NFC North: Jerry Porter
Thank you, Brian of Kenosha, for providing an avenue to discuss Chicago's approach -- or lack of approach -- to the free-agent market:
Why is it that the Bears have not taken a more proactive approach to free agency? They have glaring needs at receiver, an aging offensive line, and defensive ends that get no pressure on the quarterback. They have multiple needs all over the field yet they have done nothing of significance. If they believe that they can solve all there problems through the draft they are kidding themselves.
Brian, I'm not overly concerned with the Bears' situation on the offensive line. They've essentially added two new starters this offseason, left tackle Chris Williams and guard/tackle Frank Omiyale, who is expected to start somewhere -- likely at left guard. John St. Clair is testing his value on the free-agent market, but he could ultimately return to play right tackle.
As for defensive end, the Bears are like almost every other NFL team in that they want/could use a better pass rush from their defensive ends. There aren't many dominant pass-rushers in this league, and they only become available at a whopping cost. (See Jared Allen, 2008.)
But I'm with you when it comes to the receiver position. Smith said at the combine that he wanted someone to step into the No. 2 position beside Devin Hester, but to my knowledge the Bears haven't so much as scheduled a visit yet for a free-agent receiver.
If you need to improve your receiving corps immediately, free agency is typically the way to go. Unlike some other positions, rookie receivers don't often contribute right away. Earl Bennett, the Bears' third-round draft choice last season, is a prime example.
There is a mix of veterans, journeymen and young players still available, and it's possible the Bears are waiting for their market value to settle before exploring their options. There is also the unresolved situation in Arizona with receiver Anquan Boldin, who could ultimately be traded.
You can scan the list to the right to get a better feel for who remains on the market following the signings of T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seattle), Nate Washington (Tennessee), Bryant Johnson (Detroit) and Brandon Jones (San Francisco). The players are listed in order of their Scouts Inc. grades. Remember, you need a grade of 60 or higher to be considered starter-quality on the Scouts scale.
If the Bears abstain from free agency and Boldin remains in Arizona, it's hard to predict where the necessary improvement will come from. The best hope would be for Bennett, who went without a catch last season, to ascend somehow to a prominent role. The Bears should get a better feel for that when their mandatory minicamp convenes in two weeks.
Let's take a tumble through the mailbag as we mourn the first non-football weekend of the NFL offseason.
Brandon of Dallas writes: I saw that the Jags released Joey Porter and I have heard rumors that the Rams may release Torry Holt. You said in a previous blog that the Vikes probably wouldn't sign another wr to a major contract. Do you think either of these guys could be picked up at a reasonable price? If so, do you think the vikes would be interested?
Kevin Seifert: Porter should be available for a song considering his flameout in Jacksonville. Holt can still play and I would imagine it will take some up-front cash to get him. I don't see Porter fitting in with the Vikings, and Holt would probably prefer an offense with more of a downfield passing game.
Joe in Baltimore writes: I was wondering if there are any more details on the Williams lawsuit with the NFL. I haven't heard or read anything about it lately. Also how will this affect the Viking's draft/free agent strategy. I'm sure they would prefer to know something fairly soon and I would think that they (the Vikings) would be pushing this along so that they know how to prepare for '09.
Kevin Seifert: The Vikings really don't have much pull in this situation anymore. It's in the hands of the courts. Nothing has changed in the past two months. We're waiting on the Minnesota judge to either issue a ruling or make a request for more testimony. The Vikings would be well-advised to make a contingency plan in case either player is held out of the first four games. But it doesn't need to be dramatic. They'll just have to make sure their backup defensive tackles can play. That should be their goal every offseason.
Jordan of Austin, Texas writes: Hey Kevin it seems that looking at the draft there really isn't a guy that stands out enough to be a surefire number 1 pick so i was wondering what you think about the Lions trading that pick to say the bucs? They have the cap room for a first pick and it opens up the possibility of the lions giving up the picks needed for Asomugha. Anyways keep up the good work, I definitely enjoy the blog.
Kevin Seifert: Thanks Jordan. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Lions try to trade down from the top pick. But in order to do so, they have to find a partner that believes there is a player who is worth trading up for and paying No. 1 money to. This year, that team might be hard to find. It's not just a salary cap issue, it's a cash flow problem as well. The top pick, especially if it's a quarterback, will be in line for more than $30 million in guaranteed money.
Tyler of Indiana writes: Don't you think that the Packers need an explosive player on offense? I mean they have good players, but since Favre left they haven't had the explosiveness on offense that they need to win football games. I'm not saying they need a new Quarterback because Rodgers does put up some pretty solid stats, but last season he couldn't win a football game in the last two minutes like Favre could. Their defense is solid from top too bottom when everyones healthy, and they kept them in alot of games this past season. Although I do think they need another big pass rusher. They just need that spark on offense like AP gives to the Vikings or Larry Fitzgerald gives to the Cardinals.
Kevin Seifert: Every team wants a player like Adrian Peterson or Larry Fitzgerald. But I think Greg Jennings can be pretty explosive. To me, this is not the Packers' biggest problem. They need to focus on building their offensive line more than acquiring playmakers.
Christopher writes: What prevents the Jets from simply releasing Favre? How complex a decision is if from the Jets standpoint?
Kevin Seifert: As long as Brett Favre remains retired, the Jets have no incentive to release him. He is now on their reserve/retired list, which means he doesn't count against their salary cap. Only if he decides to play again will they have a decision to make: Squeeze his cap number back on the roster or release him.
San Diego writes: YOU ARE AN idoite !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Kevin Seifert: Thanks for keeping it real.
Juan of Moorhead writes: Other than a quarterback, what do the vikings need to make a superbowl run? they have good players. what are they lacking and why is there defense not stingy like the steelers with all the good players we have? thanks.
Kevin Seifert: First off, I don't think there should be an "other than" in front of "quarterback." It's the most important position in sports. From a personnel standpoint, there aren't many other holes. They probably could improve themselves at right tackle. As for the defense, the Steelers were the top-ranked defense in the league in 2008. No one was as stingy as them. I think the Vikings' defense is good enough to sustain a deep playoff run.
Shawn of Columbus writes: I'll put in the names and can you tell me why i'm stupid or why this couldn't work or otherwise. (cb's)Nnamdi Asomugha, Dunta Robinson. (lb's) Ray Lewis not so much as a backer, but for the team locker room(pride), Bart Scott, Jonathan Vilma, Karlos Dansby, Terrel Suggs. (d-line) of course Haynesworth, Tank Johnson, J.Peppers. and thats for the Detroit Lions. Thanks.
Kevin Seifert: In general terms, Shawn, I don't think the Lions will be big-time shoppers in the free agent market. Everything Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew have said suggests they are looking to build with -- and use their cap money on -- draft picks rather than veteran free agents. Of all the names you listed, the one that is actually intriguing is Tank Johnson. He's got his problems, but he's the type of player the Lions really need: A big nose tackle who can plug up the interior of the line. Call me crazy.
Jeff of Indiana writes: What is your opinion on Chicago's moving the mini camp up before the draft? Is there precedence for such an early camp? Is it fair to assume that this is an attempt to figure out what top priorities should be for the draft? To give Marinelli a chance to work with the D-line to see if he thinks he can improve pass rush with the existing talent? A chance to look at Basanez and Hanie and see if there is a #2 worthy guy between them? There will undoubtedly be
free agent signings prior to camp and it would always be nice to get a good idea of how new acquisitions might fit in. So what do you see as the driving impetus for the pre draft mini camp? Are there other key factors that you see? Thanks.
Kevin Seifert: There is precedent for a pre-draft mini-camp, but typically it occurs with new head coaches who want to get a sense of the roster before making draft decisions. New head coaches also have the luxury of being able to schedule two mandatory mini-camps. Returning coaches can only call one, and so this will eliminate the possibility of integrating rookies into the Bears' one mandatory gathering of the offseason. This tells me that Lovie Smith is really placing an emphasis on his established veterans to make a playoff push in 2009. I also think part of his motivation is to set a tone for the offseason. This will require players to be in better shape than they normally are in mid-March.
Shawn of Sterling, Va. writes: If you were GM of the Bears, would you wait a year to draft a QB or go with one of the supposed "lesser" talents that are coming out this year?
Kevin Seifert: I wouldn't panic and take a quarterback this year if I didn't believe he had a good chance to develop. But it's also folly to look ahead to a class a full year in advance. A lot can change over the course of the college season. The Bears should evaluate this year's class in a vacuum rather than compare it to the possibilities of next season.