NFC North: Corey Graham

Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery offered no update on the team's chances of re-signing veteran cornerback Charles Tillman when he spoke with the Chicago media on a conference call on Thursday.

"No different than yesterday," Emery said. "It's an ongoing process."

Tillman
Tillman, 33, traveled to Tampa Bay for a visit with Bucs coach (and former Bears coach) Lovie Smith on Wednesday, but is believed to have left the building without a contract.

The Bucs released pricey veteran Darrelle Revis but signed Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner to a four-year, $25.5 million contract with $14 million guaranteed.

Tillman earned $8 million last season in the final year of his contract with the Bears but will be hard-pressed to find a similar market in free agency.

The Bears have made it seem that they want Tillman to return, although likely at a significantly reduced price.

Tillman started eight games for the Bears in 2013 until he landed on injured reserve (with the designation to return) due to a torn triceps muscle. However, Tillman never returned to action and finished the year with 52.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Tillman is arguably the greatest defensive back in the Bears' history. Since he entered the league in 2003, Tillman is tied for fifth in the NFL in interceptions (36), tied for second in interception-return touchdowns (eight), second in forced fumbles (42) and tied for fifth in passes defended (132) .

If Tillman wants to continue to explore his options, he has a large network of contacts spread out throughout the league, including Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks in Carolina, Bob Babich in Jacksonville and Rod Marinelli in Dallas. The Washington Redskins remain in the market for a cornerback after missing out on former Bears special-teams standout Corey Graham, who signed a four-year, $16 million deal with Buffalo.
As free agency begins Tuesday and the Detroit Lions figure out exactly how to fill their holes, certain players will stand out.

And over the past three days, the Lions have spent time in the beginnings of talks with free agents as they try to maximize about $11 million in salary-cap space.

It might sound like a lot -- and it will be enough to get a couple of deals done -- but the total is in the lower half of the NFL and could keep the Lions from being major movers in the market, at least until a new contract is worked out with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

If that happens.

As everyone settles in for the insanity of free agency, here is a look at players the Lions could target on defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Why: This could be predicated on what happens with defensive end Willie Young. If the team is able to bring Young back, the Lions might be done at the position in the near term. If not, they might look for a replacement. At defensive tackle, the team already signed Corvey Irvin and has depth.

Two candidates:
  • Young: Last season was his first consistent extended action, and he was effective. He had 47 tackles and three sacks, but his size and speed make him an attractive free agent for teams. At 28, he is in his prime.
  • Brett Keisel: He is a 3-4 defensive end who can play defensive tackle in the 4-3. Though 35 years old, he had 29 tackles and four sacks in 12 games last season. He could be a cheap alternative if the team feels there is a need for another veteran on the line.
LINEBACKER:

Why not: Sure, there could be a deal made with someone for cheap or a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, but with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch returning and the team playing more nickel than ever, it could be tough for them to lure a big-name player.

Two options:
  • LaMarr Woodley: Expected to be released by the Steelers later Tuesday, he has connections to the state and can play both linebacker and defensive end, making him a potentially cheap, versatile piece.
  • Larry Foote: Like Woodley, this is more about someone who has connections to Michigan. If Foote is planning on being a starter, he isn’t going to come to Detroit -- and his price tag would likely be too much anyway.
CORNERBACK:

Why: Despite the team having money wrapped up in Chris Houston and a bunch of younger cornerbacks ready to seek out playing time, the Lions might be wise to invest in another veteran, much like they did with Rashean Mathis a season ago.

Four candidates:
  • Mathis: He showed he can still play after becoming the team’s top cornerback last season and was a steadying influence in the Detroit locker room for those younger cornerbacks. He would probably still come cheap.
  • Corey Graham: He played last season under new Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and has familiarity with Austin's schemes. At 6 feet, Graham has the height Austin wants, made 68 tackles and intercepted four passes a season ago. He could be a strong fit.
  • Alterraun Verner: The Lions reportedly reached out to the former Tennessee cornerback, but he is expected to be pursued heavily in free agency. Though the Lions could be a fit, Verner might end up being too expensive.
  • Charles Tillman: He told reporters during Super Bowl week that he wouldn’t rule out playing for the Lions, and he could be an interesting cornerback/safety hybrid. He also has familiarity with the division, having played for Chicago, and has the respect of receiver Calvin Johnson.
SAFETY

Why: Other than receiver, this might be the biggest need of all for Detroit after the team released starter Louis Delmas. Though the Lions could address this spot in the draft, they likely would like to put someone experienced opposite Glover Quin.

Some candidates:
  • T.J. Ward: The Cleveland safety has been the name most tied to the Lions during the four-day lead up to the beginning of free agency. He had 112 tackles and two interceptions last season and could be a good complement to Quin. He is going to be highly sought after, so if Detroit lands him, he might be the team’s big free agency move.
  • Chris Clemons: His former team, the Dolphins, signed Delmas on Monday, meaning Clemons is likely headed elsewhere. He has been productive the past two seasons with 90-plus tackles in each. If the Lions don’t land Ward, Clemons could be a strong second option for Detroit. Insider Matt Williamson considers Clemons one of the best bargains of this free agent class.
  • James Ihedigbo: He doesn’t have the name recognition of Ward or Clemons, but like Corey Graham, he is someone Austin is familiar with from Baltimore. Ihedigbo, 30, had a career year in 2013, making 99 tackles and intercepting the first three passes of his career.
  • Ryan Clark: The Steelers safety could be a cheap, valuable addition and an instant locker room leader like Delmas and Nate Burleson were. At age 34, Clark has had three straight seasons of 100 tackles or more.
  • Charles Woodson: This would almost scream cheap, one-year deal for an aging veteran with ties to the state. He made 97 tackles last season and still seems in shape to play. He could provide good tutoring and a high level of play for Detroit, and told the Detroit News “never say never” when asked about playing for the Lions. He has also been around the state the past few days, but that likely means nothing in terms of free agency.
Here are your questions from this week's mailbag:

1. Why are the Bears playing us for suckers? It was clear watching the game on Sunday that Jay Cutler re-injured the groin. But the team refuses to say it. My suspicion is that Cutler never hurt his ankle. I smell a cover-up. The Bears must do you a lot of favors. Why else would you advance their agenda on the Cutler (laugh) ankle sprain? – Dexter, Cleveland

Jeff Dickerson: Dexter, Cutler’s left leg is currently in a cast from the knee down. The use of a cast is a common treatment to “calm down” high-ankle sprains that do not require a doctor to insert screws to stabilize the ankle joint. This conspiracy theory swirling around that Cutler never injured the ankle against the Detroit Lions is pure nonsense. The Bears, like every other NFL team, will on occasion hide injuries or downplay them, but the organization is not going to create a high-ankle sprain out of thin air. Cutler is technically listed as “week-to-week,” but given the serious nature of high-ankle sprains it could be several weeks until the quarterback returns. As for Cutler’s groin, I’m told he did not re-injure it last week; rather, he was experiencing normal discomfort in the region that any player would feel if he returned from a torn groin muscle in just three weeks. The only misinformation the Bears spread about Cutler’s groin was announcing that he was 100 percent prior to the Detroit game. He clearly was not at full strength. But what are the Bears supposed to do? Tell the Lions exactly where to attack Cutler? Spell out exactly what his limitations would be?




2. Jeff, do you foresee any changes on the offensive line after the year? – Mark Rudolph, Florida

Dickerson: Three of the five offensive-line spots are likely solidified for 2014 -- left tackle Jermon Bushrod, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. Maybe at some point the Bears contemplate moving Long to tackle and Mills inside to guard, but I believe it’s probably safe to pencil in both players for next season. Veteran center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the offseason, so the Bears will have to make a decision on those two spots. But I think Garza and Slauson have played well enough to merit new deals. Garza, 34, deserves a ton of credit for the season he’s having. The Bears seriously considered drafting a center to replace Garza, perhaps as early as this season, but that never materialized. Garza, a team captain, has been a tremendous leader in the locker room and a monster in the weight room. The 13-year veteran takes great pride in his craft, keeps himself in excellent shape and is moving well on the field. Taking all of that into consideration, I think the Bears would be wise to lock him up for another year or two.




3. Help me understand why the Bears passed on Ed Reed? Major Wright and Chris Conte are having awful seasons. How can Reed not help the defense? -- Jake, Wauconda, Ill.

Dickerson: The Bears never gave serious consideration to signing Reed, now a member of the New York Jets, after his release from the Houston Texans for two reasons: Reed’s age (35) and his rapid decline in performance. Those cannot be overlooked. Also, Reed probably didn’t fit the Bears’ current defensive scheme. Reed is a veteran of the 3-4 defense, not the Cover 2. This was never going to happen.




4. Hello Jeff, with all the problems on defense why did the Bears let Corey Graham go? From what I remember, he made a lot of plays whenever the Bears gave him a shot on defense. – Jennifer, Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Dickerson: Good memory, Jennifer. Graham always seemed to step up whenever the Bears called on him to contribute on defense, which wasn’t all that often under former coach Lovie Smith. Graham recorded 91 tackles in 2008 when he started much of the season at cornerback, and in 2011 he intercepted three passes when he stepped in at nickelback. But the Bears always seemed to value Graham more valuable on special teams. Graham’s special-teams prowess earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Bears, but he wanted a shot to contribute on defense. So he left Chicago after the 2011 season and signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens, where he’s gone on to become a terrific nickelback. Graham won a Super Bowl last season, and is currently fourth on the Ravens with 48 tackles. Graham made the correct call to leave the Bears. In fact, he'd planned to sign with another team after the 2010 season, but the NFL lockout dramatically altered and abbreviated free agency that offseason, and so without the time to shop around his services, Graham reckoned his best option was to return to Chicago on a one-year deal.




5. I'm 77 years old and I can remember when we had Johnny Lujack, George Blanda, Ed Brown and Bobby Layne in camp. At least I think I remember. Guess who we released? This looks like the usual Bears team that is just good enough to lose. Hire cheap, pay cheap and this is what you get. Will I be alive to experience another 1985 Bears team? – Joe Petrucci, Floral Park, NY

Dickerson: Joe, keep the faith, my friend. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement requires teams to spend money. The key is for teams to spend their money wisely and to draft well. While the Bears have quite a bit of work to do on defense in the offseason, the offense seems headed in the right direction. Marc Trestman certainly appears to be a capable head coach, and if the Bears can just hit on a couple of draft picks for the defense, the organization should be in decent shape. I wouldn’t rule out the Bears being contenders in the next couple of years, so long as they draft well on defense. I think they have the offense figured out. But their evaluation of defensive talent needs to improve.

BBAO: DuJuan Harris in 2013?

January, 31, 2013
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Over the past few weeks, I've received as many questions about DuJuan Harris as any other NFC North player. Specifically, many of you want to know if the Green Bay Packers will enter the 2013 season with Harris as their top running back.

Running back tends to be a year-to-year proposition in Green Bay, which is exactly why a player signed at midseason to the practice squad can end up starting two playoff games. Harris ran for a combined 257 yards in six games last season, including the postseason, and seemed to have a burst and a good feel for the Packers' offense.

Will that be enough to embed him in the Packers' offseason plans? Several San Francisco 49ers players who faced him in the divisional playoff round were impressed, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

There are two equally compelling arguments here. One would suggest it's time for the Packers to make a draft commitment at the running back position. The other would question why it's necessary. If you can find and develop a DuJuan Harris off the street, why spend a high draft choice to find another one?

Continuing around the NFC North:
It's been a long time coming for the Chicago Bears and Kelvin Hayden, a graduate of Chicago's Hubbard High School and a cornerback the Bears have pursued for more than a year. We thought he might join the team last summer, but the Bears passed because of concern about his surgically-repaired neck.

Hayden
Hayden
Those concerns apparently have abated, because Hayden signed a one-year contract Thursday with the Bears. The Bears' top three cornerbacks from last season -- Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore -- will all return in 2012, but if he's healthy, Hayden could compete for playing time at least in the nickel. He is well-versed in the Bears' style of defense after playing under coach Tony Dungy for the Indianapolis Colts for six seasons, and you might remember his 56-yard return of an interception for a touchdown in the Colts' 29-17 victory against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

If nothing else, Hayden will offer depth in the absence of Zack Bowman and Corey Graham, both of whom have signed elsewhere this offseason. Better late than never, right?

NFC North free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Chicago Bears

Key additions: Running back Michael Bush, linebacker/special teams Blake Costanzo, quarterback Jason Campbell, receiver Brandon Marshall (trade), receiver Devin Thomas, receiver/returner Eric Weems.

Key losses: Running back Marion Barber (retired), cornerback Zack Bowman, cornerback Corey Graham.

Come on back: Lost in the shuffle of the Marshall trade were the return of three free agents who should play key roles in 2012. Tight end Kellen Davis figures to get an expanded role in offensive coordinator Mike Tice's scheme, especially as a receiver. Cornerback Tim Jennings should retain his starting role opposite Charles Tillman, with D.J. Moore in the nickel. And safety Craig Steltz will provide reliable depth at safety and will be one of the Bears' special teams leaders after the departure of Graham and Bowman.

What's next: There is no urgency yet, but the Bears will need to make peace with tailback Matt Forte at some point before the summer. Forte isn't happy that he's been made the Bears' franchise player and briefly lost his public composure when Bush signed a deal that guaranteed him about the same amount of money as the franchise tag will pay Forte. It's not a big deal if Forte skips the Bears' offseason program or even misses a few days of training camp, but the Bears will want to find a way to eliminate this issue by early August. Meanwhile, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears address their offensive line during the draft.

Detroit Lions

Key additions: Defensive end Everette Brown, cornerback Jacob Lacey.

Key losses: Cornerback Eric Wright.

All in the family: With the exception of Wright, the Lions were able to retain the core of their 10-6 team. Among those who re-signed: Tackle Jeff Backus, safety Erik Coleman, defensive end Andre Fluellen, quarterback Shaun Hill and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And don't forget that receiver Calvin Johnson is locked up for perhaps the rest of his career. He signed a new eight-year contract worth $132 million.

What's next: The Lions appear interested in adding competition at safety, having hosted free agent O.J. Atogwe earlier this month. Adding a safety remains a possibility, if not through free agency, then probably through the draft. And while Backus is re-signed for two years, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions look for a long-term replacement in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Key additions: Defensive lineman Daniel Muir, center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Key losses: Quarterback Matt Flynn, center Scott Wells.

Shocker: The Packers usually do whatever it takes to keep their own players and avoid having to search the free-agent market for other the castoffs of other teams. They started off that way by re-signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract, but when they were unable to sign center Scott Wells, they quickly targeted veteran Jeff Saturday and made him their first starting-caliber free-agent signee in five years. General manager Ted Thompson also authorized the acquisition of Hargrove and the pursuit of Dave Tollefson.

What's next: It's not out of the question that the Packers will add a veteran pass-rusher, whether at defensive end or linebacker. Then they'll get back into their comfort zone and start preparing for the draft, where it's reasonable to think they'll use at least one of their 12 picks on a center while also continuing to pursue pass-rushers.

Minnesota Vikings

Key additions: Cornerback Zack Bowman, tight end John Carlson, running back Jerome Felton and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.

Key losses: Nose tackle Remi Ayodele (release), guards Anthony Herrera (release) and Steve Hutchinson (release), tight end Jim Kleinsasser (retire), running back Jerome Felton.

Methodical methodology: The Vikings made one big-money signing, bringing in Carlson as a new weapon for quarterback Christian Ponder, and otherwise have spent their offseason getting younger and signing complementary players. General manager Rick Spielman wants to end a cycle of seeking blue-chip players via free agency and instead count on the drafts for his difference-makers.

What's next: One way or the other, the Vikings need to find a deep threat for Ponder. The draft would seem the most likely place for that will happen. They are also midway through a rebuild of the secondary that could use at least one more cornerback and perhaps two safeties.
It seems clear that above all else, Corey Graham wanted a fresh start. His decision Friday to sign with the Baltimore Ravens gives him a new team, for sure, but not necessarily one that has an obvious opening at cornerback or safety.

Graham was one of the NFL's top special-teams player over the past five years with the Chicago Bears, but his frustration with his limited playing time on defense was well-known. With the Ravens, however, he figures at best to be the No. 4 cornerback behind starter Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, along with nickelback Cary Williams.

Graham also visited the Detroit Lions, whose secondary would seem to offer a player like Graham more opportunity to play.

The Ravens allowed three touchdowns on special teams last season and have targeted elite special-teams players over the past two weeks. If nothing else, Graham will help the Ravens in that capacity.

NFC North Quick Hits: Thursday

March, 22, 2012
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A few newsbits from Thursday:

Item: The Detroit Lions re-signed tight end Will Heller and also signed defensive end Everette Brown.
Comment: Heller is back for another year as the Lions' third tight end, presumably at a lower salary than the $1.2 million he was scheduled to earn in 2012. Brown is a former second-round draft pick who didn't make much impact in three years with the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings are scheduled to host Baltimore Ravens free agent cornerback Chris Carr on a visit, according to multiple reports.
Comment: Carr has been a starter on one of the NFL's better defenses, but a hamstring injury limited him to one start last season. He is very much the definition of the second-tier free agent market.

Item: New Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush hasn't spoken yet with starter Matt Forte, who didn't react well Thursday to his arrival.
Comment: Hopefully no one takes out their anger on Bush. Forte's issue is with the team, not him.

Item: The Lions hosted Bears free agent cornerback Corey Graham on a visit Thursday.
Comment: The Lions have an opening for a starter after Eric Wright's departure, and Graham is looking for an opportunity to play more cornerback in addition to special teams.

Item: Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch's five-year contract is worth $25 million, including $11 million guaranteed, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
Comment: As my NFC West colleague Mike Sando noted, the market for inside linebackers has been flat for a while, probably due to the NFL's passing focus. For context, consider that former Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson signed an almost identical contract six years ago.
We noted last week the dearth of cornerback depth on the Chicago Bears roster as free agency approached. Starter Charles Tillman and nickelback D.J. Moore were the only players under contract at the position, and at that point there were no indications that two-year starter Tim Jennings would return.

As it often does, however, that story changed in a hurry Tuesday afternoon. Jennings signed a two-year contract about an hour before the free-agent market was set to open. He has been a reliable if unspectacular starter over the past two seasons, appearing in all 32 games and starting 28 of them, and I'm guessing the Bears figured they had more important priorities to address than spending their premium money on a starting-caliber cornerback.

Former starters Corey Graham and Zack Bowman appear set to hit the free-agent market, but for now the Bears have their top three cornerbacks from 2011 under contract.
Just for the heck of it, we posted our annual free-agency primer earlier Thursday. ESPNChicago.com posted a Chicago Bears-centric preview for next week's activities as well.

In reviewing both posts, I think it's fair to say that the Bears are approaching a bigger transition at cornerback than many of us have considered. Three of the Bears' top five players at the position appear set to depart, based on ESPNChicago.com's analysis.

If nothing changes, Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman and Corey Graham will all enter the free agent market next Tuesday. If any of the three have had serious contract negotiations with the Bears, the news hasn't been confirmed or reported.

Regardless, the Bears have only two veteran cornerbacks under contract for 2012: Charles Tillman and D.J. Moore. Tillman is signed through 2013, while Moore is entering the final year of his original rookie contract.

Do the Bears think Moore is ready to start after two years as their nickel back? Will they target a veteran free agent and/or seek a cornerback higher in the draft than early mock drafts have suggested? I'm sure those questions, and more, will be posted to new general manager Phil Emery the next time he makes himself available to the Chicago media.

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

NFC North Pro Bowl roster

January, 28, 2012
1/28/12
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No, I didn't forget. The Pro Bowl will be played Sunday night, starting at 7 p.m. ET, in Honolulu. I can't say I plan to watch every down, but I know there are many who will.

By my count, 12 players from the NFC North will participate. Below is the full list of players from our division who were named, either originally or as injury/Super Bowl replacements, over the past few weeks.

Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

(Footnotes: *Starter; +Won't play; #Alternate/replacement)
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson convinced Dr. James Andrews to perform a quicker-than-normal surgery on his injured left knee because he has been in "severe" pain, according to Tim Yotter of Viking Update, and wanted to get the rehabilitation process started as soon as possible.

Peterson will have surgery Friday, six days after tearing two ligaments and suffering other damage in the knee. Typically, doctors prefer patients to wait until swelling has reduced, but that was not the case in this instance.

The Vikings have set a goal of getting Peterson back for the start of the 2012 season, a timetable that probably represents a best-case scenario.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Vikings need a victory Sunday to avoid going winless in the NFC North, a sign of how much work they have ahead of them, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Vikings are investigating a number of stadium sites in downtown Minneapolis, according to Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune.
  • Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiles retiring tight end Jim Kleinsasser.
  • Sunday could be a chance to change the career of Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "It looks like Chad Clifton will get every chance in the next week and a half to move back into the Green Bay Packers’ starting job at left tackle for the playoffs after missing the last 2 months because of hamstring and back injuries."
  • The Packers are still rotating players at right outside linebacker, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford knows he will be judged by how he plays in the playoffs. Mike O'Hara of the Detroit News explains.
  • Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has resurrected his career over the past few years, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Pro Bowl special-teams ace Corey Graham wants to play defense for the Chicago Bears, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune thinks the Bears are making a mistake if they don't use rookie quarterback Nathan Enderle extensively Sunday against the Vikings. Pompei: "You can't shove a young quarterback in the back of a freezer until you need him and then expect him to be microwave ready at a moment's notice. Getting a young quarterback ready to play is a process that should be deliberate and calculated."
  • Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't bite on a question about his request for a new contract, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
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Getting inside the Friday injury report, which includes day-after news for two of our teams:

Chicago Bears: Nickel back D.J. Moore will miss his second consecutive game because of an ankle injury. Corey Graham is expected to serve in that role Sunday at the Oakland Raiders. Receiver/kick returner Devin Hester is dealing with a shin injury but should be available for Sunday's game.

Detroit Lions: You already know that running back Jahvid Best was placed on injured reserve. Safety Louis Delmas indicated via Twitter that he will miss some time after suffering a knee injury Thursday. The Lions are also dealing with running back Kevin Smith's high ankle sprain and a knee injury to cornerback Chris Houston.

Green Bay Packers: Coach Mike McCarthy indicated it was unlikely that right guard Josh Sitton will be ready for the Dec. 4 game at the New York Giants. Linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk both suffered calf strains Thursday, but McCarthy said they both have a chance to play against the Giants. Packers players have an extended weekend off and will return to practice next Tuesday.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears nickelback D.J. Moore got an early exit from last Sunday's victory over the Detroit Lions. This week, he might not play at all.

Moore suffered an ankle injury in Wednesday's practice that, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, "raises serious concerns about his availability" for this Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers. Moore didn't practice Thursday and isn't expected to be on the field Friday, either.

Moore is not technicaly a starter, but he plays a lot. He has three interceptions and is tied for fifth on the team with 44 tackles. Special-teams ace Corey Graham, a long-ago starter at cornerback, is expected to fill in at nickel for him against the Chargers.

Continuing around the NFC North:

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8