NFC North: Johnny Culbreath

We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Chicago Bears reported to training camp Tuesday with the best team they've had since the 2006 Super Bowl run. No one could rain on their parade, not even questions about a pending contract situation that no one seems concerned about.

General manager Phil Emery wouldn't say if the team will approach middle linebacker Brian Urlacher about extending a deal that will expire after the season, as noted by Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. That seems perfectly fine to me. Urlacher has a market-level contract for this season, worth $7.5 million, and he turned 34 in May.

There's no reason to push for a deal now at this stage in Urlacher's career, especially when Urlacher himself seems fine with waiting until the end of the season to pick up the issue. As we noted Tuesday, it's going to be a surprise if a contract issue consumes the Bears this summer.

Said Emery after arriving in Bourbonnais, Ill. : "I've had good conversations with Brian. That's a fine human being and obviously one of our top team leaders. Brian Urlacher has been a great Bears [player] and a great NFL football player. So yes, I've talked to him, and I'm excited about Brian and this season and our team."

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Emery said that receiver Johnny Knox has begun some light running but it does not appear he will be ready to practice anytime soon. It's expected that Knox will land on the PUP list.
  • Quarterback Jay Cutler, via ESPNChicago.com: "This is the most comfortable I think I've been going into a camp with the offense and what we are doing scheme-wise and the talent around me. You can say this is the most comfortable I've been."
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: "If there is one significant difference in the 2013 Bears from the 2012 Bears, it is depth. The team whose second string failed has another layer this year."
  • Bears coach Lovie Smith is ready for the pressure of this season, writes Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver: "[I]t's obvious he can't afford further slippage and still warrant playing time ahead of [Randall] Cobb."
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks into what tight end Jermichael Finley has been doing this offseason to curb drops.
  • The Packers hired Ed Policy as their new vice president and general counsel, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Policy is the son of longtime NFL executive Carmen Policy.
  • The Detroit Lions' decision to release offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath was a football decision, not punitive, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Lions first-round draft choice Riley Reiff received a $4.25 million signing bonus in his contract, but the deal's fourth year is not guaranteed, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is writing a blog for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The first post includes the following words: "Wouldn’t it be cool to ride a space dragon? Other than the immediate boiling off of all the saliva on your tongue as you enter vacuum, followed by hypoxia and a moderately painful death, it would be amazing." This should be interesting.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com scouts the Vikings' offensive line.
  • A 6-10 record in 2012 might be a good call for the Vikings, writes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
Four Detroit Lions players encountered legal problems this offseason. Two have now been jettisoned from the roster.

The Lions released offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath on Tuesday, replacing him on the roster with veteran lineman Jonathan Scott. A story on the team's web site gave no specific explanation for the move or its timing, but it must be pointed out that Culbreath was charged in January for marijuana possession while in South Carolina and ultimately paid a $412 fine.

It was the first of seven incidents Lions players were involved in over the ensuing six months. Running back Mikel Leshoure and defensive lineman Nick Fairley remain with the team, while cornerback Aaron Berry was released Monday.

Culbreath was a seventh-round draft pick in 2011 and spent the year on injured reserve, so it's possible he no longer fit into the Lions' plans on the field. If the Lions thought his offense merited internal discipline, they probably wouldn't have waited six months to do it. Regardless, what's done is done. The Johnny Culbreath era is over.
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We've already hashed through the Detroit Lions' conundrum with cornerback Aaron Berry from several angles Monday morning, noting how easy the ultimate resolution could be and how at least some fans feel disappointed in and disconnected from the franchise. The team's decision to release Berry, reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter and others, leaves us with a few items to wrap up.
  1. It's worth repeating that Berry hand-delivered this outcome to the Lions, who prior to this weekend had been unwilling to jettison talent for off-field transgressions. Two arrests in a month by a marginal player at a time of high scrutiny? There was no other option.
  2. Some of you have already pointed out, correctly, that Berry hardly ranks as a prominent player and, thus, made this decision even easier. As an undrafted free agent, he received a signing bonus of $1,500 in 2009 and has earned minimum salaries in each of his past two seasons. According to records I've seen, Berry will count $500 on the Lions' salary cap after his release. That hardly represents a lost investment.
  3. Lions president Tom Lewand offered a statement that leaves vague whether the team has entered a new phase of internal discipline. Here is the statement: "We have repeatedly stressed to everyone in our organization that there will be appropriate consequences when an expected standard of behavior is not upheld." Does that mean Berry fell short of a standard that other players arrested this offseason did not? Was a new standard established early this summer -- after run-ins by Johnny Culbreath, Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairley -- and before Berry's run began? We might not get those answers until the next incident. With the offseason coming to a close and free time dwindling for players, "next time" might not be for a while.
  4. Berry ran with the Lions' first-team defense throughout the offseason, but you could make an argument that there isn't much separation between him and some of the other cornerbacks who will now compete for a starting job. That list includes Jacob Lacey, Alphonso Smith and rookie Dwight Bentley. The Lions fielded a weak secondary during parts of the 2011 season, and losing a potential starter isn't ideal. But if he wasn't much better than his competitors, the on-field impact could be minimal.
  5. Moving swiftly Monday morning puts a symbolic capper on the offseason and allows the Lions to open training camp with Berry's future no longer in question. It's the best the Lions could do to diminish the distraction of their offseason.
  6. The biggest remaining question to me is whether what we've seen this offseason reflects poor judgment by some key players, or simply some dumb and poorly-timed mistakes. The former would suggest the Lions are in for another season of bad judgment on the field. The latter would mean there will be no connection. A fair-minded person might say it's a little bit of both.
In some ways, cornerback Aaron Berry has made it easy on the Detroit Lions. Over the weekend, he handed them a gift. Consider it the Lions' first break of the 2012 season.

To this point, the Lions have opted against their only option for major discipline in dealing with their too-long list of arrested players this offseason. The NFL handles suspensions and fines, leaving teams to decide if they want to continue employing the player. Berry -- along with Mikel Leshoure, Nick Fairley and Johnny Culbreath -- all remained on the roster as of early Monday morning.

Berry
Cutting a player for an off-field transgression isn't routine in the NFL, but it does happen. Perhaps the Lions were concerned about precedent. Maybe they didn't think any of the offenses rose to the level of termination. Something was clearly holding them back.

That obstacle, whatever it was, should no longer exist. Berry's latest arrest, this time on charges of simple assault in an incident that involved a firearm, gives the Lions more than a fair justification for release. It's an obvious way to raise the stakes and grab the attention of players who, in at least some cases, are exhibiting poor judgment at a time of high scrutiny.

The Lions would hardly need an explanation. No one in their locker room would be surprised, and the timing would set an appropriate tone for the opening of training camp later this week. Otherwise, Berry's continued employment would be a tacit endorsement of his behavior and leave us to wonder what -- if anything -- would compel the Lions to fire a player other than poor performance on the field.

I can understand the initial reluctance to start jettisoning promising talent as a result of this offseason run. Culbreath's offense was minor from a legal perspective, while Leshoure and Fairley were high 2011 draft picks. Berry is the top candidate to win the starting cornerback job vacated by the departed Eric Wright.

But unless this latest incident proves a complete misunderstanding, the Lions no longer need to waffle on the issue of roster termination. Aaron Berry made it easy on them.
I've spent (almost) enough time this week on the Detroit Lions' recent off-field issues. We've noted how ridiculous the conversation has been in the context of the NFL calendar, recognized the Lions' acceptance of a problem and questioned general manager Martin Mayhew's refusal to part with his policy of remaining in the background.

SportsNation

What should the Detroit Lions do about their recent off-field problems?

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    18%
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    37%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,593)

Now it's your turn to push this story forward.

What, if anything, should the Lions do after six incidents involving their 2011 draft class in the past five months? Vote in the poll embedded in this post. Space is limited in voting module, so let's make sure you understand the options. Should the Lions:

Release defensive lineman Nick Fairley, receiver Titus Young or running back Mikel Leshoure? Offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath would be a too-easy target, especially since he committed the first offense (paying a marijuana citation) and has remained on the roster.

Institute a zero-tolerance policy for off-field mistakes? In other words, the next player to have one gets released.

Reinforce the mentor role with the Lions' team leaders, from defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch to receiver Nate Burleson to defensive tackle Corey Williams? Is it fair to expect those veterans to police the off-field behavior of their teammates?

Hope for maturity? This might be the Lions' most realistic option, as difficult as it might be to stomach.

Go to it.

Earlier: This week, our friends at SportsNation found that 59 percent of 17,159 respondents agree the Lions have replaced the Cincinnati Bengals as the NFL's most dysfunctional team.

I was disappointed that Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew didn't stand next to coach Jim Schwartz this week and respond to questions about the team's series of offseason incidents with its 2011 draft class.

There is a level of public accountability that a general manager must accept when players he drafted run into trouble. But more important, Mayhew's absence continued to shift public perception onto Schwartz for what is an organizational problem.

It was Mayhew, not Schwartz, who made the final decision to draft Nick Fairley, Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure and Johnny Culbreath. I'm not sure if anyone deserves substantial blame or criticism for what's happened, but I do think it's unfair that Mayhew has left Schwartz to answer for all of it. So goes this week's Blogger Blitz.
Perhaps you've heard the saying: Acceptance is the first step toward change. By all accounts, the Detroit Lions have that part covered as they deal with a series of offseason incidents that have embarrassed the franchise.

Speaking Tuesday to local reporters, coach Jim Schwartz left little doubt that he has a problem on his hands. Schwartz said he was "concerned" and "angry" about six incidents involving members of his 2011 draft class, and acknowledged as a group that a line has been crossed between "affecting yourself and affecting your own reputation and affecting teammates and affecting the organization."

"We have 90 guys out here working, most of which are doing a very good job and working with a good goal in mind," Schwartz said. "But the actions of a few have affected the reputations of not just the other guys in the 90, but also the organization as a whole and that's not a good situation."

In relative terms, acceptance is the easy part. By far, however, the more difficult task is addressing and correcting the problem. Schwartz didn't have much to say on that topic, other than to note there are "certain criteria" that receiver Titus Young must meet to continue practicing with the team. And in truth, Schwartz is limited by collectively-bargained rules governing discipline for legal matters and substance abuse in the offseason.

Fair or not, some of the responsibility will lie with veteran teammates to model appropriate conduct and mentor the younger players. But especially in the offseason, most of it will come down to whether Nick Fairley, Young, Mikel Leshoure and, to a lesser extent, Johnny Culbreath, can get themselves under control.

All four players were at the team facility for Tuesday's OTA, which in a counterintuitive way might have been the best place for them. Much in the way parents run their toddlers through parks to wear them out for bedtime, NFL teams can limit the social ambitions of young players by working them hard on the field.

Schwartz said he spoke Tuesday morning with Fairley about his second arrest in two months, and Young was back on the field after apologizing to teammates for a reported fight with safety Louis Delmas. But Lions security officials escorted both players off the field and away from reporters after practice, robbing us of an opportunity to judge whether Fairley or Young understand the magnitude of their mistakes.

Over on Twitter, @Jason_Decker suggested the Lions "don't have faith in them to say the right things. If they were remorseful there would b no reason to shield." I don't disagree, and if that's the case, you wonder when the Lions will feel confident that they have a handle on the situation.

Hope isn't a strategy, but right now it's all the Lions have. They're hoping these guys will get it, sooner rather than later. If they planned to release, suspend or demote one or more of the offending players, they would have done it by now. Short of that, however, resolution is mostly out of the Lions' control. That's a scary thought.
Just last week, we were discussing the Detroit Lions' odd offseason in our SportsNation chat. "Silly" was the word I settled on to characterize a number of relatively minor incidents that, viewed together, suggest there are too many players on this team with some growing up to do.

Fairley
Fairley
I think it's fair to say we moved from "silly" to "stupid" this weekend after defensive tackle Nick Fairley's arrest in Alabama for driving under the influence and attempting to elude police. It was Fairley's second arrest in two months, the fifth known legal entanglement of a Lions player this offseason and the sixth incident involving a member of their 2011 draft class.

Fairley was arrested April 3 on a misdemeanor marijuana possession, also in Alabama. Running back Mikel Leshoure was cited twice for marijuana possession, offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath received one marijuana citation and receiver Titus Young was missing last week from organized team activities after fighting with safety Louis Delmas.

No matter how you view marijuana use or high-speed driving -- Fairley was clocked at 100 miles per hour prior to his arrest, according to police -- these players are guilty most notably of stupidity and selfishness.

NFL players young and old should know by now that commissioner Roger Goodell is prepared to discipline them more harshly than the U.S. legal system, especially for repeat offenders. Marijuana possession, drunken driving and eluding police in two months? That's an excellent list of ingredients for an NFL suspension. Like Leshoure before him, Fairley has absolutely no excuse for not being on his absolute best behavior after his first police run-in. Both have invited Goodell's scrutiny.

And it's selfish because these are players the Lions are counting on for both their short- and long-term success. The Lions aren't as good of a team with Leshoure or Fairley suspended, and they could indirectly suffer from Young missing valuable development time this offseason. This group's immature behavior threatens to impair the Lions' competitiveness in 2012 and beyond.

I'm sure there will be another round of questions about the Lions' discipline under coach Jim Schwartz. But I'm not coming down on Schwartz for poor offseason behavior. For the most part, especially under the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), players are on their own in the offseason. OTAs occur during the week, and players typically go home over the weekend. That's where Fairley was for both of his arrests.

To me, the offseason requires players to be men and accountable to themselves and teammates. It's not a time when a coach can cast a net over his roster. If you want to criticize or question the Lions, maybe it's better to start with their evaluation of the character of a draft class that doesn't seem to have its collective head on straight.

I don't think this silliness or stupidity or whatever word you chose has doomed the Lions to a setback season in 2012. Not yet, at least. But when will it end?
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand spoke extensively during a Monday radio interview about three members of the 2011 draft class who have experienced legal entanglements related to marijuana in the past three months. Lewand indicated that all three -- running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath -- will be given opportunities to repair their standing with the franchise.

Via the Lions' website, Lewand said: "We expressed disappointment last week and I continue to express disappointment that guys put themselves in the position where they have to have an unpleasant interaction with law enforcement. That is something that should be avoided. But as we all know from life's experiences, it happens, people make mistakes, and you want to give guys opportunities to correct those mistakes, learn from them and move forward."

That's only fair, for as Lewand himself noted, the organization gave him a similar opportunity after a 2010 drunken driving arrest. The NFL suspended him 30 days and fined him $100,000 but Lewand retained his post atop the Lions' front office.

"You are held to a high standard," Lewand said. "I know that firsthand and I've learned that lesson myself. That's a lesson we all have to learn and we have to take it to heart when that adversity is there and when we make mistakes we've got to learn from them and grow as human beings."

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Lions defensive end Cliff Avril pledged to be ready for the season whether or not he participates in the Lions' offseason workouts, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune wonders if the Chicago Bears will limit Devin Hester to punt returns only, and no kickoffs, in 2012.
  • Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is scheduled to receive the team's Ed Block Courage Award on Tuesday, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears running back Kahlil Bell hasn't signed his restricted free-agent tender but will sign an injury waiver in order to participate in the team's offseason workout program, McClure writes for the Tribune.
  • The Green Bay Packers are lamenting the shortened offseason program, as mandated by the NFL's agreement with the NFL Players Association. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette explains.
  • Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviews Packers receiver Donald Driver's latest performance on "Dancing With the Stars."
  • Michael Lombardi of NFL.com takes an executive's look at the Minnesota Vikings' myriad roster holes. Lombardi: "With such a large number of concerns, though, it's easy to see why [general manager Rick] Spielman would make the third pick available. The Vikings are not a few players away from competing. Spielman, who was promoted to general manager in January, must recognize this is not a one-year fixer-upper. He has to have a two-year plan to patch up the team's numerous holes. He must take a broad look at the talent pool in the next two years -- both in the draft and in free agency -- and then decide where the answers might come from."
  • The Minneapolis City Council will host a stadium hearing on April 24 that opponents appear to be gearing up for, according to Eric Roper of the Star Tribune.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

On Tuesday, we downplayed the individual impact of three incidents Detroit Lions players have had with marijuana in the past three months. They are mostly misdemeanors and aren't likely to have lasting consequences from a legal perspective. If anything, they seem more significant when bunched together as a reflection of the organization.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press takes a different tack, writing the Lions should release defensive tackle Nick Fairley and running back Mikel Leshoure. They don't need "another ticking time bomb," Sharp writes. He adds: "Just because marijuana usage is perceived as more casual than other drugs doesn't mean the punitive measures should be equally nonchalant."

The timing of these incidents, which also include offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath, suggests the Lions will have to create a more effective internal deterrent. But parting ways with these players would be an awfully harsh, and probably unrealistic, punishment. I think Sharp was trying to snap people out of downplaying the significance of NFL players using marijuana, and the message was heard.

Continuing around the NFC North:
On Monday, we learned that Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure had been cited twice in the past month for marijuana possession. The second resulted in an arraignment that reportedly is scheduled to take place this week.

On Tuesday, Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley was arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in Mobile, Ala.

As several of you point out, that makes three members of the Lions' 2011 draft class to have marijuana-related legal problems since the end of the season. Offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath paid a fine in January after being charged with misdemeanor possession.

Typically we don't get too worked up about a misdemeanor crime. But three similar incidents in a short period of time reflect poorly on the franchise, and a statement released Tuesday afternoon implies rising concern from the team. It read: "We are aware of the incident involving Nick Fairley. We hold all of our players to a high standard of behavior and the recent charges against Nick and Mikel Leshoure are not consistent with those standards. We are extremely disappointed. We will continue to gather information and will have further comment at the appropriate time."

I don't think these incidents will impact any player's status with the organization. If Culbreath wasn't released or disciplined (publicly), then you wouldn't think that Leshoure or Fairley would. However, all three will be subject to the NFL's substance abuse program, which triggers suspensions on a second offense.

In the end, this is a collection of relatively minor offenses, at least from a legal perspective. But the timing and close proximity suggests the Lions might need a more forceful internal deterrent. To combat post-whistle penalties last season, coach Jim Schwartz instituted an infamous zero-tolerance policy. Perhaps a similar program is necessary now.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman kicked off the draft-day trade speculation season by hopping on the NFL Network during Senior Bowl practices and declaring: "It will be, I think, very busy on draft day. We're the third overall pick, so we'll be looking at all the options. If someone wants to come up and get our pick, we’re going to be more than willing to listen."

As we've discussed before, the presence of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III would make the Vikings an obvious trading partner for a quarterback-needy team at No. 3. In the past, Spielman has said there are a few players in each draft that he would never pass up an opportunity to select, regardless of the trade offer.

You wonder if USC offensive lineman Matt Kalil will be one of those players. The Vikings are in need of a left tackle and usually teams need to devote a high draft pick to get one. Three more months to go.

Continuing around the NFC North:
The Detroit Lions will be the first NFC North team to get on the field for a training camp practice, and so it makes sense for them to have made signing their draft class a high priority. After a flurry of agreements Thursday afternoon, the Lions are down to one unsigned rookie: First-round pick Nick Fairley.

The Lions have a 10:15 a.m. practice scheduled for Friday morning.

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Amid the frenzied free-agent market, NFL teams are trying to get their draft classes signed in time for the training camps they want to open in the coming days. So lets resurrect our annual draft tracker to keep you abreast of who has signed and who is left.

To this point, the Chicago Bears are the only NFC North team with confirmed draft pick signings.

I'll post new versions of this bad boy regularly but not necessarily after every transaction.

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