NFC North: Jason Hanson

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.

A new punter for the Lions, too

April, 27, 2013
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It appears that two NFC North teams will have highly-regarded rookie punters in 2013.

We noted earlier that the Minnesota Vikings drafted UCLA's Jeff Locke with the No. 155 overall pick Saturday afternoon, a move that will probably prompt the release of veteran Chris Kluwe.

Eleven spots later, the Detroit Lions drafted Appalachian State punter Sam Martin. The move provides what the Lions hope will be a long-term solution after their initial decision to part ways with Nick Harris after the 2010 season. The Lions ran through two other punters before bringing back Harris early last season, but Martin is a strong-legged youngster who might also handle kickoffs for the Lions.

His arrival will complete the Lions' offseason overhaul of specialists. Earlier this month, place-kicker Jason Hanson retired and was replaced by veteran David Akers.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We discussed the possibility of the Minnesota Vikings drafting Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as recently as last Friday, and over the weekend, Sports Illustrated's Peter King added a more grist to the mill. According to King, Te'o had dinner the night before the Notre Dame pro day last month with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.

The Vikings need a new middle linebacker, and at the very least we can say they have thoroughly investigated Te'o. In addition to the private dinner, they spoke to him at the NFL scouting combine and hosted him on a visit at their practice facility.

The Vikings have a deep history with Notre Dame players under Spielman, who has drafted four of them -- center John Sullivan, tight end Kyle Rudolph, safety Harrison Smith and safety Robert Blanton -- while also signing free-agent tight end John Carlson last year. Te'o is considered by many media analysts to be a late first-round pick, and the Vikings have picks at No. 23 and No. 25.

We must always be on the lookout for smokescreens this time of year, but it's hard to believe that even "Crazy Rick" Spielman would go to such lengths to feign interest in a player.

Continuing around the NFC North:
Over on our still-churning Facebook page, Justin offers evidence that some of you have a better mental catalogue of this blog's archives than me.

Hester
Hanson
Justin pointed out this 2011 post on Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, compared it to this week's discussion on Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson and wrote: "Kevin, you care to explain why you seem more open (though I will say, still cautious of the prospect) to the possibility of a returner getting HOF consideration than you do towards a kicker??"

It's a fair question, but to be clear, I don't think that the role of kick returner is more important than the kicker (or punter) himself. If anything, Hester would seem to have a better (if incremental) chance of enshrinement than Hanson.

Hall of Fame voters, of course, have been almost as stingy on pure kickers (one) as returners (none) in their history. My point on Hester, in 2011, was that he had obliterated the NFL record for touchdown returns by the time he was 29 years old, making him the best at that role in NFL history. We also expanded the discussion to highlight his obvious impact on the Bears' field position after all the big returns that didn't end in scores.

A similar evaluation would have to be performed on any place-kicker or punter under the kind of consideration we were giving Hester at the time. How much did a kicker or punter impact the offense and defense, on top of the points he scored on special teams? That double value seems an unfortunate but realistic perquisite for any specialist -- returner, place-kicker or punter -- to be enshrined.

To be fair, this isn't entirely an apples-to-apples conversation. You can make a really sound argument that Hester was and is the best returner in NFL history. Would anyone suggest that Hanson is the top place-kicker of all time? He is one of the best of his generation, which is usually good enough at other positions, but in the case of a rarely considered specialist, it probably falls short.

So in the end, there are some parallels to the two posts. Based on history, Hester and Hanson don't have much of a chance to make the Hall of Fame. The same goes for all returners and place-kickers. Legitimate consideration makes sense to me, however, if the specialist brings not only all-time performance statistics but also layered impact to other areas of the game that extends beyond those individual numbers.
When the Detroit Lions signed place-kicker David Akers last week, it was worth asking whether he would be given the 2013 job outright or if he was acquired to participate in a competition for Jason Hanson's old job.

Details of his one-year contract suggest Akers should be considered the favorite for the job. Importantly, though, the Lions' relatively moderate financial commitment shouldn't impact a decision to go in another direction if Akers can't rebound from a career-worst season.

The one-year deal is worth $1.005 million, including a veteran's-minimum base salary of $940,000 and a signing bonus of $65,000. The Lions also guaranteed $35,000 of the base salary, giving him a total of $100,000 in guarantees.

(The value of that signing bonus isn't random, by the way. It's the most a team can give out and still qualify for the minimum salary benefit credit that will hold his 2013 cap number at $620,000.)

So if Akers bombs in training camp, the Lions will be out $100,000 in cash if they decide to look elsewhere. The cap hit to release him would be minimal. The Lions wouldn't have guaranteed him even $100,000 if they planned an open competition, so it shouldn't be a large-enough total to impact their decision-making.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

No player has worn No. 50 for the Chicago Bears since Mike Singletary's last game 21 years ago, but it was not retired and apparently will not be anytime soon. The team issued it to new linebacker James Anderson, after a discussion between Singletary and chairman George McCaskey about the need to put it back in circulation.

McCaskey told Larry Mayer of the team's website: "I talked to Mike Singletary and told him that we hadn't assigned 50 to anybody since he retired and that we needed to put it back in circulation. He said he wasn't aware that it hadn't been assigned, that he's got no problem with it, and he's perfectly fine with it. In fact, he would prefer that it be assigned to somebody. He said, 'I'd rather somebody wear it than see it hanging it up in a window somewhere."

The NFL requires linebackers to wear numbers in either the 50s or the 90s. Two 50s have already been retired, No. 51 for Dick Butkus and No. 56 for Bill Hewitt. Singletary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Bears are hosting California center/guard Brian Schwenke on a visit Wednesday, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Bears also signed a center, free agent Taylor Boggs, and two defensive linemen -- Andre Fluellen and Kyle Moore -- on Tuesday, notes ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Bears are "embracing change," said receiver Brandon Marshall via Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com on the career of retired Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson: "There was nothing common about Hanson's 21-year career."
  • Lions general manager Martin Mayhew on new place-kicker David Akers, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Another solid veteran, a guy with a lot of experience and playoff experience. He's been kicking outdoors his whole career. We think he'll get a boost from kicking inside, so I think he'll be a good player for us."
  • Retired Lions left tackle Jeff Backus, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "I was extremely fortunate to play the number of years that I did. You start taking into account your age, the way your body feels -- it was an easy decision for me. I have three little kids. I want to run around the yard and play with them, have fun with them, coach them up and move on to that phase of my life. I've been extremely fortunate to play in Detroit for 12 years, to play for one team. The Ford Family has been great to me. The fans have been loyal. At the end of the day, it was just time for me to call it a career."
  • Tim Twentyman of the Lions' website spoke with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who visited the team's facility Tuesday.
  • Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay Packers starter Aaron Rodgers.
  • Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Loyce Means would love to become the next Tramon Williams."
  • The Minnesota Vikings remain in contact with cornerback Antoine Winfield, but it's unclear if he wants to return, according to Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings officials spent some time at Nike headquarters in Oregon viewing their new uniforms, which will be revealed April 25, according to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
In the days since place-kicker Jason Hanson announced his retirement from the Detroit Lions, I've received a steady stream of the same question: Will he be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Hanson, after all, finished his 21-year career with the third-most points (2,150) in NFL history. But I've largely brushed aside this issue by noting the obvious fact: Hall of Fame voters have almost entirely ignored specialists in their annual elections. Only one place-kicker (Jan Stenerud) has been enshrined, and punters have been shut out.

[+] EnlargeJason Hanson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsRetired Lions kicker Jason Hanson says experts and outsiders "still don't quite know how to evaluate what makes one kicker better than another."
The topic arose during Hanson's retirement news conference Tuesday, one in which the Lions announced they would place him in their Ring of Honor. Hanson said he wasn't prepared to discuss his own candidacy, but spoke eloquently about the unique value of kicking in the game.

"I still believe to this day," Hanson said, "that media, a little bit, and fans and those who know the game still don't know quite what to do with kicking, and still don't quite know how to evaluate what makes one kicker better than another. I think it's a difficult thing. I understand that a little bit, but I think that the NFL -- let's just say as a blanket statement -- needs to come to grips with [it].

"I didn't invent the game, [but] we're part of it, and it's a big deal, what guys have done. Give them a separate wing in the Hall of Fame. But I don't know how you can ignore it. I was in it. I felt the pressure. I felt the intensity and the consequences of making and missing. It's something special. It's something unique to all of sports, and I think the guys who have done it well should be recognized. Where I fit in that equation, I don't know, and I'm not going to worry about, because it's not mine to worry about. But I definitely think the NFL has got to come to grips with kicking."

I'm not a member of the selection committee, but I would presume the primary argument regarding specialists is that they aren't full-time players in terms of snaps. On a good day, Hanson might have been on the field for perhaps 10-15 special teams plays.

Of course, a place-kicker can directly and disproportionately impact the outcome of a game in those 10-15 plays. Then there is the under-discussed value of field position for those who are also good at kickoffs, a skill Hanson said he hoped to be remembered for. Perhaps the encroachment of advanced statistics will provide new and easily digestible ways to evaluate kickers, one that will eventually elevate and honor some of the highest achievers in the role.

Should Hanson be in that group? That would be another discussion entirely, one that must include his annual advantage of kicking indoors at home. But first things first. An analysis of Hanson's candidacy is moot until the historic perception of his position changes.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Last month, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was asked if veteran punter Chris Kluwe would be with the team in 2013. Spielman wouldn't answer. Kluwe has the highest gross average (44.4 yards) in team history, but he was inconsistent last season and is entering the final year of his contract.

Late last week, there were indications that the Vikings have worked out one of the highest-rated punters available in the draft. On his verified Twitter account, LSU punter Brad Wing re-tweeted a follower's wish of good luck Thursday in a workout with the Vikings. Later Thursday, Wing tweeted: "Had a good workout today! #blessed."

Private workouts with punters aren't common, but there are several reasons why a team might want to follow up with Wing. He didn't punt at LSU's pro day last month because of a strained hamstring. Also, there is a character question to at least investigate after he was suspended from the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl for violating team rules.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper lists Wing as the draft's second-best punter . A native of Australia, Wing averaged nearly 45 yards per punt over two seasons at LSU. It's important to remember that workouts don't indicate a team's plan to draft a particular player. Sometimes they prompt a team to look elsewhere.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, whom the team would like to re-sign, has plans to visit the Seattle Seahawks this week, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings assistant coach Mike Singletary on the team's situation at middle linebacker, via Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "We know we have to get one. That's no secret. When we do, we just have to teach him as much as we can, as fast as we can. It's going to be a lot of work."
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune illustrates how the Chicago Bears are one of the teams that is loading up at a discount in a flooded free-agent market.
  • The Bears will host Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown on a visit starting Monday, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Devin Hester on reducing his role to primarily special teams, in a radio interview via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "I'm fine with it. It was kind of my idea to let me more focus on my kickoff and punt return thing."
  • The agent for veteran tight end Matthew Mulligan confirmed the Green Bay Packers have agreed to terms with tight end Matthew Mulligan, according to Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "It remains to be seen if tight end Matthew Mulligan can crack the Green Bay Packers' final roster in 2013. If Mulligan does, the Packers will have a rugged tight end known more for his blocking than receiving for the first time since Bubba Franks' eight-year career concluded six years ago."
  • The Detroit Lions need defensive end Willie Young to step up this season, writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press: "New Lions kicker David Akers has an impressive résumé. He has been very accurate historically, he tied an NFL record last season with his 63-yard field goal, and he's a six-time Pro Bowler. But it's very likely Akers is not as good a field goal kicker than Jason Hanson."
The Detroit Lions signed veteran place-kicker David Akers on Friday night, and to me it's fair to ask if the Lions will hand him the 2013 job outright or pit him in a competition before deciding who will replace the retired Jason Hanson.

Akers
Akers is a six-time All-Pro and one of the best kickers of this generation, but 2012 was by far the worst year of his career. He made only nine of 19 attempts longer than 39 yards for the San Francisco 49ers, and overall he finished with a career-low 69.0 conversion percentage. The 49ers nearly replaced Akers at the start of the playoffs, and last month they released him and signed veteran Phil Dawson to do the place-kicking duties.

The question is whether Akers, 38, began a steep decline last season or if temporary circumstances caused his struggles. He admitted in January to having ongoing complications from 2012 surgery to repair two sports hernias. And as we noted earlier this offseason, judging place-kickers accurately requires some environmental context. Akers kicked half of his games outdoors on the grass of Candlestick Park, whereas the Lions offer eight games of perfect conditions inside Ford Field.

The 49ers certainly weren't interested in finding out whether Akers can rebound. As Hanson proved, 38 isn't too old for an NFL place-kicker. Are the Lions prepared to make that bet? Or is this part of a multi-pronged effort to find their next place-kicker? Let's keep our eyes on the draft.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

A Minnesota state senator plans to introduce a bill next week to delay construction of the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium until revenue streams for paying the public's annual share are secured. Many of you panicked when I tossed that news out on Twitter late Thursday, but if you breeze through the Twitter timeline of the state senator (Sean Nienow), you see that even he agrees that the stadium is a "done deal" and won't be permanently derailed as a result of the bill or financing problems.

The intention, according to Nienow, is to force legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to address the shortfall of and problems with the designated revenue streams in the bill. Projections initially called for $35 million in annual revenue from electronic pull-tab machines, but issues with distribution and use has dropped that projection to $1.7 million for 2013. Without another solution, the state might have to dip into its general fund to uphold its share of the financial obligations.

So it's not time to rekindle concerns about the franchise moving to Los Angeles. But it is time for the appropriate officials to figure out where the money is going to come from, and it's not outrageous to straighten out any mistakes before large chunks of money start getting spent on construction.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Vikings had two of the top inside linebackers in this draft at their "Top 30" event earlier this week, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Alec Ogletree were both in attendance.
  • The Detroit News compiled a list of the career highlights of Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson, who announced his retirement Thursday.
  • From the Detroit Free Press: The five players who have attempted an extra point over the last 30 years for the Lions.
  • Here are five of Hanson's most remarkable performances from Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • The Lions have scheduled a visit with fast-rising pass-rusher Dion Jordan of Oregon, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
  • The Green Bay Packers' preseason schedule includes a rematch against the Seattle Seahawks, whose "Fail Mary" play last season secured a victory over the Packers on "Monday Night Football." Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
  • The Packers probably want to play all four preseason games on the same day of the week, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Packers have appeared on national preseason television at least once in 20 of the past 21 seasons, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Chicago Bears guaranteed about a third of free agent guard Matt Slauson's $815,000 contract for 2013, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com: "There might be motivation for the Bears to take the preseason a bit more seriously after the coaching staff underwent almost an entire makeover in the offseason. The offense, led by head coach Marc Trestman, is brand new. The defense, led by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, is expected to retain some of the basic principles of the old scheme, but will no doubt feature its share of new wrinkles."
How best to put into perspective the duration of Jason Hanson's career with the Detroit Lions? Here is one attempt: When his tenure began in 1992, about two-thirds of the players on the Lions' roster weren't yet in the first grade.

Hanson spent 21 seasons with the Lions, more than six times the length of the average NFL career, before announcing his retirement Thursday. No player in NFL history has played more games -- 327 -- with a single team. He kicked the league's third-most field goals (495), scored the third-most points (2,150) and holds the record for the most 50-yard field goals (52).

[+] EnlargeJason Hanson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsLongtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson holds the NFL record for the most 50-yard field goals (52).
Hanson's career was notable not just for its duration and efficiency, but also for its perseverance through a playoff drought that spanned 11 seasons (2000 until 2011). In total, only six of his 21 seasons included a trip to the playoffs, and Hanson was often one of the few bright spots for a then-desultory franchise.

Even so, the timing of his retirement comes as a surprise after he expressed interest this offseason in returning for the 2013 season. Although his kickoffs might have shortened a bit, he converted 32 of 36 field goal attempts last season, and over the past three years, he converted 10 of 14 attempts from at least 50 yards.

But he entered free agency last month after his contract expired, and his agent expressed public disappointment in the Lions' contract offer. This week, veteran David Akers made a visit to the team's practice facility.

Did Hanson retire rather than play for the veteran's minimum after his long service to the franchise? He told Mike O'Hara of the Lions' website that a previously unrevealed heel injury spurred his decision.

"I would have worked out a contract with the Detroit Lions," Hanson told O'Hara. "There was talk, and at the start, with their initial offer, it gave me some time to evaluate: 'OK, am I going to do this?' Ultimately, no. It would not have been an issue. There are no hard feelings. It never got to a point where there was serious back and forth with numbers. It didn't matter."

If you accept that the NFL is a business above all else, you understand that most decisions are driven by money. In this case, however, we'll take Hanson at his word. Let's not confuse this instance with the divorce between the Chicago Bears and linebacker Brian Urlacher, who turned down a low offer from the team. A 42-year-old place-kicker knows he probably won't be paid a premium salary to remain in the league in today's tight salary-cap environment.

So the Lions will move on and should attract interest from veteran free agents who would love the chance to kick at least nine games indoors this season (eight at Ford Field and one at the Metrodome.) Or the Lions could look to the draft; if you're interested, here are the top five college place-kickers available, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Insider:
Hanson will hold a news conference next week at the Lions' Allen Park practice facility. It opened in 2002 -- 10 years after Hanson joined the team. He played almost as many games at the Silverdome, shuttered for a decade, as he did at Ford Field. Even in the unique realm of place-kickers, Hanson was an all-timer. We won't soon see another one like him.
I usually try to post a "Quick Hit" item to catch up after missing some blog time, but the Chicago Bears' activity over the past week merits its own post. That item will publish shortly. For now, let's catch up on the other 75 percent of the division.

Item: The Green Bay Packers are making progress on a contract extension for quarterback Aaron Rodgers that will make him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Comment: A deal has been inevitable for years. It will set a record in the short-term and be eclipsed at some point afterwards. So there will be two points of significance for us. One is obvious: The deal will extend contract peace with the most important player on the Packers' roster. The other has yet to be evaluated: How a contract that presumably averages more than $20 million per season will impact the Packers' future salary-cap space.

Item: After much public debate, the Packers did not touch the contract of tight end Jermichael Finley. He received a $3 million roster bonus, will remain with the team in 2013 and be eligible for free agency after the season.
Comment: It seemed clear for some time that coach Mike McCarthy was encouraged by Finley's performance late last season and wanted him back. The departure of receiver Greg Jennings gave the Packers the financial flexibility to make it happen. At the moment, Finley has the second-highest 2013 compensation on the Packers' roster ($8.25 million). It will be up to him to earn it or almost certainly move on after the season.

Item: The Packers ensured offseason competition for place-kicker Mason Crosby for the first time in five years.
Comment: The choice, former Cal place-kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, isn't exactly a shoo-in to win the job. Last month, we discussed some context to explain the Packers' affinity for Crosby. He'll be the heavy favorite to win the job again unless the Packers were to sign a veteran with experience. But after his inconsistent 2012 season, it's only fair to bring in some level of competition.

Item: Packers linebacker Brad Jones got the kind of contract that makes you wonder what the team has planned for him.
Comment: The deal included a $3 million signing bonus, a $1 million base salary and a roster bonus of $18,750 for every game he is active. So if Jones is active for 16 games this season, he'll earn $4.3 million in 2013. That's not special-teams money, the role you would assume for Jones if A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, Nick Perry and D.J. Smith are all healthy.

Item: The Detroit Lions scheduled a visit for place-kicker David Akers because they are stymied in negotiations with incumbent Jason Hanson.
Comment: This isn't an unusual tactic to spur negotiations, and it's worth noting that Akers kicked himself out of a job last season with the San Francisco 49ers. Hanson is still an excellent field goal kicker. On the other hand, cap-strapped NFL teams don't want to extend themselves on specialists.

Item: The Lions hosted free-agent receiver Darius Heyward-Bey on a visit.
Comment: It's pretty clear the Lions are looking for more depth at receiver after hosting Heyward-Bey and a number of the top receivers in the draft as well. The release of Titus Young and Ryan Broyles' ongoing knee recovery makes for an obvious need.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings confirmed a topic we've discussed several times this offseason: They will be playing in new uniforms in 2013.
Comment: The uniforms will be revealed April 25 at the team's draft party. If the Vikings follow form with the mild updates to their logo in February, the uniform changes won't be significant.

Item: The father of Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace told the Miami Herald that the Vikings offered more money during Wallace's brief sojourn into the market.
Comment: Wallace seemed destined from the start to head to the warmer climate of Miami. The Vikings ended up with Jennings at $3 million less per season than Wallace signed for.

Item: The primary public funding mechanism for the Vikings' new stadium has fallen far below estimates.
Comment: Gov. Mark Dayton must figure out how to overcome a shortfall of more than $30 million. Electronic gambling revenues projections. created to fund the stadium, were dropped from $34 million to $1.7 million last week. As we discussed last month, there are two "blink-on" backup plans in place, a Vikings-themed lottery and a 10 percent tax on luxury suites, but projections could still fall short.

NFC North links: Hanson wants to return

March, 29, 2013
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Chicago Bears
Running back Armando Allen signed his exclusive-rights tender, keeping the two-year veteran from becoming a free agent.

GM Phil Emery needs to set aside the "best player available" approach in the first round of next month's draft and strengthen the Bears' offensive line, argues Dan McNeil of the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's Brad Biggs has the contract details for recent free-agent signees James Anderson, Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Scott.

Detroit Lions
Kicker Jason Hanson wants to return to the Lions for a 22nd NFL season, the Free Press reports, though the team has given him a "minimum-salary offer" and plans to host free agent David Akers next week.

NC State cornerback David Amerson and Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher visited the team facility as the Lions continued to mull what they might do with the No. 5 overall pick.

Green Bay Packers
Expect big new deals for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to get done in the not-too-distant future, Tom Silverstein writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, now that the Packers have taken care of other business.

Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at Purdue's Kawann Short, a defensive lineman the team could consider with its first-round pick.

Coach Mike McCarthy has set his offseason schedule, and Packers will hold their mandatory, full-squad minicamp in the midst of their organized team activities for the first time, writes ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde.

Minnesota Vikings
The team's official web site takes a look at whether the Vikings might look at Brian Urlacher or Manti Te'o for the middle-linebacker spot.

The Vikings' stadium deal was "fool's gold" and legislators should scrap it and start over, argues The Pioneer Press' Ruben Rosario. "This already was corporate welfare at its worst. Then news broke this month that confirms that Minneapolis and state taxpayers will be getting hosed for more than the $498 million in public contributions to the estimated $975 million stadium project," Rosario writes.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

PHOENIX -- And just like that, we've hit the final day of the NFL owners meeting. It'll be a busy one for us in the NFC North, beginning with an early-morning breakfast (at least in the Mountain Time Zone) that includes all four of our coaches and continuing with votes on several important rule-change proposals.

The coaches' breakfast should conclude at about 11:15 a.m. ET and I'll start blogging as quickly as I can after that. My initial plan is to prioritize Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz after spending a fair amount of time blogging earlier this week on the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. We'll see how it works out.

For now, our morning tour:
The pace is starting to accelerate as free agency draws closer, so let's touch on a few developments before heading off into our SportsNation chat.

The Minnesota Vikings re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson to a one-year contract, giving him a second chance after a disappointing season in 2011, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. He caught 26 passes for a 10.3-yard average and no touchdowns in 12 games, all while battling a murky back injury of uncertain severity.

With that said, the Vikings have no choice but to be in receiver collection mode after trading Percy Harvin on Monday. By default, Simpson is the most established receiver on the Vikings' roster. I expect the team to continue in this mode throughout the offseason as it attempts to assemble a functional and reasonably deep group on the fly.

According to multiple reports, beginning I believe with Mike Garafolo of USA Today, Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson decided this week to return for another season. There have been no contract negotiations of yet, but the guess is the Lions want Hanson back as well.

The Green Bay Packers issued a second-round tender to cornerback Sam Shields and a low tender to center Evan Dietrich-Smith, as we noted earlier. But they won't make offers to three other restricted free agents: tight end Tom Crabtree and linebackers Robert Francois and Frank Zombo, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It's possible all three players could re-sign for deals less than the lowest tender value, which is $1.323 million, but for now they'll be able to test the market.

Finally, for now, I would suggest that perhaps the biggest slam dunk of free agency is the widespread notion that the Lions are the top candidate to sign running back Reggie Bush. There is every possibility that a team could jump out after the deadline and trump the Lions, but as of the moment I feel relatively confident that a deal will be worked out.

Before you ask, I'm not certain how the Lions will account for Bush from a salary-cap perspective. But the widespread speculation about the obvious connection between the sides is legitimate.

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