NFC North: Phil Savage
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides excellent context for the Packers' switch to a 3-4 defense, noting that up to 12 teams are competing in this draft for players whose body types and skills fit the 3-4 scheme better than a 4-3.
Most notably, the trend puts a high demand on 250-pound college defensive ends that didn't necessarily have a place in the 4-3. Now, everyone is trying to figure out if they can play outside linebacker in the 3-4. McGinn reports there are at least 12 such players in this year's draft, a relatively high number.
But former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage said the competition for these players is going to push them much higher in the draft than they should be.
Savage: "You can always project these guys and all that, but the reality of it is there aren't enough of them to go around. When only four or five teams were running the 3-4, you could still get a guy in the third or fourth round. Now, everybody is trying to get them for that scheme, so ultimately they will go earlier than they probably should."
The Packers didn't sign a linebacker or defensive end in free agency, putting a premium on both their draft performance as well as their efforts to retrofit their own players for the scheme. Time will tell.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel examines the tendency of Packers general manager Ted Thompson to collect low-round draft picks. Thompson: "Your success ratio is lower, but if you have confidence in your scouting department, you like the challenge of trying to find a guy down there."
- Anyone who believes Detroit won't draft quarterback Matthew Stafford is in "denial," writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- The News' Bob Wojnowski is hedging on Stafford: "Listen, I wouldn't shriek and declare the Lions forever doomed if they signed Stafford. He clearly has the arm and intelligence to at least be a decent NFL quarterback, in the right situation. I would just wonder if Mayhew and new coach Jim Schwartz want him for the right reasons."
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press writes the Lions could take offensive players with both of their first-round picks. (Ha!)
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune thinks Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf has sealed his wallet this offseason: "... [F]rom here, this looks like an offseason that has been all about business -- about a reaction to a nasty recession, a fall in season-ticket sales and another stadium shutout suffered at the Legislature."
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at the Vikings' completely failed 2005 draft class, one that included two of the first 18 picks of the draft.
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes that the final verdict is still out on Minnesota's 2008 trade for defensive end Jared Allen.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune names five players whose jobs could be jeopardized based on how the Bears draft, including veteran linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times breaks down every draft choice in the Bears career of general manager Jerry Angelo. Four of them have become Pro Bowl players.
Very quietly, the Detroit Lions are wrapping up their search for a personnel man to join new general manager Martin Mayhew in the front office. One name frequently mentioned in recent days is James "Shack" Harris, the former vice president of player personnel in Jacksonville.
Harris, former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage and former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist have all been mentioned as possible candidates. Although things could change, there have been recent indications that the Lions were focusing in on Harris.
Harris would fit the description of what Mayhew has said he was looking for: An experienced talent evaluator to serve as a second pair of trained eyes. Such an arrangement would lend credibility to a front office that hasn't engendered much lately.
Of course, at this time in the NFL offseason, that's not an easy job description to fill. The vast majority of qualified candidates are locked in with their current teams until after the draft. Typically, teams set the contracts of their personnel executives to expire in May to ensure continuity during this critical time of the season. And because the Lions aren't offering a job that would include final say on personnel issues, teams could block any interview requests for candidates under contract.
That leaves the Lions considering a pool of men who are currently unemployed. It's believed that Savage wasn't interested in joining the team in a subordinate role, but Harris is said to be ready to get back to work.
Harris wasn't perfect during his tenure in Jacksonville, where he shared final authority with coach Jack Del Rio. The Jaguars had some questionable draft choices during his tenure, from receiver Reggie Williams (2004) to receiver Matt Jones (2005), and they misfired last year when signing receiver Joey Porter to a free agent contract.
But Harris has more than a decade of experience in building playoff-caliber teams, something no one else in the Lions' front office can say. Prior to his stint in Jacksonville, Harris spent six years in Baltimore and was part of the Super Bowl championship team in 2000.
Hiring Harris as general manager would have been a suspect move. But bringing him in as a mentor of sorts for Mayhew would seem to be a good fit.
The future of the St. Louis Rams' head-coaching position -- and thus, that of Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- remained clouded in intrigue Saturday morning. But there were indications things could clear up as soon as Saturday afternoon and certainly by Monday.
Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his wife were set to spend Friday night in St. Louis but both Garrett and general manager Billy Devaney said no offer has been made. Here's a link to the story from Jim Thomas and Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It's hard to imagine that Garrett isn't the top choice at this point, considering he already had his finalist interview with owner Chip Rosenbloom. But there has been no official announcement.
Here's one oddity to keep in mind if Garrett gets the Rams job: Frazier would become the first Vikings defensive coordinator to return for a third consecutive season since Foge Fazio in 1998.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- New Detroit coach Jim Schwartz met with the Lions' 13 assistant coaches who remain under contract, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Schwartz did not release them from their contracts but said they were free to interview for other positions.
- The Lions' next order of business is to hire a personnel executive to assist general manager Martin Mayhew, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press. The executive is expected to be a talent evaluator and could be a big name. Possibilities include former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage, former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist and former Jacksonville vice president James Harris.
- Green Bay is expected to interview longtime NFL assistant Dom Capers sometime this weekend for its open defensive coordinator job, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Capers' name first surfaced as a candidate Friday.
- New Chicago defensive line coach Rod Marinelli gave an interview to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. His assessment of the Bears' talent level: "There's very good talent. Tommie [Harris] is special. That's what you've got to have at the 'under tackle,' and you've got good ends here and a couple guys that can go in and play that nose position."