NFC North: D'Qwell Jackson

MINNEAPOLIS -- We discussed on Thursday morning why the Minnesota Vikings might want to kick the tires on former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who was cut by the team this week, and it appears they could do just that. CBS Sports reported on Thursday afternoon that the Vikings have inquired about bringing in Jackson for a visit next week.

As the 30-year-old linebacker makes his visits, which could reportedly include as many as five interested teams, we could also get an early preview of how teams will operate under the new salary cap. They have to be under the cap by the start of the new league year on March 11, but as ESPN's John Clayton reported last week, the 2014 cap figure is expected to rise by $9 million to hit $132 million next season. That would leave the Vikings, and dozens of other teams, flush with cash headed into free agency.

Jackson is the kind of veteran player who might typically find an uneven market; he's been productive and a class act in Cleveland, but he'll be 31 in September and is known more for being dependable than dynamic. If the heavy interest in him translates into a bigger deal than we've seen for similar players in the past, it could be a sign of things to come once the market opens for non-released players next week.

There could be plenty of teams who will choose not to spend all of their extra money, and the Vikings of recent vintage haven't made a habit of dishing out big contracts to players over 30 (Greg Jennings notwithstanding). But if deals are structured properly, the larger cap could leave teams more margin for error, and reward the pay-as-you-go philosophy used by teams like the Vikings, who could stuff more cash into the first year of the deal through a guaranteed base salary rather than risking a later cap charge through a big signing bonus. Jackson won't break anybody's bank, but he could provide an early indicator of how kindly the market will treat veteran players now that the cap is expected to spike.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Vikings aren't able to land a quarterback with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft in May, one popular alternative is for them to take a linebacker -- possibly Buffalo's Khalil Mack or Alabama's C.J. Mosley -- who could help shore up the middle of their defense.

They might, however, have another option worth considering before then. The Cleveland Browns released linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Wednesday, parting ways with the leader of their defense instead of paying him $4.1 million in bonuses on March 15.

Jackson is 30 years old, and reportedly already had interest from seven teams after the Browns cut him, so the Vikings would have to decide how much they'd want to pay for a linebacker entering his eighth season. They unsuccessfully tried a similar tack with former Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop last year, though injuries were a major risk factor with Bishop while Jackson has been durable for most of his career. But Jackson, like Bishop, is well-respected around the league and might be worth a look from the Vikings, especially considering how much their new coaching staff already seem to know about him.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner were on the Browns' staff with Jackson last season, and though they wouldn't have coached him directly, they could vouch for his character and leadership abilities. Similarly, coach Mike Zimmer and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer wouldn't have game-planned against Jackson while they were in Cincinnati, but they'd at least have had two chances to watch him each season.

Jackson has been a solid tackler throughout his career, though he's historically not been the kind of linebacker you look to for a huge number of impact plays. The Vikings already have a linebacker like that in Chad Greenway, who turned 31 in January, and there's an argument to be made for younger, cheaper middle linebacker options like Audie Cole and Michael Mauti. But the Vikings defense suffered a leadership void when the team released Antoine Winfield last March, and Jackson could help provide some direction for a defense that figures to change dramatically under Zimmer this season. That alone might be enough for the Vikings to take a look at him.