NFC North: Danieal Manning

We're Black and Blue All Over:

Mixed in with the Green Bay Packers' long injury report was the little-known fact that rookie linebacker Nick Perry, who hasn't played since injuring his knee last month, was also dealing with a wrist injury suffered earlier this season. Coach Mike McCarthy said Perry would be getting a second medical opinion this week, but as it turns out, the evaluation was of his wrist and it might mean he will miss the rest of the season.

According to Lance Allan of WTMJ-Ch. 4 in Milwaukee, Perry had surgery on the wrist Tuesday. The Packers made no announcement, but it's hard to imagine him returning anytime soon. If he doesn't play again this season, Perry will finish his rookie year with two sacks in six games. He has been replaced by veteran Erik Walden, who appeared motivated by the decision to draft Perry and has played well.

Continuing around the NFC North:
Mike Priefer couldn't help himself. The Minnesota Vikings' special teams coordinator jumped this spring at an opportunity to interrogate one of the key performers of the Chicago Bears' elite special teams in recent seasons, hoping to find some ideas -- be it schematic or motivational -- to help his Vikings close the gap.

So when veteran Zack Bowman signed with the Vikings last spring, Priefer pounced. He pulled Bowman aside immediately and, he told reporters, was "grilling him."

"It was me trying to get information from him not only about the Chicago Bears and what they do and teach, but what made them so successful," Priefer said. "I know they have a great returner and they have a good kicker and a good punter, but the mentality that they take to every Sunday is where I want our guys to get to. That is a great challenge for us. The Bears, Packers and the Lions are all very good special-teams units and I want to see what made them so successful behind the scenes."

Indeed, the Bears finished the 2011 season ranked atop the special-teams rankings maintained by our friends over at Football Outsiders. (FO analyzes how many points above the league average a special-teams group accounts for, including field position gained or lost.) The Packers were No. 8, while the Vikings ranked No. 27.

It's true that most teams don't have an elite dual returner like Devin Hester, along with a secondary returner along the lines of Danieal Manning or Johnny Knox or Eric Weems. And the Bears have maintained veteran credibility at place-kicker with Robbie Gould and at punter with Brad Maynard and Adam Podlesh. But I think we can all agree the Bears' week-to-week swagger from their blockers and coverage units is an important part of their winning identity.

What did Bowman, who is working on all four special-teams groups this summer, tell Priefer?

"Basically," Priefer said, "they believed every time that they returned the ball, punt or kickoff, they had a chance to score. When you have a great returner, that’s the feeling you’re going to get. It makes guys work a little bit harder. They believe in it more. I think we had that on kickoff return a lot with all the long returns we had. We need to establish that on punt returns as well."

One of the hot topics of Vikings training camp will be how much they use Percy Harvin as a kickoff returner. My guess is that coach Leslie Frazier will pick his spots. It's not clear who will take the rest of the kickoffs or handle punts. Rookies Jarius Wright and Josh Robinson, along with veteran cornerback Marcus Sherels, are all possibilities.

BBAO: Let's do some bloggin'

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
8:15
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Well hello again. I hope everyone had a great final week of June, which means it's now July, which means we won't have to turn the calendar again before all four NFC North training camps open. If that doesn't get your Monday juices flowing, I don't know what will.

We'll be going strong here on the blog for the next two weeks before taking one final sojourn the week of July 16. (That's a schedule change from my previous plan, but such is life.) My training camp tour will commence on or about July 26, in an NFC North locale to be determined, and we'll take it from there.

But first, let's catch up on a few weekend stories -- most notably the late-Friday contract extension of Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. I'll add a few thoughts of my own a bit later Monday.
  • Tim Twentyman of the Lions' web site writes that it "always seemed like it was just a matter of time" before the team and Schwartz agreed to a deal.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com wonders if any of the NFC North's receivers can hang with the Lions' Calvin Johnson.
  • Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman believes the team and Brett Favre will ultimately reconcile, according to Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe. Sherman: "I know there's some hard feelings, maybe on both sides, but at the same time I think with time that all dissipates and he’ll be welcomed back with open arms. The dust just has to settle a little bit and the pain of his exit has to heal a little bit and I think he’ll be what he was. He was an icon. I know he loved his time in Green Bay and has phenomenal memories. I know that he cherishes every single Sunday that he went out that tunnel to the cheers of those fans. I think eventually that will heal up and be put in the past."
  • The Packers are confident their defense can recover from last season's performance, notes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com thinks the Packers will keep six receivers on their final roster.
  • Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte believes he is in the best shape of his professional career, writes Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Yikes. Former Bears safety Danieal Manning took a huge loss on his Libertyville, Ill., home. Here's more from Bob Goldsborough of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Minnesota Vikings will simulcast their television and radio preseason broadcasts, notes the team web site.
  • The NFL career of former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper appears over, suggests Craig Castille of the Orlando Sentinel.
We asked a few days ago why a team that boasts the best returner in NFL history would add another one in free agency. The likeliest explanation was for depth purposes, but absent any official word from Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery, we were left to wonder if the arrival of Eric Weems meant anything for incumbent Devin Hester.

So we should point out that, during a conference call Thursday with reporters, Emery suggested that Weems would play a complementary role to Hester and that both would be on the team in 2012.

Emery noted the Bears' "very strong tradition of having multiple returners and having more than one weapon as a punt and kick returner" in explaining the move. Indeed, the Bears have used Johnny Knox and Danieal Manning to various degrees in recent years. Knox is recovering from a serious back injury and might not be ready to start the season. Plus, Weems signed a relatively affordable three-year deal worth a total of $4.2 million, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

As for Hester, it's true that his original contract called for a $10 million roster bonus. But as ESPN's John Clayton reported at the time, the bonus was based on Hester ascending to a statistical status as the Bears' No. 1 receiver. He has not done that over the course of the contract and thus the roster bonus will de-escalate to a lower value and not impact whether the Bears retain him on their roster.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
2:15
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After the Chicago Bears' 30-12 victory Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their big win against the Falcons, the Bears take a seat in the examination room.

  1. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sharp in his 2011 debut, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 312 yards and finishing with a 107.9 passer rating. I think all of us would be satisfied if he repeated that outing for the next 20 or so game weeks. But Cutler continues to be a case example of how Total Quarterback Rating will take a different view of quarterback play. Cutler's performance currently ranks No. 13 among Week 1 performances, with a score of 60.4. QBR downgraded him for five sacks and a fumble, neither of which are included in passer rating. A QBR score of 50 is considered average and measures a quarterback's contribution to winning (or losing) a game. Again, I'm not totally sure how we will incorporate QBR in the context of our weekly discussions, but it's always interesting to consider a different vantage point. For now, we'll chalk it up to another example of the Bears encountering skepticism at every turn.
  2. In August we wondered if Henry Melton was up to the task of playing the three-technique position in a Tampa-2 defense. Melton, after all, was a running back for part of his college career and was drafted as a defensive end. But his seven quarterback hits, including two sacks, made for a stunning debut as a starter Sunday. It obviously helps when the offense is distracted by a parallel monster performance by defensive end Julius Peppers. We don't draw any conclusions based on what we see in Week 1, but Melton put himself in position to provide a definitive answer to our original question.
  3. Last week, coach Lovie Smith indicated that Johnny Knox would take kickoff returns while Devin Hester focused on punts. But I am fine with that little bit of misdirection. Hester took kickoffs as well Sunday, something I'm all for following the departure of Danieal Manning. That's nothing against Knox. But if I'm the Bears, and I've been pretty consistent about this in recent years, I want the best returner in NFL history maximizing his chances on special teams. Then I sprinkle him into the offense whenever possible, rather than the other way around. That's what the Bears did Sunday, and Hester responded with 127 all-purpose yards -- 60 yards on three catches, 53 on three kickoff returns and 14 on one punt return. That's ideal, as far as I'm concerned.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Based on our discussions around here, there is no secret that tailback Matt Forte is a perfect fit for Mike Martz's offense. His receiving skills mean he can impact a game even if an opponent has filled the running lanes. His 56-yard screen play Sunday was a perfect example of his open-field running ability. So I wonder if the Bears recognize that barring injury, Forte's value is only going to increase with every passing week. The team and Forte's agent haven't been able to agree on the terms of a contract extension, but his versatility (and motivation this year) makes it highly unlikely that something will happen on the field that would allow the Bears to devalue his production. Even if he isn't piling up rushing yards, it seems likely he'll have a substantive weekly contribution in the passing game.

Scramble '11: Day 1 thoughts

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
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I'm continuing to get my head around the Minnesota Vikings' reported pursuit of quarterback Donovan McNabb, which to this point qualifies as the biggest NFC North development on Day 1 of the 2011 free-agent market. We've also discussed issues from Matthew Stafford's swagger to Aaron Rodgers' free-agent wish list, and I'm sure there will be much more to come.

McNabb
McNabb
For now, let's review in rapid-fire fashion a number of other developments that merit comment but maybe not their own blog post:

Item: Former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson agreed to terms with the Seattle Seahawks, where he will reunite with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Comment: Someone in the Seahawks' building clearly wants someone else to win the starting job, be it Charlie Whitehurst or Matt Leinart. As much as I respect Jackson as a person, I don't see him as an NFL starter -- and neither do many other people in the league.

Item: The Vikings agreed to terms receiver Devin Aromashodu, formerly of the Chicago Bears, to a one-year contract.
Comment: Aromashodu isn't a possible replacement for Sidney Rice or even Bernard Berrian, should he be released. Aromashodu remains an intriguing big target who had a career game against the Vikings in 2009, catching seven passes for 150 yards and a game-winning touchdown. Opponents don't forget games like that.

Item: Free agent receiver Santana Moss agreed to terms with the Washington Redskins.
Comment: Send your condolences to Bears receiver Devin Hester, who publicly lobbied the team to sign Moss.

Item: The Bears have interest in free-agent receiver Brad Smith, according to a report by ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright.
Comment: Smith offers a bigger look than the rest of the Bears' receivers and could also return kickoffs following the expected departure of Danieal Manning. Bring him on.

Item: The Bears want free-agent linebacker Nick Roach to return as a backup, according to a report by ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson.
Comment: That means the Bears still need a starter at strong-side linebacker. They are interested in Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Justin Durant, according to a ESPNChicago.com report.

Item: The Detroit Lions will release receiver Bryant Johnson, according to report by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Comment: It wouldn't have made sense to bring Johnson to training camp after drafting Titus Young as the likely No. 3 receiver. That gives a player many of you have asked about, Derrick Williams, a fighting chance to make the team as a No. 4 receiver.

Item: The Vikings have told defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy he won't return in 2011, according to Kennedy's Twitter feed.
Comment: Cross off another candidate to start at defensive tackle if free agent Pat Williams signs elsewhere and during Kevin Williams' expected four-game suspension.

Item: The Bears are the only NFC North team to release a list of undrafted free agents they have signed.
Comment: All 26 names are published over at ESPNChicago.com for your enjoyment.

Item: And today will be better than yesterday.
Comment: That's my friend Buster Olney's signature blog sign-off. I like it.

BBAO: Free-agent rules evolving

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
7:20
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

It's already clear that NFL team executives will need their heads on a swivel during this unprecedented transition from the lockout. Here's an example:

Monday afternoon, the NFL announced that teams would be eligible to begin negotiating and signing undrafted rookies on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. But late Monday afternoon, Minnesota Vikings vice president Rick Spielman received a surprise email while waiting his turn at a quick media availability: The instructions had changed. Negotiations with those undrafted rookies were now allowed immediately.

Moments later, ESPN's John Clayton confirmed the news. After answering questions from reporters, Spielman hustled up to a meeting room where personnel staffers had set up a make-shift phone bank to begin the recruiting process.

I'm guessing there will be a few more curveballs along the way. But barring any immediate changes, NFL teams can formally sign those undrafted rookies starting at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday and can also begin negotiations with draft picks, their free agents and undrafted free agents. Be prepared for a wild few days of news.

Unless that changes, of course.

Here's a quick roundup of news and notes from around the NFC North:
  • The Chicago Bears are moving Chris Harris back to his more natural strong safety position, opening up the free safety spot for Major Wright. Danieal Manning, a free agent, isn't expected to return. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com has an early look at the undrafted rookies the Bears are pursuing.
  • Dan Pompei of the Tribune considers possible veteran free agents for the Bears, including Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl of the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Former Bears punter Brad Maynard, speaking to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times after learning he would not return to the team, implied that he did not get along with special teams coordinator Dave Toub. Maynard: "I'm not surprised at all. There was one person there, and he and I didn't see eye to eye. I did the best I could with what I was asked to do. There were times I was asked to do things where I told myself, 'There's no way I can do this,' but I kept my mouth shut and did the best I could."
  • Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "We've got a plan that we have laid out for quite some time now about how we want to build this team, and that was a philosophy that we communicated to you guys back a couple years ago. That philosophy is shared by [general manager Martin Mayhew] and [coach Jim Schwartz] and myself, and we're going to stick to that philosophy about how you build the nucleus of this team and how we have built the nucleus of the team."
  • John Niyo of the Detroit News expects the Lions to be active in the trade market.
  • The Lions will have meetings and a conditioning test for players Thursday, notes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Most of the Green Bay Packers' training camp practices will be scheduled during the evening, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Press-Gazette wonders if the Packers will move Bryan Bulaga to left guard.
  • The Packers are hoping to visit the White House to meet President Barack Obama sometime this month, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers running back John Kuhn plans to test the free-agent market, writes Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel.
  • Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wants the Vikings to sign veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
  • It hadn't been rumored to be an issue, but Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said tailback Adrian Peterson will report to training camp on time, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Peterson is in the final year of his contract.
  • The Vikings will add about 30 players over the next week, notes the Star Tribune.

NFC North free-agency breakdown

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC North team:

Chicago Bears
  1. Assemble a starting offensive line: As we've noted many times, the Bears have held off any public discussion about their five linemen pending the results of free agency. Well, we're here. It's time for the dominoes to start falling. The first will be whether center Olin Kreutz re-signs. It's generally expected, but nothing is guaranteed. Then, the Bears need to decide whether to pursue any starting-caliber guards or tackles. You would think they'll seek at least one new starter. Will they raid the Atlanta Falcons' glut of linemen? Might they take a flier on Robert Gallery? We'll know soon enough.
  2. Establish a strongside linebacker: The position has largely been held by Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach over the past two years, but both have expiring contracts. It makes sense to re-sign at least one given the lack of offseason work for a presumptive new starter, and Roach is the younger of the two. If the Bears have another player on the roster they've targeted for this job, it's not readily apparent. While they're at it, the Bears should seek depth at defensive tackle following the release of Tommie Harris. They did draft Stephen Paea, but the Bears might pursue Seattle Seahawks free agent Brandon Mebane, as well.
  3. Sift through receivers: From a media perspective, at least, there has been more offseason talk than ever suggesting the Bears will/should/might pursue a free-agent receiver. This year's class is deep, from Sidney Rice to Santonio Holmes to Randy Moss, and a number of other veterans could be available via trade. Coach Lovie Smith has said he wouldn't mind a receiver bigger than his current trio of sub 6-footers, and Devin Hester has lobbied publicly to sign Santana Moss. I think the increased discussion is largely a product of lockout boredom, but it wouldn't hurt the Bears to add depth so that Hester can be used more efficiently.
Top five free agents: Center Olin Kreutz, safety Danieal Manning, punter Brad Maynard, linebacker Nick Roach, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.

Detroit Lions
  1. Sign a starting cornerback: The Lions' top cornerbacks under contract are Alphonso Smith and Nate Vasher. Chris Houston, who started 15 games last season, is a free agent, so it's possible the Lions will bring Houston back. Or they could seek an outside upgrade, be it Nnamdi Asomugha or Ike Taylor or Johnathan Joseph. Lions Fever would spike if they can land Asomugha, but they would have to use most of their salary-cap space to do it. For several reasons, the odds are against it.
  2. Sort out the linebacker position: DeAndre Levy is the only linebacker assured a 2011 starting job, but even Levy can't be totally sure if he will play outside or in the middle. That answer will come only after the Lions sift through the available free agents. They could pursue one with a background in the middle, perhaps Stephen Tulloch. Or they could seek an outside linebacker to replace the released Julian Peterson. One of their outside positions is likely to be decided by a training camp competition among incumbents.
  3. Evaluate right tackles: Early indications have been that Gosder Cherilus has made progress from microfracture surgery on his knee. If there is any question, however, the Lions might want to bolster their depth. Corey Hilliard did a decent job as Cherilus' replacement late last season. But keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford healthy is at a premium this season. Do the Lions want to face the possibility of opening the year with a backup plan at right tackle?
Top five free agents: Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, cornerback Chris Houston, linebacker Landon Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, safety John Wendling.

Green Bay Packers
  1. Stay the course: It's been well-documented that general manager Ted Thompson hasn't participated much in free agency over the past few years, and it's hard to imagine his changing tack dramatically this summer. Thompson's most important decisions will be deciding which of his pending free agents to re-sign and which ones he should allow to depart.
  2. Re-sign place-kicker Mason Crosby: Thompson gave Crosby a second-round tender in February in the event Crosby wound up as a restricted free agent. That move suggested Crosby is in the Packers' future plans and makes re-signing him one of the first orders of business now that he is an unrestricted free agent. Crosby has had some difficulties over the years, but kicking in Green Bay is difficult given the weather and he has made some important adjustments. Concerns about his kickoffs should be minimized by the NFL's decision to move them up 5 yards.
  3. Think twice: The Packers appear set to let defensive end Cullen Jenkins depart. They can do so knowing they have a number of intriguing young players to compete for that job, from Mike Neal to C.J. Wilson to Jarius Wynn. But another player the Packers might lose, Daryn Colledge, doesn't have an obvious replacement. Would the Packers shift T.J. Lang from backup tackle to guard? Would first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, their projected left tackle of the future, get a crash course on step down? It's something to think about and, given the lack of an offseason, might spur further discussion about re-signing Colledge.
Top five free agents: Guard Daryn Colledge, place-kicker Mason Crosby, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, receiver James Jones, running backs John Kuhn/Brandon Jackson.

Minnesota Vikings
  1. Address receivers: Are the Vikings about to bid farewell to receiver Sidney Rice, a 24-year-old who is one year removed from an 83-catch Pro Bowl season? There is nothing they can do to stop it at this point, and Rice seems intent on at least testing his value on the open market. The Vikings spent most of last season searching for a suitable replacement when Rice was injured, and that job will intensify this summer. They have added an additional pass-catching threat in rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph. But if they lose Rice, the Vikings must either sign or trade for an established veteran to join Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian (if he makes the team).
  2. Find a kicker: The Vikings made no known effort before the lockout to re-sign veteran Ryan Longwell, who has converted 43 of 46 kicks over the past two seasons. It's possible they'll make their move now. But they did not draft a kicker, and if Longwell signs elsewhere, the Vikings will have to scour the always-murky free-agent market. I'm guessing they already have a plan on this issue, but we haven't smoked it out yet.
  3. Establish QB depth: We all know that rookie Christian Ponder eventually will assume the starting job. But are the Vikings comfortable with Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar as their only alternatives if Ponder needs some development time? I'm not sure about that. I also wonder if making Webb the No. 2 quarterback would limit his opportunities to contribute in other ways, perhaps as a receiver or a kick returner. For that reason, it would make sense for the Vikings to seek a quarterback with more experience to pair with Ponder.
Top five free agents: Defensive end Ray Edwards, linebacker Ben Leber, place-kicker Ryan Longwell, receiver Sidney Rice, nose tackle Pat Williams.

Bears back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Chicago Bears have been playing the same defensive scheme, with some of the same key players, since coach Lovie Smith arrived in 2004. That familiarity is an important mitigating factor for the loss of offseason workouts, and players expect that consistency to give the Bears an early-season advantage. The Bears could have used another offseason to fine-tune their offense under coordinator Mike Martz, especially to give them a head-start on retooling their offensive line, but such is life. Quarterback Jay Cutler did his part by running skill-player workouts this spring in the Chicago suburbs.

Biggest challenge: You thought offensive line coach Mike Tice had a tough job last season patching together a starting lineup? He'll have to do it again this season, and with less time. The Bears hope to find a permanent solution earlier than they did in 2010, but as of today, none of the five positions has an obvious starter. Free agency will affect Tice's decisions, as will the development of rookie tackle Gabe Carimi. Where will former first-round pick Chris Williams play? Will center Olin Kreutz be re-signed? These questions must be answered -- and soon.

Just for kicks: The Bears have a decision to make at punter, a position occupied by Brad Maynard for the past 10 seasons. It didn't appear the Bears were eager to resign Maynard, 37, before the lockout. That could change given the quick turnaround between now and training camp, but it's also possible the Bears have their eye on his targeted successor. Maynard was a big part of the Bears' special-teams machine over the past decade and would be difficult to replace.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Quarterback Caleb Hanie, center Olin Kreutz, safety Danieal Manning, punter Brad Maynard, linebacker Nick Roach, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Despite a few grumblings of antipathy, I appreciate you gamely improving my initial nominees for the inaugural NFC North blog fantasy 4x100 relay race. The teams are now assembled and ready for your vote.

Your suggestions led me to:
I bowed out of the comments section when the debate descended into the merits of using 40 times to determine credibility for relay. Whatever the opposite of a trackhead is, that's me.

Go ahead and register your vote. I'll find a way to work in the results into a future post.
We veered off the beaten path a bit during Tuesday's SportsNation chat, somehow squeezing in the time to discuss which NFC North team could field the top 4x100 relay group. It had no relevance to anything but a good discussion, so naturally I jumped in.

Below, I'll list the nominations along with the nominator. In the comments section, feel free to suggest alternatives or tweaks. After a while, I'll commission a poll from our friends at SportsNation and we'll decide this debate to end all debates by the end of the week.
For those of you who aren't familiar with him yet, House is the Packers' fourth-round draft pick. He reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds during an on-campus workout at New Mexico State. And to be clear, I'm not worried about whether a player is under contract or not. I'm sure their track loyalties will survive any free-agent movement. Now get to it.

BBAO: More Lions-Asomugha talk

June, 23, 2011
6/23/11
7:55
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Longtime NFL personnel man Gil Brandt, now an analyst for NFL.com, still has good insight into the inner workings of the league. And it's his belief that the Detroit Lions could make "a big play" for pending free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha whenever the market opens this summer.
Brandt, via NFL.com: "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they make a big play for Asomugha. And I think he would consider the situation in Detroit and playing for Jim Schwartz, who has won the respect of his team. A cornerback's best friend is a great defensive line, and right now the Lions have a pretty good group of defensive linemen."

Brandt also thinks the Oakland Raiders will make a big push to keep Asomugha, and national speculation has centered around his desire to play on the East Coast. But the Lions offer a unique situation: An elite pass rush from their defensive line and maximum contract leverage given their dearth of other cornerback options. No one knows how much the Lions would extend financially, but from a media standpoint, at least, they are gaining traction as a legitimate contender for his services.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Associated Press has a complete roundup of the confusion surrounding Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson's summer camp in Oklahoma. (Yawn.)
  • A Twin Cities politician has started an online petition to prevent the Vikings from building a suburban stadium in Arden Hills, Minn. Shoreview City Council member Blake Huffman is frustrated by the lack of public involvement in the planning thus far, according to Rochelle Olson of the Star Tribune.
  • Former Chicago Bears coach and current ESPN analyst Mike Ditka will appear this summer in the HBO show "Entourage," Ditka told ESPN 1000.
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com examines the future of Bears safety Danieal Manning, cornerback Corey Graham and linebacker Nick Roach.
  • Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, via Greg Billing of the Dayton Daily News: "We haven't had any full team workouts. We've had small groups of guys here and there working out together. The great thing about Green Bay is we're not banking on having any rookies coming in and play. We're not putting in any new schemes. For us the main thing is making sure everyone is coming into camp in shape and on time. We have a lot of guys who are accountable and take care of their bodies this whole summer."
Some of you might have seen Adam Schefter's report on the expected state of NFL free agency when a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is reached, presumably next month. In short, it will return the games to pre-2010 rules that made players unrestricted free agents after four accrued seasons.

Most NFL players with expiring contracts already knew whether they would be unrestricted or restricted free agents whenever the 2011 market opened. But this nugget is important to a handful of young NFC North players who have at least four seasons but were concerned that a future agreement could permanently raise the bar for unrestricted free agency to six years.

So if the CBA is written as expected, the players below would join the unrestricted ranks and be eligible to sign with any team for no compensation.

Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

Had any of these players been restricted free agents, their movement would have required the new team to compensate their old team. Most would have had no choice but to return to their old teams. But players like Jones, Edwards and Rice would now have a much, much better chance of cashing in with a new team.

Wrapping up the 2011 draft

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
2:40
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Cleaning out my notebook with the 2011 NFL draft in the books:

The Chicago Bears love their safeties. Cal's Chris Conte is the ninth they've drafted since general manager Jerry Angelo took over in 2002.

(Extra credit if you can name all nine. They're at the bottom of this post.)

The Bears have given most of the players on that list a chance to start, and there's no reason to think they have a different plan for Conte. The Bears are targeting 2010 third-rounder Major Wright as a starting safety, and it's only fair to note that his presumed 2011 partner -- veteran Chris Harris -- is entering the final year of his contract. Is Conte the long-term replacement for Harris?

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said the Bears "spent a lot of time" scouting Conte and noted that his conversion from cornerback means he has some cover skills. Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke received a strong recommendation from Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and Angelo said it's "very, very hard to find free safeties." Call me crazy, but I'm thinking we'll see Conte on the field sooner rather than later.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIFormer Lions running back Barry Sanders said via Twitter that he might visit Detroit's training camp this offseason.
It was nice to see Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders announce the Detroit Lions' choice of Boise State receiver Titus Young in the second round. Sanders hasn't taken much of a public profile in recent years, so it was interesting to follow his draft thoughts via Twitter (@BarrySanders). I noticed this tweet in particular:
"Very impressed with what the team has done over the past few drafts.... I might even stop by training camp to see the guys this year..."

The Lions have a distinguished history that predates that disastrous Matt Millen era that many modern-day fans associate them with. The endorsement of one of their best-ever players shouldn't be taken lightly.

Only a few minutes after drafting Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure, Lions coach Jim Schwartz was already facing the question: How will he dole out playing time between Leshoure and incumbent Jahvid Best?

Schwartz said he won't use a "Randy Ratio," the Minnesota Vikings' ill-fated attempt to ration throws to receiver Randy Moss in 2002. (Current Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was in the same position with the Vikings at the time.) Schwartz said there was "definitely a possibility" of using both in the same backfield, but made clear that the approach could "change from week to week."

Schwartz: "It might change due to injuries and player availability. It might change based on opponent. I think there's a lot of different things that happen in our division. We see a 4-3 team like the Chicago Bears. We see a 3-4 team like the Green Bay Packers. That's a different style of running back. [You] play 3-4 teams that are two-gapping, that are holding on -- you need a big back who can run through some arm tackles. You want to get guys matched up on different teams, you need guys who can match up and beat linebackers and people that want to play man and trick coverage up for a certain player."

A few years ago, we celebrated when the Bears drafted the "pool guy." Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert had made waves during the pre-draft process by jumping out of a pool and posting the video on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gilbert couldn't play and was waived last summer.

The Green Bay Packers drafted their own pool guy, Arizona defensive end/linebacker Ricky Elmore, but there is reason to believe he has a better future than Gilbert.

True, Elmore has posted videos of him both jumping out of a pool and into a truck on YouTube. But it's also worth noting that Elmore actually had more production last season than his more-famous teammate, defensive end/linebacker Brooks Reed.

Elmore finished last season with 11 sacks and a total of 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Reed had six sacks and 10 tackles behind the line. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, I'm eager to see if Elmore's athleticism and college production can translate in the Packers' 3-4 scheme.

Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder is expected to be the starter sooner than later, if not immediately. Assuming that's the case, it's quite possible the Vikings will look for other ways to get Joe Webb onto the field -- possibly in a way that reflects the New York Jets' use of Brad Smith. In either event, it's likely the Vikings will need a veteran backup.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave endorsed that suggestion, saying over the weekend that it "balances out a position." There continue to be reports, most recently from NFL.com, that the Vikings' most likely target is Washington's Donovan McNabb. If Ponder is going to take over at some point in 2011, that wouldn't make much sense to me.

But what do I know?

The Vikings might be the only NFC North team looking to add to its quarterback depth chart. Angelo strongly indicated that rookie Nathan Enderle will be the Bears' No. 3 quarterback behind Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie. The Packers seem set with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell. And Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has said he plans no changes from the trio of Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton.

South Florida safety Mistral Raymond, drafted by the Vikings with the No. 170 overall pick, has endured an incredible three years. As Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune explains, a group vowing retaliation for a shooting mis-identified Raymond's childhood home in Florida and burned it down using Molotov cocktails. No family members were killed, but one of Raymond's sisters was shot four times and airlifted to a trauma center for emergency surgery.

Then, last month, another sister was murdered. Raymond said over the weekend that he hoped his selection in the draft provided a joyful outlet for his family.

"Just having my family here with me, having them see my name come across the screen and seeing the excitement that it brought them, I think it was a relief for all of us," he said. "It helped me realize what type of position that the Lord has put me in. He has blessed me to be an outlet for my family. For them to have excitement no matter what at any given time of the day. It's just a great feeling for me personally, and I'm very grateful to be in the position I'm in."

And finally, your trivia answer: Bobby Gray (2002), Todd Johnson (2003), Chris Harris (2005), Danieal Manning (2006), Kevin Payne (2007), Craig Steltz (2008), Al Afalava (2009), Major Wright (2010), Chris Conte (2011).
As you no doubt have heard by now, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has ordered an end to the NFL's owner-imposed lockout. The league has planned an immediate appeal, with a request for a stay until the appeal is decided.

In other words, it's not clear if the NFL's offseason will begin imminently or if we are still several court decisions away from real action. I'm guessing the latter, but in the event of the former, it's worth re-visiting last month's post on the potential for a court-ordered offseason.

If the owners don't receive a stay and/or lose the appeal, the expectation has been they will revert to 2010 offseason rules to determine player movement in the absence of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If that's the case, some players who would have been unrestricted free agents under a presumptive new CBA would instead be restricted free agents in 2011, making them far more likely to remain with their original teams.

Here is a partial list of the key players who fall in this category and thus are anxiously awaiting word on the stay request. We'll have more as news warrants.

Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

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