NFC North: Cris Carter

The likelihood of Brandon Marshall eclipsing Hall of Famer Cris Carter’s receiving milestones boils down to one simple question: Can Marshall maintain his current level of production over the next four to five years?

Over eight seasons with Chicago, Miami and Denver, Marshall has averaged 89 catches for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns per year, for a career total of 712 receptions for 9,050 yards and 57 touchdowns.

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Carter finished his 16-year NFL career with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns.

There is little chance Marshall will break Carter’s touchdown mark, but the Bears wideout only needs 389 catches and 4,849 receiving yards to pass Carter on the list of the all-time NFL receivers.

That is doable. In fact, Marshall actually has more receptions, yards and touchdowns than Carter did in his first eight years, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but Carter managed to last an impressive 16 seasons in the league.

Marshall, 30, stated on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko Show” on Tuesday that he’s focused on playing 14 seasons until he reaches the age of 36. But even if Marshall ends his career two years before Carter ended his, the evidence suggests Marshall can finish with more receptions and receiving yards.

First of all, Marshall has been extremely durable, missing just six regular season games over eight years, despite undergoing three hip surgeries.

Secondly, he’s been reunited with his old Denver quarterback, Jay Cutler, in Chicago, and the results speak for themselves. In only two seasons with the Bears, Marshall has caught 218 passes for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns.

An argument can be made that Marshall was the Bears' only target on offense in 2012 and therefore put up some of those numbers by default, but the Bears were flush at talent at the skill positions last year (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett) and Marshall still managed to have another Pro Bowl year and record his fifth 100-plus catch season -- Marshall is the only player in NFL history to catch 100 balls for two different teams (Bears and Broncos).

With Marshall (four years, $40 million) and Cutler (seven years, $126.7 million) both under contract for the foreseeable future, Marshall can theoretically expect to play with his favorite quarterback for possibly the rest of his career, a luxury few wide receivers are afforded.

Thirdly, while statistical evidence suggests running backs fall off a cliff in terms of production when they hit a certain age, wide receivers have been known to flourish deep into their 30s.

One of the best recent examples of this phenomenon is Terrell Owens, who topped the 1,000-receiving yard mark five times after turning 30 and continued to be a productive player up until he left the league at age 37.


Cris Carter's enshrinement speech Saturday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame was 100 percent Cris Carter -- complete with tears, near-gospel tones and frank admissions about his life's shortcomings. He had earlier described it as a "letter" intended to recognize the "people when I was at my darkest point and they still believed in me," and in a touching framework to his speech, Carter welcomed all of them to the Hall alongside him.

(Here is a full transcript from the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website.)

As a result, Carter didn't spend much time talking about his time with the Minnesota Vikings or really any of his on-field exploits. Instead, he reserved some of his most reverential words for Minnesota businessman Wheelock Whitney, who was a part-owner of the Vikings when the team claimed Carter on waivers in September 1990.

Whitney connected Carter with Betty Trilliegi, a substance-abuse counselor, and took great interest in Carter's life. Here's that segment of Carter's speech:
The Minnesota Vikings, we have one of the best employee assistance programs, cutting edge as far as substance abuse, people struggling with it. And our ownership at the time was a group of people, but one of the owners was named Wheelock Whitney.

When the Vikings acquired me from Philadelphia, like most pro teams, they don't know the intel on the player until they get the paperwork, but they had already had my contract by then. But Wheelock Whitney hooked me up with a good friend of his, whose name is Betty Triliegi, and she happens to be one of the best friends a person could ever have. The reason why, she didn't teach me how to catch or run routes, but she taught me how I could live a life and have power over my life. And my demons didn't have to always haunt me.

She asked me on Sept. 19. She said, 'Cris, can you just not have a drink for one week?' And since Sept. 19, 1990, because of Betty Triliegi, and Wheelock Whitney, I've been able to keep that program together. And but for them, I would not be going into the Hall, and I greatly appreciate and I honor them tonight.

I'm sure some of you will wonder why Carter didn't mention most of the quarterbacks he played with, or any of his non-Hall of Fame Vikings teammates or even coach Dennis Green. I guess that's a question for Carter. But to me, that didn't seem what the speech was about. The speech was about the people who helped him at his darkest moments, and by the time Green was hired and those quarterbacks joined the team, Carter was already on the upswing.

Regardless, Carter provided a predictably rousing performance to end the 2013 ceremony.

Here is a video of the full speech.
Cris CarterAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCris Carter is fourth on the all-time reception list with 1,101 catches.
CANTON, Ohio -- Cris Carter’s emotional football journey started in Ohio about four decades ago and ended in Ohio on Saturday night.

Carter, 47, grew up in Troy, which is three hours away from Canton, home of the Hall of Fame, where Carter was honored this weekend. He also starred at Ohio State in Columbus before his stellar 16-year NFL career.

On Saturday, Carter -- emotional and reflective -- came full circle, returning to the Buckeye State as a member of the 2013 Hall of Fame class. He didn’t prepare notes for his speech. Carter spoke strictly from the heart in front of many of his fellow Ohioans and football peers.

“We have the greatest Hall of all the Halls,” Carter said emphatically. “And to be able to join these men, on this stage, in football heaven is the greatest day of my life.”

Carter’s journey wasn’t easy. He signed with an agent and lost his eligibility his senior year at Ohio State. Carter said his only football-related regret was leaving school early and being forced to enter the supplemental draft.

“To all the Buckeye fans, from the bottom of my heart, I sincerely apologize,” Carter said.

Carter also battled drug and alcohol problems that nearly derailed his career. Carter described Sept. 19, 1990, as a landmark date in his life. That’s when he was asked in rehab to change his life. He’s been clean ever since.

On the field, Carter’s first NFL catch was a touchdown reception in 1987 against the St. Louis Rams. He had just five catches his rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles, which included two touchdowns. Former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan later coined the famous phrase that “All he does is catch touchdown passes.” That stuck with Carter the rest of his career. He finished with 131 career touchdowns, which ranks eighth all time.

In Minnesota, Carter’s career flourished. That’s where he made eight straight Pro Bowls, had two seasons of 122 receptions, and five straight seasons of double-digit touchdowns. It’s also where Carter got his life together.

Carter also can make a strong case for having the best hands in NFL history. His highlight tape displays some of the most difficult and spectacular catches ever seen. Those strong hands made Carter fourth on the all-time reception list with 1,101.

“When he came in from Philadelphia, we knew he was a great ballplayer and we knew he could play,” former Vikings teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Chris Doleman said. “We wanted to just give him a clean slate to work from and let him do what he do. He’s never done anything but honored the Vikings and the Vikings colors.”

Consider Carter’s enshrinement speech, which was about 16 minutes long, one final touchdown reception. He was the final speaker in the 2013 Hall of Fame class, and Carter had several tough acts to follow. Jonathan Ogden and Curley Culp were classy. Dave Robinson and Larry Allen were funny. Bill Parcells and Warren Sapp, as expected, were straight shooters.

But Carter was able to put a bow on this entire Hall of Fame. He began by playing to the hometown crowd with a chant of “O-H-I-O.” Then he got more personal.

Carter’s son, Duron, introduced him. Carter also made sure to thank his mother, Joyce, and asked her to stand up in front of a national audience.

“Mama, I got to tell you, I didn’t have to wait to get a call from the Hall for them to tell me I was a Hall of Famer -- you’ve been telling me that since I was little,” Carter said. “You told me everything that’s ever happened in my life that’s happened. But Mom, I got to tell you. I have to apologize. I’m so sorry for the bumpy flight and the bumpy ride.

“But I got to tell you, Mama, it’s a smooth landing.”

Carter’s résumé is still growing. He is the author of a new book and an insightful NFL analyst at ESPN.

After five years as a finalist who came up just short, Carter can add one more deserving label on a historic night in Canton: Hall of Famer.

“Buckeye born and bred,” Carter said in conclusion. “Now an H-O-F-er -- even after I’m dead.”

HOF: Dave Robinson tasted blood

August, 3, 2013
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I'm not in Canton, Ohio, this evening, so I can't bring you a first-hand account of the two players with NFC North ties who are being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I do want to bring you a highlight or two of the speeches from both Dave Robinson (Green Bay Packers) and Cris Carter (Minnesota Vikings), and we'll move in chronological order.

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Robinson noted that he played on perhaps the best left side of a defense in NFL history, one that for the most part had five Hall of Famers lining up next to each other. But my favorite part of his speech was when he evoked a bygone era of gladiator football.

"It's a Spartan game," Robinson recalled a coach once telling him, "played by Spartan-like individuals in a Spartan-like manner. It's a game of hitting and getting hit. You've got to like to hit, and you've got to like to get hit. If you don't, you won't last long in this league.

"I tell people that when you play football, you've got to like the taste of blood. You've got to remember that 50 percent of the time, it's your blood."

NFL.com has put together a five-minute video of the highlights from Robinson's speech right here. Here is a full transcript of the speech from the Pro Football Hall of Fame's web site.
I guess it's time to close the circle on one of the sillier "debates" we've had on this blog. You might recall that in August 2011, ESPN analyst Cris Carter rattled off his top six receivers in the NFL in a radio interview. None of them were Calvin Johnson, and if the omission of the Detroit Lions star was an accident, Carter didn't admit it.

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Johnson said he was "not tripping" over Carter's ranking, but it seemed to bother quarterback Matthew Stafford. And now it has been rendered moot.

After two seasons in which Johnson has caught 218 passes for 3,645 yards and 21 touchdowns, Carter has crowned him the best receiver in the NFL. Here's what Carter wrote in a more recent ranking:
This is the easiest pick on this list. Johnson isn't just the best wide receiver in the NFL; he's one of the best players, period. There are only a few teams where you'll find the head coach, general manager and strength coach all agreeing on who the hardest worker in their locker room is. Detroit is one of those teams. Johnson has the size (6-foot-5, 236 pounds) and speed (4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to dominate defensive backs on ability alone, but you can see the effort he puts into his game. He's gotten better at releasing off the line and beating double coverage, and his toughness is unquestioned. In short, it will be a long time before his name ever leaves the top of this list.

We'll let that marinate a bit and serve as a pleasant start to the first weekend of August 2013.
Twelve years ago today, Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Kory Stringer died of complications from heat stroke. His death is no less stunning now than it was then, and each year it provides us an unfortunate opportunity to remind the thousands of football players across the country that heat stroke is real, it's deadly and it's now entirely preventable.

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Here is a link to a comprehensive guide to heat safety from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Make sure you read all three pages.)

On a related note, I thought I would pass along a relevant excerpt from a new book published by former Vikings receiver Cris Carter and ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha. In it, they suggest that Stringer's death -- and the subsequent legal fallout -- was the original spark for Randy Moss' distrust of the team's authority figures. (The portion of the passage in quotes is attributed to an interview with former Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone.)
Randy's bond with Kory made it all the more difficult when Kelci [Stringer] filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Vikings for not doing enough to prevent her husband's death (that suit started a long legal battle that ended in 2009, when the NFL reached a settlement with Kelci). "Randy has never told me this, but I believe that entire situation affected how he looked at management," Johnstone said. "He started to put up a wall at that point. Korey was Randy's best friend on the team and a lot of things were said after he passed. It was alleged that the Vikings could've done better when he started complaining about his [health] problems, and I know his wife wasn't happy about how the team responded after his death. Randy wound up in that camp as far as fighting the team."

My own sense of Moss' makeup is that if it weren't Stringer's death, he would have found personal affront in something else in the team's operation. But anyone who witnessed Moss bawling on national television the morning of Aug. 1, 2001, knows how profoundly Stringer's death impacted him.

HOF: All Cris Carter did was ... play

July, 31, 2013
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All Cris Carter did, as the legendary Chris Berman made famous, was catch touchdowns. There were 130 of them in all, a total that ranked second in NFL history when he retired in 2002.

But behind the touchdowns, and at the root of the shoestring catches and sideline acrobatics, was a much more basic and fundamental accomplishment. It is said that the most important NFL attribute is availability, and in truth, all Cris Carter did was play -- every week, every month and every year.

As the chart shows, Carter played in more games than all but five receivers in NFL history. Between 1988 and 2001, essentially his entire career, Carter missed only four games; that absence came when he fractured his collarbone in 1992. His availability, sustained by elite conditioning and selective avoidance of contact, seems appropriate to recall as he heads toward his induction Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I tried to be one of the best-conditioned athletes," Carter said, "and I just think that's a part of the level of success you have in the NFL. You already have some level of success if you make it. … But I believe that availability sets you apart from a lot of different people. It's a rugged game, and [availability] is underrated."

Most of you who watched Carter play would accept implicitly that he was in phenomenal physical condition. Toward the end of his career, he opened a speed camp for high school, college and NFL players to use during the offseason -- an operation that pre-dated today's agent-driven workout facilities. Carter's philosophy was simple: Receivers run more than any other position group, so they need to be in better shape than anyone else.

If he left a legacy in the game, Carter hopes that was it.

"We wanted to be the best conditioned players on the field," he said. "Now, you just don't see good receivers out of shape. You see them being some of the hardest workers if you look at it now. Andre Johnson, one of the hardest workers. Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Roddy White, A.J. Green. That's one of the things that are common with most of the receivers now is they're hard workers. They realize that. I would say that Jerry Rice set that standard also. You've got to be in great shape."

And, quite frankly, you also have to be a realist. A receiver who regularly takes direct shots from defenders is going to find himself in the trainer's room. Carter recalled this pertinent advice he received from Chip Myers, who at the time was his receivers coach with the Minnesota Vikings: "Football is not a contact sport for wide receivers. It's an avoid-the-contact sport."

It might run counter to the macho vision of football, but a receiver can best help his team when he is healthy and available. Carter accepted contact when it was inevitable, avoided it when possible and has no shame admitting it.

"You have to be smart as a football player," he said. "The number one thing is to catch the football and maintain possession. … There is a fine balance there to when to get down and save yourself from some of those blows."

Maybe my appreciation for availability is too rooted in personal experience. I covered Cal Ripken and Brett Favre in my day, and while Carter never built a comparable streak of consecutive games played, he did share the same respect for the game. He wanted to play. Every day. All the time. And look where it got him.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Chicago Bears have completed a restructuring of their front office following the departure of two key employees.

According to the team's website, Kevin Turks has been promoted to director of pro personnel and Dwayne Joseph has been made the associate director of pro personnel. The pair moved up after the departure of director of pro personnel Chris Ballard, who is now the Kansas City Chiefs' director of player personnel.

As Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune notes, scout Ted Monago was allowed to depart for a promotion as the St. Louis Rams' new national scout. Earlier this offseason, the Bears let go of regional scout James Kirkland. Finally, the Bears have hired Ryan Kessenich as a new scout. He has spent four seasons with the Chiefs.

New general managers often shake up the front office after their first draft, and the Bears' Phil Emery made a number of changes last year at this time. These most recent adjustments appear to be the coincidental result of several promotions available to current staff.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The [Detroit] Lions took punter Sam Martin in the fifth round of last month’s draft with the expectation that he’ll steady what has arguably been their most unsettled position the last few years. Though most of the league’s top punters were drafted coming out of college, recent history suggests that drafting a specialist is no guarantee of present or future success."
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz on rookie guard Larry Warford, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "I don't know if you can say 'Larry' without saying 'big' in front of it. He probably hasn't been just Larry since he was about five years old; he was Big Larry."
  • The Green Bay Packers will wear their throwback uniforms Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called the pants of that uniform "the most comfortable pants I've ever worn."
  • Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the busy week of Packers draft pick Micah Hyde: "On Wednesday, he'll appear in court for a public intoxication charge from October. On Thursday, he'll fly to Green Bay for rookie orientation. On Sunday, he'll fly back to Iowa to take two exams. And then, it's off to Green Bay again."
  • Packers draft pick Nate Palmer made only one pre-draft visit, and it was to Green Bay, notes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has the list of bonuses the Minnesota Vikings gave to their undrafted rookie class.
  • The Vikings signed undrafted rookie receiver Adam Thielen after their rookie minicamp, notes Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. That means they are unlikely to sign Duron Carter, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, who also tried out for a roster spot, at least for now.
  • Mike Rand of the Star Tribune has a Q&A with Cris Carter.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Conventional wisdom suggests Monday could be the day the Minnesota Vikings part ways with punter Chris Kluwe.

As we've discussed, the Vikings made UCLA punter Jeff Locke their fifth-round draft pick last month. Teams rarely use draft picks on specialists if they haven't decided to make a change, and Locke went through a three-day minicamp over the weekend with the rest of the Vikings' rookies.

Kluwe has told Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune and others that he is scheduled to meet Monday with general manager Rick Spielman, presumably after the Vikings had seen what they needed to see from Locke in rookie minicamp. The Vikings followed a similar approach when transitioning last year from veteran place-kicker Ryan Longwell to rookie Blair Walsh. Stay tuned.

Let's continue around the NFC North:
  • Scoggins: "Kluwe’s departure will make the Vikings locker room a lot more dull because he is incredibly intelligent, articulate and passionate about societal issues. He's a fascinating individual in a sport that breeds conformity. The NFL has become so big and so powerful that players often cling to political correctness for fear that a ripple might swell into a tidal wave. Kluwe is that surfer dude on top of the wave, hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion."
  • Linebacker Gerald Hodges said he didn't come to the Vikings to be a backup. More from Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Duron Carter, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, was "nervous" on the opening day of Vikings rookie minicamp, according to Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Carter was among 34 players trying out for a roster spot.
  • Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette profiles Green Bay Packers draft pick Datone Jones, whose mother never wanted him to play football.
  • The Packers' annual shareholder meeting is scheduled for June 24, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Receiver Myles White, signed by the Packers as a rookie free agent, is fast. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com doesn't think the Detroit Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford will reach a contract agreement this offseason.
  • There are still questions about the protection Stafford will receive this season, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
  • It's pretty evident that Lions rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah is smart, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Chicago Bears director of pro scouting Chris Ballard has departed to join the Kansas City Chiefs' front office, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune examines some of the athletic and physical measurements of the Bears' draft class. Among them: First-round draft pick Kyle Long has 15.8 percent body fat, lowest among all offensive linemen tested at the scouting combine.
Upon arriving in Minnesota in 1990, Cris Carter got his life together and directed toward a Hall of Fame career as an NFL receiver. In 2013, his son is hoping to do the same thing.

Duron Carter, a receiver who spent time at four schools during a limited college career, will sign Sunday with the Minnesota Vikings, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Vikings haven't announced any of their post-draft signings, and so the nature of Duron Carter's agreement with the Vikings wasn't immediately clear. NFL teams are signing some players this weekend as college free agents and inviting others to participate on a tryout basis in rookie minicamps, which the Vikings will hold this weekend.

*Update: Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told 1500ESPN.com that Duron Carter has not been signed but instead will try out for a roster spot during rookie minicamp.

Regardless, he will be surrounded by some strong mentors in veteran Greg Jennings and receivers coach George Stewart on a team that is looking everywhere for receiver depth.

Duron Carter started his college career at Ohio State, where he caught 13 passes in 2009 before being ruled academically ineligible. He spent a year at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Alabama and later to Florida Atlantic, neither of whom he played for. (Mike Garafolo of USA Today has more details in this pre-draft profile.)

Fair warning: We'll be judicious in our posts on undrafted rookies. NFC North teams could bring in a combined 100 of 'em before it's all said and done. When an interesting story arises, like this one, I'll pass it along. Peace.

Will the Green Bay-to-Minnesota pipeline produce another hit for the Minnesota Vikings? That's the question we're asking Thursday morning amid the news that receiver Greg Jennings is taking his first free-agent visit to the Packers' NFC North rival.

The Vikings have a long recent history of acquiring players the Packers either no longer want or hadn't yet re-signed, a list that includes quarterback Brett Favre, kicker Ryan Longwell, safety Darren Sharper and receiver Robert Ferguson. Over the years, the Vikings also made free-agent pitches to defensive end Aaron Kampman, fullback William Henderson and receiver James Jones, in each case jump-starting their eventual agreements with the Packers. (In 2010, the Vikings brought in receiver Javon Walker to training camp for a comeback attempt but released him before the season began.)

While that history will surely inflame passions on this blog and between fan bases, Jennings' case is a relatively unique one. He is in the prime of his career, and according to multiple reports, the Packers have genuine interest in bringing him back. It seems the Packers have bet -- accurately, so far -- that he wouldn't fetch one of the few premium contracts available to receivers in this market and have been waiting for the dust to settle.

The Miami Dolphins gave Mike Wallace a five-year deal worth $60 million, and former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin got $67 million over six years from the Seattle Seahawks. After that, however, the receiver floor has dropped. Wednesday, the annual average salary receivers were fetching fell almost by half, to about $6 million. Wes Welker got a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Denver Broncos, and the Patriots replaced him by signing Danny Amendola to a five-year deal worth $31 million.

That makes for a fascinating dynamic from multiple angles, a discussion we started earlier in the week.

We all know how barren the Vikings' receiving corps is after the Harvin trade, and they could give Jennings an unquestioned role as their No. 1 receiver in a midrange passing scheme that caters to his strengths. By agreeing to this visit, Jennings must have an inkling that the Vikings will make him a competitive contract offer -- and by "competitive," I mean more money than what the Packers have offered. If nothing else, Jennings could use a division rival to put pressure on the Packers to raise their offer.

Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter was certainly on board Thursday morning, tweeting:

On the other hand, Jennings would face several levels of uncertainty in Minnesota. Quarterback Christian Ponder will get another year as the unquestioned starter, but he is far from established and it wouldn't be remotely fair to compare him to the quarterback Jennings would have in Green Bay. There is also a greater possibility for instability with the Vikings, considering the team declined to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after his 10-6 performance in 2012. The chance the Vikings have a different coach in 2014 is much higher than the Packers making a change by that point.

Some Packers fans want Jennings to return because of his skills. Others don't like the idea of him helping the Vikings out of a personnel hole. And a few of you wonder if it's worth any investment of salary cap space to bring him back when the team has Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on the roster and are presumably gearing up to sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to monster contract extensions.

I've been in the camp that assumed the Packers planned to part ways with Jennings given the lack of substantive negotiations over the past year. Jennings put up his Green Bay house for sale, and the proverbial ship seemed to have sailed. But sometimes the market has a way of changing and/or clarifying the thinking of a player, a team or both. And so here we are. It's on. And from our perspective especially, it's going to be tons of fun.

NFC North links: Raiola's contract changes

February, 15, 2013
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Chicago Bears

Former safety Chris Harris retired from playing in the NFL last month. A day later, he was embarking on a new career after the Bears hired him to be their defensive quality control coach. Harris told ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson that he's ready to get started. "Being a coach will be something to adjust to," Harris said. "But I don't think the players will view me as a buddy just because I was teammates with a lot of them. I was pretty respected when I played here on the defensive side of the football. I don't see that being a problem. I'm just excited to do this."

Coach Marc Trestman has talked with longtime Bears Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester, but he won't comment about their futures with the team, writes the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.

Bears tight ends have had the fewest receptions in the NFL the past two seasons, reports Biggs, so it's no surprise that the team is looking for more production at the position. “We need a tight end that can threaten the defense,” tight ends coach Andy Bischoff said. “We need a tight end that can create stress in the middle of the field, or wherever we place him, because we’re going to line him up next to the tackle and we’re going to line him up outside the numbers and we’re going to line him up in the backfield and we’re going to expect the defense to figure it out."

Detroit Lions

Center Dominic Raiola has agreed to restructure his contract, likely keeping him in a Lions uniform for a 13th season.

Former Bills safety George Wilson visited with the Lions Thursday and left without signing a deal, reports Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. But the free agent was "very optimistic" about his visit. The Lions currently only have three safeties under contract.

The team promoted Marcus Robertson to defensive backs coach to fill the void after Tim Walton left to become the defensive coordinator of the Rams, reports Mlive.com's Justin Rogers.

Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill made Pete Prisco's list of lesser-known players who could be good values in free agency.

Green Bay Packers

Greg Jennings tops Sam Munson's list of free agent wide receivers. "If teams are satisfied that Jennings isn’t a durability concern going forward, he should be the marquee receiver and the first guy pursued by multiple teams trying to answer their question at the position. Fast, fluid and efficient with zero character questions, he makes the most sense," Munson writes.

ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde takes stock of where the Packers stand at tight end, where the big question is whether Jermichael Finley will be back with the team.

Minnesota Vikings

SI.com's Chris Burke recaps the Vikings' 2012 campaign and looks ahead to what's in store for 2013 season.

The team made some changes to its Norseman logo.

Pro Bowler Cris Carter was back at Vikings headquarters Thursday and thanked the team for its role in overcoming his substance abuse problems. Carter: "Personally, what they did for my life, that changed my life," Carter said. "Besides my mother, there's a lot of people that helped me out but there's not a lot of people that can say that I wouldn't have made the Hall without their involvement. But I can stand here today as a man to tell you if you wouldn't have helped me that day when I came here, that second week in September, I wouldn't have made it."

The Vikings picked up Leslie Frazier's contract option for 2014 instead of giving him a new long-term deal. What does that mean for Frazier's future with the club? Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explores.

BBAO: Fresh start for Devin Hester?

February, 4, 2013
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

The NFL's 2012 season concluded Sunday night with Super Bowl XLVII, although we in the NFC North have been on hiatus for a month already. Now, we all enter into the offseason mode of the kind of player movement that Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester hinted at over the weekend.

In an interview with Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, Hester said he wants to continue playing -- backing down from last month's threat to retire -- but suggested he might benefit from a fresh start with a new team.

Because he is under contract for 2013, Hester would need to convince the Bears to trade or release him in order to move on. It's not clear yet how new coach Marc Trestman would use him, but at 30, you would think Hester has several productive years ahead of him.

Hester is the best return man in the history of the NFL, and that fact alone should force the Bears to exhaust every effort to keep him. On the other hand, sitting on prominent players who want out is never a good team-building policy.

We also shouldn't disregard the financial side of this situation. Hester has only one year remaining on his contract. I'm guessing he wouldn't be looking for a fresh start anymore if the Bears offer him a market-level contract extension.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • AFC West blogger Bill Williamson wonders if Hester could wind up with the Kansas City Chiefs, who hired longtime Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub.
  • Hester's agent, Eugene Parker, told Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Once the Bears conclude their evaluation of their players and their team, I expect to have discussions about Devin's future. Until they finish that, everything is premature to talk about."
  • Former Green Bay Packers linebacker Dave Robinson was "Lawrence Taylor before there was a Lawrence Taylor," writes Cliff Christl of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Robinson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
  • Robinson, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I wasn't surprised as much as I was just relieved. If I didn't make it this time, I didn't know what I was going to do. You can't get back on as a senior candidate. I'm 71 years old. I would never be back. This would be my one last shot."
  • Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson was "the logical and obvious choice" for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, writes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter's son, Duron, will present him at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony next summer, notes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • Defensive lineman Curley Culp became the 19th player to enter the Hall of Fame who once played for the Detroit Lions, notes Tim Twentyman of the Lions' website.

Tears of joy for Cris Carter

February, 2, 2013
2/02/13
7:41
PM ET


I should have bet the house Saturday night that Cris Carter would emerge from behind a curtain, sit down and bawl his way through a question-and-answer session about his inclusion in the 2013 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 14 years of covering the NFL, I don't think I ever saw a football player cry more than him.

Carter cried at highly appropriate times, including the 2001 death of teammate Korey Stringer. He cried at times that seemed reasonable, such as when he was named the 1999 NFL Man of the Year. And he cried at times that most people would not, like when he spoke at a standard team meeting.

Over the years, some have associated his quick tears with a larger attention-grabbing front they thought Carter put up, a self-promotional tool to portray him as a deeply religious do-gooder who had turned his life around and deserved accolades for it. That interpretation continued Saturday when Carter's raw reaction -- "This is the happiest day of my life" -- drew scorn from some of you via Twitter.

"Sure that makes his wife and kids feel great," tweeted @moefasa11.

[+] EnlargeCris Carter
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertCris Carter couldn't hold back the tears after being elected to the Hall of Fame.
On this day and all others, I think it's irrelevant to consider the motives behind Carter's persona and emotions. The inarguable and objective fact is that he has an incredible life story, one that has and will continue to benefit countless people whose lives started and progressed the way his did.

As you probably know, Carter grew up in a single-parent household as one of six children in Middletown, Ohio. Early mistakes nearly ended his career before it started, from losing his final season at Ohio State because he signed with an agent to getting released by the Philadelphia Eagles for what he later acknowledged was heavy drug abuse.

But from the moment the Vikings claimed him off waivers in September 1990, Carter fashioned one of the best careers for a receiver in NFL history.

Even after the NFL's passing game explosion over the past decade, Carter ranks fourth all-time in receptions (1,101) and fourth (130) in touchdowns. His hands were immaculate and his techniques for getting open were as precise as anyone who has played. He waited out a five-year process in which voters dealt with a backlog of players at a position they traditionally haven't valued as much as others, but to me there was never a doubt Carter would eventually be elected.

Even so, voters spent more than 30 minutes debating his candidacy, the third-most of the 17 finalists, according to one of the voters, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.

"The history with wide receivers," Carter said, "I follow it pretty close. I look at Art Monk, I look at Lynn Swann, I look at Michael Irvin, and it's becoming very, very difficult to judge the skill of a wide receiver in today's game. But what else can you judge it on but the numbers? The numbers, they do tell a story.

"I'm glad they recognized my career for what it was. … It doesn't matter [that it took so long] … I've been in this process for five years and they have not selected one bad player. Not one bad player have I seen elected to the Hall of Fame."

That was one genuinely humble moment for Carter during his interview session in New Orleans. Another was when he credited former Vikings coach Dennis Green for helping "take me to another level I never ever thought I would be."

Carter and Green were close during most of their tenure together in Minnesota, but they had a personal falling out and were barely speaking to each other toward the end. I'm glad Carter bypassed that short-term friction and recognized the role Green played in his success.

"He told me things, even compared me to the guys who I played with," Carter said. "And he told me things that I could go on the field with and have the greatest confidence. He would show me the game plan and show me how they were going to utilize me and what they needed me to do. They used to have a section in the game plan that had my name on it. I used to memorize it, He said, 'Man, it's like playing basketball on turf.'"

You might not like the way Carter carries or portrays himself, but his style is built on an awful lot of genuine substance. I hope that's what we focus on in the days and months ahead of his August 2013 enshrinement. As a player, he has deserved to be in the Hall of Fame since the moment he retired. As a person, there is plenty to admire as well.
As you might have heard, three of the four Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists with NFC North ties were elected Saturday to the class of 2013. Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter and senior nominees Dave Robinson (Green Bay Packers) and Curley Culp (Detroit Lions) are among the seven-man class.

I'll have more on the blog as the evening continues. I think we all know it has been a matter of when, not if, Carter would be enshrined. In his career, he caught 1,101 passes for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the only other player in NFL history with those totals is Jerry Rice.

Meanwhile, Hall voters have made a habit of electing senior nominees, as I discussed this week. Over the past 20 years, 25 of 30 senior nominees have made it. We figured that would bode well for Robinson and Culp.

More in a bit.

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