NFC North: Colin Cole

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

I'm baaaaaaaack. Whether you noticed I was away from the blog is another question. Thanks to those who filled in some posts while I was attending a lovely -- and warm -- wedding south of the border.

With internet access restored, I've spent some of Monday's wee hours trying to catch up on the free-agent happenings around the NFC North. It seems that Minnesota wants another big-time receiver, Green Bay is patiently waiting for the right price and Chicago's top target was an offensive lineman who can play tackle or guard. Oh, and Detroit reportedly was  involved in trade discussions that would have netted Denver quarterback Jay Cutler while also signing a starting-caliber receiver and acquiring two cornerbacks.

That's what I gleaned in a nutshell, and I'll return later Monday with some more detailed thoughts on those topics. For now, let's get ourselves back to even and catch up on the Black and Blue's latest news, starting with a holding pattern in Minnesota for free agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh:

  • Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune report Houshmandzadeh met with Vikings officials for nearly six hours Sunday at the team's facility. But as of Sunday evening, agent Kenard McGuire said no deal had been reached. The Vikings are competing with Cincinnati and Seattle for Houshmandzadeh's services.
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reviews some of the factors that could be complicating the Houshmandzadeh negotiations. Among them: Would the Vikings offer more than they gave current No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian, who received $16 million guaranteed last year?
  • Lions defensive end Cliff Avril said he is praying for teammate Corey Smith, who is among four passengers missing from a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a report from the Detroit Free Press.
  • Former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky signed with Houston on Sunday, where he will be the clear backup to starter Matt Schaub. The Lions offered Orlovsky a chance to compete for their starting job, but Orlovsky was wary of his chances, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • Green Bay had hoped to host free-agent defensive end Chris Canty on a visit, but Canty signed Sunday night with the New York Giants. According to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Packers general manager Ted Thompson wouldn't commit to a ballpark offer prior to scheduling a visit.
  • The Packers also passed on pursuing defensive tackle Colin Cole, who got $6 million to sign with Seattle. After losing out on Cole and Canty, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the Packers will shift gears and pursue San Diego defensive end Igor Olshansky.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times casts serious doubt on the possibility of the Bears acquiring Cutler.
  • Former Minnesota safety Darren Sharper told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune that the Bears have expressed interest in signing him. New Orleans seems the likeliest target for Sharper.

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel says the Packers free agency strategy of "letting the market establish itself" keeps them from overpaying players, but might leave them in the dust for free agents Colin Cole and Chris Canty.

The Detroit Free Press' Nicholas J. Cotsonika wonders why the Lions didn't make a play for recently traded quarterback Matt Cassel. The Chiefs acquired Cassel with the 34rd pick in the draft, but the Lions have the 33rd.

Cotsonika also reports that Albert Haynesworth, who signed with the Redskins Friday, would have considered a contract with the Lions.

The Star-Tribune's Mark Craig tried, but couldn't get excited about the Sage Rosenfels era.

The Vikings got a visit from free-agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Saturday, reports the Pioneer Press' Sean Jensen.

Brad Biggs of the Sun-Tribune says the signing of Frank Omiyale will add depth to the Bears' line.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We're back at NFC North headquarters after four fruitful days at the NFL's annual scouting combine. Yes, we had a nice trip Sunday night, thanks for asking.

Over the course of this week, I'll trickle out some remaining tidbits I gathered and also start looking ahead to the start of what is likely to be a quiet free-agency period. (Few players available = few bidding wars.)

But first, let's take a look at the top stories Monday morning in the NFC North, beginning with Vaughn McClure's conversation with Chicago cornerback Nate Vasher in the Chicago Tribune.

It's only fair to wonder about Vasher's future with the Bears after an injury-plagued season in 2008. General manager Jerry Angelo said over the weekend that Vasher "needs to be a better player." The Bears have a minicamp scheduled for the middle of March, and there's no certainty that Vasher will make it to training camp.

Vasher: "I don't feel like I'm above the rumors or speculation, just like any other player this offseason. But I'm still here. Nobody has told me anything."

It seems unlikely the Bears would make a move with Vasher before minicamp. He figures to compete with Corey Graham for a starting job opposite Charles Tillman, but shoulder surgery likely will keep Tillman out of the minicamp. That will give the Bears plenty of opportunities to determine whether they think Vasher can rebound from his down year.

Continuing around the division:

Hot stove: Green Bay Packers

January, 26, 2009
1/26/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Continuing our early offseason look at the NFC North ...

Green Bay Packers offseason analysis

  • 2008 record: 6-10
  • Coaching changes: Fired defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and all but two members of his staff. Hired Dom Capers as new coordinator and Mike Trgovac as defensive line coach. Joe Whitt Jr. likely will serve as defensive backs coach. Special teams coordinator Mike Stock retired. Replaced by assistant Shawn Slocum.
  • Salary Cap: $19.09 million before adjustments and credits.
  • Key exclusive rights free agent: Cornerback Tramon Williams.
  • Restricted free agents: Safety Atari Bigby, safety Jarrett Bush, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Jason Hunter, fullback John Kuhn, receiver Ruvell Martin.
  • Unrestricted free agents: Defensive tackle Colin Cole, defensive end Michael Montgomery, offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.
  • Free agency comment: The Packers have a lot of decisions to make. Except in cases of injury, Tauscher has been their right tackle since 2000. He is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a complicating twist. Should the Packers wait on Tauscher or identify a replacement? Bigby, meanwhile, would have been on track for a long-term extension but injuries scuttled his 2008 season. He'll likely receive a one-year tender and have the opportunity to shop his value elsewhere. (The Packers could match any offer he gets.)
  • Three biggest needs: (1) Personnel to match Capers' 3-4 scheme, including a run-stopping end and a pass-rushing outside linebacker; (2) Fortification of the offensive line, depending on Tauscher's status; (3) More depth at tailback to either back up or challenge Ryan Grant.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune expressed an appropriate Chicagoan reaction to the Bears' 27-24 overtime victory Thursday night over New Orleans:

The Bears won. OK, you start there. The Bears won 27-24 in overtime against the Saints on Thursday night, and you can hear the loud chorus of people saying that it's the only thing that matters. They are right, to a point. The Bears are 8-6 and still alive in the NFC North race. But ... But the sheer magnitude of the Bears' brain lock Thursday was astounding.

Morrissey runs through the Bears' failed attempt at a fake punt near midfield in the fourth quarter and their decision to throw the ball while ahead instead of pounding the running game. He didn't hit my personal favorite -- running one more play in regulation with seven seconds remaining -- but deadlines are tough these days.

In the end, however, Morrissey points out that while the Bears "didn't come away looking like geniuses," they did "come away victors."

And that really is the bottom line. Style points and the journey traveled don't matter this late in the season. If this were September, you might have watched this game and concluded that the Bears won't go very far in the playoffs -- if they make it at all. But in December, when the game raises their record to 8-6 and keeps them within a game of a division opponent with a more difficult remaining schedule, it is simply considered huge.

Let's continue a look back at the game during our morning spin around the division:

  • Bears center Olin Kreutz notes that the Bears lost a few games in similar situations earlier this year, most notably to Carolina and Tampa Bay. Here's what Kreutz said, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times: "We've lost leads this year and haven't finished games. The team showed character today and came back and won a game late.''
  • Eric Olson of the Northwest Herald: "If Minnesota's next three opponents help the Bears as much as the Saints secondary helped them on Thursday night, everything will be fine." Olson is referring to a pair of blatant pass-interference calls on deep throws to receiver Devin Hester.
  • Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the future of the Packers' three pending unrestricted free agents: Right tackle Mark Tauscher, defensive end Michael Montgomery and defensive tackle Colin Cole.
  • Linebacker Brandon Chillar is likely to start over Desmond Bishop at Jacksonville on Sunday, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com reports that Detroit quarterback Daunte Culpepper will need to play in two more games this season to meet a $1 million performance incentive.
  • Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky on his unexpected return to the starting lineup: "Two or three weeks ago, I thought I'd be on [injured reserve]. I didn't think it was going to happen. But I started preparing like it was." John Niyo of the Detroit News has the story.
  • Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen (knee) hasn't practiced yet this week but is expected to play Sunday at Arizona, writes Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson said several times this week that a Tampa Bay defender intentionally tried to injure his knee during a game between the teams last month. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on the issue.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy stopped short of saying that second-year defensive tackle Justin Harrell will make his 2008 debut Sunday at Tennessee. McCarthy, however, told reporters Wednesday that Harrell "is [in] the best shape that he's been in since he's been with us in Green Bay."

Green Bay defensive tackles, 2008*
NameSoloAssistsTotal Tackles
Ryan Pickett151732
Johnny Jolly191029
Colin Cole15 11 26
*Unofficial stats compiled by Green Bay coaches

The Packers have one more week to decide whether to activate Harrell from the physically unable to perform list or place him on injured reserve. It seems certain he'll be activated, but the only question is when. McCarthy said the Packers want to make sure that Harrell, who did not participate in training camp because of a back injury, is in "football shape" before he is activated.

Harrell's return is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is his status as the No. 16 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He played in only seven games as a rookie and sat out all offseason work while undergoing two back surgeries.

In the meantime, the Packers traded former starter Corey Williams and were left with a three-man tackle rotation when starting end Cullen Jenkins suffered a season-ending arm injury. (Jenkins typically moved to tackle in passing situations.) The Packers are giving up 141.9 rushing yards per game, and McCarthy acknowledged Wednesday the team won't play the entire season with such limited depth:

"I just think it was a short-term situation, dealing with snaps. The bye week came at the right time. I think those type of factors show up in the long term of a season. I think if we would have continued on that path of the number of snaps that the defensive linemen were playing and the rotation that we were using, I think it definitely would have shown up in the second half of our season. I don't think it's a factor right now."

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Taking a quick tour around the bye-heavy NFC North on a Friday morning:

  • Chicago cornerback Nate Vasher had pins removed from his right wrist on Wednesday, seeming to clear the path for his return after the bye. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times breaks down the future possibilities, which include a trip to the bench despite the five-year, $28 million extension Vasher signed in 2007.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune believes the Bears are better off with Corey Graham rather than Vasher as a starting cornerback.
  • Is it that time of year already? Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette breaks down what Green Bay must do to make the playoffs. The Packers have three games remaining with teams that currently have winning records, including a post-bye matchup Nov. 2 at undefeated Tennessee.
  • Unheralded defensive tackle Colin Cole has been the Packers' most consistent interior lineman, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • In an audio clip, Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com suggests the Lions should pursue incarcerated quarterback Michael Vick during the offseason.
  • Detroit's local FOX station will air a movie called "Best Laid Plans" in the time slot of Sunday's Lions game. David Birkett of the Oakland Press provides that nugget in his story about the team's first local television blackout since 2001.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune suggests Minnesota work on the Wildcat offense, using Adrian Peterson as the quarterback, during their bye week.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD