NFC North: Justin Durant

We're Black and Blue All Over:

For much of the offseason and early summer, I assumed that if the Detroit Lions' competition at strongside linebacker was close, it would go to one of the second-year players -- Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead -- who were among those in contention. Apparently the competition was not close.

Veteran Ashlee Palmer, who has spent his career as a special-teams ace, has worked exclusively with the first team for the past two weeks, points out Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Coach Jim Schwartz hasn't named Palmer his Week 1 starter yet, but said: "I don't know that race is over yet, but he has certainly taken the lead."

Palmer has had a good camp by all accounts, but the competition must also be viewed in part as a disappointment after the Lions drafted Lewis and Whitehead last summer knowing that both of their 2012 outside linebackers -- DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant -- were in the final year of their contracts. Levy re-signed in the offseason, but neither Lewis nor Whitehead has been able to slip into Durant's role. (We discussed the Lions' late-round draft issues Tuesday.)

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I didn't post anything immediately after Tuesday's annual release of the Green Bay Packers' financial report. I know how much you guys love those accounting/stadium/legal posts. But I do want to point out what I believe was the official release of the new capacity at Lambeau Field.

Vic Ketchman of Packers.com notes that the Packers' most recent renovation project -- adding about 7,000 end zone seats -- brings the official capacity to 80,750. That makes Lambeau the third-largest stadium in the NFL behind FedEx Field (home of the Washington Redskins) and MetLife Stadium (New York Giants/Jets).

For those interested, I have a few thoughts on the Packers' financials that will post later Tuesday. Otherwise, don't forget: Today is the day that ESPN.com is scheduled to flip commenting procedures on posts. You'll need to log in via Facebook to leave a comment. Good luck!

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Packers president Mark Murphy has learned how to relay the same basic message on the eventual retirement of Brett Favre's jersey in many different ways. He reiterated to reporters Tuesday, via the Associated Press, that Favre's jersey will be retired but not this year and he doesn't know when.
  • The Packers' starting running back, to be named later, is the 10th-most important player on their roster, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on entering the season in the final year of his contract, via ESPN 1000: "I haven't thought about it in a while, actually. I'll probably address it once in training camp, once before the season and that's kind of it. I'm not going to talk about it. That stuff takes care of itself. As long as we're winning football games and I'm playing well, hopefully they keep me around. If that doesn't happen, we'll see how it plays out. I'm not going to be distracted by it. I can't worry about it. I've been in this league long enough. I've seen guys come and guys go. It will work out the way it's supposed to work out."
  • The Bears are expecting big things from tight end Martellus Bennett, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Bears tailback Matt Forte is expecting to be used more in the passing game this season, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "The Detroit Lions will have several new starters on defense this season, including the outside linebacker spot previously held by Justin Durant. In what figures to be one of the fiercest training camp competitions, veteran Ashlee Palmer will attempt to fend off the challenge of second-year players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis."
  • The Lions' late draft picks are hoping to stand out in training camp, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune talks to former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle about his love of golf.
  • Vikings cornerback Chris Cook is entering a pivotal season, according to Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

NFC North links: Roles for Leshoure, Bell

March, 27, 2013
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Chicago Bears

The Bears and cornerback Kelvin Hayden have agreed to terms on a one-year deal.

David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune says the Bears could do a lot worse than using their first-round draft pick on linebacker Manti Te'o. Haugh: "Even after signing veteran free-agent linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson to replace Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach, the Bears lack the youth and stability Te'o offers the position. Whether [GM Phil] Emery uses the No. 20 selection or trades down in the first round, he could justify taking Te'o if Georgia's Alec Ogletree goes as the first inside linebacker, as many expect."

Detroit Lions

According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, linebacker Justin Durant is close to agreeing to a contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

Even though the Lions signed running back Reggie Bush, they still expect Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell to play big roles in 2013.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers on Tuesday signed kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Free-agent safety Michael Huff is reportedly planning a visit to Green Bay.

Minnesota Vikings

Ben Goessling of the Pioneer Press reports the Vikings have re-signed linebacker Marvin Mitchell.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says it's too soon to panic regarding the e-pulltabs that are expected to cover the state's share of a new Vikings stadium. “We’ll work this out,” Dayton said. “It’s not about pointing fingers about what happened last spring. … Unless somebody can prove conclusively otherwise, I would say everybody -- the Gambling Control Board, the Department of Revenue, the Legislature, Republicans and Democrats, and my administration -- everybody acted in good faith, and has applied their best judgment to a totally unprecedented situation.”

Passing the time in free agency

March, 14, 2013
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Some things need no explanation. A little diversion from you, courtesy Detroit Lions free agent linebacker Justin Durant:


We've been discussing the Detroit Lions' pending defensive overhaul for some time, a shift they've advanced through free agency by inviting two players -- safety Glover Quin defensive lineman Jason Jones -- for first-day visits. But the cornerback position is difficult to upgrade en masse, so it made sense for the Lions to prioritize the return of starter Chris Houston.

The Lions' five-year agreement with Houston, struck Wednesday morning, doesn't solve the Lions' deficiencies in the secondary or even at cornerback. It was, however, a wise move to salvage the most reliable and skilled member of what was by all accounts an underwhelming group. As the chart shows, the 2012 Lions were the NFL's worst pass defense on throws outside the numbers -- the typical domain of cornerbacks -- according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The 2013 market contains a glut of veteran cornerbacks, but Houston, 28, was surely one of the best available if your took a multiple-season horizon. Coach Jim Schwartz signaled his affection for and interest in bringing back Houston during the NFL scouting combine last month, noting the Lions used him as a true No. 1 cornerback last season to defend opponents' top receivers for the first time.

"Corners are tough to find in the NFL," Schwartz said, "and Chris started out the season hurt. He had an ankle sprain coming into the regular season and missed the first couple of games. You realize how much you miss a guy when he's not out on the field. Chris added some things to his résumé that he really didn't have before. There were a few games that he matched No. 1 wide receivers, guys like Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, people like that. That was something that we really hadn't used him for, he really hadn't done before.

"But he's played some quality football for us and has worked on some things early in his career that had been weaknesses. He's a vet, he's a pro, he's a guy that's been productive for us."

The key to the Lions' defensive improvement will be surrounding Houston with more players of similarly competent skills. Quin and Jones are their early targets, and they have also re-signed linebacker DeAndre Levy and retained defensive end Willie Young. That could mean the departure of safety Louis Delmas, and perhaps defensive end Cliff Avril and linebacker Justin Durant as well, but still leaves the Lions a few cornerbacks short.

The reality of the cornerback position is that you can add one or maybe two decent players in one offseason. If you already have one, it makes sense to keep him rather than dig a deeper hole.

BBAO: Never say never on Finley

March, 7, 2013
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Last week, Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley told ESPN he would not take a pay cut to remain with the team in 2013. This week, his agent did what agents should do -- leave every option open.

In an interview with Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, agent Blake Baratz said: "I would never just turn my nose up at anything. I will listen and hear anybody about anything and withhold judgment until I do."

The upshot of the story is that the Packers don't need to act until the end of this month. They don't need Finley's salary-cap space immediately, and his $3 million roster bonus -- which they wouldn't want to pay if he isn't going to be on the team in 2013 -- isn't due until March 27.

That's two weeks into the free-agent market, a time when big-spending teams have typically doled out their major dollars already. There would no doubt be interest in Finley at that time, but there would be less available salary-cap space for teams to make significant offers. Just something to think about.

Continuing around the NFC North:
As he embarked on the offseason in January, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew made clear he wanted to infuse his team's defense with playmakers. Here's how he put it during a meeting with local reporters:

"We need guys that can impact the game. We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."

No objective analysis would put linebacker DeAndre Levy in that category. In four seasons, Levy has intercepted five passes, forced two fumbles and notched one sack. But you also can't replace an entire defense in one offseason, which helps explain why Levy and the Lions agreed to a multiyear contract Wednesday, per the team's website.

Using Mayhew's words, Levy is a good guy who lines up right and knows what his job is. He will occasionally make his presence known, as he did during a game-winning interception return at the Miami Dolphins in 2010. But unless his game changes significantly, he won't spark the Lions at the "impact" level that Mayhew is seeking.

In the end, impact players are more expensive than good guys who line up right and know what their job is. The Lions don't have a lot of salary-cap flexibility, and their football decisions must reflect economics as well. And in all fairness, Levy started last season off well -- he was part of our All-NFC North midseason team -- before a groin injury limited him the rest of the way. Based on the full season, our friends at Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 41 among 43 outside linebackers who played in a 4-3 scheme.

The Lions have now re-signed two of the nine pending free agents they have targeted, Levy and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard. It's not clear what Levy's return means for fellow linebacker and free agent Justin Durant, who in two seasons with the Lions has 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.

Still on deck on the Lions' fre- agent list are a number of big names, from defensive end Cliff Avril to cornerback Chris Houston to safety Louis Delmas. NFL free agents can begin negotiating with teams this weekend.
We noted earlier that Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew admitted he was wrong to count on tailback Jahvid Best to play this season. But that was just one of several acknowledgments and candid comments Mayhew made during an interview session with local reporters, and his most striking comments implied a major and immediate overhaul of the Lions' defense.

Much of the Lions' defensive nucleus is made up of pending free agents, and you wonder how many Mayhew wants to bring back after reading some of Mayhew's quotes. He admitted it's "quite possible" he misjudged the defense's talent level entering the season, and said it needs more playmakers.

[+] EnlargeChris Houston
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsCornerback Chris Houston, right, is among the pending free agents on a Detroit Lions defense that delivered few big plays this season.
"We need good players," Mayhew said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "It doesn't really matter how we get them from my standpoint. But we need good players, and we need impact players, especially on the back end on the defense.

"We need guys that can impact the game," he added. "We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."

What's amazing is that even the most amateur observers have been questioning the Lions' secondary for years. It's true that safety Louis Delmas is a difference-maker when healthy, but for the most part it appears Mayhew went into the season counting on players to do things they had never or rarely done before.

Who did Mayhew expect to be his interceptors? Cornerback Chris Houston had five in 2011, but has never had more than two in any of his other five NFL seasons. Cornerback Jacob Lacey had five interceptions in three previous seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Safety Amari Spievey had five in two previous seasons. Cornerback Bill Bentley was a rookie, and thus his production was impossible to project.

Mayhew said the only defensive player who improved from 2011 was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a warning shot for everyone who is eligible for free agency and a few others as well. (I assume he skipped over defensive tackle Nick Fairley, because he was injured for most of last season.)

The free agent list includes defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson. Linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are on it, as are Houston, Delmas, Lacey and Spievey. Given Mayhew's comments, you would think that many of them will be looking for work elsewhere this spring.

Of course, Mayhew's search for "playmakers" is no different than what every other team is looking for. He won't find playmakers at every position, but in 2012, the Lions were pretty thin across the board. Most fans directed their ire at the Lions' inconsistent offense, but it rarely got help from the defense. The Lions recovered the NFL's sixth-fewest fumbles (six), had only 11 interceptions (No. 23) and ranked No. 22 in sacks per opposing dropback (5.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Again, I appreciate Mayhew's honesty. There is not much to criticize here that he did not already acknowledge. The Lions stood pat last offseason and paid for it. That doesn't appear to be a possibility in 2013.

Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

December, 10, 2012
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After the Green Bay Packers' 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Watching quarterback Aaron Rodgers dash 27 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter brought to mind our preseason discussion about his offseason work aimed at maintaining or elevating his running efficiency as he got older. The gross numbers are hardly fantasy-worthy. Rodgers officially has 46 rushing attempts this season, putting him on pace for his lowest total since 2008, and he ranks seventh among NFL quarterbacks with 234 yards. But Rodgers has made 18 first downs in those attempts, giving him a conversion rate of 39.1 percent. That's better than each of the six quarterbacks ahead of him in yards except the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (41.3 percent). First-down conversions should be the definition of efficiency for quarterback scrambles. Here's a project that might require offseason work: Charting how many of Rodgers' scrambles have come against man-to-man defenses. Much like he frequently throws downfield passes when he suspects an opponent has jumped offsides, Rodgers seems to take off when he knows that defenders will have their backs to him in coverage. That's precisely what happened on the touchdown. Go back and watch Rodgers run right past Lions linebacker Justin Durant, who was covering tight end Jermichael Finley near the sideline and never saw Rodgers.
  2. There were plenty of clues that the Packers believe running back DuJuan Harris, signed to the practice squad in October and promoted to the 53-man roster 10 days ago, will emerge as a significant factor in the final push. They went out of their way to make sure he was involved Sunday night, giving him the ball on all seven plays he was in the game, including their first snap. Both Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy mentioned his "unique" skill set. Harris appeared both quick and powerful, possibly because he has fresh legs from a season of inactivity, and he finished with 31 yards on seven carries. That total included an 11-yard run on his first carry and a 14-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Alex Green shouldered most of the load, playing on 32 of a possible 53 snaps, while veteran Ryan Grant saw one carry on two snaps. But Harris is worth keeping an eye on. It's clear the Packers want to see what he can do.
  3. The Packers' coverage was exceptional for much of the night, albeit against a Lions team that was without three of their top four receivers as well as tight end Brandon Pettigrew (ankle). In what might have been their last game without defensive back Charles Woodson, the Packers allowed only two pass plays longer than 19 yards. Cornerbacks Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Sam Shields each batted away two passes. It's worth noting that Hayward played all 84 defensive snaps while Shields overtook Davon House for the No. 3 cornerback role, playing 58 snaps. Shields' return gives the Packers a healthy problem whenever Woodson resumes playing. You wonder if the Packers wouldn't consider leaving him at safety full time, rather than sliding him into the slot position when they move into their nickel package. Just a thought.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Did they raise the wall at Lambeau Field last week? Rodgers needed help completing the Lambeau Leap after his touchdown, as did defensive lineman Mike Daniels after a 43-yard fumble return. "I'm a little embarrassed about the leap," Rodgers said. "I was pretty tired." In all seriousness, you wonder whether Daniels' play will go down as the moment something special seemed evident in the Packers' season. They were on the ropes, trailing 14-3 against an opponent with a creative game plan, and got back into the game via an unlikely play by a rookie who had been averaging about 12 snaps per game before Sunday night. (He played 33 against the Lions because of injuries to other players.) In any event, it will go down as one of the most surprising plays of the Packers' season.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

December, 3, 2012
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After the Detroit Lions' 35-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    We've had plenty of offseason discussions about the value of defensive backs relative to pass rush in the NFL's current passing era. A reasonable argument can be made that an elite pass rush, as the Lions have displayed at times, can better protect an average group of cover men than if the situation were reversed. Perhaps that's why the Lions have felt comfortable cobbling together their secondary on a yearly basis under general manager Martin Mayhew. Sometimes it has worked, but Sunday it was a big reason for the Lions' loss. Veteran cornerback Drayton Florence gave up receiver LaVon Brazill's 42-yard fourth-quarter touchdown in a situation where the cornerback's only job is to keep the receiver from getting behind him. Florence was signed just before the start of the season and clearly was available for a reason. I'm not blaming Florence for the loss and I'm not saying an elite cornerback couldn't also get beat in that situation. I'm saying that a patchwork secondary has its risks, and Sunday we saw what can happen. If you're playing a corner who can't cover in a prevent-style defense, and you're playing him because you realized at the end of training camp that you needed more help than you gave yourself in the offseason, then, well, you probably deserve the result.
  2. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had an indisputably great game. The Colts lost yardage on four of his six tackles. He had one sack, hit Luck six times and batted down a pass. It's hard to ask for more than that from a defensive tackle in a regulation game. Perhaps you could question why one of those hits didn't come on the last play of the game, when Andrew Luck seeped through the pocket long enough to find receiver Donnie Avery for the game-winning score, but you could say that about everyone on the Lions roster in some way. We noted earlier that Colts guard Mike McGlynn was furious with Suh for what he viewed as celebrating the concussion of teammate Winston Justice, but I haven't seen a replay yet. It's not visible on the version the NFL puts on its Game Rewind feature. McGlynn isn't the first opponent to accuse Suh of such antics, but at this point there is nothing conclusive we can say.
  3. I know there has been plenty of debate about the Lions' playcall on third down just after the two-minute warning. A conversion would have sealed the game for the Lions, but Mikel Leshoure's one-yard run ensured the Colts would get one final possession. Coach Jim Schwartz played it by the book, opting to run down the clock with the Colts out of timeouts rather than attempt a pass considering there was five yards to go. (It should be noted that quarterback Matthew Stafford had hit only one of his six attempts in the fourth quarter.) I think this is one of those situations where people would be upset with whatever Schwartz decided if it didn't work. Don't forget the 2010 game against the New York Jets, when an incomplete pass by quarterback Drew Stanton late in the game provided the Jets ample time on their final possession. Sunday, the ball was at midfield and the Colts were going to have no more than 1 minute, 14 seconds to work with. The Lions were let down by a poor directional punt by Nick Harris and atrocious defense on the final drive.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
If the season ended today, the Lions would have the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 draft. And amazingly, we could craft a relatively long list of needs for a team that returned 21 of 22 starters this season because it believed itself close to contending for a championship. Nate Burleson's injury, Titus Young's maturity and concern over Ryan Broyles' knee makes receiver a surprisingly thin position. As we just discussed, the Lions are paying this season for the little attention they've paid to their secondary. Allowing four fourth-quarter comebacks is indicative of poor pass coverage when it was required. And you wonder who among the Lions' long list of pending free agents on defense, from Cliff Avril to DeAndre Levy to Justin Durant to Louis Delmas to Chris Houston, will need to be replaced as well.

Looming: Three huge QB contracts

October, 25, 2012
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No NFC North teams appeared on John Clayton's list of the NFL's 10 worst contracts, and I really can't come up with an obvious nomination. There are no abominable contracts in this division at the moment, at least none any team entered by choice that will limit its flexibility moving forward.

Some of you might note the five-year, $25 million contract the Minnesota Vikings gave tight end John Carlson last spring. Carlson has played sparingly (27.2 percent of snaps), caught three passes and is currently sidelined by a concussion. But as Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com points out, the Vikings could void his contract after this season (provided he is not still injured) for a modest $4 million cap hit.

[+] EnlargeCutler
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireJay Cutler's contract is up following the 2013 season.
What Clayton's project did bring to mind is that the NFC North is primed for three monster-truck contracts that will be the types of deals that entire salary caps are structured around. For different reasons, quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford are all closer to new contracts than you might have realized.

Cutler's deal with the Chicago Bears expires after the 2013 season. He's making $8.2 million this year and is due to make $8.9 million next season. Would the Bears go into 2013 with their franchise quarterback in a free-agent year? It wouldn't be ideal, and if they want to avoid it, they would need to address it this offseason.

We've discussed Rodgers' situation several times. He is signed through the 2014 season but has obviously outperformed a deal that will pay him $9.75 million in 2013 and $11 million in 2014. You would assume it's a matter of when, not if, Rodgers gets a new deal. The current benchmark is the five-year, $100 million contract the New Orleans Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees.

Stafford's situation, meanwhile, is no less urgent even though he is technically signed through 2015. The final year of his deal is voidable and, more importantly, Stafford is due to count $20.320 million against the Detroit Lions' 2013 salary cap after two years of renegotiations. The Lions could conceivably deal with a cap number that high, but you wonder if they'll seek an extension in order to lower his cap hit over the next few years. They will have a busy offseason given the pending free agency of seven starters: cornerback Chris Houston, safety Louis Delmas, linebacker DeAndre Levy, defensive tackle Corey Williams, right tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Justin Durant and place-kicker Jason Hanson.

Investing in a franchise quarterback is usually a sound policy, but it'll be costly in each instance.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It sounds as though Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman will be available for Thursday's game against the Green Bay Packers. But Tillman didn't practice Tuesday because of a shin injury, and it's fair to ask why that injury occurred while Tillman was on the punt return team in the first half of last Sunday's victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Is it worth risking injury to your No. 1 cornerback, one who is now 31 years old, on special teams? It's not a new question, and here's how special teams coordinator Dave Toub addressed it, according to the Chicago Tribune: "We've got to have him on the field because he's the best guy that we've got. He can shut down a gunner single-handedly. There are not many guys that can do that.''

Toub said that about seven starters play at least one phase of special teams. Given how many games Toub's group has helped the Bears win over the years, it's hard to argue with his methods or coach Lovie Smith's personnel decisions. A cornerback can get kicked in the shin on defense as easily as he can on special teams.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Detroit Lions cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Click here for the complete list of Detroit Lions roster moves.

Most significant move: The Lions showed their commitment to fixing the secondary by keeping four new cornerbacks -- Kevin Barnes, Jacob Lacey and draft choices Bill Bentley and Jonte Green. They left themselves thin at safety, though. The Lions retained five safeties from last year -- Louis Delmas, Amari Spievey, Erik Coleman, John Wendling and Ricardo Silva -- but not adding a new safety is a little surprising considering the knee problems Delmas has dealt with. At corner, though, the Lions have a nice mixture of veterans and youth. Lacey is at least a solid third corner, Barnes came over from the Redskins in a trade, and Chris Houston is a solid starter. The Lions released Alphonso Smith, Justin Miller and Ross Weaver, who fell behind in the cornerback race.

Onward and upward: Defensive end Everette Brown and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen had decent camps and could be picked up by other teams. Brown was particularly solid as a pass-rusher during the preseason. Still, it was going to be hard for Brown to crack the top four at defensive end with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young ahead of him. Brown’s only hope was beating out fourth-round choice Ronnell Young, but the Lions wisely made a commitment to their draft board by keeping seven draft choices.

What next: The Lions need to start thinking about locking up some of their defensive starters. Avril, Corey Williams, Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy, Houston and Delmas are unrestricted free agents. Spievey is a restricted free agent. That won’t be easy. The Lions have less than $2.5 million of cap room, so they might be able to get only one deal done. They can’t do a long-term deal with Avril because they come to an agreement by July 15. Franchise players have to settle for the one-year deal after that date. The Lions may have to put the franchise tag on Delmas after the season and then get a long-term deal done with Avril in February.
Reviewing Friday's action at M&T Bank Stadium:

Detroit Lions 27, Baltimore Ravens 12

Preseason record: 1-1

Of interest: You saw in the second quarter how quickly the Lions can take control of a game. Down 6-0, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a 57-yard pass to receiver Calvin Johnson from his 7-yard line. The Lions finished that drive with Stafford's 18-yard strike to Johnson in the end zone. Overall, Johnson caught five passes for 111 yards in the first half. Stafford didn't leave until he had completed 12 of 17 passes for 184 yards and two scores. … The other touchdown was a 24-yard pass to receiver Titus Young, who stayed on his feet after contact and dove some five yards into the end zone. … Rookie receiver Ryan Broyles made an encouraging debut with two receptions for 26 yards. … The Lions had 11 penalties, including a silly late hit by defensive lineman Nick Fairley and also a face mask against linebacker Justin Durant, wiping out a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. … As inconsistent as the defense was, I thought cornerback Chris Houston and safeties Erik Coleman and John Wendling made some important plays. Houston had two breakups near the goal line that I counted, Wendling had a red-zone breakup and a sack, and Coleman looked strong in run support. … Coach Jim Schwartz was upset with some sloppy play on special teams, which Coleman and Wendling have vacated to focus on defense. ... It's worth noting that first-round draft pick Riley Reiff got some work with the first team.

Local coverage: The Lions did a lot of their offensive damage against the blitz, notes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. … Schwartz on special teams, via McCosky: "We've got to find better players to be able to execute. You can do all the drills you want, if a guy can't make a play, he can't make a play. We've got to find guys who can, particularly on our punt and kickoff cover teams. We were poor in those areas." … The Lions were disappointed in their penalty totals, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. … Birkett: "The Lions still have some holes on defense. Amari Spievey made like a statue in limited first-quarter work at safety. But nothing that happened Friday has swayed me from thinking they could make a long playoff run this year." … Running back/kick returner Stefan Logan (ankle) was on crutches after the game, but X-rays were negative for a break, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.

Up next: Aug. 25 at Oakland Raiders

NFC North links: High hopes for McClellin

July, 19, 2012
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Chicago Bears

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune says the Bears need rookie defensive end Shea McClellin to produce early and often this season. Biggs: "They selected him because they have a true need at defensive end. The last time the Bears had a rookie first-round pick make an impact was Tommie Harris in 2004."

Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com look at the makeover the Bears experienced at wide receiver and if the group can live up to the hype.

Detroit Lions

It's early, but are the Lions content with letting Cliff Avril walk after this season?

Linebacker Justin Durant could be a cap casualty, suggests NFL.com's Brian McIntyre.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers made a concerted effort this offseason to improve their defense, starting with the defensive line.

Quarterback Graham Harrell says he'll be ready to step in should anything happen to Aaron Rodgers.

Minnesota Vikings

Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com kicks off his position preview with a look at the Vikings' running backs.

General manager Rick Spielman touches on a number of topics as the team prepares for training camp.

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