NFC North: James 'Shack' Harris
At Penn State football camp, players are told that everything operates on "Paterno Time" -- defined as five minutes ahead of the rest of the world. So if practice was scheduled at 9 a.m., that meant it started at 8:55 a.m. and you better be ready at 8:45 a.m. just to be sure.
Monday morning, I started thinking about Paterno Time after re-reading Ed Werder's report on the newest timetable for retired quarterback Brett Favre. His potential agreement with Minnesota is very much playing out on Favre Time -- defined as whenever he feels like it -- and there's not much the Vikings can do to speed up or even guide the process.
Favre will make a decision when he's ready and not a moment earlier. Given his propensity for waffling and delaying, there's no way to predict when it could all be resolved. But I don't think the Vikings' ticket sales really falls under Favre Time, nor is his desire to have some clarity in the weeks before training camp. Like Paterno, Favre makes his own rules and sets his own time.
Catching up on the weekend around the NFC North:
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes an in-depth look at the career of defensive end Johnny Jolly and the potential impact of his upcoming trial for felony drug possession in Houston. In the piece, Jolly says he is innocent.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that our friends at Football Outsiders are projecting the Bears to win the NFC.
- James "Shack" Harris on his first few months with Detroit: "It's going good -- we're tied for first place, so we're feeling pretty good." Here's the full piece from Ethan Conley of the Monroe News-Star. Later this month, Harris will be inducted into the Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame.
- Detroit linebacker Ernie Sims says the Lions' new linebacker trio has "great" chemistry, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Appearing on Sirius NFL Radio via the Detroit News, free-agent defensive tackle John Thornton said he turned down an offer to join the Lions and might retire.
Detroit's decision to promote Martin Mayhew to replace general manager Matt Millen had at least one predictable byproduct: Mayhew left the Lions' college scouting staff intact despite years of an admittedly poor draft record.
Mayhew, a member of the Lions' front office since 2001, has focused his efforts on improving the team's process rather than replacing its people. NFL teams don't always announce changes within their personnel department, but a review of the personnel staff directory on the Lions' Web site reveals only one difference from their 2008 media guide: James "Shack" Harris was hired as a senior personnel executive, while former assistant director of pro personnel Dave Boller was let go.
Most notably, director of college scouting Scott McEwen has returned for his 23rd season with the team. Mayhew heartily endorsed his work during a news conference Tuesday.
Mayhew: "Let me just say this: I think Scott McEwen has done a phenomenal job for us, setting the board this year as he has in the past. I think he's just a tremendous evaluator. I like our college scouts. I think there have been some mistakes made in the past and there's been a lot of noise in the system, so to speak, but again, I'm totally focused on the future and not the past."
Mayhew has made several changes to the way the Lions make final decisions on players, encouraging more communication and dialogue than in the past. Earlier this winter, Mayhew also said the Lions will make a greater commitment to developing the players they do draft. "You don't give up on your guys," he said in January.
Today, there are six players remaining from the Lions' drafts between 2000-2006 -- an expanse that should comprise the core of the current team. Overall, 17 of the 72 players now on the roster were originally Lions draft choices.
Asked Tuesday how things will be different moving forward, Mayhew said:
"I think we'll be more efficient. I think we'll be much more prepared. I think we spent a lot of time already talking about how we stack players [in] the first 33. We've had several meetings on that. We're having our dialogue now. ..."
This isn't to suggest that Mayhew won't eventually make some changes. Historically, most NFL teams prefer to shuffle their personnel department in the spring, which is the start of "draft season." Wiping out a scouting staff in January would throw draft preparations into a state of unproductive upheaval. But based on Mayhew's comments, it seems unlikely that a massive overhaul is looming.
After introducing James "Shack" Harris as his new senior personnel executive, Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew made one thing clear: The Lions don't plan to lose placekicker Jason Hanson.
Hanson, a pending free agent, has been discussing a multi-year contract extension with the Lions this week. Mayhew told Detroit-area reporters that if the discussions don't lead to an agreement, the Lions will place the franchise tag on him. That move would come no later than Feb. 19.
Here's what Mayhew said, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News:
"I think we'll get something done prior to that. If we don't, we'll franchise Jason. ... It's Jason Hanson, and we appreciate everything he's done for us. And we're trying to work out a long-term deal with him."
The franchise figure for placekickers this season is $2.48 million. Mayhew also confirmed negotiations with two other pending free agents: Guard Stephen Peterman and fullback Moran Norris. He said discussions about the quarterback position -- where Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna are both due roster bonuses at the end of this month -- remain underway.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Friday morning:
- Mayhew on Harris' hiring: "There were any number of yes-men available, and we didn't pick any of those guys." Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press reports.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if the Bears prefer the 2010 class of college quarterbacks.
- Here's a line from a Green Bay Press-Gazette editorial on quarterback Brett Favre's retirement: "But Green Bay and the Packers were strong before Brett. And we are convinced both will remain strong in the future."
- Check out this musical tribute to Favre from a Packers fan. It was produced last year but remains relevant.
- Let's just say Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune isn't impressed with the Vikings' new get-tough approach on their stadium issue.
The only mystery remaining about Detroit's pending hire of James "Shack" Harris was his new title. The Lions cleared that up Thursday, announcing Harris' addition as "Senior Personnel Executive." According to a statement released by the team, here is Harris' job description:
He will assist [general manager Martin] Mayhew with the day-to-day management of the player personnel department, and he will assist in the player evaluation process for college and pro talent.
In practical terms, Harris represents a credible set of eyes for an organization that hasn't always overflowed with them. Harris, 61, will add his evaluations and opinions as Mayhew makes decisions about free agency, the draft and roster management.
This hire has been imminent since last month, when Harris' name emerged from a group of candidates under consideration. Harris wasn't a soaring success as Jacksonville's vice president of player personnel from 2003-08, but I think he is a good hire for this type of position.
Mayhew will make the final decisions and administer the Lions' football operations. But he was smart to add an experienced hand to help guide him through the maze of roster-building.
One NFC North alumnus (guard Randall McDaniel) got into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday while another (receiver Cris Carter) absorbed a significant snub. Here's another disappointment that didn't get quite as much attention on Sunday: Defensive end Richard Dent, who was turned away for the fifth consecutive year.
Dent finished his career with 137.5 sacks, which at the time ranked third in NFL history. He made it past the first round of cuts Saturday, an advance that Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times considers an important milestone. But Dent, in an interview with David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, seemed to take the news pretty hard.
"I don't feel much at all," Dent said. "I'm just numb to the situation. I really don't have much to say."
Dent has lost out to four other pass-rushers in the past two years: Fred Dean, Andre Tippett, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas.
Continuing around the NFC North on Super Bowl Sunday:
- Minnesota has approached Fox Sports reporter Jay Glazer for help in getting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson involved in a mixed martial arts program. But Jackson doesn't seem too interested. Asked by Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jackson said: "Nah. I'm not planning on it."
- Detroit was focusing its personnel search on former Jacksonville executive James "Shack" Harris late last week, and now it seems likely that Harris is the Lions' choice. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press confirms the hire.
- Former Lions offensive lineman Mike Utley, paralyzed during a 1991 game, was a guest of Pittsburgh executive Kevin Colbert at the Steelers' practice Saturday. Colbert worked for the Lions front office earlier in his career.