NFC North: Pierre Garcon

We're Black and Blue All Over:

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- While I was scurrying this way and that Monday at the NFL owners meetings, Chicago Bears president Ted Phillips was addressing the future of tailback Matt Forte with Chicago-area reporters. As you know, Forte did not react well to the signing of backup Michael Bush and apparently there have been low-level trade rumors as a result because he has not yet signed his franchise tender.

Coach Lovie Smith threw water on the fire Sunday in a conversation with ESPN's Rachel Nichols, and via Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, Phillips said: "Matt is going to be a Bear." Phillips added: "Our goal with Matt is to keep him a Bear as long as possible. We have made offers on long-term deals that we think reward him at a high level, the level he deserves. We haven't been able to reach common ground. The door is open to keep talking. If we get a deal done, we'll be happy. If we don't, then the deal we have is the franchise tag and we'll see what happens after this year."

The remaining piece of this puzzle is the value of the long-term deal Forte has turned down. As a result, we don't know if the dispute is based on a lowball offer from the Bears or an inflated value Forte has established for himself. But obviously the sides are nowhere close at the moment, and the question shifts to whether Forte will play under the terms of the $7.74 million franchise tag or if he will stay away from training camp when it opens in July.

Continuing around the NFC North:
Amid the chaos of the Brandon Marshall trade and the start of NFL free agency, Seth sent over a tweet that I'm guessing represented many of your thoughts: "Make me feel better about my Vikings doing absolutely nothing. Please."

I'm not sure if anyone expected the rebuilding Minnesota Vikings to jump into the first-hour bidding of free agency. But it's true they were quiet while many of the market's top receivers and cornerbacks -- two positions of acute need -- made plans to visit elsewhere.

Let's revise our list of the top seven receivers available with the best information we have on them, based mostly on the fast-moving Twitter feed of ESPN's Adam Schefter. At the moment, the Vikings aren't in on any of them.
  1. Vincent Jackson: Negotiating with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  2. Brandon Lloyd: Being connected to the New England Patriots but nothing concrete
  3. Reggie Wayne: Connected with Peyton Manning's destination, but nothing concrete
  4. Mario Manningham: Nothing yet
  5. Pierre Garcon: Signed with the Washington Redskins
  6. Laurent Robinson: Visiting the Jacksonville Jaguars
  7. Robert Meachem: Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers have all expressed interest.

Meanwhile, cornerback Brandon Carr is receiving interest from the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, among other teams. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan is expected to visit the St. Louis Rams.

With all of that said, Seth and other Vikings fans, I wouldn't fall into hysterics quite yet. All the Vikings have done at this point is sit out the madness of the first few hours of free agency, a time best reserved for teams with fewer roster holes than the Vikings. I would frankly feel more critical if they had jumped out and paid, say, Garcon $20 million in guarantees. We'll judge the Vikings over time, but not based on the past two hours. As always, there will be value deals available in the coming days and weeks.

Feel any better, Seth?
We have two receiver-needy teams here in the NFC North, so for the sake of the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, if no one else, let's take a look at what's left of the receiver market after New Orleans Saints re-signed Marques Colston to a five-year deal earlier Tuesday.

As our guide, we'll use Matt Williamson's excellent ranking of the top 50 overall free agents available Insider. Below is how Williamson ranked the seven receivers (other than Colston) that he placed on the list.
  1. Vincent Jackson
  2. Brandon Lloyd
  3. Reggie Wayne
  4. Mario Manningham
  5. Pierre Garcon
  6. Laurent Robinson
  7. Robert Meachem

It's fair to say there is a significant drop-off after Jackson, one that will only enhance his value on the open market. The Bears have already had one go-around with Lloyd, and it wouldn't be surprising for Wayne to join quarterback Peyton Manning wherever he lands.

This is where free agency gets tricky, where contracts by rule are inflated. It's one thing to overpay for a Pro Bowl player. It's another to overpay for someone who can't play a lead role. Other than Jackson and perhaps Wayne, do you see a No. 1 receiver on this list? Nope. What you have is a list of players who fit closer into the No. 3 category than No. 2 seeking elite money. The Bears and Vikings must fight that temptation.