NFC North: Russell Wilson

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It is not uncommon for NFL contracts to become outdated in a hurry.

Someone is always signing a new deal or an extension to become the highest-paid this or the highest-paid that.

Rodgers
Rodgers
So when Colin Kaepernick signed his contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers last week, the initial reports suggested his deal contained more guaranteed money than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s highest-paid player.

On paper, Kaepernick signed a six-year, $114 million extension that contained $61 million in guaranteed money. But in this case, the definition of guarantee is a loose one.

As ESPN’s John Clayton pointed out in his weekend Mailbag column, Kaepernick's deal is much more of a pay-as-you-play contract than the five-year, $110 million extension Rodgers signed on April 26, 2013. Rodgers’ deal was loaded with real guarantees.

Rodgers' signing bonus of $35 million followed by a guaranteed roster bonus of $9.5 million that was paid this March and another one worth $9.5 million due next March brought his guaranteed money to $54 million in real dollars.

For those who were outraged that Kaepernick received more guaranteed money, a closer examination of the deal revealed that those were "soft" guarantees. Kaepernick's yearly guarantees don't become such until April 1 before each season, meaning the 49ers can get out from under the deal at any point without paying those so-called guarantees.

So for the time being, even though Kaepernick has the potential to collect more than Rodgers, it's not accurate to call him the higher paid at this point.

Perhaps the best measure when comparing contracts is a three-year window. Looking at it that way, here's a breakdown of the top quarterback contracts by average per year, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data:
Three of the quarterbacks on the list -- Ryan, Cutler and Kaepernick -- signed their deals after Rodgers did his 14 months ago. In that time, Rodgers' contract has held up. He remains the highest-paid quarterback with a $22 million-per-year average over the life his deal.

Maybe Russell Wilson, the next quarterback likely to cash in, will surpass him. But Kaepernick's deal did not.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Three years ago, the Minnesota Vikings took Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the draft, setting in motion a chain of events that ended -- or at least crossed the start/finish line for a second lap -- on Thursday night, when they spent the 32nd overall pick on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, hoping to give new coach Mike Zimmer a better solution at quarterback than they gave former coach Leslie Frazier.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWith QB Christian Ponder mostly ineffective in his three seasons in Minnesota, the team will be looking to quickly develop Teddy Bridgewater.
It was no surprise at all the Vikings would take a quarterback high in the 2014 draft, after emerging from the rubble of what turned out to be a disappointing 2011 quarterback class. What was interesting, though, was how much company they had in making a quick pivot at the position.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns became just the fourth, fifth and sixth teams in the common draft era to take a quarterback in the first round for the second time in three years. Before Thursday night, it had never happened twice in the same draft, and it hadn't happened at all since 2005, when the Washington Redskins took Jason Campbell three years after drafting Patrick Ramsey.

There are multiple reasons why it's easier to move on from quarterbacks after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement than it used to be, but the structure of the current CBA -- and the profound changes it's enacted on rookie contracts -- might also be driving teams to be less patient. Gone are the days of contracts like the six-year, $78 million deal the St. Louis Rams had to give No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford in 2010.

It's much less cost-prohibitive to replace a quarterback, with both salaries and contract guarantees down significantly for young players, and there's also an incentive to get players on the field sooner. Four of the final six teams playing last season -- the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts -- all had quarterbacks playing in their rookie deals, and all four got high-level quarterback play at a price that allowed them to spend money on other players. Those teams all have bills coming due for Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, respectively, but they've combined to get seven playoff appearances out of those players while ranking in the bottom half of the league in quarterback spending.

With quarterbacks directing more complex offenses in college and high school, it's easier to expect more out of them at a young age, and while the Vikings have talked about wanting Bridgewater to sit this season, it wouldn't be surprising if they want to have him on the field by 2015. They've got a little extra time, thanks to the fifth-year option that will automatically be added to his contract after they took him in the first round, but one of the best tools in roster construction these days is to have good quarterback play at below-market cost.

If the Vikings can capitalize on those years from Bridgewater, they'll be in great shape to put a playoff team around him. If they can't? Well, as Ponder can attest, it isn't expensive to be impatient in today's NFL.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, we've reached draft day at last, which means our series looking at the Vikings' quarterback possibilities comes to a conclusion today. This post will be a quick-hit look at some of the other options in the class. Several of them, like Alabama's AJ McCarron, could be viable possibilities for the Vikings in this draft, so we'll spend more time on some quarterbacks than others in this post, but this is meant to wrap up the series with some final words from our resident experts: ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (a former pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles) and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (who used to be a college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns):

AJ McCarron, Alabama

2013 stats: 67.3 completion percentage, 3,063 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, 31 1/2-inch arm length, 10-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "I don't like McCarron at all, especially not for them. I think he's vastly overrated as a player, and certainly as a passer."

Riddick's take: "I'm not someone who dings players for playing with other good players. AJ has shown more than enough, as far as executing the things you need to see a college quarterback execute, regardless of who he's playing with, to say he projects as being a good pro in the right context. Knowing his background, he's another guy that, despite playing in that pro style, can really benefit from going to a place where footwork, mechanics, progression reading, essentially staying within the structure of the offense and not being given any slack will benefit him greatly. A place like Kansas City -- and I say Kansas City because of Andy Reid -- is the kind of place he really needs to go. I like him a lot."

Aaron Murray, Georgia

2013 stats: 64.8 completion percentage, 3,075 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, 30 5/8-inch arm length, 9 1/8-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "I've talked to people who say, 'Slow down (on his return from a torn ACL).' If you're going to draft him high, understand that it's probably best for him to sit a year, whether that be starting off on the PUP (physically unable to perform list). If it weren't for the knee, and how much it would benefit him to have a quote-unquote 'redshirt' year, and not have to be rushed into action, the only thing you would be noticing about Aaron Murray is the same thing you were noticing about Russell Wilson when he came out. It was just, 'But he's not 6-5.' That's the only thing you would be able to say, because the kid ran an offense that was as multiple as any in college football, and probably as multiple as many in the National Football League. He executed from the pocket, from the shotgun, he executed situational football brilliantly. He made big plays with his feet, he threw on the run. He did every single thing. This past year, he lost his top three receivers, his top two running backs, and was still balling. If it wasn't for the knee, there would be no other reason besides our preconceived notions (to keep him from) being a top-level pick. What else are you going to say? I like Aaron Murray a whole, whole lot."

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

2013 stats: 66.0 completion percentage, 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, 31-inch arm length, 9 1/4-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "Of all these guys, he has the longest road to travel before he's ready. His offense was nothing like what he's going to be asked to do in the NFL, unless they're going to take his offense there. He has so much to learn, just from a footwork perspective. He had a lot of yards last year, a lot of short passes, a lot of bubble screens, didn't look very comfortable in the pocket, didn't look comfortable at all under pressure. He seems to be the most green, and has the biggest road to travel as far as development. He's a great kid, very smart and he has a quick release. He doesn't have a great arm. He's never demonstrated pro-style footwork and/or mechanics, and he played at a lower level of competition, although he dominated that level of competition. To me, it's a very vague projection. It's almost more of a guess. When I start thinking in those terms, I'm not going very high for that player."

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

2013 stats: 56.6 completion percentage, 2,909 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, 34 1/4-inch arm length, 10 7/8-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "He might be a real good fit for Minnesota's offense. He's got a rocket launcher for a right arm, and he's got unbelievable physical characteristics, but he needs time. He's the type of guy that, if you draft him in the second or third round -- the second's probably a little rich -- you'd hope he doesn't see the field at all in 2014. You groom him, you let Norv (Turner) and (Matt) Cassel take him under their wing. To me, he's got more upside than (Zach) Mettenberger, (Tom) Savage, maybe more than anyone in the draft, to be honest with you. I think he's as gifted, and probably more so, in terms of arm strength, athletic ability, size, he's more gifted than anyone else in the draft."
MINNEAPOLIS -- There are just 16 days to go until the 2014 NFL draft, meaning we're firmly in the time of year when general managers are more likely to top off their draft preparations with a dollop of misdirection than a scintilla of truth.

And yet, when Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman described the process of evaluating this year's quarterback class as "torturous" in an interview published Monday, his comments were structured around a consistent theme he's been hitting since the Vikings began draft preparations in earnest three months ago.

"Every one of these quarterbacks ... nothing is a sure thing," Spielman said in a discussion with MMQB.com on Monday. "There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player -- every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait ’til later in the draft and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWould the Vikings have stayed with Christian Ponder as long as they did if he had been drafted in the second or third round?
Since January, Spielman has been talking about how far and wide the Vikings would search for a quarterback, how careful they would be not to get boxed into drafting one in the first round. He has described this class as being without a sure thing since February and has talked since March about how re-signing Matt Cassel gave the Vikings the freedom to wait on a quarterback.

There are a couple of viable explanations for the consistency. One possibility is that Spielman has been crafting the narrative that the Vikings won't force a quarterback pick at No. 8 for months, possibly to ward off teams that might be interested in leapfrogging the Vikings for a QB or to create a market for trading down. The other scenario is that Spielman is staring at the situation, knowing how damaging the fallout could be for him if he misses on another highly drafted passer, and is mulling the possibility that a first-round quarterback might just be too big of a gamble in this draft.

Plenty of people around the league believe the Vikings won't take a quarterback at No. 8, choosing instead to draft a defensive player or trade back a few spots to accumulate more picks before picking a defender. With the caveat that what you hear from people around the league has to be triple-filtered this time of year, I'm inclined to think it's likely the Vikings wait, for a couple reasons. First, the Vikings still have enough defensive needs that they would be helped sooner by a linebacker or defensive back than they would by drafting a quarterback who needs time to develop. There's some legitimacy to Spielman's statements that the Vikings aren't that far away from being back in the playoffs. That's based on how many close games they might have won with only slightly more efficient quarterbacking and a less porous defense last season. If you believe a full season of Cassel and the prospect of defensive improvement is enough for a quick pivot while Adrian Peterson is still in his 20s, wouldn't it be tempting to consider that route?

The second, and probably more important reason for the Vikings to wait on a quarterback, is this: They've seen just how much time and how many resources can be squandered on a quarterback who doesn't pan out. Peterson was 26 when Christian Ponder made his first start for the Vikings. Percy Harvin was a 23-year-old turning into a breakout star, and Jared Allen was in the midst of a 22-sack season at age 29. The Vikings were in the middle of a rebuilding project under Spielman and Leslie Frazier, but those don't have to take that long in the modern NFL when there are cornerstone players in place.

Heading into 2014, though, Harvin, Allen and Frazier are gone, Ponder has lost the benefit of the doubt, and the Vikings are still trying to figure out their long-term answer at quarterback. Spielman outlived Frazier in Minnesota and got a chance to hire his own coach in Mike Zimmer, but he probably can't survive another big swing and miss at quarterback. If the Vikings were to hitch their fortunes to the wrong guy at No. 8, Zimmer could eventually be dragged down with the GM.

It's interesting to think about what might have happened in 2011 if the Vikings had taken Ponder in the second or third round and if they would have felt less compelled to stand by him. Would they have made a play for Robert Griffin III the next year or taken Russell Wilson instead of Josh Robinson in the third round after Frazier and his staff coached Wilson at the Senior Bowl?

The Vikings might have decided to give Ponder time anyway, but it's difficult to argue any team faces the same pressure to stick by a second-day draft pick as it does with the 12th overall selection. It has to be in the back of Spielman's mind that taking a quarterback later in the draft wouldn't carry the same kind of inherent commitment as drafting one in the top 10, in addition to the fact that passing on QB at No. 8 would give him the opportunity to pick from a dynamic group of defensive players. Considering the quarterbacks that could be in next year's class -- such as Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- the Vikings had better know how tethered they want to be to a quarterback they would take this year.

The Vikings are in eight days of pre-draft meetings that conclude next Tuesday, when players return to the team facility for a three-day voluntary minicamp. That event will give Zimmer his first real chance to work with players and make some determinations about what he has in Cassel and Ponder. From there, the Vikings can have their final discussions about how they want to approach the quarterback position. But it seems possible, as it has for months, that they are seriously weighing the benefits of waiting if they're not completely enamored with a QB in the first round.

"How many franchise quarterbacks actually come out?" Spielman said earlier this offseason. "Last couple years, there have been a couple guys that have been taken in the second and third rounds that have been successful. I think there’s some depth in this quarterback class. You’re definitely not going to be forced to take a quarterback at 8 unless you’re totally sold on that quarterback. I can guarantee you that it’s not going to be a forced issue.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- The group of quarterbacks the Minnesota Vikings will assess during the lead-up to this year's NFL draft include Central Florida's Blake Bortles (6-foot-5), LSU's Zach Mettenberger (6-foot-4) and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (6-foot-6). It will also include Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (6-foot-2), Fresno State's Derek Carr (6-foot-2), San Jose State's David Fales (6-foot-1), South Carolina's Connor Shaw (6-foot-0) and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (5-foot-11).

That there are so many shorter quarterbacks near the top of this year's draft class owes plenty to Seattle's Russell Wilson, who stands 5-foot-11 and led the Seahawks to a win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. It also owes something to New Orleans' Drew Brees, the record-setting quarterback and MVP of Super Bowl XLIV who stands just six feet tall. But it also is because of a changing game that's asking quarterbacks to move more and is setting them up to throw in places where being 6-foot-5 isn't as important as it used to be.

More teams are rolling their quarterbacks out and using moving pockets to neutralize pass rushes and keep defenses uncomfortable. Shotgun and pistol schemes have made it easier for short QBs to find throwing lanes. And players like Wilson have done enough to make general managers realize they might have discredited good QB prospects because of one trait.

"It was height, period," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "But Ill tell you what: He's going to open the floodgates for people breaking through that stigma of, you need a really tall quarterback. You've got to pinpoint, are people batting down passes? He didn't have a lot of batted balls (in college) at Wisconsin. He's able to find those passing lanes that usually you'd think were solely based on height. But he's been effective."

Manziel's height was as big a topic at the NFL scouting combine as his off-field issues, but the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner said, "I feel like I play like I'm 10 feet tall," and turned heads with an unofficial time in the 40-yard dash of 4.56 seconds (his official time was 4.68). Manziel's hands are nearly 10 inches long, when measured from thumb to pinky, which should eliminate some of the concerns that would naturally come up with his size. The success of quarterbacks like Wilson and Colin Kaepernick should take care of others.

"For those guys, being able to evade a first wave of pass rush, really extend the play just a little bit, be able to move the pocket and do some things like that, it really opens the playbook up a little bit more," Manziel said. " The young guys who are doing that, the guys that I enjoy watching, I think they’re really doing a good job for some of the mobile quarterbacks in college right now."

Shaw, who officially ran a 4.66 40 on Sunday, said he met with the Vikings twice at the combine, and added the team told him "there would be good opportunities if I were to land at that place because they had a little quarterback battle going on." His arm strength has been a concern, and his scouting report on NFL.com says he "can be too jittery vs. pressure and quick to tuck and run" (remind you of anybody?)

But Shaw will be another quarterback who gets a look because of his speed. Thanks to QBs like Wilson, he won't immediately be discredited because of his size.

"There is not a specific mold you have to fit anymore to be an NFL quarterback," he said. "You see Russell Wilson and he’s kind of proved that. He’s got a shiny rock on his finger now and he’s 6-foot. I don’t think there is a prototypical quarterback size anymore."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three Green Bay Packers ranked among the top 50 NFL players in total retail sales of items in their names.

In a release by the NFL Players Association at this week’s Super Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 6 overall), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 12) and receiver Jordy Nelson (No. 43) were among the league leaders in sales from September through November of 2013. Both Rodgers and Nelson missed time because of injuries during that period.

NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, releases the data quarterly. The players association said the list is compiled from “overall total sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets as reported by more than 65 NFLPI licensees.”

The top-six players on the list all were quarterbacks. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was first followed San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, New England’s Tom Brady and Rodgers.

Matthews was the third-highest ranked defensive player behind Houston’s J.J. Watt (No. 7) and Seattle’s Richard Sherman (No. 11), while Nelson ranked eighth among receivers.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson topped the list in an ESPN NFL Nation survey of the player those polled would most like to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson received 59 votes to edge Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez by three votes.

More than 320 NFL players took part in an anonymous, comprehensive survey with Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson finishing third (26 votes) followed by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (15), Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (14) and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (11).

The voting, which aimed to identify worthy players who have never made a Super Bowl, took place before Wilson led Seattle to this year’s title game.

That Peterson beat out Gonzalez is a bit of a surprise to me considering how well-known it was that 2013 would be the latter’s final season in the NFL. Both Gonzalez and Peterson were first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers but Peterson would appear to have his share of chances to play in a Super Bowl -- assuming the Vikings can ever get a quarterback to pair with the transcendent running back.

That Peterson finished first in the survey isn’t just a testament to his greatness but also the respect he earned for rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2012, less than a year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.

Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery received two votes in the survey.

 
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Vince Young took a major step toward winning the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback job Friday in the Packers' 17-10 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The former first-round draft pick outplayed Graham Harrell, who couldn’t produce any points in five series (including four with the starting offensive line).

Young, who replaced Harrell in the third quarter, led an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on his first possession. Although Young nearly threw an interception on his third play, the 30-year-old showed that if nothing else, he can still make plays with his feet. He scrambled for 21 and 18 yards on the touchdown drive. He also showed he can be effective running play-action bootlegs. He hit tight end Andrew Quarless for 16 yards on one such play, which helped set up Young’s 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jonathan Amosa.

Young’s second -- and final -- series was a three-and-out that was ruined by a shotgun snap that sailed over his head. He finished 6-of-7 passing for 41 yards. With one touchdown pass and no interceptions, his rating was 130.7. He rushed three times for 39 yards.

Harrell relieved starter Aaron Rodgers, who got only one series, and played the entire second quarter behind the starting offensive line, plus another series in the third quarter with the No. 2 offensive line. Harrell’s four series with the top offensive line ended with a punt, a fumble by receiver Jarrett Boykin, a turnover on downs after Jermichael Finley dropped a potential touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal at the 2 and another punt. The ball Finley dropped was not a good throw. Harrell, who was 6-for-13 passing for 49 yards with a 52.4 rating, also overthrew several open receivers. His biggest gain was a 25-yard pass-interference penalty on Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

[+] EnlargeVince Young
P Photo/Tom LynnVince Young, bidding to back up Aaron Rodgers, led the Packers to their only touchdown Friday.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of the night:

  • In his lone series, Rodgers went 10 plays and completed 4 of 7 passes for 41 yards. It led to a 38-yard Mason Crosby field goal. It was the Packers’ only possession of the first quarter. In last year’s third preseason game at Cincinnati, Rodgers played the entire first half -- 41 plays over six series. Rodgers took a hard hit on his final play, when center Evan Dietrich-Smith appeared to be late to pick up defensive end Benson Mayowa on a loop move to the inside.
  • In his preseason debut, running back DuJuan Harris looked rusty and might have reinjured his knee. He rushed for 2 yards on three carries but missed an opportunity for a big gain when he failed to bounce a first-quarter run outside, where there was a big hole. Harris missed the first two preseason games because of a knee injury and then limped off the field in the second quarter and did not return.
  • Rookie running back Eddie Lacy had no running room. In eight carries, he had minus-5 yards.
  • Safety Morgan Burnett dropped out after the first series with an apparent hamstring injury.
  • First-round draft pick Datone Jones, who had played only one preseason snap before Friday because of the ankle injury he sustained Aug. 9 against Arizona, was questionable entering this game after dropping out of practice Wednesday. But after going through warm-ups with no problems, he played a handful of plays in the first half, mostly as the lone defensive lineman in coordinator Dom Capers’ “Bat” package, which is a variation of a dime defense.
  • Outside linebacker Clay Matthews rushing against a running back is a matchup the Packers would take every time. On a five-man rush, Matthews easily beat Seahawks running back Robert Turbin and sacked Russell Wilson.
  • Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari had a rough series in the second quarter, when he was called for a holding penalty that wiped out an 11-yard run by Lacy and then got beat on an inside move by linebacker Mike Morgan, who tipped a Harrell pass.
  • Crosby rebounded from his woeful practice Wednesday, when he missed three consecutive field goals. He made his only field goal attempt of the night, the 38-yarder in the first quarter.
  • Rookie safety Chris Banjo helped his case for the No. 4 safety job. He stopped tight end Luke Willson a yard short of the first-down marker on a third-and-5 pass in the second quarter. He also made a tackle on special teams.
  • Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, who caught the controversial touchdown pass on the Hail Mary at the end of the Seahawks’ victory over the Packers last season, was booed when he took the field to return a second-quarter punt.
  • Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian both intercepted Wilson. It was Hayward's preseason debut after missing the first two games because of a hamstring injury.
  • The first half was very chippy and had several altercations and near fights.
  • The Packers dropped to 1-2 in the preseason.
  • The following players were not in uniform: WR Randall Cobb (biceps), CB James Nixon (ankle, knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Matthew Mulligan (elbow), WR Jordy Nelson (knee) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).

Read-option progress tough to gauge

August, 22, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Those expecting Friday’s preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks to give the Green Bay Packers’ defense an idea of how much progress it has made against the read-option might want to think again.

Despite the presence of Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ multi-dimensional quarterback, the Packers may not see him run much, if at all. And if he does run, it may be only in scramble situations and not on designed read-option plays.

“I don’t know how much people want to expose their quarterbacks in these preseason games,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We’ll see. We’ve worked on it in the offseason. A lot of it will depend on how much he wants to pull that ball out of there and keep it.”

Capers said he has seen both of the Seahawks’ preseason games this summer, and “to this point in time, the quarterback hasn’t kept it.”

Wilson and the Seahawks increased their use of the read-option as last season progressed. As a rookie in 2012, Wilson ranked third among NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards (489) behind Robert Griffin III (815) and Cam Newton (741).

After playing Arizona’s Carson Palmer and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford in the first two preseason games, just seeing a mobile quarterback this week will at least get the Packers thinking about their first two regular-season games against the San Francisco 49ers and RGIII’s Redskins.

“It’ll be a great look for us getting familiar with running quarterbacks, somebody that likes to move and throw on the run,” Packers safety M.D. Jennings said. “It will be a great challenge for us going into the regular season, and I think we can get better from it.”

But the reality is that the Packers probably won’t know if their offseason work on the read-option -- which included a coaches’ trip to College Station, Texas, in order to study the concept with the Texas A&M staff as well as daily work in practice against that scheme -- will help them. When the Packers’ defense was last seen trying to defend the read-option, they looked wholly unprepared, giving up 579 yards of total offense (including 181 yards rushing to quarterback Colin Kaepernick) in the 45-31 playoff loss at San Francisco in January.
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.

Inside Slant: 2012 rookie performance

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
4:10
PM ET
We have spent time this season breaking down the "Fail Mary" and its implications in every way imaginable. In this week's Inside Slant podcast , Mike Sando and I discussed the possibility that the player who threw the infamous pass -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson -- could win the NFL's Rookie of the Year award.

The award is highly competitive this season given the performances of Wilson, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III. No one in the NFC North is in the mix, but I thought the podcast would give us an opportunity to review the top rookie seasons in the division here on the blog. One look at eight rookies in the NFC North who merit mention for their performance in 2012:

Player: Minnesota Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh
Comment: A strong Pro Bowl candidate who has converted 32 of 35 attempts, including an NFL-record 9-for-9 from at least 50 yards, and has the NFL's fourth-best touchback ratio (62.0) on kickoffs.

Player: Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward
Comment: Tied for fifth in the NFL with six interceptions even though he has only played about 65 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps. Also ranks third in the NFL with 26 pass breakups.

Player: Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil
Comment: Has stabilized the Vikings' pass protection. Quarterback Christian Ponder has been sacked 30 times, the 12th-lowest mark in the NFL, and Pro Football Focus has assigned only one of those sacks to Kalil.

Player: Vikings safety Harrison Smith
Comment: Has brought play making to a position of historic weakness for this team. Has 98 tackles and three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Player: Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery
Comment: Injuries have limited Jeffery to nine games, but he has proved a physical and dangerous downfield receiver. Among his 20 receptions are three touchdowns.

Player: Detroit Lions offensive lineman Riley Reiff
Comment: Displayed his athleticism in a regular role as a third tight end. Reiff also looked competent in one start at left tackle in place of starter Jeff Backus.

Player: Lions receiver Ryan Broyles
Comment: Like Jeffery, Broyles didn't play much. But over about a third of the season, Broyles showed he could get open. He caught 22 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

Player: Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels
Comment: Daniels hasn't played as much as fellow rookie Jerel Worthy, but he has had some nice moments. Daniels has two sacks and made one of the Packers' biggest plays of the season by returning a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown in Week 14.

Did I leave anyone out?

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
11:05
PM ET

After the Chicago Bears' 23-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. From a statistical standpoint, it's easy to track the reasons why the Bears have now lost three of their past four games. Put simply, their defense has fallen off the pace it set during a 7-1 start -- dramatically. As ESPN Stats & Information noted, the Bears had seven defensive touchdowns in their first eight games. Since then? None. They averaged 3.5 takeaways per game in their first eight games. Since then? A total of six in four games. Obviously there was more than that to the Bears' start, but if you had to name the top two reasons the Bears started this season well, it would be takeaways and defensive touchdowns. Many of you wondered if the Bears had set a unsustainable pace over that stretch, and it appears they did. On top of that, on Sunday, their defense looked worn down and old as the Seahawks' Russell Wilson ran through them like the young and spry quarterback that he is. Most of their post-30 crowd -- Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman -- is now nursing nagging injuries.
  2. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    You wonder if coach Lovie Smith was demonstrating any kind of concern in that area when he decided to go for it on fourth down from the Seattle 15-yard line in the second quarter. The Bears led 7-0 at the time. One reason for going for it is because you think your offensive line and power running back can overwhelm the opposing defensive line. Another reason is that you think you're going to need touchdowns, rather than field goals, to keep ahead of the opponent. Smith would never admit to it and we'll never know for sure. But the primary reason Smith has typically been conservative in those situations over the years, taking the field goal over a risk, was that he knew his defense had a good chance of making a lead -- any lead -- stand.
  3. Were it not for Wilson's heroics, we would have spent much of Monday discussing quarterback Jay Cutler's 56-yard pass to receiver Brandon Marshall on the first play after the Seahawks took the lead with 24 seconds left in regulation. I mean, how much confidence does Cutler have both in his arm and Marshall to throw that pass? It wasn't a typical Hail Mary pass. Against a defense aligned specifically to prevent a big pass, Cutler threw a dart to Marshall down the seam. The play put Robbie Gould in position for a game-tying 46-yard field goal, and you had the sense that Cutler and Marshall would have ensured a victory if they had gotten the first possession of overtime instead of the Seahawks.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
In the video, Prim Siripipat and Eric Allen wonder whether we're seeing the beginning of the end of Urlacher's time with the Bears -- and possibly the NFL. It's not clear if Urlacher will be ready to play in Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings because of a hamstring injury, and the Bears' decision to allow him to enter the season in the final year of his contract spoke to their uncertainty about his future. Urlacher has gamely managed pain and age this season through limited practice time, but you won't find many football people who would tell you his play has been close to previous seasons. I'm not sure what the Bears' plans are, or if they even know them at this point, but Siripipat and Allen discussed a valid topic. It's not out of the possibility we are entering the final four regular-season games of the Urlacher era in Chicago.

Weak NFL response suggests more of same

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
12:59
PM ET

The NFL repeatedly has played us for fools over the past two months. Did you expect that to change with Tuesday's response to the final play of the Green Bay Packers' 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks?

Instead of fully owning up to an inexcusable series of events, the league admitted one mistake and took an end-around to avoid the other. Its response comes nowhere close to suggesting the league has been chastened, humbled or deeply concerned by a game decided on two bad calls by substandard officials. Instead, it reads more like an explanation for any other run-of-the-mill controversy we've seen over the years.

We posted the entire statement in the previous post. It notes that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate "can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground" while Russell Wilson's Hail Mary pass was in the air. The NFL acknowledged this "should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game." Conveniently, however, it "was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay."

OK, that's a fair admission. But on the more-discussed issue of whether Tate or Packers safety M.D. Jennings had earned possession of the ball, the NFL offered a blatantly passive response that never addressed the question. Instead, the NFL merely stated: "When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown."

But were the officials correct in determining there was, in fact, simultaneous possession of the ball? As we noted earlier, one official near the play ruled a touchdown and the other touchback. The NFL weakly avoided that issue entirely. Instead, it merely supported the decision to uphold the original call via replay.

Overturning a call on replay requires "irrefutable" evidence of a mistake. I guess there is enough gray area in the video to fall somewhere short of that standard. However, the overwhelming sense from the Packers and most other observers is that Jennings caught the ball, had possession when his feet hit the ground. Tate fought for the ball, but did he have simultaneous possession? That's highly debatable, at best, and totally unaddressed by a league that has done nothing Tuesday to quell overwhelming scrutiny about the integrity of its officiating.

The NFL affirmed the game's result is final. I didn't expect commissioner Roger Goodell to invoke his authority to overturn it based on the "Extraordinarily Unfair Acts" clause of the rule book, and I suppose this muted response shouldn't be that surprising, either. I guess there's no turning back when your strategy is to fool people into accepting that a charade is somehow legitimate.

BBAO: Bud Grant advised Seahawks on QB

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
9:39
AM ET
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.

Gruden Camp: Russell Wilson

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
12:15
PM ET
There has been plenty of interest among NFC North readers about Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, partly because he played at a Big Ten school and assuredly because he's from my hometown. Some of you are hoping the Green Bay Packers draft him as a developmental quarterback following the departure of backup Matt Flynn. His full visit with ESPN analyst Jon Gruden will debut Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU, but here is a clip that gives you a peak into their discussion about Wilson's transfer from NC State and the presumed limitations of his height.

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