NFC North: Muhsin Muhammad
Does it make sense?
On one hand, no. Adding Moss would give the Bears a fourth receiver who measured less than 6-feet tall at their respective scouting combines. Moss was 5-9 1/2 at the time, and as we noted this spring, here are the combine measurements for the Bears' current top receivers:
On the other hand, Moss set a career high last season with 93 receptions for the Washington Redskins and believes he has a number of productive seasons left. Smaller receivers have a long history of success in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's scheme, and the Bears can always rely on tight end Greg Olsen for routes that capitalize on height.
This topic has been bouncing around for years. The Bears still seem scarred by the free agent acquisition of Muhsin Muhammad, which among other things convinced them not to re-sign free agent Bernard Berrian. I really can't tell you how aggressive the Bears will be, if at all, in adding a veteran receiver later this summer.
It would make sense for the Bears to pursue a player who brings a different skill set than their existing players. But Martz has a time-tested route tree that might be better suited for a player of Moss' skills. How's that for fence-sitting?
How about putting them both in Room 101 (the torture room) from George Orwell's 1984? If you recall, in that room everyone is forced to face their worst fear -- for Winston Smith in the novel, it was having a cage affixed to his face with hungry rats who'd eat his face if he didn't confess.
"For [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell, it would be having a judge rule the NFL has lost its anti-trust exemption, the players being given unlimited free agency, TV contract money being split 80/20, with the 80 going to the players, and owners being forced to pay back their communities for the stadiums bought and built for them.
"For [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith, it would be a judge ruling that the players are indentured servants, with no free agency until 8 years have passed, the TV money going 80/20 to the owners, an end to signing bonuses, and players have to clean up the stadiums after games.
"These tortures would go on simultaneously, with the judge sitting in a cage affixed to Goodell's and Smith's face. The judges would be Gilbert Gotfried (for Smith) and Larry the Cable Guy (for Goodell)."
Sounds good to me.
What would your Room 101 be?
And don't say you know mine.
It is NOT an NFL season without Brett Favre.
Really, it's not.
I'm always lurking in the mailbag, on Twitter and Facebook.
Jordan of Madison noted ESPN.com's ranking of the NFL's top 10 defensive players and writes: I think the people who didn't rank Ndamukong Suh from the Detroit Lions in the top ten defenders couldn't have seen him play. When the season's over, where do you think he'll end up ranked? I'm a hardcore Packers fan and even I think he'll be in contention for DPOY.
Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the question, Jordan. It was my turn this week to write the global Power Rankings post, so I didn't get a chance to address the NFC North angle as much as I would have liked.
Suh appeared on five of the eight ballots, including mine, and finished No. 11 overall and only two points out of the top 10. I thought Suh deserved to be on the list after seeing him play this season. But even if you didn't see him play, you should remember he was one of two first-team All-Pros at his position in the entire league.
I was able to get Suh comfortably on my list because I made a point of valuing pass rushers over pass defenders. For that reason, cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson didn't make my cut, nor did safety Ed Reed. Based on this value system, at least, I can't think of a better alternative than an interior disruptor like Suh who has the skills to finish off plays and end a season with 10-plus sacks.
I imagine the only hesitation among my fellow voters was that Suh has only one year's experience. There is no reason to think his performance will fall off, but some people like to see elite-level production for more than one year. Regardless, I doubt we're having this conversation next year. Suh's skills, and the continuing growth of the Lions' defensive line, makes that a pretty safe bet.
Dave of Minneapolis writes: What is your take on Mayor Coleman's stadium plan? I understand it is not liked by anybody really except St. Paul, but I think it addresses the needs of all of the current stadium issues in the Twin Cities. It seems like the most sensible approach (he sure did put St. Paul in front of everybody else though). The St. Paul Saints need a new facility the most.
Kevin Seifert: It might make sense in theory, but the reality is it's merely political cover and not something that would ever be accepted in the territorial political system of Minnesota. That's why I didn't write much on it this week.
It's true. St. Paul residents would be on the hook for a disproportionate amount of the tax increase that would help pay for the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium. But they would get no direct benefit, considering the stadium would be located 10 miles away in suburban Arden Hills. Coleman figures to face some backlash on that issue, so he had to come up with some kind of response that would demonstrate he was looking out for his constituents.
And to me, that's the main thrust of Coleman's proposal. It shifts the tax burden off St. Paul for the Vikings stadium, instead calling for a state-wide two-cent booze tax. Connecting alcohol and football is funny and perhaps darkly appropriate, but it's totally random from a political sense. Why should someone having a glass of wine be singled out to pay for a football stadium?
More good news if you live in St. Paul: It would create an entertainment monopoly for St. Paul's Xcel Center by shuttering Minneapolis' Target Center. It would also squeeze $27 million money to build a new baseball stadium for the independent St. Paul Saints.
So yes, ending the competition between the Target Center and Xcel Center makes some sense. And there's nothing wrong with building a small baseball stadium for the Saints. But Coleman has to know there is no reality inherent in this proposal.
The biggest problem of the Minneapolis-St. Paul sports market is that it has been developed with total disregard for the big picture and global vision. Coleman's plan is no less territorial, even if it is disguised as a global vision. Similar proposals help explain why the Twin Cities market, which includes the University of Minnesota, has two football stadiums, five basketball/hockey arenas and two outdoor ballparks for baseball. Enough already.
Eric of Minneapolis writes: Has the NFLPA (or leaders of the former NFLPA) told the players to shut up yet? Between Adrian Peterson's "slavery" comments and Ray Lewis' crime spree suggestions, the players are looking like idiots. Granted, they do this a lot, but when they speak to the lockout like this, they rarely help their cause.
Kevin Seifert: I'm pretty sure owners weaved the anticipation of such statements into their lockout strategy. Whenever you have people speaking out of their expertise, which is what football players talking about social issues qualifies as, you're bound to see some outlandish rhetoric revealed.
But I will say I haven't noticed much lasting impact from these incidents. The public isn't turning on players because a few of them have spoken out. Players don't appear to be splintering because a few of them have said embarrassing things. The real focus is on whether the players can stay unified in the face of lost game checks. If players start speaking out on that issue, then they've got trouble.
Via Twitter, @tonymission notes our recent Have at It discussion and wonders why I didn't account for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a debate about which receiver, the Packers' Randall Cobb or the Detroit Lions' Titus Young, would have a more productive rookie season: The Lions aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut. playing W/#12 cant hurt
Kevin Seifert: Limited by 140 characters, my initial response was that there is still only one ball. Whether the Packers are quarterbacked by Rodgers or backup Matt Flynn, Cobb will still be competing with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and perhaps James Jones for opportunities.
And you might not realize it, but the Lions actually threw 92 more passes than the Packers last season. Typically you throw more when you're losing, but the Lions definitely have a pass-first offense.
There's no doubt the quality of a quarterback impacts the production of a receiver, but the Lions are more proficient and ambitious than you're suggesting.
Earlier this week, we discussed the Chicago Bears as a possible landing spot for soon-to-be-freed receiver Plaxico Burress. In a comment, stan994 wrote: "Though the Bears could use someone of such size to help out their receiving corps, it will never happen. The Bears ownership does not like off-field incidents and Burress has too much of that. They got rid of Tank Johnson due to off-field reasons. They got rid of Cedric Benson for off-field reasons. It is very clear that ownership will not tolerate certain behavior and Burress certainly has crossed those lines."
Kevin Seifert: There are perhaps a half-dozen reasons why Burress to the Bears seems unlikely, and this is one of them. Another is the Bears' seemingly cemented philosophy of avoiding big-name receivers after the failure of free agent acquisition Muhsin Muhammad and the departure of Bernard Berrian.
I'm quite sure the Bears will be tossed into in the public discussion next week when Burress is released. But I agree with stan994. It's hard to envision a scenario where it happens.
NEW ORLEANS -- Greetings from the French Quarter, where the steamy 85-degree morning temperatures are completely irrelevant because we'll all be gathered Thursday night in the air-conditioned Louisiana Superdome.
I've already got a busy morning and day planned, and right now I'm trying to shake a raspy voice (can't imagine how that happened) for an early morning ESPN.com podcast. Regardless, be sure to check the blog throughout the day for updates on the NFL's national season opener between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, as well as some posts on the rest of the NFC North.
For now, I'll leave you with this fun fact from the Elias Sports Bureau: Recent history, among other things, suggests a Saints victory Thursday night. The defending Super Bowl champion has won its Week 1 game for 10 consecutive years. The 1999 Denver Broncos were the last champions to lose their first game the following year, a 38-21 home loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Now for our morning spin around the division:
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com writes there is a different vibe around the Vikings as the season opens: "It's tough to find anyone around the league who's willing to bet on the Vikings recapturing last season's magic, or even recapturing the division crown."
- Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press traces the journey of Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who is expected to make his first regular-season start Thursday night since fracturing his left femur in December.
- It appears as though Vikings center John Sullivan (calf) will be available to start if needed Thursday night, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "A week earlier, Mike McCarthy had a handful of players wearing Western get-ups to the annual Welcome Back Luncheon and was talking about his team would take on all comers. "This is an exciting bunch of men. We'd play anybody, anywhere, any time. We'll go right here in the parking lot if they'll show up," the Green Bay Packers coach told the gathering at the yearly Green Bay Chamber of Commerce event inside the Lambeau Field atrium. "That's the kind of attitude we have. I don't know if you've noticed this, but we've got a number of our players already dressed for Dallas, Texas, so we're ready to go!"
- The Packers once again appear to have no interest in players jettisoned from other teams, notes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- You can expect the Philadelphia Eagles to attack rookie nickel back Sam Shields on Sunday, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News on Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford: "So much is expected of Stafford, 22, so quickly, it's almost unrealistic, not that he's complaining. He doesn't shy away from much -- tough throws, tough jobs -- and doesn't shirk responsibility. There's a line between confidence and brashness, between aggressiveness and recklessness, and Stafford doesn't mind straddling it."
- The Lions' defensive line is licking its chops as Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears approaches, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Quarterback Jay Cutler said the Bears offense will get itself together in the "first quarter," presumably Sunday against the Lions. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has more.
- Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said his group is "on task" and "getting better," writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- D.J. Moore could be the Bears' nickel back Sunday against the Lions, according to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Former Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammad told ESPN 1000 that it was a "tragedy" when the Bears limited Devin Hester's role as a return man.
During our SportsNation chat Monday, Jeff of Wayne, N.J., asked:
Now that the Bears have [Jay] Cutler do they have any plans of getting someone he can throw the ball to? Everyone makes fun of them being without a decent QB for years but besides an aging [Muhsin] Muhammad they haven't done anything at WR either...
Bears fans waiting for their team to make a secondary run on the free agent market might not want to get their hopes up. In his regular Q&A with the team's Web site, general manager Jerry Angelo didn't sound too enthused about the idea.
Angelo: "I wouldn't rule it out totally. [Director of Pro Personnel] Bobby DePaul and his staff, Kevin Turks and Dennard Wilson, are always looking for veteran players at all positions that can upgrade us or create better competition. Bobby and his staff have done a great job of doing this over the years."
We've all seen how important words like "totally" can be. (See: "At this time.") But there are no indications the Bears are eager to start adding veterans to their roster. One who has almost no chance is defensive end Simeon Rice, who hasn't played since 2007 but has suggested he would like to play for new Bears defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
Angelo: "At this point I doubt we'd be pursuing Simeon as an alternative. He was a great player and I really respect what he did for Tampa. I thought he was the missing link that put them over the top during their Super Bowl year."
Many factors contributed to the scores that electrified the final three minutes of Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona and Pittsburgh boast innovative offensive schemes. Both teams are led by Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. And at least some of it boiled down to the simple fact that Holmes, and to a greater extent Fitzgerald, are productive receivers with dynamic skills.
A handful of NFL teams subordinate the importance of receivers in building a roster, including a certain member of the NFC North, which considers it a secondary position and a disproportionate weight on both the salary cap and cashflow. The Chicago Bears entered the offseason with a host of priorities stacked ahead of improving their thin receiver group, and it remains to be seen whether the course of the 2008 playoffs will impact their plans.
Four of the five teams that won a playoff game in 2008 boasted a 1,000-yard wide receiver during the regular season. Philadelphia was the only team that did not, but rookie DeSean Jackson was close with 912 yards. In the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald and Holmes combined for 37 percent of the total offense and 50 percent of the touchdowns despite touching the ball on 14 percent of the plays.
These figures don't provide conclusive proof that blue-chip receivers are mandatory pieces of a championship puzzle. They do, however, demonstrate that a receiver can make a great impact despite limited touches; it was more than notable that the Cardinals and Steelers both relied on wide receivers with the championship on the line.
The Bears, on the other hand, set themselves up for an unproductive season from their receivers in 2008 by failing to replace the departed Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. They mostly relied on tailback Matt Forte and the tight end duo of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen in the passing game while awaiting Devin Hester's development. Hester finished the season as Chicago's leading receiver but his production ranked deep in the netherworld of NFL statistics.
Rashied Davis (445 yards), Brandon Lloyd (364) and Marty Booker (211) combined for fewer yards than Fitzgerald accumulated on his own during the regular season. Booker is the only current Bears receiver with a 1,000-yard season in his career, and that came six years ago. The Chicago passing offense, while not the primary reason the Bears missed the playoffs, finished the season ranked No. 21 in the league.
And yet when Bears general manager Jerry Angelo stepped to the podium last month, he emphasized quarterback play as his primary focus. It is a defensible priority considering Kyle Orton's second
-half slide, but what Angelo said next was a cause for at least some concern.
"I know that there is going to be a lot of talk about a No. 1 receiver," Angelo said. "Guys, it starts with the quarterback. It's all about the quarterback. You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. We're fixated on that and I don't want us to lose sight of that. The rest of that is peripherous stuff. That's something that if you don't have anything to write about, you'll write about that. It starts with the quarterback and that's the bottom line."
(Thanks to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times for posting the transcript of Angelo's news conference.)
It's true: The Bears don't necessarily need to acquire one of the top receivers expected to be available this offseason, whether it is Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh (free agent) or Arizona's Anquan Boldin (likely trade). But there is a happy medium between a Boldin-type receiver and the group the Bears have now.
Someone like Pittsburgh's Nate Washington (40 receptions for 631 yards in 2008) could help and wouldn't upset the Bears' cap structure. It might be worth signing Dallas' Sam Hurd, a restricted free agent who is recovering from ankle surgery, to an offer sheet.
Otherwise, the Bears are limiting the ceiling for Orton's improvement if they rely on the same formula as 2008. A soft-handed tailback and two good tight ends are not enough options for an offense that strives for balance. And from this vantage point, the Bears don't have enough potential for internal improvement to stand pat.
If Hester starts 2009 the way he finished 2008, he could push toward 1,000 yards. But Davis? He has proved to be, at best, a No. 3 receiver. Booker? He hasn't played a full season since 2002. Lloyd? His contract expires this month and the Bears hardly seemed enamored with him last season. Earl Bennett? His next NFL catch will be his first.
There are plenty of ways to win games in the NFL, and a big-time receiver isn't part of a mandatory formula. Competence and consistency are required, however, and for the Bears that would be an upgrade.
What? Could one whole day have passed without an update in the Brett Favre saga? It appears as though both sides rested Sunday, at least publicly, in anticipation of a key week for the Green Bay Packers. So we'll take our cue and go Favre-less ourselves -- for now -- in this edition of Black and Blue all over.
- It's not clear if Chicago Bears wide receiver Mark Bradley will be ready for the start of training camp after offseason surgery on his right knee. With the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Bradley has an opportunity to finally establish himself as a front-line receiver. But he has to get on the field. And stay there.
- Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times endorses Kyle Orton for the Bears' starting quarterback job based on one qualification: He isn't Rex Grossman. "I have slightly more faith that he'll make fewer mistakes than Rex Grossman," Mariotti writes.
- Rookie safety/linebacker Caleb Campbell (Army) is expected to report to Detroit Lions camp on Wednesday, according to the Detroit News. Campbell's status has been in some doubt as the U.S. military reviews the "alterative service option" that will allow him to defer and modify his post-graduate service obligation.
- Among the issues that have been swept under the (public) rug recently is the Green Bay Packers' concerns at defensive line, according the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The Packers traded Corey Williams and then watched Justin Harrell tweak his back and Johnny Jolly get arrested this month for drug possession in Houston. Jolly could eventually face NFL discipline.
- The Packers are hoping to identify a clear-cut No. 2 running back behind Ryan Grant, assuming Grant signs a contract and reports to camp on time. Brandon Jackson will get the first crack, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress will keep in mind the NFL's new 80-man roster limit while monitoring his players' workload in training camp. "You don't need to be a slavedriver," Childress told the Star Tribune.