NFC North: Mailbag

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit is back after a week off and so is the Detroit Lions mailbag.

A little bit shorter mailbag this week as we head into the second half of the season. Detroit heads to Chicago for a massive divisional game to everyone -- well, everyone except Brandon Marshall, who said this is like every other game -- and a game that could determine a wild-card slot or possibly the NFC North title.

Remember, the mailbag is only as good as your questions. To contribute to future mailbags, drop an email to michael.rothstein@espn.com and include your first name and hometown, or shoot me a note on Twitter @mikerothstein.

On to your questions.

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Welcome to the almost-midway point of the NFL season.

The Detroit Lions are off next week -- right in the middle of the regular season -- but before the Lions are able to rest up, they have a critical game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Ford Field.

This week's Mailbag touches on things to watch Sunday, what could happen after the season and holding penalties.

Remember, the Mailbag is only as good as your questions. Send your questions to michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.

Now, on to your questions.

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Mailbag request

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
1:00
PM ET
After three weeks away, the mailbag is pretty barren. So do me a favor and send some ideas, questions, observations or complaints for the return of our NFC North weekend mailbag.

You can hit the mailbag portal.

Facebook is fine.

So is Twitter.

You have two hours.

Go.
Tags:

NFC North

Mailbag request

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
5:46
PM ET
It might be a slow time in the NFL year, but that doesn't mean we can't have some mailbag fun. I just need some help from you.

I'm giving you the next 18 hours or so to send me some topics and questions for the Weekend Mailbag. That's an eternity in the blogosphere. Send them via the mailbag portal, or Facebook, Twitter or the comments section below. Whatever floats your boat. I'll take some submissions from each venue and post my responses by Saturday afternoon.

On your mark.

Get set.

GO!
Tags:

NFC North

Mailbag request

July, 9, 2009
7/09/09
10:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We're bringing back the weekend mailbag after a one-week break, and I need your help in these NFL dog days of July. Send your questions to the mailbag, or hit the Facebook page, to ensure we have a good variety of topics this weekend. Thanks a bunch.

Mailbag request

June, 11, 2009
6/11/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

I've gotten plenty of mailbag feedback from you on two important stories this week: The Brett Favre story and the Jay Cutler-Aaron Rodgers debate. (I'll let you know when I decide on a catchier name for that feature, and thanks for the suggestions so far.)

But it's time to put out my regular request for division-wide questions and topics for consideration in the Weekend Mailbag. Just click here and let me know what's on your mind -- in addition to Favre, Cutler and Rodgers.

Or, you can post your questions on our still-sizzling new Facebook page. I'm also learning how to access your replies on Twitter, but let's not get too crazy.

Mailbag request

May, 28, 2009
5/28/09
9:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

OK everyone, it's mailbag time. I need you to send in a fresh batch of comments, questions and ideas so that we can have a solid edition of the Weekend Mailbag. As always, click here.

And here's a twist: I'll incorporate at least a few comments/questions/ideas from our new gathering spot on Facebook. (Which, if you haven't noticed my previous plugs, can be accessed here.)

It's kind of a slow time in the NFL, so get your innovation hats on. Thanks.

Mailbag request

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
9:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

OK, if you want to have a Favre-less mailbag post this weekend -- or, at least, with some topics other than Brett Favre addressed -- I need to hear from you. I just wiped the mailbag clean and am ready for any and all submissions for this weekend. Send 'em here, and send 'em quick. Thanks for your patience.

Weekend Mailbag: Part I

May, 2, 2009
5/02/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

NFC North teams are continuing their rookie camps this weekend, and we'll jump on the blog if any major news erupts. For now, however, let's get back to our weekend mailbag. Look for Part II on Sunday -- if you dare.

Denzel of Milwaukee, Wis., asks: With Aaron Kampman switching to OLB does he have to change his number from 74?

Kevin Seifert: Denzel, I've gotten this question probably on a weekly basis all offseason -- or at least since Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy confirmed his plans to switch to a 3-4 defense. From what I've been told, the Packers have not received final word on how the numbers of their defensive ends-turned linebackers will change.

NFL rules are quite specific on this issue. Defensive linemen must have numbers between 60-79. If none are available, they can pick one from between 90-99. Linebackers, on the other hand, must have a number between 50-59 but can also pick from between 90-99 if none in the first group are available.

Here's what the NFL rulebook says about situations similar to Kampman's: "If a player changes his position during his playing career in the NFL, and such change moves him out of a category specified above, he must be issued an appropriate new jersey numeral."

In a strict interpretation, Kampman would be forced to change his number if he in fact becomes a full-time outside linebacker. But the NFL does make some exceptions to this rule. Most recently, the league ruled that Chicago's Devin Hester could keep No. 23 even though receivers must wear numbers between 10-19 or 80-89.

McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have talked about using elements of the 4-3 defense in their scheme, and Kampman almost certainly would play defensive end in that scenario. Because of that dual role, it's possible the NFL will allow Kampman to keep his original number. But as of Friday, there had been no final ruling from the league. We will await word with bated breath.


Jobu in Chicago writes: Nothing urgent but I have a small confusion which might be something you understand. I was looking at the rookie pool amount allocated to Detroit and it comes to about $8M. I think Matthew Stafford's contract is a 6-year contract with a guaranteed money averaging close to $7M/year. The total value of the contract is as high as $78M which comes to an average of $13M/year. How is it that the Lions are allotted about $8M/year and that is sufficient for their needs? This math escapes me. Do you understand how this thing works? Thanks.

Kevin Seifert: Good question, Jobu, because I think a lot of people are confused by this. I'll try to lay it out without making this worse.

Think of the rookie pool as a secondary cap within the primary salary cap for each team. It defines the total amount of cap space that can be used to sign a rookie class, and varies from team to team based on the number of draft choices and what position they were selected in the draft.

Each team must fit its rookies' first-year cap numbers under the rookie pool allotment. In the Lions' case, their draft picks must have first-year cap figures that add up to no more than $8.074 million. That number might seem small, especially including Stafford's monster contract. But keep in mind there are many ways to artificially reduce a first-year cap number and push a larger cap hit to the back of the contract.

One technique is to give the player a small base salary combined with a large signing bonus, which can be spread over the life of the contract. You could also push a portion of the guaranteed money entirely out of the first year by making it a roster bonus payable in Year 2 and/or Year 3 of the contract. (Roster bonuses don't pro-rate. They count entirely in the year they are paid.)

The very specific terms of the Stafford deal have yet to be laid out. But let's lay out a rough example.

Let's say Stafford's base salary for 2009 is $1 million. His signing bonus is worth, say, $20 million and he has roster bonuses of $11 million in 2010 and $10 million in 2009. In this example, his first-year cap number would be $4.3 million. ($1 million base plus $3.3 million of a pro-rate signing bonus.) That leaves almost $4 million for the remainder of the rookie class, whose cap numbers will decrease dramatically relative to their draft status.

As we all saw with the size of Stafford's deal, the rookie pool hasn't done much to control the cash value of contracts at the top of the draft. I suspect the concept will be adjusted if the league ever addresses this issue in a substantive way.

More to come Sunday.

Weekend Mailbag: Part II

March, 22, 2009
3/22/09
1:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

For the second part of our weekend mailbag, I thought I'd try focusing one question that popped up often last week. Duncan inspired the exercise by noting that 75 percent of the NFC North has significant questions at right tackle:

  • Chicago's John Tait has retired and swing tackle John St. Clair signed with Cleveland. For now, Frank Omiyale is holding down the position.
  • Green Bay starter Mark Tauscher is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is also a free agent.
  • Minnesota has made clear it expects starter Ryan Cook to make significant improvement.

Only Detroit appears confident in its starter, in part because Gosder Cherilus was a first-round draft pick last season. (It's not out of the question the Lions will draft a left tackle, but that possibility is irrelevant in this issue.)

I got maybe a dozen mailbag notes who offered the same solution: Free agent Orlando Pace, whom St. Louis released earlier this month.

My first inclination was to dismiss Pace for that possibility entirely. He's had some health concerns and at 33, he's on the far downside of his career. And then there is the issue of moving from left tackle to right tackle. Anecdotally, Pace is the classic tall and long-armed left tackle who is difficult to run around in the pass rush but not exactly a mauler in the running game.

Traditionally, teams are right-handed and therefore like to have the right tackle be a strong run-blocker. But as I've mentioned before, I also have no illusions about my amateur football intelligence. The Baltimore Ravens, after all, are investigating the possibility of Pace playing right tackle for them. So I asked Jeremy Green, the director of pro scouting for Scouts Inc., if he thought Pace could -- or should -- play right tackle for the final few years of his career.

Jeremy's answer surprised me a bit, but it also made sense:

I think he could play right tackle and it might almost be better for him to play right tackle. He's not going to be as physical in the running game as you might like, but he's also not going to be facing the opponents' best speed rusher like he was on the left side. He has really struggled with some guys that can really rush the passer. It was getting to the point where guys were running around him. But even if he's at 80 percent, I think he can handle the guys on the other side. You could do a lot worse than having a player who is 80 percent of what Orlando Pace once was, especially on the right side.

There are still some other issues to resolve, including whether a Black and Blue team would want to take on a short-term addition at a time when it clearly needs a long-term solution. Nothing about the approach of any NFC North team suggests it will pursue Orlando Pace to play right tackle. But based on Jeremy's analysis, it could work on a football level.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Hey there. I'm starting to sift through my e-mails for this weekend's mailbag and am finding most of them relate to the possibility of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler getting traded to the NFC North.

Working on the assumption that you don't want to see an all-Cutler mailbag, I'm asking you send your non-Cutler questions here forthwith. Don't be shy.

Weekend mailbag, Part I

March, 14, 2009
3/14/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

For your peace of mind, I've separated this week's mailbag into two categories. You'll see "Objections to the Matthew Stafford/ESPN Research post" on Sunday. Today is "All Others."

Jessie of Sacramento writes: I'm a lions fan who has the opinion that we should draft matthew stafford. however, many of my fellow lions fans believe aaron curry should be the pick. now while i know he's going to be a stud in the NFL, his contract may be too large to be drafted at number 1. if he gets number 1 money, he will be instantly the highest paid LB in the league. how could anyone possibly justify picking him at 1 then? what kind of a contract would you expect him to demand at #1?

Kevin Seifert: That's an interesting angle to take. The NFL's rookie pay scale is so out of whack that the No. 1 pick almost always becomes one of the league's highest-paid players at his position. If Curry goes No. 1, he would be in line for a contract that includes about $30 million in guaranteed money. That's more than twice what Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis got in his latest contract. As it stands now, the league's highest-paid linebacker is Bart Scott of the New York Jets, who got $22 million guaranteed in his new contract.


Steve of Burlington, Ontario, writes: Do you anticipate the Lions releasing their new logo and colors prior to the draft to boost new jersey sales... hopefully Curry jerseys...they seem to be treating it like a bride on her wedding day and us long suffering fans are the groom. Give us something. We've been waiting for over a decade.

Kevin Seifert: The whole situation has been curious. Teams often acknowledge that they are planning a change to help build anticipation toward an unveiling, but the Lions have just been pretty quiet on the topic. There has been a lot of circumstantial evidence -- a big sale on 2008 merchandise and an apparent slip of the tongue by newcomer Grady Jackson -- but nothing definitive. The Lions will want to have this resolved one way or the other before the draft. Here's one cynical suggestion: Keep the old uniforms for one more year, forcing those who want to root for the No. 1 overall pick to buy an old one in 2009 and a new one in 2010.


Josh of Tuscaloosa writes: Kevin, I am a student at the University of Alabama and a Packer fan! My insight from a student stand point is that Andre Smith let his team down in their biggest moment. He is not the most loved guy on campus, or in the state for that matter. However, I can say that before he went somewhat off the deep end, he as far as we know was a model citizen here. Nick Saban has cracked down hard on players who don't tow the line but Andre was never one of those until January. I think he is young and dumb to be honest. His work ethic IS a problem. He is blessed with tremendous skill, I have watched him destroy opponents, but maybe he never took that skill to the weight room. My second part of this is as a Packer fan. As much as I want Andre to succeed, I DO NOT WANT HIM TO BE A PACKER. If you did not know, Ted Thompson was here right across the street from me. I know that he was here for Andre. Andre is not the answer to Cheeseheads' prayers Kevin. Thank you for your wonderful work. Have a good day!

Kevin Seifert: You're right, Josh. Ted Thompson himself was at the Alabama pro day, and I would imagine he wasn't happy to see Smith so out of shape. This will be a classic risk-reward decision. There seems to be little doubt that Smith can play the game. And offensive linemen don't necessarily have to be in Olympic shape to play at a high level. But what Thompson will have to determine is whether Smith's lack of conditioning is a result of laziness, bad advice or the need for a change of scenery. I just think what Smith has shown on tape is enough to merit a long look at him with the No. 9 overall pick.


Mike of Sacramento writes: Thanks for the breakdown on Andre "You Gonna Eat That?" Smith's chances of falling to the Packers at pick 9. I think we'd be better off going with defense on the first pick, then trying to get Beatty out of UConn. On that note, the ol' married couple of Kiper/McShay amazingly have formed a consensus in their latest mock that Tyson Jackson out of LSU is the best DE prospect in this year's draft for a 3-4 defense (they both have him going to Denver at 12). With Cullen Jenkins having injury problems and Johnny Jolly's interactions with Texas law enforcement, would it be considered a reach for the Packers to take Jackson at the 9 slot? Keep up the great work.

Kevin Seifert: Actually, Kiper likes Texas' Brian Orakpo as an end and McShay is high on Penn State's Aaron Maybin. I won't pretend to try to break down the pluses and minuses of Jackson, Maybin and Orakpo other than to say I think the Packers should draft the best pass-rusher and not necessarily the one they believe fits best into a 3-4 alignment. Get the player, then design a scheme around him.


Steve of Rochester writes: Kevin, I find the speculation that Jay Cutler might be available to the Vikings via trade very intriguing since I've had a private theory that in the 2006 draft Vikings coach Brad Childress was hoping to draft Cutler. Many thought Cutler was the best prospect but was predicted (correctly) to be the 3rd QB taken that year. In 2006 the Vikings had the 17th pick. Should be good enough to get the 3rd QB selected, right? After all in 2005 the 2nd QB (Rogers) was not drafted until the 24 selection and no team from the 11-16 picks should be looking to draft a QB in the first round. But the smarter Shanahan traded up from the 15th pick to the 11th to ensure that he would get Cutler. There goes Childress' franchise QB that he was going to brilliantly pick up in his first draft as an NFL head coach. So the Vikings, in a panic, have to trade up to take Jackson in round 2. Childress can't say he blew it with missing Cutler so he tells everyone (and himself) that he can mold Jackson into a starting QB. Your thoughts?

Kevin Seifert: Sounds like a good theory to me, although I've never had anyone tell me that in so many words. I think the Vikings were genuinely interested in Cutler back then, but they also put in a lot of work on Tarvaris Jackson. I believe they thought there was a pretty good chance they wouldn't get Cutler -- and/or wouldn't be willing to trade up to get him -- and would have to look elsewhere for a quarterback. That all said, I continue to think the Vikings would be silly not to explore every possibility if Cutler becomes available.


Alex of Kenosha, Wis., writes: Kevin: Huge Minnesota fan. Are the Vikings going to throw any money around this offseason? I know they were going for TJ, and lost out on Nate Washington. Harrison and Garcia are still out there, any chance they will give either of these guys a look? Thanks. Alex.

Kevin Seifert: After trading for Sage Rosenfels, I'd be shocked if they pursued Jeff Garcia. As for receiver, I'm guessing they're going to look at the draft. That could change if Torry Holt is released as expected, but at this point I'm not sensing any desire on their part to spend money just for the sake of spending.


Niraj of Chicago writes: Hi Kevin, I've been extremely disappointed that my beloved Chicago Bears have done next-to-nothing in the free agency market. Do you have any indication why this has been the case? Thanks, Niraj.

Kevin Seifert: What, you didn't like the Josh Bullocks signing? My only guess is that the Bears have committed themselves to getting better with their own players, especially the ones they signed to lucrative extensions last summer. That includes Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester and Tommie Harris. They chose to put their money into those players, and very few teams spend lavishly on their own players while also acquiring big-name talent on the free-agent market as well.


Brad of Collinsville writes: Kevin, what is your view about Chicago's Quarterback situation. Do you think their sitting around and letting good prospects escape them or do you think they might be thinking about Michael Vick, since he might have 4 or 5 years good playing time left in him and that he is very athletic in the way he can run out of the pocket.

Kevin Seifert: No, I think they are committed to giving Kyle Orton one more year to prove himself. If he falters in 2009, you'll see a more aggressive search for a new quarterback. I assume.


Holgate writes: What are the chances of the Lions passing on a Qb with the first pick, and possibly landing Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez with the 20th pick they have in the first round?

Kevin Seifert: These things change every day, but as of now I'd say it's pretty unlikely either guy would be available at No. 20.


Tom of Midland writes: Kevin, read the blog daily and love it. Thanks! Here's a question. Why don't the Lions have an all out 2009 defensive draft. I'm talking no QB's, no OL's, just defense. We scored a decent number of points last year and even with switching quarterbacks every week. Look at the Ravens. They get pretty far with a lot of defense and a little O. That would shore up our D for years to come!

Kevin Seifert: Interesting. The only flaw is I think the Lions do need some work on the offensive line. They're not in shambles there, but the strength of the offensive tackles class means they should really take advantage to shore up that position. Otherwise, I agree the Lions have many more needs on defense than they do on offense.


John of Winston-Salem writes: With Cassel going for the #34, and Cutler upset in Denver. Is it even a reasonable speculation that Detroit could trade for Cutler by swapping their #1 for Denver's #12 and #48?

Kevin Seifert: So, basically, the Lions would get Cutler and a second-round pick in exchange for moving down 12 spots in the first round. I think it's going to take more than that. Cutler has more of a pedigree than Cassel at this point.

A mini(camp) explanation

February, 23, 2009
2/23/09
5:45
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

In a recent mailbag, Jeff of Indiana asked why Chicago coach Lovie Smith had scheduled his mandatory minicamp to open March 16 -- at least two months earlier than most NFL teams usually do. I speculated the move was partially motivational and also a sign the Bears don't plan to make many significant personnel additions this offseason.

Smith addressed the issue himself Saturday at the NFL's annual scouting combine. Here is his verbatim answer:

"You're always trying to not necessarily send messages, but get certain points across, and the point we're trying to get across is that it wasn't good enough last year. This is the first time we can do something about it, and we want to take advantage of that. We do have new coaches on our staff. They get a chance to see the players earlier, and with the draft coming up, we get another good look at the players before we get to it. But as much as anything, it's the first time we can do something as a group, and that's what we're going to use it for."

Indeed, the Bears couldn't have minicamp any earlier if they wanted to. According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, March 16 is the first day teams can start their offseason strength and conditioning programs. I like Smith's symbolic point and think it will be helpful for the Bears' new defensive staff, but the plan does come with a few costs. Among them:

  • This minicamp is the only mandatory involvement for veterans under contract for the entire offseason. That means it's possible the Bears could go four months without seeing some of their players or monitoring their conditioning.
  • With the draft scheduled a month later, the Bears will miss an opportunity to see their rookies practice in an NFL-tempo practice with a full team of veterans.
  • Given the time of year, it'll be a challenge to have significant portions of their practice outside, a staple of most minicamps.

But Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. We're all for innovation here on the Black and Blue blog, and this offseason schedule surely qualifies.

Weekend mail call

February, 14, 2009
2/14/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

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.

Yes! The NFC North mailbag returneth

February, 7, 2009
2/07/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The end of the NFL season ushers the return of the Black and Blue mailbag. Check in every weekend this offseason for an exciting new installment -- and feel free to send your questions here at any time.

Detroit writes: Any news on what the Steelers are going to do with Larry Foote? And his comments on playing in Detroit for his final seasons. Are the Lions interested in him and would that be possible if the Steelers release him?

Kevin Seifert: Yes, Foote has been vocal about wanting to end his career in Detroit. I'm not saying this is the case, but I wonder if he isn't trying to create a little leverage with the Steelers. Pittsburgh doesn't typically break the bank on free agents. I don't get the sense the Lions are looking to make too man big-money expenditures in free agency, which would at least make Foote a possibility for them.


Jim writes: I believe stability is huge in team chemistry, potential, and success. Would you care to comment on the stability of each of the NFC North Division team -- as you see it?

Kevin Seifert: I guess it depends on how you define stability. For the purpose of this question, I'll consider it from a big-picture, franchise standpoint. Under that definition, I think the Packers are the most stable team in the NFC North. They've got a high revenue-producing stadium and a stock ownership structure that eliminates some of the front-office drama many teams face. We're still learning about Mark Murphy, the president and CEO, but I don't expect him to have a quick trigger on personnel decisions. Chicago has been relatively stable under team president Ted Phillips. General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have been given time to carry out their vision. The Vikings have gained a measure of stability under new owner Zygi Wilf, but the looming expiration of their stadium lease means they could move as early as 2012. But Detroit has to be the least stable team. The Ford family subjected itself to eight years of misery under president Matt Millen and then promoted two of his subordinates to replace him.

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