NFC North: Moran Norris
Continuing what feels like an all-Detroit day, we bring you this exciting news: The Lions announced they have signed free-agent receiver Ronald Curry and fullback Terrelle Smith to one-year contracts.
Curry and Smith both visited Detroit earlier this week. Both players should be available for the Lions' mandatory minicamp, which opens Monday.
Curry will get a chance to compete for the Lions' No. 3 receiver position behind Calvin Johnson and Bryant Johnson. Smith will compete with Jerome Felton for the top fullback job. Last year's starting fullback, Moran Norris, departed via free agency.
One of the more interesting questions entering free agency was whether Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson would accelerate his usual plodding approach in order to re-stock the Packers' roster for its transition to a 3-4 defense. The answer has been a resounding no.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers a good overview of what the Packers have -- and haven't done -- in the first four days of the market. Here it is in a nutshell: "Their strategy appears to be to take their time and make sure they don't overbid for players who would have to compete to become starters."
This has led the Packers to have casual conversations with the agents for defensive ends Igor Olshansky (San Diego), Marques Douglas (Baltimore) and Mike Wright (New England). But no visits are scheduled. It's possible the Packers will schedule a visit soon with free agent safety Michael Adams (Cleveland). None of these players are game-changers but could contribute to a winning team.
Like it or not, that's the approach Thompson has taken once again in 2009.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Tuesday morning:
- Two Packers free agents, defensive end Mike Montgomery and fullback John Kuhn, are beginning to take visits, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Montgomery is in Atlanta and Kuhn was in Arizona.
- Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune examine the situation around Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, who would like to be traded.
- Minnesota special teams ace Heath Farwell has scheduled a visit with New England, according to Zulgad.
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen will participate in a USO trip to U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf this week. Allen's younger brother recently joined the Marines, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Detroit has scheduled a visit with free agent offensive lineman Daniel Loper, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press. Meanwhile, the Lions lost fullback Moran Norris to San Francisco.
- Bob Wojnowksi of the Detroit News would like to see the Lions pursue Cutler: "It's such a no-brainer, I shouldn't even waste your time on it. It's also probably a complete pipe dream, a nasty little tease, an unrealistic notion."
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune offers a similar sentiment for the Bears: "At some point [returning to the Super Bowl] will require bigger and bolder moves, and prying Cutler away from Denver would be one that could cement [Jerry] Angelo's legacy in Chicago."
Detroit is a third of the way to its pre-market goal.
General manager Martin Mayhew said last week that he was working toward signing three of the Lions' pending free agents before the market opens Feb. 27: Placekicker Jason Hanson, fullback Moran Norris and guard Stephen Peterman. Monday, the Lions agreed to terms with Peterman on a five-year, $15 million contract that includes $5.5 million in guarantees.
Peterman, who became a full-time starter last season, presumably fits in as the Lions' right guard. His signing gives Detroit the beginnings of a foundation on the offense line; Peterman and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, a 2008 first-round draft choice, could man the right side for years to come.
Meanwhile, the Hanson negotiations might have been complicated a bit when Cincinnati applied its franchise tag to kicker Shayne Graham. A long-term agreement between the Bengals and Graham would have helped solidify the market for Hanson and given both he and the Lions a better idea of his value. Graham and the Bengals are continuing to negotiate, but they haven't yet set the market.
If Hanson doesn't agree to terms by Thursday, the Lions are expected to franchise him.
After introducing James "Shack" Harris as his new senior personnel executive, Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew made one thing clear: The Lions don't plan to lose placekicker Jason Hanson.
Hanson, a pending free agent, has been discussing a multi-year contract extension with the Lions this week. Mayhew told Detroit-area reporters that if the discussions don't lead to an agreement, the Lions will place the franchise tag on him. That move would come no later than Feb. 19.
Here's what Mayhew said, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News:
"I think we'll get something done prior to that. If we don't, we'll franchise Jason. ... It's Jason Hanson, and we appreciate everything he's done for us. And we're trying to work out a long-term deal with him."
The franchise figure for placekickers this season is $2.48 million. Mayhew also confirmed negotiations with two other pending free agents: Guard Stephen Peterman and fullback Moran Norris. He said discussions about the quarterback position -- where Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna are both due roster bonuses at the end of this month -- remain underway.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Friday morning:
- Mayhew on Harris' hiring: "There were any number of yes-men available, and we didn't pick any of those guys." Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press reports.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if the Bears prefer the 2010 class of college quarterbacks.
- Here's a line from a Green Bay Press-Gazette editorial on quarterback Brett Favre's retirement: "But Green Bay and the Packers were strong before Brett. And we are convinced both will remain strong in the future."
- Check out this musical tribute to Favre from a Packers fan. It was produced last year but remains relevant.
- Let's just say Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune isn't impressed with the Vikings' new get-tough approach on their stadium issue.
Wrapping up our early offseason analysis of the NFC North:
Detroit Lions offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 0-16
- Coaching changes: Rod Marinelli fired and replaced by Jim Schwartz. Gunther Cunningham is the new defensive coordinator. Scott Linehan will be the new offensive coordinator. The team has announced no other additions, and the fate of much of Marinelli's former staff has yet to be decided.
- Salary cap status: $26.8 million before end-of-year adjustments and credits.
- Exclusive rights free agent: Defensive back Ramzee Robinson
- Key unrestricted free agents: Running back Aveion Cason, defensive lineman Shaun Cody, receiver Keary Colbert, offensive lineman George Foster, placekicker Jason Hanson, running back Rudi Johnson, linebacker Paris Lenon, receiver Shaun McDonald, linebacker Ryan Nece, fullback Moran Norris, quarterback Dan Orlovsky, guard Stephen Peterman.
- Free agent comment: Hanson is the Lions' biggest decision among the free agent group. There have been reports that he is bound by a grandfathered franchise tag. The Lions have not confirmed that. But in either event, they will have to decide whether to pay him a premium salary after a lights-out 2008 season. The sheer number of free agents the Lions have speaks to the roster overhaul they could effect if desired.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Size in the interior defensive line; (2) A playmaking linebacker; (3) Upgrade at both guard positions.
It appears the Chicago Bears are making a bold move to improve their return game after 10 weeks of decidedly average performances.
Danieal Manning is expected to replace Devin Hester as the primary kickoff returner Sunday at St. Louis, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper reported that "nothing is set in stone" but noted Manning has worked as the top returner throughout practice this week.
Manning replaced Hester in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 37-3 loss at Green Bay, part of a series of moves to use backups for mop-up duty. Coach Lovie Smith said earlier this week that he liked what he saw from Manning last Sunday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, the first indication the Bears were considering a change.
Manning has a career average of 24.9 yards per kickoff return and averaged 44.2 yards during the preseason. Hester has gone without a touchdown return this season, either on kickoffs or punts, but Manning said his job is more basic.
"They're not asking me to return and score every time I touch the ball," Manning said. "It's all about field position, ball security. And that's what I do."
Good for the Bears if they follow through with this move. Hester has appeared overwhelmed at times as he returns kickoffs, punts and plays receiver full-time. Earlier this week, former Bears great Gale Sayers said Hester looked "afraid." You could make an argument that reducing Hester's responsibilities as a receiver might be better for everyone, but at least the team isn't willing to stand pat indefinitely.
Continuing around the NFC North on a chilly Saturday morning in the upper Midwest:
- The Bears believe the controlled environment of the Edward Jones Dome could help them get their passing game back on track, writes Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald.
- Green Bay receiver Donald Driver returned to practice Friday after spending several days visiting his hospitalized father in Houston. Driver said his father is doing "fair" after an incident with police following a traffic stop, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, 32, wants to play at least three more seasons, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune report that a decision on the fate of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams won't be made until the first week of December at the earliest. If that timetable plays out, both players will be available for a critical Nov. 30 game against Chicago.
- The Vikings are expecting Jacksonville to test their run defense Sunday, writes the Star Tribune's Zulgad.
- New Detroit fullback Moran Norris deserves some credit for the recent success of rookie tailback Kevin Smith, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika and Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia completed a whopping 37 of 45 passes last season against the Lions, but his two fumbles played a big role in Detroit's 23-16 victory. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com looks at Sunday's rematch between the two teams.