NFC North: Pete Carroll

Moment in Time: Fail Mary revisited

September, 3, 2014
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SEATTLE -- As painful as the play might have been -- and probably still is -- for Green Bay Packers' fans, the famous Fail Mary touchdown in Seattle nearly two years ago will always have a place in franchise and NFL history.

It will forever be a "Moment in Time," which makes it interesting to revisit the play through the key figures involved in one of the most controversial endings pro football has ever seen. You can do that by clicking on the link above.

What you will find is anger, jubilation, humor and much more from the play's central characters, including the official who made the touchdown call.

Here are some highlights from each:
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was standing next to team security head Doug Collins while the play was being review: "And I remember talking to Doug saying, 'Hey, they're not playing the replay here. We're going to be fine.' But I had this weird feeling. It reminded me a little bit of the Immaculate Reception. I remember [referee] Wayne [Elliott] comes walking out to the boundary, and I said to Doug, 'Holy s---. He doesn't have the balls to overturn it.' He was scared to death. He looked nervous."
  • Side judge Lance Easley, who made the touchdown call: "I said, 'Oh God, please when I get over to that pile, let someone have clear possession of the ball.' I got over there and looked down, and it was like a meatball with spaghetti wrapped all around it. … By rule, I got it right. By rule, there's nothing else I could do with it."
  • Then-Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, who caught the touchdown: "I actually have a bottle of wine signed by Charles Woodson that says 'Touch-ception' or something like that. M.D. Jennings signed a picture that I also have that says something, but I forgot what it says; I haven't looked at it in a while."
  • Then-Packers safety M.D. Jennings, who thought he intercepted it and said he signed autographs with the postscript "Screwed in Seattle" on pictures for Packers' fans: "It's what they wanted. I did it. The fans loved it."
  • Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who said he knew immediately who had shoved him as the ball was in the air (an act the NFL later said should have been called offensive pass interference): "It was Tate."
  • Packers cornerback Tramon Williams: "I'm looking at M.D., who's got it and has got it against his chest, and I'm saying to myself, 'We won the game.' And you look up at the referee, and you want to get that validation. You look up at the referee, and those guys are looking around like they don't know, and then they call it a touchdown, and it's like, 'No, no, this can't happen.'"
  • Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: "What I liked is Golden had the ball lying on the ground. I know he had the ball on the ground. When do you call it a catch? [Easley] looked down and that's what he saw, so he gave him a touchdown. It was a tremendous play by their guy and our guy, and that's the way he saw it."
  • Seahawks receiver Charly Martin, who also was in the scrum for the ball: "I take a lot of flak, being the white guy who can't jump, because there are some pretty good pictures out there where I am about two inches off the ground and everyone else is skyrocketing over me. I just tell them, 'Hey, they used me. They used me as a springboard.' I kind of boxed them out for Golden, and they pushed me down."
  • Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the man who heaved the pass: "Everybody was a target. I was able to find a player in the back of the end zone and hit him."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It should come as no surprise that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy ranked as one of the NFL's top coaches in ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando's extensive project that examined all 32 coaches Insider through the eyes of a wide range of league sources.

McCarthy
McCarthy
In a poll of 30 NFL people -- eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches -- McCarthy came out tied for sixth with Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. They ranked behind only New England's Bill Belichick, Seattle's Pete Carroll, New Orleans' Sean Payton, Kansas City's Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants.

McCarthy's 88-50-1 record in his eight seasons gives him the fourth-highest winning percentage in the league among current coaches with a minimum of 60 games.

Using the same voting system Sando employed earlier this year in his "QB Tiers" project Insider, the coaches were broken up into five different tiers. McCarthy came in near the top of the second tier.

But it was perhaps more interesting what some of those league sources told Sando about McCarthy.

Here's an excerpt:

Like Payton, McCarthy gets high marks for his offensive acumen and overall leadership. The Packers have won with varying run/pass emphasis and they continue to evolve as their personnel changes. But the Packers' defensive performance has declined in recent seasons, leading voters to cite the same reasoning over and over when asked why McCarthy wasn't a '1' in their eyes.

"I like him as a head coach and would love to work for him," one veteran assistant coach said. "I think Mike is a great offensive coordinator who has done some pretty good things as a head coach, but defensively and on special teams, they have never done well enough up there. There is something missing in the program."

A former GM said he thought McCarthy needed to "fix the staff defensively" while noting that the head coach must coach the coaches, not just the players. McCarthy did get 11 votes in the first tier, however. One of those votes came from an executive who blamed some of the defensive issues on personnel, noting that McCarthy had in fact made sweeping staff changes back in 2009.

A GM placing McCarthy in the top tier focused on offensive flexibility. "You look at him as an offensive play-caller and he was grinding the s--- out of the ball when he was in New Orleans, and then he changed things up," the GM said. "He developed a passing game in Green Bay, and he is just the same guy all the time – strong leader.”
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers' beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers coach Mike McCarthy completed his coaching staff last Friday, when he announced the hiring of four new coaches and gave different responsibilities to five others previously on his staff.

It brought the total number of assistant coaches working under McCarthy to 21 -- one more than the Packers had last season.

Only three NFL head coaches currently have more assistants than McCarthy does.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll each have 23 assistant coaches -- tops in the NFL. It's interesting that the two biggest staffs both were assembled by recent former college coaches.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is next with 22 assistants. Three other teams -- the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs -- match the Packers with 21.

In the NFC North, the Packers have two more assistants than the Chicago Bears, three more than the Detroit Lions and four more than the Minnesota Vikings.

The NFL average for assistant coaches is 19.1 per team. The AFC average is 18.9, while the NFC average is 19.3.

The numbers were based on coaching staff directories listed on each team's website.

While there could be a few additions to coaching staffs over the next few weeks, most of the coaching changes have been made, which makes it interesting to note that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin currently has the smallest staff with just 14 assistants. The Steelers list only one strength and conditioning coach, while many teams have two or three, and only list one special teams coach while many teams have two or three. Other teams will small staffs include the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, each with 16 assistants.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com: Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause suggested that Seahawks general manager John Schneider, a former Packers scout, might be the best choice to replace Ted Thompson whenever he decides to retire from his GM job.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that the Thompson's draft-and-develop philosophy has put the Packers in good salary-cap shape.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- People in Green Bay and fans of the Packers love to hate the Seattle Seahawks after the infamous Fail Mary play in the 2012 meeting between the two teams.

Yet there’s a segment of them who likely will be rooting for the Seahawks against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII. They’re the ones who know John Schneider, the Seahawks’ 42-year-old general manager whose ties to this city and his old team run deep.

[+] EnlargeJohn Schneider
Elaine Thompson/AP PhotoSeattle's John Schneider has so many ties to the Packers that some wonder if the general manager will one day return to Green Bay.
Schneider grew up just a few miles from Lambeau Field in the neighboring town of De Pere, Wis., which is essentially an extension of the Green Bay city limits. He was a high school football standout as a running back at a private, catholic high school that no longer exists. And he began his NFL scouting career as an intern for the Packers under then-general manager Ron Wolf, who only hired Schneider because of his persistence.

While in college, Schneider wrote a letter to Wolf asking for an opportunity as a volunteer scout. Wolf replied with a rejection letter, so Schneider wrote him again. Another rejection letter followed, so Schneider wrote again.

Many years later, Schneider admitted, “I kind of stalked him a little bit.”

Finally, Wolf told Schneider he would get in touch with him after the 1992 draft, Wolf’s first in Green Bay. Yet Schneider heard nothing. Six weeks went by before a friend convinced Schneider to just call Wolf directly.

So he did.

That led to an internship in Wolf's scouting department for the summer of 1992 to jobs as a pro personnel assistant with the Packers (1993-96) to Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel (1997-99) to stints with the Seahawks (2000) and Washington Redskins (2001) as vice president of player personnel and then back to the Packers (2002-2009) as a one of the top personnel advisers.

Of all the participants in Super Bowl XLVIII, no one has stronger ties to Green Bay and the Packers than Schneider.

“Growing up there and having different people reach out to you, this week has been really neat to get text messages and emails from people back there,” Schneider said during a phone interview on Friday from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl headquarters in Jersey City, N.J. “It’s cool because it’s such a small community, but yet you have that strong football foundation.”

Schneider’s foundation is rooted in Wolf’s beliefs. Though he and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have forged their own identity as one of the most aggressive and compatible coach-GM combinations in the league, Schneider still calls on what he learned from Wolf and current Packers general manager Ted Thompson, another Wolf protégé.

“I think there’s a lot of Ron in this just because of the philosophical foundation of how you approach acquisitions,” Schneider said. “So I think it’s huge.”

Together, Schneider and Carroll have formed an unusual approach to signing, drafting and trading for players. In their first season together, they made an astounding 284 player transactions. Schneider also hit on a quarterback, when he drafted Russell Wilson in the third round in 2012, something for which Carroll gives full credit to Schneider.

“John and I have joined together aggressively to compete at every single turn, at every opportunity whatever it may be, to see if there’s something in there for us,” Carroll said during one of his Super Bowl week news conferences. “He’s done a great job of having the competitive will to keep pushing and fighting and clawing and scratching to have the opportunity that has sent us down the read early on with the hundreds of guys that came through the program.”

Schneider’s parents still live in Green Bay. As do some of his best friends, including the one who convinced him to make that call to Wolf. All of them will be at MetLife Stadium for Sunday's game.

There are plenty of people who wonder whether Schneider will be the Packers' next general manager. Thompson turned 61 on Jan. 17 and some within the organization believe he may walk away after his contract expires following the 2015 season.

That’s not a topic Schneider is comfortable discussing.

Instead, he’d rather swap stories about his friends who remain back in his hometown and talk about players who have ties to the Packers. He has two of them on his roster, right tackle Breno Giacomini and punter Jon Ryan. He signed Giacomini off the Packers practice squad in 2010, but he inherited Ryan, who had signed with the Seahawks early in the 2008 season after the Packers cut him.

The person responsible for telling Ryan the Packers planned to release him? That was Schneider.

“This is kind of a funny story,” Schneider said. “Jon Ryan’s brother after the (NFC Championship) game the other night was like, 'Hey man, ‘I’m glad you’re doing well now, but I wanted to kick your butt because you cut my brother.'

“Both players, Breno and Jon, have obviously improved since leaving Green Bay.”

The same could be said for Schneider.

The only question is, will he ever come back?

Starter Pack: Matthews on the mend

January, 29, 2014
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A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers’ beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It’s a moot point now, but Packers linebacker Clay Matthews probably would have been able to play in the Super Bowl.

Matthews twice broke his right thumb during this past season. Both times he underwent surgery to have stabilizing pins placed in his hand. The first time he had those pins taken out (on Nov. 4), he played a week later, albeit with a large club-like cast that made it difficult for him to perform his usual duties.

According to FoxSports.com, Matthews had the second set of pins taken out last Friday.

Matthews missed four games after first breaking his thumb on Oct. 6 while sacking Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He sustained the same injury on Dec. 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers while sacking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Matthews missed the regular-season finale and the NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Packers kept Matthews on the roster rather than place him on season-ending injured reserve with the hope that he could return if they made it to the Super Bowl.

Despite missing five games, Matthews led the Packers with 7.5 sacks. But he failed to make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his five-year career. After signing a five-year, $66 million contract extension last offseason, Matthews played in a career-low 11 games.

“I need to get healthy,” Matthews told FoxSports.com. “Rehab my thumb and get it back to 100 percent so that way there is no setback starting next season.”

In case you missed it on ESPN.com: Best of the rest:
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde wrote about Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon’s long and winding road to the Super Bowl, which included a pair of stints with the Packers.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz wrote that Mike Neal’s transition from defensive end to outside linebacker was a success, but was it enough to warrant a new contract for the free agent to be?
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that talks between the Packers and cornerback Sam Shields, who is scheduled to be a free agent, remain on-going but the two sides don’t appear to have moved much closer to a deal.

NFLN survey/popular coach: Vikings

January, 28, 2014
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Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who was voted the coach players most want to play for in ESPN's NFL Nation confidential survey, got the same kind of affirmation in the Minnesota Vikings' locker room. Five of the 10 players surveyed said they'd like to play for Carroll, with San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh the only other coach getting more than one vote.

Part of that is probably because of Carroll's player-friendly style; his attempts to break down the stereotypical football practice atmosphere in Seattle have been well-documented. As we discussed earlier this month, NFL coaches have to use a different approach to relate to modern players than they might have in the past. But it's also worth noting that the coaches who got the most respect from players are also getting results; Carroll is coaching in his first Super Bowl on Sunday, and the runner-up (Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin) has been to two Super Bowls in the past six seasons. Next was Denver's John Fox, followed by New England's Bill Belichick and the New York Jets' Rex Ryan, and then by Kansas City's Andy Reid and New Orleans' Sean Payton. All of those coaches have either been to a Super Bowl or made multiple trips to a conference championship game. There are numerous coaching styles represented here, but all of the coaches mentioned are proving they can win.

The survey provides an interesting backdrop for the arrival of new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who will undoubtedly take a different approach than his predecessor, Leslie Frazier. Zimmer will likely be more animated in practice and on the sidelines than Frazier was, but he's won widespread praise from his players over the years, largely for his passion and his directness. If he can find the same kind of success as a head coach that he has as a defensive coordinator, he might receive votes in this survey in future years. The underlying theme for these coaches has been success, and if there's any kind of trend evident from our survey, it's that success begets respect among players.
Erin Henderson, Leslie FrazierHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe coach hired by Minnesota to replace Leslie Frazier, right, must be able to relate to a younger generation of players, according to former Viking Chris Doleman.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings are continuing on with their coaching search this week, talking to Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton today after interviewing Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Monday. They will talk with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Thursday, according to a league source, and likely still have interviews coming with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt, and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They have already talked with the Seattle Seahawks' offensive and defensive coordinators (Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn). If their coaching search goes until the Denver Broncos' season is over, they could wind up talking to Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase or defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, too.

It's a long list with a range of different options. But one consideration I've been wondering about lately relates to something former Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman said in an interview last month: How much weight should the Vikings give to a coach's ability to manage millennials?

Ah, yes, 'millennials' -- the buzzword for my generation that's colloquially come to describe a group of people in their teens, 20s and early 30s who are narcissistic, overstimulated by technology and in constant need of and affirmation. Or, at least, that's been the scouting report on us in countless magazine articles about millennials in the workplace -- which, curiously enough, always seem to quote analysts the age of our parents, the same people who helped condition us to so much privilege and praise.

At any rate, Doleman related the concept to football in an Inside the NFL interview last month in which he described many millennials as "soft, soft players" who might not want to work as hard as previous generations of players did.

"This is a class of players that feel like they deserve so much more. I don’t know if the work ethic is still there," Doleman said. "I think these guys want to win. I think they want to be good players, but are you willing to do the hard stuff? This, ‘I’ll ease into the game’ type of attitude is just not good enough. You have to be able to step up there and make it happen.”

Doleman pointed out Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary's time as the 49ers' head coach as an example of a disconnect with today's players, because Singletary couldn't understand why every player didn't have his drive. Both Doleman and Singletary were Hall of Famers as players, so they're naturally on the far end of the bell curve, but Doleman does raise an interesting point.

While I'd say the stock criticism of millennials is overly simple and often refers to affluent suburban kids who grew up as hyper-achievers in school (present company admittedly included), there's little doubt young professionals come to the workforce from a different background than previous generations. Football players do, too. Millennials grew up in organizational environments that place a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, and as a result, they draw greater meaning from experiences where they feel like their ideas matter. Generally, they're less used to being screamed at, more used to being asked what they think and more likely to buy into an idea when they've been told the rationale behind it. Former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier seemed to get that -- he met each week with a players' leadership council consisting of players as young as 23 or 24 -- and in an era where salary-cap restrictions have pushed more and more teams toward younger players, the Vikings' next coach will have to find the right style to connect with millennials.

That doesn't necessarily mean every coach has to be like Pete Carroll; Jim Harbaugh has certainly been able to get the most out of young players, first at Stanford and then in San Francisco. But even as gruff as Harbaugh can seem in public, his leadership style is different than that of the coaches he played for (Bo Schembechler or Mike Ditka). A Sports Illustrated profile of Harbaugh in October quoted players who said Harbaugh "thinks of himself as part of the team." Receiver Anquan Boldin said of Harbaugh, "He's definitely not a screamer. He's usually calm when he talks to guys. He's more of a teacher."

Is that a softer way of relating to players? Is it more refined? I'll let someone else be the judge of that, but today's player probably requires a different kind of leader than players did in the 1980s or 1990s. It's a tough thing to quantify, but as Vikings general manager Rick Spielman continues his tour of coaching candidates, he'll have to find the coach that can connect with a generation of players who respond to something different than their predecessors did.
Percy HarvinEric Miller/ReutersWhat happened in Minnesota for the Vikings to be so willing to trade away an asset like Percy Harvin?
There was a time when prevailing wisdom suggested the Minnesota Vikings would struggle to get a second-round draft choice in return for trading receiver Percy Harvin. As the thinking went, Harvin's reputation as a high-maintenance personality and the need to satisfy his financial demands would drive down his trade value.

So under the circumstances, you could say the Vikings did well Monday to extract a first-rounder -- plus two other picks -- from the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for Harvin.

Under the circumstances …

Under the circumstances …

Under the circumstances …

Frankly, the depth of those circumstances will determine whether the Vikings made the right decision Monday. Make no mistake: They shipped out one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers a few months shy of his 25th birthday, leaving themselves as short on offensive firepower as any team in the league. They received a nice kitty in return, but certainly not one that guarantees a replacement of his skills.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, that has been reported about Harvin's eccentric off-field behavior -- his dust-ups with both Vikings head coaches he has played for and his decision to rehabilitate his sprained ankle elsewhere last season, among others -- merits this move. And I truly doubt that the Vikings -- who have spent nearly $1 billion on player salaries in the tenure of owner Zygi Wilf -- made this decision based on finances. Over time, Wilf has been more than willing to reward the Vikings' core players. If Harvin made exorbitant contract demands, such as a deal close to the one the Detroit Lions gave Calvin Johnson, it could only have been to accelerate his departure. We'll know for sure when we get the numbers on his deal with the Seahawks.

There is only one explanation here that makes sense: What we've heard about Harvin is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If NFL teams gave up on every superstar, blue-chip player who argued with coaches and exhibited diva-like tendencies, well, you would see a lot more Percy Harvins being traded and/or released. Instead, teams almost always accept those negatives because they are outweighed by the positive of his on-field production.

The Vikings had the NFL's least-explosive passing game last season and are desperate for more, not less, talent at the position. Every rational football thought suggested the Vikings should find a way to make it work with him. Dealing with high-maintenance players, especially ones with a career horizon as long as Harvin's, is part of successful NFL team building.

So what happened? We can only be left to assume the Vikings found him not just high maintenance and not simply a diva. They would have had to arrive at a much more dire conclusion than that. I don't expect them to ever reveal their true reasoning, but to justify it internally, the Vikings would have had to conclude Harvin was an incorrigibly lost cause who was hell-bent on disrupting the franchise until it finally granted him leave.

What evidence did they have to support that theory? Did Harvin tell them he would hold out for the first 10 games, the maximum a player can sit out without losing credit for a full accrued season? Possibly. Had he displayed rarely-seen behavioral tendencies, even based on NFL standards? Perhaps.

To be sure, there have always been whispers of suspicion about the ways Harvin conducted himself. Former coach Brad Childress openly questioned how serious Harvin's ongoing migraine headaches were in 2009 and 2010. There was a very odd and only partially-explained absence from training camp in 2010, which Harvin first attributed to a family member's death and later to migraines.

There were reports of a confrontation with Childress in 2010 and Frazier last season. Many of us wondered why Harvin couldn't play after spraining his ankle last season against, ironically, the Seahawks. We thought it was interesting, if nothing else, that Harvin never rejoined the team after being placed on injured reserve.

For me to accept this trade as smart, I have to assume the Vikings found malicious and deliberate intent in most of what they publicly explained as coincidental when it came to Harvin's dramas. And I have to think there were further words or actions -- or both -- in the past few months that cemented those feelings. The Vikings were smart to keep those misgivings to themselves, and the protection of their presumed grievances helped generate the return they got in Monday's trade.

I've presented that theory Monday afternoon to a number of people I trust who would have better insight than me. They all considered it the understatement of the year, in the paraphrased words of one.

If that's the case, then caveat emptor for the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll. While the Seahawks seem better equipped to make Harvin happy at the moment, given the presence of quarterback Russell Wilson and their apparent willingness to meet his contract demands, their situation might not always be so rosy. The Vikings have experienced Harvin's reaction to adversity -- real or imagined -- and you saw Monday what they did about it.

It would take an extraordinary litany of confrontations, altercations and mistrust to make a player like Percy Harvin a net negative and thus expendable. The Vikings did well to get what they did for him, but if this was addition by subtraction, well, that's a lot of negatives.

BBAO: Bud Grant advised Seahawks on QB

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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We're Black and Blue All Over. (We're also on Facebook and Twitter.)


Here's an interesting side note to the Seattle Seahawks' decision to draft Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, whose height -- just under 5-foot-11 -- had challenged conventional wisdom about the physical makeup of successful quarterbacks.

As Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette writes, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll reached out to former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, whom he had worked for in 1985. Carroll probed Grant about the pros and cons of Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton's relatively diminutive stature at 6-feet.

Carroll: "[Grant] relieved any concerns that I might have had, just because of the way he talked about what Fran was like. I know there’s not a lot of guys like this, but Russell's that exceptional and that unique. So we thought we had a real good one, and it's looking like he's on his way to a good start to his career."

So if Wilson and the Seahawks defeat the Green Bay Packers on "Monday Night Football", perhaps Grant can share in the victory.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Packers linebacker Erik Walden worked on getting his life in order after last year's legal troubles. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains.
  • The Detroit Lions insist that safety Louis Delmas has not suffered a setback in his recovery from knee surgery last month, but coach Jim Schwartz acknowledged Delmas is still "week-to-week." Chris McCosky of the Detroit News has more.
  • Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on what's wrong with quarterback Matthew Stafford, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Nothing in my mind. I think he's done a great job of preparing for the games and executing the game plans. Sure, there's a few plays we'd like to have back, but he's played within everything that we've asked him to do, and he's worked at such length at other parts of his game that may not necessarily show up on the box [score], that as time goes on are going to pay off for us."
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com checks in with Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch as they prepare to play against the Tennessee Titans, their former team.
  • Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher on quarterback Jay Cutler, via Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune: "I didn't pay attention to it locally or nationally. Everyone was asking me about it, but I still haven't seen what happened. And I don't really care what happened. Whatever happened, it's over with now. We've moved on. It doesn't seem to be an issue. Someone told me there was a mutiny against Jay in our locker room. If there was, I didn't know about it. I guess we're supposed to be mad at him, but things happen on the sideline."
  • Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton has three sacks in two games, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub vowed that his group will stay aggressive, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Minnesota Vikings opponents are continuing to throw the ball at will against their defense, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Vikings didn't find out that linebacker Erin Henderson had a concussion until Wednesday, notes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
  • The Vikings have taken defensive tackle Kevin Williams off the field on some third-down situations, which Williams called "shocking." Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
FrazierChuck Cook/US PresswireThe Vikings' commitment to youth hasn't helped Leslie Frazier's long-term future as coach.
My trip to the NFL owners meetings last month included a chance encounter with an NFL executive. We discussed the state of what has become a highly competitive and interesting division from a league perspective, given the Green Bay Packers' recent success, the Detroit Lions' explosive offense and the Chicago Bears' flurry of offseason improvements.

And then we got to the Minnesota Vikings.

"Big year for Leslie Frazier," the executive said. "Big year."

That perspective caught me by surprise, given that Frazier has spent exactly one full season as the Vikings' permanent head coach. But Frazier is also entering what reportedly is the final fully guaranteed year of his contract, and the long-term approach the Vikings have taken toward building their roster provides a substantial challenge to a coach with limited job security.

That's a nice way of saying Frazier probably needs to do a lot better in 2012 than the 3-13 record he produced last year, but with a roster that won't be constructed to support a quick turnaround. It's an unfortunate collection of circumstances that Frazier is only partially to blame for, but when viewed in the big picture, you can understand why the executive sees 2012 as a pressure point for his career.

(My friend Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com made a similar point last week.)

When the Vikings promoted Rick Spielman to general manager in January, Frazier said the move "should help me tremendously." Generally speaking, working for a good general manager is a healthy situation for any coach.

But since that point, the Vikings have dismantled their offensive line by releasing both starting guards and making plans to shift left tackle Charlie Johnson inside. They've given young quarterback Christian Ponder one more established playmaker, tight end John Carlson, but otherwise left their offensive skill positions untouched in free agency. They've bid farewell to their nose tackle and middle linebacker, tapping longtime backups as the likely successor in each role, and left untouched two safety positions that ended 2011 in shambles.

Spielman has made no secret of his intention: To get younger, to find blue-chip players in the draft and to supplement with complementary players in free agency. That's a sound philosophy for building long-term success, but it sure doesn't work in favor of a coach whose career record is now 6-16.

Take a look at the chart. A little more than half of the NFL's coaches (18 of 32) have reached a third full season in their jobs. Only four of them made it without the benefit of at least one non-losing season in their first two. And the only two who didn't demonstrate progress were the Washington Redskins' Mike Shanahan and the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll, both of whom carried enough celebrity status -- and not to mention huge financial investments -- to be all but assured of a third season from the moment they arrived.

But consider the Vikings' placement in the NFC North, which put three teams among the top 10 in ESPN.com's most recent Power Rankings. Remember that they will be starting Ponder, who is in the midst of his first NFL offseason. Ponder will play behind a rebuilt offensive line, with a set of receivers who will either be underwhelming or inexperienced or both.

In a best-case scenario, tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) will resume football activities shortly before the season begins. And in a division that includes star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, it's worth noting the Vikings' historically poor pass defense hasn't been enhanced this offseason with a single defensive back who could be considered a starter. (Perhaps that sentence will need editing after the draft.)

Does that seem like a collection of circumstances favorable to a coach demonstrating significant progress in 2012? Not particularly, no.

To be clear, I don't think the Vikings are in an inappropriate spot as a franchise. This has been coming since the moment they failed to reach the Super Bowl in 2009. It's just poor timing for Frazier.

The best time to make these kinds of difficult decisions is in the first year of a coach's tenure. You take the resulting lumps when your job is most secure, and then presumably demonstrate steady progress thereafter. The Vikings lost 13 of 16 games last season in a misguided attempt to push an aging roster toward one final playoff berth. It was a lost year in every way, and only now do they face the proverbial bottoming-out. I don't want to say Leslie Frazier is set up to fail, but the deck seems stacked against him.
If you're a fan of quarterback Matt Flynn, you should have been happy to see him sign Sunday with the Seattle Seahawks. As we discussed earlier this month, the Seahawks were one of the two most-favorable destinations for a quarterback of Flynn's background, along with the Miami Dolphins.

In Seattle, Flynn will be dropped into a West coast offense not dissimilar from what he ran with the Green Bay Packers. He'll have a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Sidney Rice, presuming Rice's good health moving forward, and he'll be playing behind an offensive line the Seahawks have been working hard to improve.

If you're a Packers fan, you're looking at the three-year contract Flynn signed and wondering if it's going to scale back the value of the compensatory draft pick(s) the Packers receive in the 2013 draft for his departure. The deal is worth between $19 million and $26 million, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and ESPN's Adam Schefter, and includes $10 million in guarantees.

The NFL does not reveal how it computes compensatory draft picks, but generally speaking, it's based on the net difference between free agents lost and signed. The value on each side is determined by the size of the contracts signed and the playing time/performance of the player the following year, among other criteria.

To make a long story somewhat short, Flynn's deal means it's possible the Packers' highest compensatory draft pick in 2013 will be a fourth-rounder, not a third-rounder as previously projected. We'll find out in March 2013.

One thing the contract does tell us: The Packers made the right decision in declining to place the franchise tag on Flynn. He spent six days on the free agent market and ultimately signed a contract that fell short of what most unquestioned veteran starters are paid. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Sunday that Flynn will compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.

Almost certainly, then, the Packers wouldn't have been able to talk a team into giving up a draft pick higher than what they'll ultimately get next season in the compensatory process.

Back with you Monday, barring further news this evening.
On Friday, we wondered whether Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy's new contract extension had made him the highest-paid coach in the NFC North. After all, it had been only a week since Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith had signed a new deal that presumably included a raise from his previous $5 million annual salary.

On second thought, however, maybe we should have been asking whether McCarthy is now the highest-paid coach in the game.

Longtime NFL columnist Dan Pompei, writing for the National Football Post, is reporting that McCarthy's deal will pay him $32.25 million over the next five years. That averages out to $6.45 million per season, significantly higher than original $5 million estimates.

As we noted last week, pinpointing coaching salaries is difficult because few people are privy to this type of first-hand information. But I can tell you a few things here. First, Pompei is a cautious and first-rate reporter. Second, based on other reliable media reports, McCarthy's average salary likely would rank as the fourth-highest among NFL coaches.

Based on this story from Forbes magazine, the only coaches earning more are Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (more than $7 million annually), Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins ($7 million) and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks ($6.6 million).

Exact numbers on Smith's contract haven't been reported, but we're assuming his salary is below $6.45 million for the purposes of this ranking.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

If Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy's new contract is worth $5 million annually when it is finalized, as reported by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, then Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith can't expect much of a raise in his impending extension.

That's the conclusion drawn by Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times, who notes Smith is already earning about that total in his current deal, which expires next year. Hayes: "How can Smith claim he is worth more than the coach of the defending Super Bowl champions?"

Coaching salaries are a pretty well-kept secret around the NFL. But according to a recent Forbes.com report, the NFL's highest-paid coaches are Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins, both of whom are at about $7 million annually. Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks is third, at a little over $6 million per year, and Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles is fourth at $5.5 million per year.

It's been more than three weeks since the Bears' season ended with general manager Jerry Angelo confirming he planned to offer Smith an extension. There is no rush on those negotiations, but if Smith is looking for a significant raise, the discussions could take some time.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Bears tight end Brandon Manumaleuna is scheduled for arthroscopic surgery on his right knee soon, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wonders if the Packers will assign the franchise tag to any of their impending free agents. Place-kicker Mason Crosby is one possibility.
  • Packers running back James Starks was back in his home state Wednesday and discussed his climb up the depth chart and winning the Super Bowl.
  • Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, via Frank Tadych of NFL.com: "I feel like the window is still open. It's definitely getting smaller to me, before the rebuilding process [starts]. We have so many veterans and elite players right now on our team. A roster full of great players. ... Offensively, we have all the skill positions [filled]. It's an offensive coordinator's dream. Those are weapons that are definite mismatches if put in the right position."
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune suggests the Vikings will use their franchise tag on linebacker Chad Greenway.
  • Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reviews the Vikings' 2010 draft.
  • Elliot Harrison of NFL.com offers five questions about the Detroit Lions' future.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel touched on a topic I've always wondered about: To what extent do NFL quarterbacks worry about losing their voice while shouting signals over crowd noise?

As he prepares for Saturday's game at the Georgia Dome, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledged that it's "something I do think about" but wouldn't elaborate on how he manages his vocal chords.

Even if teams use a silent count at the line of scrimmage, quarterbacks still need to call plays in the huddle and communicate verbally at other points. Rodgers has a 108.1 career passer rating in domes, and so whatever methods he employs seem to have worked.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Rodgers hasn't made a secret of the fact that he likes to play in domes, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Packers know that Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner is difficult to tackle, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Unless the Seattle Seahawks can figure out a way to bring Qwest Field and its 70,000-plus crowd to Chicago, their chances for a second consecutive colossal playoff upset are infinitesimal." With that said, Mulligan provides a blueprint for how the Seahawks could beat the Bears.
  • Of Bears tailback Chester Taylor, Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune writes: "If there was ever a time for Taylor to regain his swagger, it would be now as the Bears prepare for Sunday's divisional playoff game at Soldier Field."
  • The Tribune's Dan Pompei: "Let's assume the Seahawks don't upset Lovie Smith's Bears on Sunday. Let's assume Pete Carroll and his staff don't outcoach Smith and his. And let's assume the Bears become one of football's final four. How, then, could the Bears not try to sign Smith to a contract extension in the offseason? It would be in the best short term and long term interests of the organization to sign Smith before he went into the final year of his deal."
  • Minnesota Vikings receivers coach George Stewart is drawing interest from the college ranks, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
  • Although he is a third alternate this year for the Pro Bowl, Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie thought he had a better season in 2010 than 2009. Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions made 23 changes to their 53-man roster after final cuts this year, but none had more impact than claiming return specialist Stefan Logan off waivers from the Steelers."

Lawrence Jackson > Lions backups

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
6:37
PM ET
Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has struck again, giving up a low-round draft choice for a high-end player who has failed elsewhere but could still represent a substantial upgrade in terms of roster depth.

Mayhew acquired Seattle Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson for what is believed to be a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft. Jackson was the Seahawks' first-round draft pick two years ago, but has managed only 6.5 sacks over two seasons. Those figures are low for a first-round pick, but they would represent improvement for the Lions.

Suffice it to say, the Lions don't have any reserve defensive linemen who have 6.5 sacks over the past two seasons. (Remember, Jared DeVries is returning from a torn Achilles tendon that cost him 2009.) I don't see Jackson as a threat for either of the Lions' starting defensive ends, but if they can develop him into a situational pass rusher, he will have been worth much more than a sixth-round pick.

My NFC West colleague Mike Sando notes that Jackson fell out of favor with new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who was also Jackson's college coach at USC. That Carroll saw no untapped talent in Jackson should tell you something.

At the end of the day, however, the Lions went from having possibly one pass-rushing threat on their bench to the potential of two. That makes them better than when the day started.

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