NFC North: Jarius Wynn
Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.
Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.
Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.
Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:
Under contract for 2014
- QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.[+] EnlargeWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
- G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
- T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
- G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
- WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
- OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
- LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
- CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
- K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
- P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
- LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
- CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
- RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
- WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
- DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
- DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
- DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
- FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
- CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
- LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
- TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
- QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
- C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
- WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.[+] EnlargeMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
- G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
- C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
- LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
- OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
- CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
- DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
- TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
- CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
- G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
- OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
- DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
- FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
- T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
- WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
- S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
- DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
- WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
- S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
- CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
- RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
- FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
- S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
- LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
- LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
- G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
- TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
- QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
- RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
- CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop's season officially came to an end when he was placed on injured reserve. There had been some hope that Bishop could return in the second half of the season under a proposed rule that would have created a new injury list for one player per team, but the NFL and NFL Players Association could not agree on the details. As in previous years, players placed on injured reserve must miss the entire season.
Meanwhile, tight end Andrew Quarless and linebacker Frank Zombo will have their stints on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list extended for at least the first six weeks of the regular season. On the plus side, the Packers did not place offensive lineman Derek Sherrod on the PUP list, offering at least some hope that his return could be close after suffering a devastating leg injury last December.
One of two players released outright was defensive end Jarius Wynn, who fell behind C.J. Wilson in the competition to play defensive end in the base defense. He started four games last season.
- Second-year cornerback Davon House took his turn with the starting defense, replacing Jarrett Bush as the outside cornerback in base and nickel on the heels of a strong practice Monday. The Packers have already rotated several players into that role, but House sure seemed to have received at least a temporary promotion. Coach Mike McCarthy spoke after practice about the importance of "stacking success" for young players and ensuring that they maintained confidence gained from a good play or practice.
- Many of you have asked about the arm of backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Sometimes on-site judgments on him can be unfair because it usually comes after seeing Aaron Rodgers rifle a pass, but Harrell's arm doesn't appear to be an impediment to running the Packers offense. Tuesday, I watched him throw an accurate pass that went about 45 yards downfield but also from one hashmark to the far sideline. That's NFL-caliber.
- Receiver Randall Cobb put a nifty double move on cornerback Otis Merrill and hauled in a deep pass down the right sideline from Rodgers in 1-on-1 drills. Everything I've seen from Cobb suggests he's ready to take the next step in the Packers' offense.
- Defensive end Jarius Wynn came out of nowhere to intercept a Rodgers screen pass and return it for a touchdown. Wynn has been pretty quiet in a camp that has featured a number of possible replacements for his job.
- Receiver Donald Driver had a nice practice, beating House and Bush for touchdowns during team drills to wild applause from the crowd. Afterwards, Driver said he is going to enjoy "proving the critics wrong" this season.
- On the last play of practice, receiver Tori Gurley made a jumping catch in the corner of the end zone over cornerback Sam Shields.
- Today's interesting fundamental drill at Packers camp: Offensive linemen practiced diving for loose balls, which a coach tossed onto a padded mat with blocking dummies scattered about to create the sense of players standing at the line of scrimmage.
- Earlier Tuesday, I posted some thoughts on safety Morgan Burnett, whom the Packers think is a rising star.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We're gearing up for one more day of minicamp with the Green Bay Packers. And a few hundred miles east of here, it appears the Detroit Lions are preparing themselves for multiple suspensions stemming from their unusual offseason.
On the first day of his team's minicamp, Lions president Tom Lewand said that NFL suspensions for defensive tackle Nick Fairley and running back Mikel Leshoure are "certainly something that could be a possibility and I would say likely if you look at similar incidences on other teams." (Via Terry Foster of the Detroit News.)
Both players have had multiple legal entanglements this offseason, and commissioner Roger Goodell tends to regard repeat offenders with particular disdain. But I would also say Goodell's decisions aren't always predictable.
Perhaps Lewand knows more than he is letting on. Ultimately, though, what he said makes sense. It's more likely a matter of when, not if, Fairley and Leshoure are suspended.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Lions running back Jahvid Best on the possibilities of joining Leshoure in the backfield, via the Detroit Free Press: "Tune in and watch."
- Lions kick returner Stefan Logan is working with running backs rather than receivers during minicamp, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Oft-injured Lions offensive lineman Jason Fox won't participate in minicamp because of a sore knee, notes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
- Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush is benefiting from the absence of Matt Forte in spring drills, writes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is so comfortable this spring that "he could be doing commercials for Snuggie blankets," writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- Our friends at ESPNChicago.com offer observations from the Bears' day at minicamp, including Nick Roach's work at middle linebacker in place of Brian Urlacher.
- Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has missed portions of the offseason program because his father is suffering from cancer. According to Matt Holsen of Keloland TV, Greenway's father has entered hospice and neighboring farmers in South Dakota are pitching in to help care for his farm.
- There are huge expectations for Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph in 2012, according to Judd Zuglad of 1500ESPN.com.
- The Vikings appear set to work out free agent linebacker Brian Banks on Friday, notes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
- Vikings rookie receiver Greg Childs (calf) should be at full speed when minicamp begins next week, notes Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Packers defensive lineman Jarius Wynn is dealing with a mild case of Bells' Palsy, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Packers aren't worried about the outspoken ways of tight end Jermichael Finley, writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Urgency to fix the Packers' defense is high, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune has an interesting column on what it’s like to be the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Leslie Frazier has started his first season as the team’s permanent coach 0-4, and the other day he took a walk down the hallway at the Vikings' practice facility to speak with another coach who did the same thing.
Bud Grant was 0-4 in 1967 before getting his first victory. Grant, who still spends time in his office as a team consultant, spoke with Frazier about the value of a breakthrough victory to get the proverbial ball rolling.
Said Frazier: "Bud's a tremendous resource, a great sounding board. He's trying to encourage me, which I truly appreciate. But it's still tough when you lose. We got to get a 'W.'"
Continuing around the NFC North:
- It’s time for the Vikings to start quarterback Christian Ponder, Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton told Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Vikings are not ready to throw in the towel on this season, writes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com gets to know Green Bay Packers defensive end Jarius Wynn.
- Packers tight end Jermichael Finley needs to accept that he can contribute to the offense as a decoy, writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers receivers value the yards they can gain after the catch, notes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- The performance of linebacker Bobby Carpenter illustrates the newfound depth of the Detroit Lions, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Lions cornerback Chris Houston proved he is resilient this past Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
- There is a disconnect between the Lions and their fans on the quality of the running game, writes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
- It's obvious the Chicago Bears are lacking a difference-maker at receiver, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Safety is a major concern for the Bears, writes Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune.
- The ESPNChicago.com crew debate four issues, including whether Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has surpassed the Bears' Jay Cutler.
1. Concern about Ryan Grant's future: The veteran Green Bay Packers running back didn't exactly roar back from his ankle injury in the first two weeks of the season, totaling 65 yards on 15 carries. But against the Chicago Bears this past Sunday, Grant broke through for 92 yards on 17 carries and emerged relatively unscathed from a hit to his ribs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said: "Ryan was Ryan today for the first time this season. He ran the ball hard. He made the right cuts." I'm sure the Packers aren't going to forget about second-year back James Starks, but Grant's performance was a reminder that this team has two legitimate options in the backfield.
2. Game-day awareness: Two weeks ago, the Bears allowed offensive coordinator Mike Martz to call passing plays more than 80 percent of the time in what was mostly a close game against the New Orleans Saints. Last Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings unintentionally limited tailback Adrian Peterson to a total of five carries in the second half against the Detroit Lions. In each case, Bears coach Lovie Smith and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier expressed regret the next day. You have to wonder about game-day communication when such an obvious trend goes unnoticed, or at least unaddressed, until it's too late.
3. Roy Williams, Bears receiver: Williams returned from a groin injury but continues to look totally out of sync with quarterback Jay Cutler, and it wasn't clear if he was even running at 100 percent because of the injury. Cutler threw four passes toward Williams. Two were intercepted and two fell incomplete. With Earl Bennett sidelined by a chest injury, the Bears really need Williams to step up as an option. But it seems increasingly unlikely that it will happen.
1. Jason Hanson, Detroit Lions place-kicker: It's hard to believe that we spent time this summer discussing whether Hanson was nearing the end of his career. The Lions had a legitimate competitor in Dave Rayner, but Hanson never appeared challenged. This past Sunday, he drilled all four field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder that might have been good from 60. Even at age 41, Hanson appears to have one of the most accurate deep legs in the league. He has converted all eight attempts this season, including two from at least 50 yards, and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 11 touchbacks on kickoffs. The man is in his 20th NFL season.
2. Jarius Wynn, Green Bay Packers defensive tackle: How many of you had Wynn as the Packers' leading pass-rusher after three weeks? I wouldn't have guessed it. Wynn had his way with the Bears' offensive line last Sunday and now has three sacks on the season. The only other Packers player with more than one sack is cornerback Jarrett Bush (1.5). Much as C.J. Wilson did last year, Wynn is taking advantage of Mike Neal's latest injury to establish a permanent role. I can't say I spent a lot of time studying Wynn during the preseason, but on Sunday, he appeared powerful and aggressive and fully capable of capitalizing on attention paid to linebacker Clay Matthews. (And before you ask, the answer is "no." I don't think anyone should have concerns about Matthews' total of one sack this season. I feel like he's still affecting games, especially in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers. And Sunday, all three of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage.)
3. Tight end play: We just saw a glimpse of the kind of tight end production the NFC North could have on a weekly basis. Our top four tight ends combined for five touchdowns in Week 3. The Packers' Jermichael Finley had three of them, while the Bears' Kellen Davis had a 32-yard score and the Vikings' Visanthe Shiancoe had an 8-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew recorded 11 receptions for 112 yards and is tied for third among all NFL tight ends this season with 16 catches.
Williams bruised his right shoulder last Thursday against the New Orleans Saints but "has a chance" to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, McCarthy said. But Neal, who originally sprained his left knee in practice Aug. 16, had surgery Tuesday and will miss "a significant number of weeks," according to McCarthy.
It's not certain that Williams will return this week, and Neal's injury at this point does not appear season-ending. But it seems reasonable to assume Williams' absence will be brief, if any. Neal's won't be.
The Packers had penciled Neal in as a starter and he was a big reason why they allowed veteran Cullen Jenkins to depart via free agency. But Neal has struggled with a number of injuries during his two-year career, and it's hard to know what level of contribution he'll make this season.
Williams, meanwhile, didn't practice Wednesday and might not participate Thursday. But McCarthy said he has "made a lot of progress" since walking gingerly off the field last Thursday and added: "Being on a 10-day work week from the Saints game to the Carolina game, I think he definitely has a chance. Tramon is a veteran player for us and he does a great job with preparation so we'll give him every chance to make the game."
If Williams can't play, Sam Shields likely will start in his place. The Packers announced Jarius Wynn as Neal's replacement against the Saints, but in reality they opened the game in a nickel package that featured only two defensive linemen: Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji.
Neal practiced on a limited basis this week but obviously didn't do enough to convince the Packers his sprained knee is ready to go in game action.
Jarius Wynn is the scheduled starter for the Packers if the open in their 3-4 base. The good news for the Packers is they will have an extended preparation time for Week 2 and could get Neal back by then.
Other inactives include cornerback Davon House, safety M.D. Jennings, linebacker Frank Zombo, offensive lineman Derek Sherrod, tight end Ryan Taylor and linebacker Vic So'oto.
With Sherrod inactive, the Packers' backup tackle for this game will be Marshall Newhouse. Their backup center/guard is Evan Dietrich-Smith.
As Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first detailed a few weeks ago, the Packers have adjusted their "eagle" defensive package to feature B.J. Raji in the most prominent playmaking position, the one previously held by now-departed Cullen Jenkins. In the formation, Raji lines up over the guard on the weak side, similar to the "three-technique" position he played at Boston College and the same held by NFC North playmakers Ndamukong Suh and Kevin Williams in their teams' 4-3 scheme.
Ryan Pickett serves as the nose tackle in the eagle formation, and the Packers' other defensive end -- Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson or perhaps Jarius Wynn -- line up over the strong-side tackle.
The Packers' idea is to give them a look that maximizes Raji's quickness and playmaking ability. But before you get too crazy excited about it, keep in mind that the Packers have most recently spent the majority of their time in the nickel scheme that includes only two defensive linemen. Last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had five defensive backs on the field nearly 75 percent of their plays.
Also, keep in mind that the Packers they are still running their 3-4 alignment out of the traditional "okie" alignment as well, with both ends over the tackle and Raji at nose tackle. So based on last year's numbers, at least, we're talking about a change that could impact up to 125 plays over 16 games, or eight per game.
It's worth noting, however, that the Packers spent significantly more time in the 3-4 during Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. In re-watching the first three series alone, I counted 14 instances. On eight of them, Pickett was lined up at nose tackle. Raji lined up there on the rest of those plays.
I'm all for doing whatever it takes to get Raji into the backfield as often as possible. If that means shading him over the guard rather than head-up on the center, that's fine with me.
The Cardinals' typically vanilla preseason game plan gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers plenty of opportunities to experiment with his base defense. For me, it will get really interesting if opposing offenses find ways to get the Packers out of the nickel scheme that Capers clearly favors for play-making purposes. If they can, the new eagle package will impact a lot more than eight plays per game.
A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC North team:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Green Bay Packers
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
i know everything in some way ultimately depends on the cba, but what are the chances of the packers resigning cullen jenkins? i felt he has been a huge part of their defense (when healthy) for years, and now that he is finally getting recognition instead of his over the hill brother, it seems he wont be returning. please tell me im wrong.... also what's the likely fate of the very very stupid johnny jolly (talkin jailtime, i know football is out of the question anytime in near future)?
Kevin Seifert (2:02 PM)
I didn't think there was much of a chance the Packers would re-sign Jenkins before this latest Johnny Jolly news, and I still don't. The Packers were looking at Jolly as a bonus if he did return. Their plan, and this fits along with what they've done at many other positions in recent years, appears to be to plug in some of the young players -- Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, maybe Jarius Wynn -- to Jenkins' position. Stranger things have happened, but I think they would have re-signed Jenkins before the lockout if they wanted him back.
Jolly has been in jail since Friday awaiting a Wednesday morning court hearing. He's expected to see significant jail time, and I'm guessing the Packers have trashed any plans they might have had for him in the short- or long-term future. *Update: Jolly was denied bond and will remain in jail until at least April 20, the date of his next hearing.
Again, I think the Packers would have re-signed Jenkins during their exclusive window in February if they wanted him back. I don't think Jolly's potential presence played into their decision not to. Instead, it was the presence of Neal, Wilson, Wynn and possibly more names to come from the 2011 draft.
Jenkins was highly productive last season and certainly has some good seasons remaining. But look at the Packers' defense right now. By my count, they've signed seven of their 11 starters to market-level, multi-year contracts in the past two years. You would figure that linebacker Clay Matthews is next, followed at some point by nose tackle B.J. Raji.
Not even the most aggressive NFL teams can have a proven and well-paid starter at every position. Given the landscape of the Packers' contract situation, and their relative depth at defensive end, you can see how Jenkins might be an (unfortunate) odd man out.
(A link to my view, for those who aren’t already jealous.)
We have some fun news already for Green Bay Packers fans, courtesy of ESPN’s Adam Schefter: Packers defensive end Jarius Wynn and his wife, Martavia, welcomed a baby boy Sunday morning in a Dallas-Fort Worth hospital. Wynn got a chance to visit mother and son, named Jarius Jessereel Wynn Jr.
Wynn has seen limited action in two playoff games but was inactive for the NFC Championship Game. It’s not yet clear whether he will be in uniform for Super Bowl XLV. Game-day roster decisions are due at 5 p.m. ET.
- The Packers have another injured starter to replace. This time, it's defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has a calf strain and could miss "a couple weeks," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. Jenkins has three sacks in the past three games and a career-high seven this year, even while playing with a fractured hand for the first half of the season. The Packers have a couple of options to replace him, including Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Howard Green. They could also spend more time in their nickel package, which often features only two down linemen. Jenkins has been a force since his hand healed and will be missed, but it's with some sarcasm that we note the Packers have grown quite accustomed to the "next-man-up" drill.
- It's time for our weekly list of statistical superlatives on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's now thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over the past five games. In fact, Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception in 177 consecutive attempts after throwing nine in his first 222 attempts this season. Sunday also marked the second time in the history of Lambeau Field that a quarterback has thrown two touchdowns longer than 50 yards at Lambeau Field in the month of December, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Finally, Rodgers surpassed San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and now has the highest career passer rating (98.0) in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts.
- We noted several times last week that deficiencies in the Packers' running game was most notable in short-yardage situations, where they didn't seem confident enough to run in a 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Sunday, however, they converted all seven of their opportunities from third-and-2 or shorter. Running back John Kuhn accounted for four of them. Rodgers threw touchdown passes to receiver Greg Jennings on two of them and a 7-yard completion to receiver James Jones on another. Also, tailback James Starks converted a second-and-1 with a three-yard run. It was important for the Packers to convert those plays, obviously. But it was no less critical that they put the conversions on tape for future opponents to see and realize they are willing to use the running game to convert short yardage.
Linebacker Clay Matthews has one sack over the past three games, and even that one was a non-contact credit when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre slid behind the line of scrimmage. He is no longer the NFL's sack leader, now ranking second by a half-sack behind Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. It's a fact that Matthews has been nursing a shin injury. Is that to blame for his dip in production? Have defenses caught up to him? Or is it the most likely scenario: That sacks come and go over the course of a 16-game season? I couldn't tell you, although I'm most inclined to believe the latter scenario.
Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin confirmed to reporters Monday that he is being treated for sleep apnea, a condition that might have triggered his increasing frequency of migraine episodes this summer. Harvin said the diagnosis came when he was hospitalized after an Aug. 19 collapse during a Vikings practice.
Harvin (via Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press): "They'd just barge in the room and be like, 'Harvin, you OK?' I'd say, 'I think so.' [They said] 'Well, your heart just wasn't beating.' I was like, 'What do you want me to do?'"
Indeed, doctors determined his heart was stopping and then re-starting during the night, a common symptom of sleep apnea. He now sleeps with an oxygen device and said he feels a "100 percent difference" when he wakes up in the morning.
Whether this cures his migraines, slows them down or merely helps him sleep better, Harvin appears to be in a better place than he was a month ago.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Vikings owner Zygi Wilf's enthusiasm hasn't dampened following a Week 1 loss at New Orleans. According to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, Wilf said: "We built a team that we expect to go all the way. We're not holding back right now. ... We pretty much feel that we're all in. We're going to try our best to fulfill our goal."
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com: "Sidney Rice expects to remain on crutches for a couple more weeks, and the Minnesota Vikings' top receiver said on Monday he hasn't set a target date for returning to practice following last month's hip surgery."
- Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lists these veteran agent running backs as available if the Green Bay Packers look for outside help to replace Ryan Grant (ankle): Willie Parker, Ahman Green, Justin Fargas and J.J. Arrington.
- Because the Packers spent the entire game at Philadelphia in the nickel, A.J. Hawk did not receive a single defensive snap, notes Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss: "If I was in that same situation, I would be upset if I didn't play and I was going into an opening game ... and I had a very good preseason. I would have wanted to play. I'm sure a highly competitive guy would have wanted to play. I would use it as -- if I have to do whatever it takes and do more to stay on the field as much as possible, I've got to do whatever it takes. That would be my attitude."
- The Packers plan to re-sign defensive lineman Jarius Wynn to replace the injured Justin Harrell (knee), confirms Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Detroit Lions agreed to terms with former Chicago Bears cornerback Nate Vasher, notes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Vasher could replace injured nickelback Aaron Berry.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz called backup quarterback Shaun Hill "one of our biggest offseason acquisitions," writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on his series of injuries in the NFL: "Pretty perfect hits. Guys dropped me on my shoulder pretty hard both times. I'd call them weird, freaky injuries more than anything." Michel Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press has more.
- Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is willing to gain yards on the ground, notes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com questions the Bears' decision to match Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in single coverage on the play that nearly beat them Sunday.
- Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz made a number of concessions Sunday for his still-developing offensive line, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Devin Aromashodu started the 2010 season the way he ended the 2009 season: as the Bears' hottest receiver."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A quick note before I head out to Green Bay's first minicamp practice.
Via Twitter, Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune reports the Vikings have agreed to terms with seventh-round draft pick Jamarca Sanford, a safety from Mississippi. Sanford is the Vikings' first draft choice to agree on a contract.
So for those of you keeping count, and I'm continually surprised by how many are, here are the updated signings for the NFC North 2009 draft class:
Chicago: All nine signed
Detroit: One of 10 signed (Quarterback Matthew Stafford)
Green Bay: Three of eight signed (Defensive end Jarius Wynn, cornerback Brandon Underwood, linebacker Brad Jones)
Minnesota: One of five signed (Sanford)