NFC North: Matt Cassell
Here is a ranking of top NFC North free agents, with information provided by ESPN.com reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears).
We will update this periodically throughout the next several weeks.
1.Sam Shields, Packers CB: Emerged as the Packers' top cover cornerback last season while playing for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million and was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period Saturday. His 2014 total pay of $15 million makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid cornerback for next season.
2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: The No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State, Pettigrew spent the past five seasons as one of Detroit's primary tight ends, specifically known for the ability to both block and run routes effectively.
3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Had surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck but expects to be cleared by his doctor. Gambled two years ago in free agency, signing just a two-year, $14 million deal in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.
4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: The NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman started eight games last season before finishing on the injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Bears hope to bring back Tillman but might not be able to come up with a suitable offer.
5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer from the Packers last season, which might have been a sign that he preferred to play in a system that gave defensive linemen more freedom. After a disappointing season, his value has gone down, and as of last week, he was close to signing a one-year deal to return.
7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3. Young turned into one of the more disruptive players up front, making 47 tackles, recovering two fumbles and recording three sacks.
8. James Jones, Packers WR: Ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million.
9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen’s time in Minnesota is likely over. He could come back as a situational pass-rusher on a reduced salary, but after making $14 million last season, Allen might head elsewhere for a bigger role and bigger paycheck.
11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Melton's representatives fully expect him to test the market in free agency because the Bears haven’t shown a ton of interest. Coming off a torn ACL, Melton probably won't command top dollar in the first wave of free agency.
12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Became strictly a return specialist for the Bears last season and is still one of the league's best at his position. Probably expects a payday similar to what he's gotten in the past.
13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Mathis signed with Detroit during the 2013 preseason and became one of the team's starting cornerbacks by the third week of the season. He played in 15 games, making 47 tackles and often drawing the opponent's top wide receiver.
14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: The 26-year-old cashed in on Sunday by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota. He should flourish in new coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.
15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: The 26-year-old was released by Detroit with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014. Has played in 65 games for Detroit over five seasons, with 328 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also had five sacks and four fumble recoveries.
What it means: The Vikings are 0-4 for the first time since 2002. Situated in a division with the NFL’s two undefeated teams, the Vikings can essentially kiss the playoffs goodbye. That leaves only one bit of drama left in their season. Namely ...
PonderWatch: Coach Leslie Frazier said "I don’t think" the Vikings are in a position where changing quarterbacks is required. But what is the value of playing a 34-year-old quarterback on a one-year contract when you’re 0-4 and four games back in your division? Donovan McNabb completed 18 of 30 passes against the Chiefs, including a nicely-thrown 34-yard touchdown pass to receiver Devin Aromashodu in the second quarter. Sunday’s loss wasn’t all on him. But the competitive portion of 2011 is almost done for the Vikings. That pushes our attention to 2012, when their quarterback almost certainly will be Christian Ponder. The only reason to delay the inevitable is if the Vikings feel Ponder hasn’t developed enough to give him a chance. I would find that hard to believe.
Tackling woes: I had my eyes mostly focused at Cowboys Stadium, but one play I saw from the Vikings really stood out. Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe blew past cornerback Cedric Griffin, who had slipped, and hauled in a Matt Cassel pass. Safety Jamarca Sanford bounced off Bowe on a shoulder-tackle attempt, and Griffin couldn’t bring him down either. Bowe scored on a 52-yard touchdown when all he had done was take about six strides past the line of scrimmage. Way too easy.
What’s next: The Vikings will try to avoid an 0-5 start when they host the Arizona Cardinals.
Kansas City's contract agreement Tuesday with quarterback Matt Cassel brought to mind this offseason post on the crazy money Detroit's Matthew Stafford received as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Cassel, who threw for nearly 3,700 yards last season in leading New England to an 11-5 record, received $28 million in guaranteed money over a six-year deal from the Chiefs. That's about a third less than the $41.7 million the Lions guaranteed Stafford.
I don't necessarily fault Detroit for the deal; it was more or less the cost of doing business in this year's draft. But we've had two significant quarterback deals since April -- Cassel and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb ($23 million guaranteed) -- and our ranking of contracts with the highest total of guarantees remains the same. Here it is, for those who want a refresher:
- Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford: $41.7 million
- Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth: $41 million
- Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick: $37 million
- Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: $36 million
- Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan: $34.8 million
- Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning: $34.5 million
- Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell: $31.5 million
- Dallas quarterback Tony Romo: $30 million
What player will break the $30 million threshold? And how long will Stafford remain atop the list? My colleague Matt Mosley suggested earlier this month that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning will approach $50 million in guaranteed money. I'll continue revisiting this topic until that day arrives.
Although this answer will no longer apply to New England quarterback Matt Cassel, I wanted to bring Randal of Cambridge the information he requested last week through the mailbag. (The response would have been included in Saturday's reincarnated Weekend Mailbag, but I wanted to make sure I had my information correct first. Always helps.)
Here's what Randal wrote:
I am in favor of giving the Pats up to 2 #1 picks. Look what a QB did for Atlanta? When you sign a franchise player, do the 1st round picks have to be your own? Or for example could the Vikings trade with Pittsburgh and then use that pick?
The question became partly irrelevant over the weekend when Cassel indicated he plans to sign his franchise offer sheet with the Patriots, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Assuming Cassel follows through with that plan, no NFL team will be able to sign him to an offer sheet and thus will not have the option of giving up a pair of first-round picks in compensation.
But the other parts of Randal's question bear answering. Any team looking to acquire a franchise player must give up first-round picks in succeeding years. If it were to happen this year, it would be a first-rounder in 2009 and 2010. If you don't have a first-round pick in one or both of those years, you're not eligible to sign a franchise player to an offer sheet.
Once you sign the player to an offer sheet, you can't trade either of the picks. So in Randal's proposed scenario, the Vikings couldn't have signed Cassel to an offer sheet and then traded their 2009 first-round pick to Pittsburgh, lowering the value from No. 22 to No. 32. They're locked in the moment the offer sheet is signed.
I suppose the Vikings could swap picks before finalizing the offer sheet, but that scenario seems a practical moot point if not a factual one. Teams rarely swap draft choices so far away from the draft because they haven't finished stacking their boards yet.
We might as well use this opportunity to point out that Cassel is still very much available if another team really wants him. The act of signing the offer sheet eliminates only the least likely possibility: That a team would actually sign him to an offer sheet and be prepared to give up two first-round picks.
The most likely scenario remains in play: A trade in which the Patriots accept something less than two first-rounders and allow Cassel's new team a window to negotiate a long-term contract.
A trade could be discussed and verbally agreed upon at any point in the next three weeks, but it couldn't be finalized until the new league year starts Feb. 27.