NFC North: Jeff Garcia
Good morning from back at NFC North blog headquarters, where I arrived safely Wednesday night after two days at Green Bay Packers minicamp.
I'm planning to empty my notebook of a round of tidbits picked up over the two practices and access periods, saving a few topics for analysis later this summer. And I'm sorry to report that we in fact will not have a SportsNation chat today as originally indicated.
I wasn't available at the time they wanted me and they didn't have a slot for the time I needed to chat. Sometimes, everyone needs to go back to their corner to regroup. We'll do just that.
For now, our morning tour around the division:
- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman is bringing in a number of quarterbacks from his coaching past, including Rich Gannon and CFL star Anthony Calvillo, as resources for his current group. Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune explains.
- Former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia discussed his work with JaMarcus Russell on ESPN 1000. Russell is scheduled for a tryout this week with the Bears.
- There is every reason to believe that the production of Bears receiver Brandon Marshall will continue under Trestman, writes Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that rookie tight end Michael Williams could eventually move to tackle.
- Lions defensive end Willie Young is ready for his shot, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
- Fans are applauding the abstinence message of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, according to Gillian Van Stratt of Mlive.com.
- Among the nuggets in Tyler Dunne's story on Packers running backs in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Running back Eddie Lacy weighed in at minicamp at 238 pounds.
- The focus of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley seems sharper this spring, writes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Check out Jason Wilde's blog on ESPNMilwaukee.com for an extended defense of cornerback Tramon Williams from Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.
- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Jacob Lacey will miss the rest of the offseason program after undergoing thumb surgery, notes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
- Joe Webb got some work as a punt returner during Wednesday's organized team activity, notes Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen isn't upset with the Vikings, who appear set to let him play out the final year of his contract. Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
Regardless, I wanted to bring your attention to Tom Rinaldi's well-done piece on Russell's comeback attempt. You'll see he is working with former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia and can judge for yourself the sincerity of his interest in playing football again.
When he finally reappeared after 25 minutes, Childress ended up devoting as much time to questions on free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia as he did to Brett Favre. With the regular season less than a month away, this is where the Vikings are: Facing daily questions about which veteran quarterback -- if any -- will arrive to take over in time for the Sept. 9 season opener at New Orleans.
"How old is George Blanda?" Childress quipped in a light moment of an otherwise terse back-and-forth on the future of his quarterback position. Asked two questions about Favre, Childress repeated the same answer: "No recent contact." And asked about a report that quoted Garcia's father saying the Vikings had expressed interest in his son, Childress said: "No. No. I mean, anyone can say anything now and get it in front of people. My answer is no. No interest."
Whether he likes it or not, Favre's status will continue to hover over this team until it is resolved one way or the other. Players clearly have been instructed not to talk about it; defensive end Jared Allen, who told ESPN last week that Favre needed to report by the third preseason game, became the latest to pass on those questions. But from what I understand, the Vikings are working feverishly behind the scenes to persuade Favre to return no later than next week.
At some point, we'll get into whether it's healthy for a team essentially to be begging a quarterback to stave off retirement. We'll save that for another day. FavreWatch might go on for a while.
Note: Receiver Percy Harvin practiced Monday for the first time in 15 days, but did not speak with reporters. Childress said he had a long talk Sunday with Harvin and said: "I think he's in a decent place right now." Harvin was joined on the field by tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who had missed a week of practice because of a shoulder strain.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Among the themes of Favre-Packers I has been the apparent lack of communication between Green Bay’s former and current quarterbacks since their transition last summer. During a conference call with Wisconsin reporters, Brett Favre was asked why he never reached out to Aaron Rodgers to relieve any tension stemming from Favre’s drama-filled departure from Green Bay.
|AP Photo/Mike Roemer|
|Brett Favre's "unretirements" have probably helped Packers fans get more strongly behind Aaron Rodgers.|
Favre paused for several seconds and finally said: “For what?”
He continued: “I mean, I think Aaron not only has done well. I think he will have a great career. I said that from day one. I mean, the guy’s talented. That’s why they drafted him. But no one’s called me. I talk to Donald [Driver] every once in a while, and Al [Harris] and some of the older guys. But I don’t know what to tell you.”
Rodgers, typically relaxed and easy-going with reporters, got terse this week when asked about the apparent radio silence.
“I think that is between Brett and I,” Rodgers said. “And it doesn’t really have any relevance to the game.”
If I’m Rodgers, I wouldn’t be upset. In fact, I would be doing everything I could to separate myself from the long shadow of a future Hall of Famer. Historically speaking, that hasn’t been an easy task.
Take a look at the chart below. It chronicles the transitions following the nine Hall of Fame quarterbacks who retired after 1980. I’m making the assumption Favre eventually will join them in the Hall of Fame. (He would have to retire first, of course. But please, no retirement jokes today. This is serious business.)
Half of the replacements on this list didn’t make it past their first year. Judging the rest is subjective, but you could argue that only two of these transitions were a success. Both occurred in San Francisco, where Steve Young replaced Joe Montana in 1993 and Jeff Garcia replaced Young in 1999.
Taking over for a Hall of Fame quarterback is difficult both psychologically and from a scheme perspective. There are the obvious pressures of living up to your predecessor’s performance levels and his popularity with fans. And often, the new quarterback has to fit into a scheme designed for someone else.
By extending his tenure into a second season, Rodgers has already paced himself beyond the midpoint of this field. After some initial difficulty, I think he’s won over most Packers fans. Smartly, he’s kept his mouth shut while Favre tarnished his own legacy.
And when he jogs onto the Metrodome field Monday night, Rodgers will have his chance to outshine the legend. That would be a far greater accomplishment than maintaining any friendship.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Your communication flew in from all angles this week -- be it from our fast-moving Facebook page, our ever-growing Twitter feed or just the old-fashioned mailbag. I’ll do my best to answer a representative sample of questions every weekend during the season, beginning … right now.
On with it:
Shawn of Sylvania, Ohio writes: For a perspective on your post about the effectiveness of NFL blackouts: After experiencing multiple blackouts of the Lions last year and expecting more this year. I saved up near the end of summer and got season tickets. While I don't think the blackout rule is going sell out stadiums, if it sells a couple hundred more seats to any given game, then it’s hard to argue with the league for sticking by their policies. They are a business trying to make money in hard times just as anyone else.
Kevin Seifert: On the other hand, Shawn, how many fans might the NFL/Lions lose if the games are consistently unavailable on television? That would affect television ratings, assuming the games eventually were put on air. It would take time for blackouts to have that kind of permanent impact, but it’s definitely a question to consider. Is the revenue uptick of a sellout worth the potential for a smaller – or, at least, less engaged -- fan base?
In either event, your question prompted me to seek out the 2009 Team Marketing Report, which is an excellent resource for most questions about NFL ticket prices. Team Marketing Report takes average ticket prices, along with other gameday fees, to come up with a Fan Cost Index for a day at the stadium. The FCI includes the price of four average tickets, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two caps. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but the numbers in this economy are astounding.
First, here are the average ticket prices in the NFC North;
- Chicago Bears: $88.33 (NFL Rank: 4)
- Minnesota Vikings: $73.23 (NFL Rank: 13)
- Detroit Lions: $65.72 (NFL Rank: 20)
- Green Bay Packers: $63.39 (NFL Rank: 24)
Now, here is the Fan Cost Index at each team’s home stadium:
- Chicago Bears: $501.33 (NFL rank: 3)
- Minnesota Vikings: $386.92 (NFL rank: 16)
- Detroit Lions: $380.88 (NFL rank: 20)
- Green Bay Packers: $376.95 (NFL rank: 22)
Based on this report, it’s not hard for me to understand why the Lions, and to a lesser extent the Vikings, are having trouble selling tickets. (As for the Bears, all I can say is good for them.) For many people, it’s not even a choice between paying $300 for four tickets or sitting at home to watch the game on television. Even those who consider it a priority might not be able to swing it.
Mike of Louisville writes: How come I can't comment on your Vikings vs. Packers WR article?
Kevin Seifert: Plenty of people were able to, Mike, but don’t feel singled out. A number of people have encountered difficulty while trying to post comments. I’ve inquired with the ESPN tech wizards and they are looking into the issue. Please bear with us in the time being. One working theory is that some older versions of internet browsers can’t link up to the server. (Or something close to that.) So if it’s really important to you, consider upgrading to a newer version of your browser.
Keith of Greensboro writes: What will the Bears do at backup running back? Now that Kevin Jones is out of the picture, are they going to use Adrian Peterson, go get a free agent to fill that void and/or will they give Matt Forte more touches as a result?
Kevin Seifert: Keith, that’s a good topic that we didn’t get a chance to delve into enough during the week. One of the Bears’ offseason goals was to lighten the load a bit on Forte, who accounted for a higher percentage of his team's total offensive yards (34.99) last season than any other player in football.
Jones was supposed to be Forte’s primary complement, but his injury has left the Bears -- for now -- with Peterson and Garrett Wolfe for depth. It wasn’t surprising that the Bears didn’t immediately jump out and sign a veteran free agent such as Dominic Rhodes; doing so would have forced them to guarantee his contract for the entire season. If they sign Rhodes or another player as early as Monday, they can pay him on a per-game basis according to NFL rules.
And based on this interview with general manager Jerry Angelo, it sounds like the Bears are hoping that Wolfe can fill the role they envisioned for Jones.
Angelo: “…I see more of an expanded role for Garrett, at least for the time being. He got a lot of work during our OTAs, in training camp and the preseason games as well, so I foresee that. Then we’ll go from there and see how our backs slot themselves.”
So consider Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field to be a one-game tryout for Wolfe as a No. 2 back. I’ve always thought he would be ideal as a third-down back, but Forte’s receiving prowess pretty much negates the need for that. So if Wolfe is finally going to become a consistent contributor to the Bears’ offense, it’s going to have to be as a traditional runner.
Jamie of Manistique, Mich., writes: How about Jeff Garcia to the Packers? Does this make sense to anyone but me?
Kevin Seifert: Well, er, uh, I mean … yes, I can see where you’re coming from. The Packers are entering what could be a special year with a young backup in Matt Flynn. No. 3 quarterback Brian Brohm is on the practice squad. So let’s just say there is a significant dropoff from starter Aaron Rodgers. Garcia is well-versed in the West Coast offense and would probably pick up the Packers offense quickly.
And while he might not have accepted a backup role behind JaMarcus Russell in Oakland, I imagine Garcia would agree to No. 2 status in Green Bay. With all that said, however, the Packers have never expressed public concern about their quarterback depth. And despite plenty of rumors and much speculation, they’ve never actively pursued a veteran backup to my knowledge.
It’s always possible that could change next week, when they wouldn’t be forced to guarantee the contract of a vested veteran like Garcia. He would be a better insurance policy than Flynn, but at this point any acquisition would be a surprise.
Jason of Bloomington. Minn., wants to know why the Vikings cut receiver Bobby Wade and signed free agent Greg Lewis: It can’t be money, and it can’t be injury (unless there is a season ending injury that has not been reported), and it can’t be numbers. So there has to be a back story to this. You should dig some on this and let the fans know what is going on.
Kevin Seifert: We might never get the full explanation. And let’s face it: Wade was the Vikings’ No. 4 receiver. You can’t get too worked up about his departure. But I understand your point. The timing, especially, didn’t make much sense.
What I believe happened is that Wade was very much on the fringe of the roster in the first place. He was a slot receiver on a team with two younger slot receivers in Percy Harvin and Darius Reynaud. Recognizing that dynamic, Wade accepted a 50 percent pay cut last week.
But somewhat unexpectedly, a player that coach Brad Childress knows and likes became available this week. Lewis is a bit more suited to playing on the outside, and thus on paper provides a bit more flexibility and balance to the Vikings’ depth.
It’s not often that a team cuts a veteran who has already agreed to a pay cut and made the final 53-man roster. But it doesn’t appear that Wade had much leeway left with Childress, who I understand was livid this summer when Wade told reporters that he believed Tarvaris Jackson would win the team’s quarterback competition.
It was a harsh move, but it’s clear that Childress didn’t have enough affection for Wade to reconsider.
I guess I should be careful what I wish -- or ask -- for. You deposited almost 200 questions in the mailbag following Thursday's request for new material. So we'll continue last week's format of posting Part I on Saturday. That would leave Part II for Sunday. I'll get to as many as I can. Now, on with it.
Jeff of Rochester, Minn., writes: Kevin, really enjoy the blog. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable football fan in general and Packers fan in particular and I am really struggling to buy into Ted Thompson's plan here. My question to you is, as the Packers stand now, and even if they have a super draft, have they done enough to improve enough to compete for a Super Bowl given the improvements other teams have made? After all, isn't the super bowl the goal?
Kevin Seifert: Thanks Jeff. I hate to say this, but a lot of your answer is in Dom Capers' hands. He's in charge of the most significant change the Packers made -- moving to a 3-4 defense -- in the wake of last season's problems. Capers is going to have to navigate a bit of a minefield. For the most part, he has to design his scheme around a group of 4-3 players. The draft could help, but how much immediate assistance can you expect from any rookie class? (Last year, for example, the Packers got almost none.) If Capers can improve the defense under those circumstances, the Packers have a chance to win the division. The Super Bowl? I don't think they're there yet.
Steve of Riverside writes: Why doesn't Minnesota open up with a 3-way battle between Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels, and John David Booty? Does Booty really need another year to "learn" the system? Look how well Cassel did in NE, and he wasn't even a starter. Booty proved he could play at SC so why not give him a chance? Is Childress that attached to TJack that he won't let Booty even sniff the field?
Kevin Seifert: I get a lot of questions about J.D. Booty, and I'll keep answering the same way: Nothing that I saw of Booty last summer suggested he would be ready to compete for a job in 2009. Remember, Cassel sat on the bench for three seasons before he got into the lineup last year.
Patrick of Rochester writes: Are the Lions waiting until after the draft to add another veteran QB? Considering the fact that they already have a veteran QB in Daunte Culpepper, would adding J.P. Losman, Kyle Boller or another young "veteran" be the best way to go?
Kevin Seifert: I think it's very possible that's why they're waiting. If they draft a quarterback in the first round, it's likely he would serve as the No. 2 behind Culpepper entering training camp. But if they don't have a young stud at quarterback this year, the Lions probably are going to want more depth. I'm sure they don't see Drew Henson as a viable backup and it seems like they're on the fence -- at best -- about Drew Stanton.
Mark from Rochester writes: Hey Kevin, what's your take on Michael Vick wearing purple and gold. Think about having Vick, A.P., and Chester Taylor in the Vikings backfield. They could have 3000+ rushing yards per year. I wouldn't mind having him in Minnesota.
Kevin Seifert: I don't think there is any chance of Vick signing with the Vikings as long as the Wilfs are their primary owners. And that's pretty much what Rick Spielman said when he was asked about it a few weeks ago.
Bobby of Chicago writes: If the Bears take Darrius Heywood-Bey with their first pick as predicted, what will they do to address their O-line and secondary? They can't fill every hole through the draft.
Kevin Seifert: This is supposed to be a deep draft for tackles, and they should be able to find value in the second or even third round. Unless Michael Oher slips, there might not be a tackle available at No. 18 overall that's worthy of being selected at that spot. As for the secondary, well, as you said, you can't address every need. I think that's why the Bears really had their eggs in the John St. Clair basket.
AJ of Marathon, New York, writes: Hey Kevin love the blog. What is the possibility of Chester Taylor being moved draft day or before the draft? Maybe a possibility of moving up by using him as trade bait?
Kevin Seifert: That's another question I get a lot, especially now that Taylor is entering the final year of his contract. Unless the Vikings get a running back early in the draft, I just don't see it happening. Even with Adrian Peterson on the roster, it's really become mandatory in the NFL to have two starting-caliber running backs. It's one of the best parts of the Vikings' roster and not a strength they're likely to dilute.
Baltimore writes: If the Vikings considered an aging Brett Favre why wouldn't they consider Jeff Garcia who knows the West Coast offense and is starter quality available for backup price. He has produced well his last three years working in a system that is run first and has a strong defense. He is a perfect fit and nobody is talking about it anywhere! To me it's a no-brainer.
Kevin Seifert: I, too, wonder if Garcia wouldn't be a decent short-term fix for the Vikings. But they weren't interested in him two years ago when he became a free agent, and they've shown him no interest now. Although I will say the thought process between adding Brett Favre and Jeff Garcia isn't totally the same.
Matt of Chicago writes: Now that Chicago has lost their starting LT St. Clair to free agency, what are they going to do to fill that void? They really don't have anybody on their roster right now to fill that spot. Will they spend their 1st round pick on a RT now instead of a WR?
Kevin Seifert: I doubt it. For now, they're going to use Frank Omiyale -- whom they signed as a free agent -- at right tackle. I would imagine they'll draft a tackle at some point, but it's unlikely to be in the first round. At least as of now.
Chris of Boulder writes: Who do you think is taking the best approach this offseason in the North? We have a variety of approaches and obviously different teams need different approaches, whether that is dismantling and retooling, signing big name free agents, trades, drafting, or Lovie Smith's simple 'toolbo
x' approach. In other words who has their mind right, who doesn't, and who do you think is currently on pace to put themselves in the best place to win the division?
Kevin Seifert: Interesting question. The way I see it, the only team that isn't sitting on the status quo -- at least from a personnel standpoint -- is Detroit. And the Lions were 0-16 last season. We'll start with them. I wouldn't always advocate their approach, which has generally been to sign aging veterans who figure as short-term starters at best. But their roster was so depleted that they couldn't afford to take long-term approaches at every position. So in short I think they've done what they needed to do. I'm a little surprised Green Bay hasn't been more active given their defensive scheme change, but that's the way Ted Thompson operates. Chicago played with fire and lost in the John St. Clair sweepstakes, so they're a little behind the ball at this point. The Vikings took another measured stab at trying to improve their quarterback position, but I still think they owe it to themselves to pursue Jay Cutler.
Max from Phoenix writes: Kevin, Enjoy your writing. I was wondering if you think there is any kind of possibility of the Lions making a deal with the first overall pick. I realize the money is astronomical, but do you think one team out there might fall in love with Matt Stafford?
Kevin Seifert: Thanks, Max. It's a bit early to get a sense if anyone really loves Stafford to the point where they would trade up. I think the Lions would definitely consider the trade option if it arises, especially if they can still pick in the top 5 or so. But to this point there aren't any obvious takers.
Steve of Chicago writes: Hey Kevin. I'm personally getting tired of all the mock drafts and projections already. I know, there's not much else going on right now, but I see 5 or more "updated" mocks every week just on the major sports sites. Historically, looking only ESPN mock drafts for NFC North teams, how accurate have mocks been anyway? If they're as inaccurate as I suspect, maybe people can join me in ignoring all mock drafts and they'll just go away. Or is that too much to hope for?
Kevin Seifert: I've always thought mock drafts should include a tagline that explains they're for entertainment purposes only. That would help everyone's blood pressure, I think.
Renzo of Dinkytown writes: How would you rate the Vikings drafting in the Childress/Spielman era? I was looking at the draft history and it seems like the past few years have produced some pretty solid picks, including the always amazing AP. Do you expect them to find similar playmakers this year?
Kevin Seifert: If I counted right, the Vikings still have 10 of the 13 players they've drafted under Spielman. That's a pretty good percentage. I would think they'll find at least one playmaker this year, especially if they take a receiver with the No. 22 overall pick.
Brent of Chicago writes: Just read your post regarding how Culpepper has come back this year looking much more like his former self. What are the odds that the Lions suddenly get high on Culpepper before the draft and start to think that they can get at least 2 more productive years out of him? If that's the case, they could obviously take a more developmental prospect with 33rd pick or even wait to the third round. Any chance this scenario plays out, or am I just crazy?
Kevin Seifert: I could see it playing out under a different initiating event. I don't think they'll make a draft decision based on how long they think Culpepper can play. But if they decide not to take a quarterback high in the draft, it's possible they could turn to Culpepper for the next few years. In the end, it's the same scenario. Just a different motivation.
Miksouza of Maui writes: If the Vikings do move somewhere else someday, would they lose the name and colors (e.g. Titans/Oilers or Ravens/original Browns)?
Kevin Seifert: That's been the trend lately. But don't forget the reason why the NBA has the Los Angeles Lakers. They were originally the Minneapolis Lakers, in the state of 10,000 lakes. Just saying.
Aaron of St. Louis writes: Did Detroit burn every bridge with Shaun Rogers? That interception he ran back for a touchdown two seasons ago was so fun to watch.
Kevin Seifert: It sure was. I don't think the Lions' previous regime would want him back. But I wonder if Jim Schwartz could use him in the Albert Haynesworth role of his defense.
(To review, coach Brad Childress suggested that his top scenario is for Jackson and Frerotte to compete for the starting job in training camp.)
Kevin -- Does it ever occur to you that possibly Chilly and [Vikings vice president Rick] Spielman are simply playing a little possum? What advantage (I would love just one that you can come up with) would there be in sharing right now that you would like to move in a different direction at QB? Both from a free agent and trade scenario that would simply be ammo that the other side would have to get you to pay or give up more for a QB. I think you are really going to look foolish in about a week when the Vikes announce they have signed or traded for either--Garcia, Warner or Cassel...I'd love to know your thoughts on this... love your blog...keep up the great work.
My short answer: It's likely I'll look foolish in about a week regardless. It's my natural appearance.
The longer answer: It's true, I can't rule out the possibility that the Vikings' message this week has been part of a larger misinformation campaign. I'm sure I've contributed to the perception over the years that you can't always believe what they -- or any other NFL team -- says. And it's only fair to point out that one strategy to lower the price on, say, New England quarterback Matt Cassel is to create the impression that they are willing to stand pat.
I'll also say that at this time last year, the Vikings probably would have been honest if they all but ruled out the possibility of trading for defensive end Jared Allen. The situation changed over the following few months, but at the time of the 2008 scouting combine, there seemed to be no possibility it would happen.
But in this case, I'm not inclined to believe this is a Colombo re-run. Here's where I'm coming from:
- Typically, NFL teams which don't want their plans revealed tend to keep the possibilities as vague as possible. You hear a lot of, "We're not ruling any option out." You don't get what Childress said Friday about Frerotte's hoped-for return. ("That could be the source of the competition.")
- Look at history. Childress played a big role in drafting Jackson in 2006 and said Friday that he has seen improvement every season. Noting Jackson's improvement over the years has been a staple of Childress' justification for making him the starter. One quote that didn't make Friday's post: Childress said he believes quarterbacks need four years to be full evaluated. Coincidentally, Jackson is entering his fourth season.
- There is no obvious alternative, at least not one that comes at a reasonable price. Even if you do believe that Cassel can be your starter for the next 10 years, the cost might be prohibitive. The Vikings decimated their 2008 draft in the Allen trade and aren't eager to give up another series of draft picks this year. Here's Spielman on the topic: "You can't do that every year because if you continue to give away draft picks you're going to weaken your team for future years and we have all our draft picks." I've suggested that Jeff Garcia would be a possibility, but that was when I was under the impression Frerotte wouldn't be back. Frerotte's familiarity with the offense makes him pretty comparable to Garcia as an option.
- I've done a bit of background reporting that leads me to believe Childress and Spielman aren't bluffing. (Although if a conspiracy is under way, I suppose even background sources could be infected.)
- I suppose you can't let fan reaction make your decisions. But the Vikings are no doubt sensitive to their ticket-buying public after needing deadline extensions and corporate help to sell out five home games last season. If they had plans other than the ones they outlined Friday, I'm guessing they would have avoided the Jackson-Frerotte story line altogether. No need to introduce an issue that could inflame some fans when you know it's not likely. (Of course, if you're a real conspiracy theorist, you could argue that introducing Jackson-Frerotte would heighten excitement for an otherwise middling move that could occur later. But that one's too deep for a Saturday morning.)
- UPDATE: Here's one more thought to add to the list. If the Vikings were creating a smokescreen, do you think they would take it as far as trying to talk Frerotte into returning for another season? Because here's the worst/best-case scenario: Frerotte agrees to return in 2009 under the belief he will be competing with Jackson for the job. A month or so later, the Vikings trade for Cassel. It's a cold-hearted business, but reputations can be permanently ruined by a stunt like that.
I'm not willing to say there is a 100 percent chance that Jackson and Frerotte -- or another veteran -- will be the Vikings' top two quarterbacks entering training camp. But based on what I heard Friday, I think it's by far the likeliest scenario.
|AP Photo/Andy King|
|Brad Childress indicated on Friday that the Vikings are considering bringing back QB Gus Frerotte to compete with Tarvaris Jackson.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
INDIANAPOLIS -- Forgive my geekdom, but as I considered Minnesota's quarterback situation Friday, I couldn't stop thinking of a phrase we had to learn in middle school Latin:
Morturi te salutamus.
(Translation: We who are about to die salute you.)
Whoops! Not that one.
Let's try again:
Tempus iter nunc.
(Translation: The time of the journey is now.)
Yes, the Vikings are on the verge of the most important offseason decision in their recent history: Should they give quarterback Tarvaris Jackson another chance to prove he can be their long-term starter? Or do they acquire a veteran to replace him and guide an otherwise skilled roster for the next few years?
On the second full day of the annual scouting combine, Vikings coach Brad Childress came as close as he ever will to tipping his hand. Childress said he wants to create training camp competition for the position, but his first candidate for Jackson's foil is the man who finished the 2008 season as Jackson's backup.
Childress confirmed has had multiple conversations in recent weeks with veteran Gus Frerotte, who went 8-3 as a starter in 2008 but expressed public displeasure when Childress re-established Jackson as the starter in December. There have been indications that Frerotte might seek his release or retire, but Childress said there is an "open door" for Frerotte to return and said, "That could be the source of the competition."
Whether or not Frerotte agrees to the arrangement -- and I have my doubts about how authentic the competition would be -- it seems clear the Vikings have no interest in pursuing a blockbuster deal to find a new starter. That would seem to rule out a run at New England's Matt Cassel, and as of Friday the team had displayed no indications it would pursue pending free agent Jeff Garcia.
In fact, during an extended interview with a small group of reporters, I asked Childress if he could envision a scenario in which the Vikings would pursue a player to be their new and unquestioned starter. Childress paused several seconds and said: "There might be." Then, he added: "But right now I would be honest with you and tell you I wouldn't know who that person would be."
A day earlier, Vikings vice president Rick Spielman also downplayed the Vikings' realistic chances of finding a new starter:
"I think you ask yourself this: How many quarterbacks do you face in a year that you are actually scared of playing? There's maybe a handful that you say, 'Yeah, this guy can carry a team for you.' But if there's a guy that's unique out there and you think he's going to be out on the free-agent market ... the last guy that was o
ut there was Drew Brees and he had a shoulder [injury]. Quarterbacks don't get out there that are unique."
So let's quickly review. Without mentioning Cassel, Garcia or Cleveland's Derek Anderson by name, the Vikings' top two decision-makers are on record saying they don't believe there is a difference-making quarterback available to them. And their first option is to make no changes to their 2008 depth chart.
There's only one conclusion to draw.
The Vikings are giving Jackson another chance.
This decision is borne of the mentality that could allow Jackson to enter three consecutive training camps as the Vikings' most likely starter. Childress believes deeply both in Jackson's ability and his own history in developing quarterbacks. He noted Friday that "we need him [Jackson] to improve" but quickly added: "I believe he will."
This quote neatly encapsulates Childress' thoughts on the situation:
"I think [Jackson] gave some glimpses coming in off the bench and doing the things he did. Obviously he needs to eliminate some of those turnovers. We need him to change that touchdown-to-turnover ratio. And then we need to put somebody in place that will push him and compete with him, and I think competition is the nature of the game. At some places it may not be ... [but] in our situation we need to have a good healthy competition because I think that makes everybody better."
Some optimists will read that quote and believe Childress will simply pick the best training camp performer to start. But Childress made clear at the end of last season that he believed Jackson gave the Vikings a better chance to win than Frerotte.
So I think it's only fair to question how legitimate a summer competition between Jackson and Frerotte would be. Wouldn't Jackson need to slump badly to change the dynamic? And if it's not Frerotte, who could the Vikings sign to bring true competition? Chris Simms? Byron Leftwich, who has never played in a West Coast offense? Kerry Collins, who has already been promised Tennessee's starting job?
Childress said "it's up to me" to facilitate a fair fight. But knowing Childress' history with Jackson and the Vikings' desire to lock down the position long term, well, it's only fair to conclude Jackson is the odds-on favorite.
I asked Childress what he would say to convince Frerotte that he wouldn't face a stacked deck. Childress offered a winding answer, but it boiled down to this: "We've always had a relationship based on honesty."
In other words, Childress will ask Frerotte -- or whichever other veteran the Vikings ultimately bring in -- to take his word. The journey has already begun.
We offered a thorough breakdown of Detroit's situation heading into this week's scouting combine, but we've recently learned there are three other teams in the NFC North. So let's play a little catch-up and check in with Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota on the eve of the year's greatest draft-related event held during the third week of February:
Three points of interest:
- The Bears must prepare for right tackle John Tait to retire, even though general manager Jerry Angelo has said he hopes Tait plays at least one more season. As we noted, the free-agent market at right tackle is pretty thin. But 2009 might prove to be a strong year for tackles in the draft. It's not out of the question, according to ESPN.com's Todd McShay, that four tackles could be off the board by the time Chicago picks at No. 18. In either event, McShay has five offensive linemen with first-round grades.
- The Bears signed free-agent quarterback Brett Basanez earlier this month, but at this point you have to assume they will further stockpile their depth. The free-agent market should continue to clarify as the weekend approaches, giving us a better idea if players like Chris Simms plan to re-sign with their current teams or test the market.
- The draft rarely offers immediate impact at the receiver position, so the Bears almost certainly will have to scour the free-agent market if they want to upgrade their corps. We've suggested Pittsburgh's Nate Washington as a potential fit, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Here are the receiver rankings from Scouts Inc.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Three points of interest:
- We should get a better sense of how much, or little, personnel turnover the Packers are planning as part of their shift to the 3-4 defense. General manager Ted Thompson isn't a big fan of free agency, and he offered a bit of a winding answer when Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal asked about the Packers' personnel plans.
- Many mock drafts are suggesting the Packers will draft Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins with the No. 9 overall pick. Some analysts have suggested Jenkins might project better as an NFL safety. This topic should be well-discussed at the combine.
- The Packers used tailback Ryan Grant an awful lot in 2008, giving him 312 carries. You would think they'll look to spread the ball out a bit more in 2009. Will Grant's partner be backup Brandon Jackson? Or will the Packers seek help from elsewhere? Here's a link to Scouts Inc.'s ranking of running backs.
Three points of interest:
- The big question is whether the Vikings will pursue a starting-caliber quarterback or merely look to add depth behind starter Tarvaris Jackson. At least two veteran starters are available. Will we get any hint that the Vikings are going to pursue Matt Cassel, New England's franchise player? Or will they attempt to sign Jeff Garcia?
- The Vikings will join the Bears in the hunt for a right tackle. Starter Ryan Cook is under contract for 2009, but it's possible he'll be moved to center to replace veteran free agent Matt Birk. If not, Cook is one of the few personnel weak links on the Vikings' otherwise talented roster.
- It'll be interesting to see how the Vikings will approach their defensive tackle position with the suspension of Pat Williams and/or Kevin Williams still a possibility. (Their legal cases remain under consideration.) Both of their 2008 backups, Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms, are pending free agents. Evans is restricted, so the Vikings could match any offer he receives. The Vikings might need to amplify their depth when it's available so they aren't caught surprised later if either Williams loses his legal case.
It's interesting -- at least to me -- that you can rule out only one NFC North team as a potential landing place for pending free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia, who officially learned over the weekend that he won't be returning to Tampa Bay in 2009.
It's relatively safe to assume that Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers locked in as the starter, won't make a run at Garcia. But you could make an argument that the remainder of the Black and Blue, to varying degrees, could all benefit from signing a quarterback who has experienced immediate success in his two most recent stops.
Take a look at what Garcia did in those instances. In both cases, Garcia guided his team into the playoffs:
Now let's consider Garcia's NFC North possibilities, building up to the situation that makes the most sense from both sides:
Why it might work: The Lions have a logjam of potential "bridge starters" who could hold space for a young quarterback the team could acquire as early this spring. But new coach Jim Schwartz might want to make a clean break from the past, which would eliminate Daunte Culpepper, Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton and even Jon Kitna from consideration. All things equal, you might choose Garcia over each of those candidates regardless.
Why it won't happen: Garcia already has had one disastrous experience in Detroit. He is known primarily for his success in the West Coast offense, but new coordinator Scott Linehan is more closely associated with the "three-digit" downfield passing style. Garcia isn't likely to want to finish his career in a rebuilding situation.
|The best moments from Jeff Garcia in 2008.|
Why it might work: The Bears aren't committed to starter Kyle Orton beyond the 2009 season, and general manager Jerry Angelo has made the position his highest priority. That makes it hard to believe the Bears will enter 2009 without at least an experienced backup for Orton; Garcia might be the best candidate available. The Bears don't run a West Coast offense per se, but Garcia would quickly develop relationships with the team's veterans.
Why it won't happen: Garcia might be more of a challenge than the Bears want to pose for Orton. If they're trying to coax Orton to long-term success, the Bears are best off with a backup who can fill in if Orton falters. That's different than a backup who can beat him out on merit in training camp. Garcia also does nothing to solve the longer-term quarterback issue should Orton fail.
Why it might work: The Vikings run the type of West Coast offense Garcia has excelled in. He has a quick release, is mobile and has thrown only 14 interceptions in the past three seasons. He could assume the starting job right away and give Tarvaris Jackson more time to develop. Garcia should be attracted to the Vikings' offensive weapons, from receiver Bernard Berrian to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to tailback Adrian Peterson.
Why it won't happen: Coach Brad Childress has been loyal to Jackson and will give him every opportunity to succeed. The Vikings had a chance to sign Garcia two years ago and passed. If Garcia does his homework, he'll find out that at least two veteran quarterbacks -- Brad Johnson and Gus Frerotte -- ended their seasons disenchanted with their roles.
Chances: Possible going on intriguing
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
The top issues facing each team in the division:
|Wesley Hitt/Getty Images|
|Lovie Smith has some work to do with his defense.|
Primary issue: The Bears gave up an average of 241.2 passing yards per game in 2008, third-worst in the NFL. The run defense ranked No. 5 overall, but coach Lovie Smith must find a way to re-balance a once-proud group.
Smith, however, isn't likely to get help from a personnel infusion this offseason. A series of recently-signed contract extensions means the Bears must largely rely on existing players to improve. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nate Vasher, and defensive tackle Tommie Harris are all in the midst of long-term deals.
If players remain static, that leaves two avenues for adjustment: Scheme and coaching.
Solution: Smith already has overhauled his defensive coaching staff and seems poised to impose some level of scheme change himself by calling the game-day defensive signals himself. The Bears could also help themselves at two positions in the draft: Defensive end and safety.
Secondary issue: Ron Turner's offense could use more explosion, both from the backfield and at the wide receiver position. In 2008, there was perhaps one player -- receiver Devin Hester -- who was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.
As a team, the Bears had 35 pass plays of more than 20 yards and three of more than 40. Those figures ranked No. 26 and No. 29, respectively, in the NFL.
Solution: The receiver position seems an obvious target in free agency. Turner also would be wise to follow up on his plan to get scatback Garrett Wolfe more involved in the offense.
Primary issue: The Lions finished 2008 with the NFL's 30th-ranked rush offense and 32nd-ranked rush defense. Valuing quickness over size, the Lions got pushed all over the field on both sides of the ball and need to overhaul both lines.
|Derick Hingle/Icon SMI|
|Alabama's Andre Smith could fit in nicely with the Lions.|
This is not a one-year project, and instead takes several good drafts, along with at least some isolated free-agent acquisitions, to accomplish. Conservatively, the Lions need to find at least two guards, two defensive tackles and an eventual successor for center Dominic Raiola.
Solution: The Lions must take a lineman with at least one, if not both, of their No. 1 picks. Some believe Alabama left tackle Andre Smith could be the best player in the draft. Left tackle isn't the Lions' top need, but Smith could set a tone for the entire offensive line.
Secondary issue: The Lions have three veteran quarterbacks on their roster: Drew Stanton, Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna. They have the opportunity to re-sign Dan Orlovsky. None of those players, however, are long-term answers at the position.
New coach Jim Schwartz joked last month that it was time to replace former quarterback Bobby Layne, who last played for the Lions 51 years ago. The Lions need a permanent answer at the game's most important position.
Solution: The Lions will consider whether to take Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick. That's a possibility. Here's another: Making Culpepper or Orlovsky a bridge starter and selecting a developmental quarterback later
in the draft.
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|In the Packers' new 3-4 scheme, Aaron Kampman will move to outside linebacker.|
Primary issue: The Packers believe their personnel is flexible enough to absorb a pending shift to a 3-4 defensive scheme, but it's inevitable that some positions are going to turn over.
Aaron Kampman's shift to linebacker means the Packers need a new defensive end. And there's no guarantee that the two primary outside linebackers on the roster, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga, will be able to handle the new scheme.
Unfortunately for them, the Packers will have to make those decisions months before training camp begins. Now is the time when the best alternatives are available.
Solution: General manager Ted Thompson needs to step out of his free agency shell and sign at least one linebacker and one defensive end to protect himself this summer. Those positions should also be a focus of the April draft.
Secondary issue: The offensive line got old in a hurry last season, and it's possible the Packers will have to replace at least one, if not both, of their tackles. Right tackle Mark Tauscher is headed to free agency while recovering from a torn ACL, a bad situation for both sides. And left tackle Chad Clifton struggled with both knees last season and has one year left on his contract.
The Packers aren't exactly set at guard, either. They rotated Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Josh Sitton through the position last year, but it's possible that Colledge could figure as a replacement for one of the tackles.
Solution: Colledge could replace Tauscher at right tackle. It's also likely that Thompson will select multiple linemen in the draft.
Primary issue: For three years, the Vikings have been looking for the long-term successor to Culpepper. Coach Brad Childress has given Tarvaris Jackson every opportunity to claim that position, and you better believe that Childress would love for Jackson to do that once and for all in 2009.
|Rick Scuteri/US PRESSWIRE|
|The Vikings need Tarvaris Jackson to solidify himself as the starting quarterback.|
The question becomes the extent to which the Vikings will protect themselves against the possibility that Jackson can't do it. Gus Frerotte isn't likely to return, so at the very least the Vikings will have to find a new veteran backup for Jackson.
Many fans are hoping that second-year player John David Booty can challenge Jackson for the job, but it's unlikely that will happen in 2009.
Solution: The Vikings have a veteran team that seems primed for a deep playoff run, but they need to elevate their quarterback play one way or the other. Signing the best free agent available, likely to be Jeff Garcia, is probably their best option.
Secondary issue: The Ryan Cook experiment could end for several reasons, leaving the Vikings in need of a right tackle. Cook could replace veteran Matt Birk at center, or he simply could be benched after nearly three inconsistent seasons as a starter.
Cook played center in college at New Mexico and never has looked entirely comfortable as a right tackle.
Solution: There are no internal replacements. This position will have to come from outside the organization. Childress has long been a fan of Philadelphia's Jon Runyan, a free agent this spring, but that would be a short-term decision.
In an appearance earlier this month on Minnesota's KFAN-1130, former Baltimore coach Brian Billick brought some quantitative analysis to the Vikings' current quarterback quandary.
(Click here for the audio. The interview is about two-thirds of the way into the clip.)
|Tom Dahlin/Getty Images|
|Tarvaris Jackson's future in Minnesota remains unclear.|
Billick said he abides by the Bill Walsh theory that you can usually tell if a quarterback is going to be a long-term success somewhere during his second year as a starter. "Between the 24th and the 30th game," Billick said.
Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has started 20 games and played in 25 during his three-year career. That puts him right in the Walsh/Billick wheelhouse for the Vikings to make a permanent decision about his career. Will they enter 2009 with him as their starter? Or will they pursue a temporary option and regroup in the draft?
Vikings coaches and front office officials are having that conversation as we speak. (For now, I'm going to consider it a coincidence that Sports Illustrated's Peter King suggested that Minnesota is the place that Brett Favre would "really like to play" during an appearance on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. There are so many obstacles to Favre ever donning a Minnesota uniform that it's not worth a detailed discussion at this point.)
The Vikings will have a couple of other options should they push Jackson down the depth chart, starting with free agent and West Coast specialist Jeff Garcia. But here in the final week of January, I don't think the Vikings themselves know exactly what they will do.
In his radio interview, Billick self-deprecatingly noted that "I pretty much in nine years in Baltimore proved I knew nothing about quarterbacks." But if the Vikings were to ask him, Billick said he has two concerns about Jackson's long-term: His career completion percentage (58.4) and his dwindling accuracy in the fourth quarter of games.
Here's the way Billick put his thoughts on Jackson:
"Looking at Tarvaris Jackson, I've seen him play. I think he's an impressive young man. Certainly adds some dimension to the game. The thing that concerns me is the completion percentage. Over his career, he's less than 60 percent. And there may have been a lot of reasons for that. The other thing is that as the games went on and the difficult situations began to mount, that that's when his accuracy seemed to suffer. Couple games that I saw, third-down conversions were pretty good early, then at the end of the game things got tight. Those are all things that have to be factored in."
Jackson's performance at the end of the regular season provided the Vikings a glimpse of what he could be, but as we've noted before, they can't afford to be wrong about him anymore.
It appears the Chicago Bears are making a bold move to improve their return game after 10 weeks of decidedly average performances.
Danieal Manning is expected to replace Devin Hester as the primary kickoff returner Sunday at St. Louis, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper reported that "nothing is set in stone" but noted Manning has worked as the top returner throughout practice this week.
Manning replaced Hester in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 37-3 loss at Green Bay, part of a series of moves to use backups for mop-up duty. Coach Lovie Smith said earlier this week that he liked what he saw from Manning last Sunday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, the first indication the Bears were considering a change.
Manning has a career average of 24.9 yards per kickoff return and averaged 44.2 yards during the preseason. Hester has gone without a touchdown return this season, either on kickoffs or punts, but Manning said his job is more basic.
"They're not asking me to return and score every time I touch the ball," Manning said. "It's all about field position, ball security. And that's what I do."
Good for the Bears if they follow through with this move. Hester has appeared overwhelmed at times as he returns kickoffs, punts and plays receiver full-time. Earlier this week, former Bears great Gale Sayers said Hester looked "afraid." You could make an argument that reducing Hester's responsibilities as a receiver might be better for everyone, but at least the team isn't willing to stand pat indefinitely.
Continuing around the NFC North on a chilly Saturday morning in the upper Midwest:
- The Bears believe the controlled environment of the Edward Jones Dome could help them get their passing game back on track, writes Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald.
- Green Bay receiver Donald Driver returned to practice Friday after spending several days visiting his hospitalized father in Houston. Driver said his father is doing "fair" after an incident with police following a traffic stop, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, 32, wants to play at least three more seasons, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune report that a decision on the fate of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams won't be made until the first week of December at the earliest. If that timetable plays out, both players will be available for a critical Nov. 30 game against Chicago.
- The Vikings are expecting Jacksonville to test their run defense Sunday, writes the Star Tribune's Zulgad.
- New Detroit fullback Moran Norris deserves some credit for the recent success of rookie tailback Kevin Smith, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika and Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia completed a whopping 37 of 45 passes last season against the Lions, but his two fumbles played a big role in Detroit's 23-16 victory. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com looks at Sunday's rematch between the two teams.
It's not too hard to cull the primary goal of all four NFC North teams in Thursday night's preseason finales: Stay healthy.
Take this history lesson from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press: The last two times the Detroit Lions visited Buffalo for their preseason finale, as they will tonight, a significant injury occurred.
In 2003, starting tailback James Stewart separated his right shoulder and never played for the Lions again. In 2005, meanwhile, quarterback Jeff Garcia fractured his left fibula and sprained his ankle. He missed the next five games and wasn't very effective upon his return.
Those kind of horror stories will compel all four division coaches to limit starters to a series or two, at best, Thursday night. Most teams have a pretty good idea about their rosters and have only a few, if any, decisions remaining.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Both Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times and David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune mentioned Chicago Bears receiver Mark Bradley as player who doesn't seem to have a lock on a roster spot yet.
- Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly had his court case moved to Sept. 16. He was arrested July 8 in Houston for felony drug possession. Jolly could eventually face discipline from the NFL.
- Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at what it feels like to be cut. The Packers have to shed 22 players by 3 p.m. Saturday.
- Minnesota Vikings safety Darren Sharper, describing himself: "I'm like a fine wine, a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz blend. It can do a lot of things. It gets better as you open it up and let it get out there and air out, filtrate, do all those things. I don't even need a decanter. Just let me go out there and run. Pour me in your mouth, suck it up and let it run."