caught up in the moment. I wasn't trying to celebrate."
Again, Peterson's intent shouldn't have anything to do with whether officials flag him. By rule, he should have been penalized.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiles cornerback Benny Sapp, who figures to take over the nickel position following the season-ending ankle injury to Charles Gordon. Sapp is known for his aggressive attempts to make big plays.
- Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk on sliding to the "Mike" position to replace the injured Nick Barnett: "When it comes down to it, it's all just still football." Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down the transition.
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on all the practice time he's missed this season: "If you're not working on the fundamentals every day, there's potential for those to drop off a little bit. I'm going to continue to work hard and as I get to do more in practice, I don't expect that to be an issue at all." Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette addresses the issue.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune can't decide what will play a more significant role Sunday: The tension in the Bears' locker room or some chippy attitudes displayed by the Packers during Wednesday conference calls.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at the quiet season of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has had five tackles or fewer in four of the past five games.
- Detroit waived quarterback Drew Henson on Wednesday to make room for receiver Adam Jennings, whom they claimed on waivers, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News. For now, that means quarterback Dan Orlovsky will remain on the active roster despite a significant hand injury.
|AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid|
|Adrian Peterson removed his helmet while on the playing field four times last Sunday.|
I'm aware of at least four times when television cameras caught a helmetless Peterson:
- When punt returner Charles Gordon dislocated his left ankle in the second quarter.
- After Vikings coach Brad Childress initially decided to punt on fourth-and-1 from the 41-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
- After fumbling on the ensuing fourth-down play.
- After scoring the game-winning touchdown.
(If you know of any others, hit the mailbag.)
I sought clarification from a league spokesman, who forwarded me the wording of the applicable NFL rule. As it turns out, there are some exceptions -- but I don't think they all apply here.
Here is the rule:
A player may not remove his helmet during a game while on the playing field unless: (1) a timeout has been called for reasons of injury, television break, charged team timeout, or between periods, or (2) the player is in the bench area. Violation of this rule will be penalized as unsportsmanlike conduct.
You can make an argument that Peterson was in the bench area after scoring the touchdown, and there was definitely an injury/television timeout under way when Gordon was being attended to. But there was no immediate timeout prior to the near-punt, and a change of possession after fourth down doesn't qualify as a timeout.
I supposed it's possible that officials exercised discretion and judged Peterson not to have acted in an unsportsmanlike manner when he removed his helmet. Or, they just didn't notice that he took it off. Based on my understanding of this rule, Peterson should have been penalized on those occasions based on a strict reading of the rules.
Updating a couple of injury situations on a day when Green Bay has already lost middle linebacker Nick Barnett for the season:
- Minnesota nickel back/punt returner Charles Gordon is in the process of deciding where to have surgery on his dislocated left ankle. Vikings coach Brad Childress wouldn't confirm that Gordon's injury is season-ending, but it almost certainly is.
- Detroit likely will be without their starting defensive ends, Dewayne White (calf) and Jared DeVries (hand surgery) for Sunday's game at Carolina, coach Rod Marinelli said Monday. Neither player is expected to miss an extended period of time, however.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota nickel back/punt returner Charles Gordon has been diagnosed with a dislocated left ankle, an injury that likely will end his season.
Gordon suffered the grisly injury during a second-quarter punt return in the Vikings' 28-27 victory over Green Bay. The Vikings' medical staff took him off the field on a cart, and Gordon appeared in the postgame locker room on crutches and dressed in hospital scrubs.
The Vikings replaced him on punt returns with Aundrae Allison and at nickel back with Benny Sapp. Allison and Sapp likely will be the permanent replacements at both positions.
Gordon's left leg seemed to give way as he was tackled by the Packers' Desmond Bishop at the Vikings' 10-yard line. The injury was announced only as an ankle injury, but judging by the speed the Vikings' medical staff raced on the field, I think it's safe to say it's pretty serious.
Aundrae Allison likely will return punts the rest of the way, and Benny Sapp will replace Gordon as the Vikings' nickel back.
We'll update you when we have more information on Gordon's condition.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
|AP Photo/Rob Carr|
|Chicago's Kyle Orton spent Sunday afternoon running and gunning in an old-fashioned sandlot game with Minnesota that resulted in a 48-41 win for the Bears.|
CHICAGO -- Someone laughed Sunday afternoon and asked Kyle Orton if he was having any flashbacks to his days as a college gunslinger at Purdue.
"A little bit," Orton said, shaking his head moments after Chicago's rollicking 48-41 victory over Minnesota. "We're out there throwing the ball a bunch. It was fun."
Up was down and left was right at Soldier Field, where two supposedly grind-it-out teams combined for 48 first downs, 89 points and 766 total yards.
It was the highest-scoring game in the series' 47-year history, an unanticipated shootout the Vikings almost certainly would have won were it not for five turnovers and a boneheaded play by their punter.
How unusual was this? Only six of the 94 previous games between these teams featured a 40-spot from one team. In the past 10 seasons, the winner of Chicago-Minnesota has scored less than 30 points in 83 percent of the contests.
"A lot of us have been playing football a long time," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said, "and none of us have seen anything like this. The history of this series, games don't go like it did [Sunday]. ... It's supposed to be a smash-mouth game, a low-scoring game, a defensive-dominated game. [But] I looked up at the scoreboard and there was like 30-some points in the first quarter."
Sharper's Vikings departed Soldier Field with the ignominy of scoring the most points ever in a Bears victory. In other words, Chicago had never allowed at least 41 points in a game and still won.
It was a stunning offensive show from a Vikings team that had improved its attack this season but never shown the type of balance it displayed Sunday. The Vikings rushed for 155 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown jaunt by tailback Adrian Peterson, and quarterback Gus Frerotte threw for 298 yards and two scores.
The Vikings were confident they could exploit the Bears' injury-depleted defense. Starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nate Vasher were both inactive on Sunday, as was nickel back Danieal Manning. Chicago used its nickel package only once the entire game, leaving cornerbacks Corey Graham and Trumaine McBride to defend the passing game.
"We were talking about that all week," said receiver Bernard Berrian, who caught six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown against his former team. "We were going to focus that way, even if [Tillman, Vasher and Manning] were in. We still wanted to attack them because we know what they give up, and especially me. I know what they're about. I know their tendencies."
The Vikings have been waiting years for this kind of balanced offensive explosion, but in what must have been a maddening turn of events if you're a Vikings fan, it was overshadowed by a slew of mistakes. Most notably, punter Chris Kluwe exacerbated a blocked punt by kicking the ball a second time into the waiting arms of Chicago's Garrett Wolfe, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
CHICAGO -- Maybe Minnesota should ship out all of their special teams and not just punter Chris Kluwe.
The Vikings just handed Chicago its second special teams touchdown of the game. Punt returner Charles Gordon allowed a Brad Maynard punt to bounce off his arm for a muff. The ball rolled about five yards into the end zone, where the Bears' Zackary Bowman fell on it for a touchdown.
The Vikings are driving up and down the field on the Bears, and their offense rolled up 162 yards through the middle of the second quarter. But the special teams disasters have the Bears ahead 24-17.
See the preceding post for an account of Kluwe's earlier circus act.
Although the Green Bay Packers don't have a practice scheduled for Monday, they aren't totally excused from football-related activities. So it's fair to say that newly reinstated quarterback Brett Favre will cross paths with Aaron Rodgers at some point after reporting to camp at noon CT.
There is no telling how that conversation will go. But last Friday, when it appeared Favre might stay retired, Rodgers said he harbored no ill will toward Favre for creating the monster of all distractions. Rodgers said he spoke with Favre's daughter, nephew and sister at the ESPYS last month and "they reiterated what I already knew."
Rodgers added: "There is no issue between me and Brett. When he was here, we got along great. We joked around. We spent time together off the field. So it's never been about me and Brett. It's been about Brett and the organization and trying to find the resolution that both parties are happy with. That's why I know my role in this situation is to lead this team. If he comes back, we'll welcome him back. And if he doesn't, we'll move forward."
Well, Rodgers will be opening those arms Monday. We'll be in Green Bay -- where else? -- later today and will bring you the latest.
For now, here are some NFC North headlines to chew on Monday morning:
- Packers fans booed Rodgers at an INTRASQUAD SCRIMMAGE Sunday night at Lambeau Field as he completed 35 percent of his passes, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- It was hard to ignore the symbolism of a huge thunderstorm in Green Bay on Sunday night, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Now it's the Packers who are waffling, writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- In Minnesota, where the Vikings had Sunday off, it appears Charles Gordon is winning the competition for the nickel job, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Receiver Roy Williams appears to be interested in continuing his career with the Detroit Lions, who received trade offers for him during the offseason. Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News wonders if that sentiment will last.
- The Chicago Bears are still waiting for first-round draft pick Chris Williams (back) to get back on the practice field. Williams has missed 10 consecutive days of practice, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.