NFC North: Sage Rosenfels

Rick SpielmanAP Photo/Jim MoneThe success of the next Minnesota Vikings quarterback may determine the legacy of general manager Rick Spielman.

MINNEAPOLIS -- In his 17 years as a member of NFL front offices, through a career that's spanned three teams and taken him through two convoluted power structures, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might never have had more influence over a team than he does right now.

Vikings ownership scrapped its disjointed "triangle of authority" structure in 2012, elevating Spielman from vice president of player personnel to general manager and giving him full control over personnel decisions. The Wilf family decided not to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after a surprising 10-6 season in 2012 and fired him after a 5-10-1 season in 2013. Spielman got to pick his own coach for the first time in his career, hiring well-respected former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and heads into the 2014 draft with four of the top 100 picks, including the No. 8 overall selection.

Spielman could use that pick to take the highest-drafted quarterback in Vikings history. If he does, he could also be making the selection that defines the rest of his tenure as the Vikings' GM.

The biggest hole in Spielman's résumé with the Vikings -- which includes an otherwise commendable record on first-round picks, a shrewd trade for DE Jared Allen, and what appears to be a good return on dealing WR Percy Harvin -- is his inability to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Spielman came to the Vikings shortly after the team had used a second-round pick on Tarvaris Jackson, and didn't have to devote a high pick in the draft to a QB until the end of Brett Favre's two-year run triggered a youth movement in 2011. And now the Vikings appear to be acknowledging that the decision to pick Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011 was a mistake.

"I haven't got it right yet. We've worked as hard as we could to try to get that right," Spielman said after the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30. "I wish that you could get a quarterback [easily], and it's not. It's maybe the most difficult position to fill, but we're going to do everything and use every resource we can to try to get that corrected."

Spielman will have veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner helping him this time, and the GM might rightly conclude that the best decision is to take a defensive player in the first round, come back to draft a quarterback later and let him develop without the expectations (and guaranteed money) that often drive a first-round pick into action right away. But the Vikings would have to bring Matt Cassel back on a new deal or go another route if they want to have a veteran quarterback on their roster next year, and trading for a player like Kirk Cousins or Ryan Mallett would cost the Vikings at least a midround pick while offering few guarantees. More than ever, it's incumbent upon Spielman to get it right at a position he's struggled to fill since his days in Miami.

During his five seasons with the Dolphins, Spielman initiated the first of his two trades for Sage Rosenfels, a move he'd repeat with the Vikings. Spielman had a hand in the acquisitions of Ray Lucas and Brian Griese, and in 2004 -- his only season as the Dolphins' full-fledged GM -- Spielman dealt a second-round pick to Philadelphia for A.J. Feeley, only to watch the quarterback fail to hold the starting job as the Dolphins slipped from 10-6 to 4-12.

The Dolphins' 2004 season went awry in part because running back Ricky Williams went AWOL before the season, but a clear direction at quarterback might have helped the offense weather the loss of its best player. And for all of the Vikings' defensive issues -- and running back Adrian Peterson's nagging injuries -- along the way in their fall from 10-6 to 5-10-1 in 2013, there's a convincing argument to be made that the team could have won a mediocre NFC North if it had stability at quarterback. Frazier seemed to be making that point on his way out of town, leaving some strong hints that responsibility for the quarterback situation -- and who started games there in 2013 -- should be borne by more people than just him.

Frazier, of course, is gone now, and Spielman got his chance to build a more seamless football department by picking his own coach. He has outlived his gaffe on Ponder, and he has more than $20 million of cap space with which to mold the roster this spring. Ownership seems firmly behind him, and as the Vikings move toward the opening of their new stadium in 2016, their direction is firmly under Spielman's control.

But the stigma of his misses at quarterback still follows him around, and if he can't get the position right this time around -- especially if he makes what turns out to be a bad investment with the eighth overall pick -- he likely won't get another chance to change his reputation. General managers can often survive at least one coaching change, but the best ones extend their careers by finding quarterbacks.

To his credit, Spielman seems to know he needs to fix the position. All that's on the line is all he's built for himself in his time with the Vikings.

"I have confidence we'll get this quarterback situation resolved. I really do," he said on Dec. 30. "What that answer is right now, I'm not going to have those answers until we get the coach in place. And when we sit down and delve into what we have at this position -- what is potentially out there in free agency? What is the draft class? Those answers will all come in time."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

This MMQB.com piece from retired NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels is notable in a number of ways, among them his revelation that teammate Brett Favre said he "choked" at the end of the 2009 NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. What stood out most to me, however, was the way Rosenfels conveyed the intensity and tension of that game.

"Every play felt like a fourth down," Rosenfels wrote, and having covered that game myself at the Superdome, I couldn't agree more. There was a tension I have rarely felt in a sporting game, largely because, as Rosenfels wrote, "Both teams' fans had been waiting decades for a Super Bowl berth; the Saints had never made it there in their then-43-year history, and the Vikings hadn't been to the big game in more than 30 years."

It might not have been the most perfectly played game we've ever seen, and it has since been overshadowed by the NFL's bounty case against the Saints. But rarely have I experienced a game where so many moments and plays simply took your breath away.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Minnesota Vikings cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Most significant move: Following the lead of other teams around the NFL, the Vikings decided to go young at quarterback. The plan all along was to have Christian Ponder as the starter, but the surprise was letting veteran backup Sage Rosenfels go, leaving Joe Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the roster. Webb is making the transition from wide receiver to quarterback. Thompson is only 23 and hasn’t thrown a pass in the regular season. Webb has three starts and 152 pass attempts during his NFL career. The Bears and Colts found out last year it can be tough to go young at quarterback. The Bears lost Jay Cutler and their season was over. The Colts were without Peyton Manning and the season was lost with Curtis Painter.

Onward and upward: Starting wide receiver Jerome Simpson went on the three-game suspension list, so Leslie Frazier has to make sure he doesn’t have to look for receiver help during his absence. Veteran possession receiver Michael Jenkins was retained after a contract reduction and should fill the void. Keeping Devin Aromashodu gives Ponder a solid option in the slot. Percy Harvin is the team’s No. 1 receiver, but is sure to draw double coverage. The concern is what happens if there is an injury. Jarius Wright, the team’s fourth-round pick, is raw. Stephen Burton, a seventh-round pick from last year, is the fifth option.

What's next: Protecting Ponder is the key to the season. Right guard Geoff Schwartz has fought off a lot of injuries during camp. The backup corps of Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger and Patrick Brown isn’t the most distinguished. The significant improvement is having rookie Matt Kalil at left tackle and moving Charlie Johnson from left tackle to left guard. John Sullivan, a journeyman, needs to have a career year to make it all work. The Vikings also need a big year from right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Say farewell to the 2012 preseason

August, 30, 2012
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I didn't have all four NFC North preseason games playing simultaneously in front of me Thursday night. But I'll be darned if the very first thing that happened Thursday night wasn't Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji's ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage at Lambeau Field.

The injury is not believed to be serious, but it underscored the worst fears of the most meaningless night of live-action games on the NFL calendar. A review of the highs and lows from Thursday night is below. And good riddance to you, Mr. Preseason you. ...

Chicago Bears 28, Cleveland Browns 20

Final preseason record: 3-1
Of interest: The Raji injury made the Bears look awfully smart for sitting all 22 starters for this game. And in some cases, second-team players rested as well. … Third-string quarterback Josh McCown started and looked sharp enough to quell any questions about whether the Bears should hold a roster spot for him, at least in my opinion. He played the entire game, completing 20 of 29 passes. ... In a Super Bowl-or-bust year, why take a roster risk at quarterback? … Tailback Lorenzo Booker (81 yards on 15 carries) was having a more productive night than the player he's competing with for the No. 3 running back job, Armando Allen, before he departed because of a head injury and Allen ripped off a 49-yard run. … Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher put a nice exclamation point on his bid for a roster spot with a 30-yard touchdown reception.

Detroit Lions 38, Buffalo Bills 32
Final preseason record: 2-2
Of interest: The Lions played many of their starters for the first series and were up 28-10 at halftime of this affair. That included a crisp seven-play drive by the first-team offense, ending in Matthew Stafford's 24-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson. Stafford finished the preseason with 26 completions in 37 attempts for 360 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 116.9 passer rating. … Johnson had nine receptions for 178 yards and two scores in the preseason. … Tailback Mikel Leshoure gave the Lions something to look forward to when his two-game suspension ends, rushing for 43 yards, catching a 33-yard pass and scoring on a 2-yard run. … Quarterback Kellen Moore, fighting for a roster spot, rebounded from a number of early drops to complete 17 of 30 passes and also score the game-winner on a 1-yard run.

Green Bay Packers 24, Kansas City Chiefs 3
Final preseason record: 2-2
Of interest: Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that he did not have "a high level of concern" for Raji's ankle injury. … Thank you, Graham Harrell, for ending the drama -- real or imagined -- around the Packers' decision to name you their No. 2 quarterback. In about two full quarters of play, Harrell compiled a perfect 158.3 passer rating: 13 completions in 15 attempts for 223 yards and two touchdowns. His 27-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley was crisp, his 54-yard completion to Tori Gurley had plenty of arm and overall everyone should feel much better about the Packers' depth behind starter Aaron Rodgers. … Running back Alex Green displayed his open-field running skills by turning a short pass into a 17-yard scoring play. … Cedric Benson's first-play fumble, recovered by the Packers, will make a few people nervous.

Houston Texans 28, Minnesota Vikings 23
Final preseason record: 1-3
Of interest: The Vikings sat almost all of their starters, and the biggest point to take from this game is the continued inconsistency of backup quarterback Joe Webb. The Vikings managed only three points with him on the field. Third-stringer Sage Rosenfels missed receiver Devin Aromashodu on one deep pass but hit him on another for a 59-yard touchdown. … Rookie receiver Jarius Wright was having a huge night (six receptions for 122 yards) before departing with a foot injury. Among his catches was a 59-yard touchdown from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. … Running backs Matt Asiata (43 yards on seven carries) and Jordan Todman (76-yard touchdown run) competed hard for the No. 3 running back job.

CampTour'12: Vikings Day 1

August, 2, 2012
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A few thoughts and observations after our first day of practice with the Minnesota Vikings:

  • Compared to my other stops in this tour, the Vikings spend a lot of on-field time installing plays and reviewing at slow speeds. Their hour-long morning walk-through is, by definition, a half-speed practice. And for the first hour or so of the full-pads afternoon practice, players moved quietly and deliberately through movements that were clearly focused toward mental execution.
  • The final 75 minutes of the afternoon practice were active. Off the top, the Everson Griffen Fan Club will be happy to note their hero crashed through the line in a goal-line team drill and crushed tailback Jordan Todman short of the end zone. Todman sprained his ankle on the play and did not return.
  • I'll have more on this later, but I spoke with coach Leslie Frazier about Griffen to understand how permanent or full-time his move to linebacker might be. Frazier absolutely left open the possibility of Griffen getting some time at defensive end but said this is the time to find out what he could give the team as a linebacker. The reality is Griffen is probably the Vikings' third-best defensive end behind Jared Allen and Brian Robison.
  • Rookie receiver Greg Childs made the catch of the day in the corner of the end zone, leaping over cornerback Brandon Burton and trapping a Joe Webb pass on Burton's back. He held on for the touchdown.
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder missed on a few throws you would like to see him make, but the difference between now and what we saw at training camp last summer and is night and day. Ponder stayed in the pocket and was decisive on most of the throws I saw, which is always an important point for a young quarterback. The best throw I saw him make was about a 35-yard floater down the right sideline, one that sailed over the shoulder of cornerback Chris Cook and into receiver Percy Harvin's hands.
  • Cook made two nice interceptions that I saw, including one of quarterback Sage Rosenfels about one second after he whipped his head around to look for the ball.
  • Speaking to reporters afterwards, Ponder said that tight end Rhett Ellison has "some crazy" in him and suggested that receiver Jerome Simpson is pushing Harvin to be better this summer. I'll be looking for evidence of both in the coming days.
Looking over Matt Williamson's offseason grades for the NFC North compelled me to take a look back at our Big Decision series from the winter. In it, I tried to preview some of the most important issues facing NFC North teams in the coming months.

The list was by no means exhaustive, but I thought we would take this moment to circle back and comment on its resolution. We discussed seven issues at the time, which I've reviewed below, and I'll also add a few additional topics that ended up dominating our conversations.

[+] EnlargeCharles Woodson
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCharles Woodson is expected to play both safety and cornerback for Green Bay this season.
Big Decision: Charles Woodson's 2012 position for the Green Bay Packers
Resolution:
A schematic adjustment that could feature Woodson as a hybrid safety-cornerback in the base defense. Woodson likely will play as a slot defender in nickel and dime situations.
Comment: The Packers answered (C) when faced with the question of Woodson as a safety or cornerback: All of the above. Given how malleable defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme is, there was no reason to make a black-and-white decision when gray might have been the best option all along.

Big Decision: Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs' trade request
Resolution: The Bears mollified Briggs with a $2.5 million raise for 2012. He would earn $5.5 million in 2013.
Comment: The Bears weren't ready to give a 31-year-old linebacker a huge upgrade, but as it turned out, it wasn't necessary. Briggs just wanted to see the most minor demonstration of love to be happy.

Big Decision: The future of Detroit Lions left tackle Jeff Backus
Resolution:
Signed a two-year contract in March.
Comment:
Backus will turn 35 during the season, but the Lions needed to protect themselves when they had an opportunity. They followed up by making tackle Riley Reiff their top draft choice, setting up an ideal succession plan that could begin next month or next year.

Big Decision: The Minnesota Vikings' middle linebacker situation
Resolution: Fourth-year player Jasper Brinkley will be given a chance to take the job of incumbent E.J. Henderson, who was not re-signed.
Comment: Brinkley missed all of 2011 because of a hip injury and was held out of June minicamp for precautionary reasons. There is no depth behind Brinkley, making this move a big risk. As a result, middle linebacker remains one of the Vikings' biggest question marks.

Big Decision: Backup quarterbacks for all four teams
Resolution: The Bears signed veteran Jason Campbell. The Lions re-signed Shaun Hill but allowed Drew Stanton to depart via free agency. The Packers allowed Matt Flynn to depart and seem committed to Graham Harrell. The Vikings re-signed Sage Rosenfels but appear set to make Joe Webb their No. 2.
Comment: Campbell represents a huge upgrade for the Bears. Hill is the perfect player to back up Matthew Stafford in the Lions' offense. Harrell is unproven but drew raves from Packers coaches this offseason. The Vikings are serious enough about Webb as their No. 2 that they stopped experimenting with him at other positions.

Big Decision: The Bears' commitment to Kellen Davis
Resolution: Davis re-signed with a two-year contract.
Comment: Davis feels confident the Bears will use the tight end more under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a former NFL tight end. That's probably a good assumption.

Big Decision: The future of Lions defensive end Cliff Avril
Resolution: The Lions restructured their salary cap sufficiently enough to make room for Avril's $10.6 million franchise tag figure. The sides have until Monday to agree on a long-term extension.
Comment: The Lions made clear from the start of the offseason that Avril was a strong fit for their defensive system and a vital part of its success. Given the importance of pass rushers in this era, few if any would argue with the decision, even if it means he ultimately departs via free agency in 2013.

Honorable mention
The Bears jumped on the relative bargain rate of the franchise tag for tailback Matt Forte ($7.74 million) but the inability/unwillingness to sign him to a multi-year deal suggests some ambivalence about his long-term future. … The Bears re-committed to quarterback Jay Cutler by acquiring one of his favorite receivers (Brandon Marshall) and coach (quarterbacks guru Jeremy Bates), giving Cutler by far his best surrounding cast since he arrived in Chicago. … The Lions nipped a pressing long-term issue by making receiver Calvin Johnson the highest-paid player in the NFL at the time of the agreement, a deal that actually lowered his 2012 salary-cap figure and set up the rest of the Lions' offseason. … The Packers addressed their pass defense by signing several free agent defensive linemen, including veteran Anthony Hargrove, and selecting six consecutive defensive players to open the draft. … The Packers made a wise decision not to place the franchise tag on Flynn, who did not receive the level of free-agent interest once anticipated. … The Vikings publicly hemmed and hawed about their direction for the No. 3 overall pick, but ultimately made the obvious choice by selecting left tackle Matt Kalil after trading down one spot to No. 4.
The Chicago Bears closed out their 2012 minicamp by waiving quarterback Nathan Enderle, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 who spent the season as the No. 3 quarterback. That job will be handled by Josh McCown this season.

The most noteworthy aspect of the move: There was another NFC North team that spent considerable resources to investigate Enderle before last year's draft.

As you might recall, the Minnesota Vikings worked out Enderle privately and were said to be considering him as a backup plan if they were unable to draft a quarterback in the first round. The selection of Christian Ponder made that possibility moot, but it will be worth monitoring whether the Vikings put in a claim on Enderle.

The Vikings seem to have their depth chart set with Ponder, Joe Webb and Sage Rosenfels. But there wouldn't be any harm in adding Enderle to that mix for training camp if they still have interest. Stay tuned, if you can stand the suspense.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Greetings from the shadow of Lambeau Field. Rolled into Green Bay just before midnight (CT) Monday and am raring to go for Day 1 of Green Bay Packers minicamp. Practice starts at 11:45 a.m. ET (10:45 a.m. in Green Bay). I'll offer some pithy thoughts via Twitter (@espn_nfcnblog) in real time, and the blog will start filling up by mid-afternoon.

Before we hopscotch around the division, I want to make special note of what I thought was a smart take on the apparently ongoing contract talks between the Detroit Lions and coach Jim Schwartz.

Most of us have assumed the sides would find common ground this offseason to eliminate the distraction of Schwartz opening the season with an expiring contract. But that makes more sense for the Lions than Schwartz, as Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com notes, and Schwartz could probably increase his leverage by waiting until after the 2012 season to do this deal.

The worst-case scenario is Schwartz leaving the team for, presumably, another head-coaching job. Otherwise, he could enhance his value to the Lions with another winning season. Even without one, the Lions' offer isn't likely to get lower from what it is now.

Chances are it won't come to that, but Richardson provided another angle to what could grow into a more significant story at some point.

Now for our division tour:
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "He didn't consider a career change or spiral down into a state of depression, but Aaron Berry had a couple of sleepless nights after the way he finished last season."
  • Complacency doesn't appear to be an issue for the Lions as they prepare for the start of minicamp, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions signed veteran receiver Jarrett Dillard on Monday, notes McCosky.
  • Competition at left tackle tops Michael C. Wright's list of minicamp storylines for the Chicago Bears over on ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears defensive tackle Matt Toeaina has a broken right hand but will participate in minicamp nonetheless, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The total guaranteed money in the contract of Packers receiver Donald Driver is $1.2 million, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, yet another indication that the Packers plan to keep him on the roster this season.
  • NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has the right to discipline Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove in the New Orleans Saints' bounty case, an arbitrator ruled.
  • It's been a wild few years for Minnesota Vikings backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels, writes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The three-game suspension of Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson also includes an additional one-game fine, notes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
Based on mailbag notes, Twitter mentions and Facebook comments, it appears you spent a good part of last week hashing through Matt Williamson's assessment of the NFC North's backup quarterbacks. (Here's a handy link to all four posts if you missed them.)

This kind of analysis is subjective, and Matt's credentials as a former NFL scout supersede anything I can offer. With that said, I'll weigh in on a few of your comments, complaints and criticisms.

There were many protests of Williamson's decision to slap the Green Bay Packers' backup situation with the lowest rating among all 32 teams. He referred to Graham Harrell, the presumptive No. 2, as "a far cry from having Matt Flynn" and added: "[F]rankly, they should be keeping their eyes open for another option before training camp starts."

TheChainsawNinja expressed your objections this way: "The Packers needed an upgrade at backup quarterback in 2010, then Flynn started against New England and all of a sudden we had one of the most reliable backups in the game. The Packers have one of the best scouting departments in the league, finding the most underrated talent, and by far the best QB development program in the NFL. If [Ted]Thompson and [Mike] McCarthy are willing to bet on Harrell, then Harrell must be a whole lot better than many are giving him credit for."

I understand where the concern is coming from. The Packers seem prepared to elevate a practice-squad quarterback to one of the more important positions on a team. But you're right. The same things were said in 2008 about Flynn when he was a rookie seventh-round draft pick. The Packers did a nice job developing him and deserve at least a little leeway -- especially in the spring -- with their assessment of Harrell.

Most important, Harrell appears to have responded well to the challenge thus far. He reported to organized team activities (OTAs) after adding 14 pounds to his frame through intense winter workouts. Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that Harrell is throwing with better velocity and is having a "nice spring."

McCarthy no doubt has a biased view and would be unlikely to levy criticism at this point even if it were deserving. But at this point, I think it's fair to let the situation marinate and develop before drawing any conclusions.

Ben of Brainerd wanted to know who, in fact, will be the Minnesota Vikings' backup quarterback: Sage Rosenfels or Joe Webb. Coach Leslie Frazier strongly implied in February that it would be Webb, saying: "You're just one injury away from having to play with your backup. Joe is to me an outstanding guy in that role."

That comment came before the Vikings signed Rosenfels, but the assumption around the team is Webb will have the No. 2 role. If he weren't, it stands to reason the Vikings would be looking for other positions to play Webb, an experiment Frazier ruled out this winter.

I can't offer much more on Williamson's assessment of the Chicago Bears' Jason Campbell or Detroit Lions' Shaun Hill. In many ways they are ideal backups: Veterans who have been starters and have a résumé long enough to inspire confidence that they can run an offense. The Bears' and Lions' situations are as good as any in the NFL.

Vikings: Backup QB plan

June, 5, 2012
6/05/12
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» NFC Backup QBs: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Assessing the Minnesota Vikings' backup QB situation if Christian Ponder is injured and misses time.

Sage Rosenfels might be the No. 2 quarterback for Minnesota right now, but Joe Webb is far more intriguing. That being said, Ponder needs to be the guy Minnesota builds its team around, and I believe Ponder is the right guy for the job. If Ponder were to go down, though, and the Vikings were in contention, I bet Rosenfels would take over with Webb being used as a specialty player here and there. Although very mistake-prone, Rosenfels is better equipped to lead an offense than Webb due to his league experience. Rosenfels’ squads have won six of the 12 games he has started in the NFL. But if Ponder were to completely flop or get hurt when the Vikings were out of contention, putting Webb behind center and giving this playmaker a ton of snaps would be prudent. Webb is very difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for because he has a huge arm and wide receiver-like athletic ability. Webb has made plays consistently when given the chance but has started only two games.

Confidence rating (out of 100) if Ponder is out for an extended period: 60.
Tim Tebow in the NFLESPN.com IllustrationAbove is a glimpse at what quarterback Tim Tebow might look like in a jersey other than Denver's.
I dropped off Twitter for a few minutes Monday morning while focusing on our Pulitzer-worthy breakdown of Donald Driver's turn on "Dancing With the Stars." When I jumped back on, I had 103 new tweets. About half of them were asking whether an NFC North team would try to acquire Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow after the Broncos officially sign veteran Peyton Manning.

It's not unusual to get instant questions about newly-available players, but the relative certainty of the NFC North's quarterback depth makes us an unlikely Tebow destination, to say the least. Our only locale with even the hint of a question mark, at least for 2012, is the Packers. Here is how each team's depth chart shakes out for now:
I would understand if Packers fans aren't totally sold on Harrell as Matt Flynn's replacement. I'm not sure the Packers are themselves, at least not until they get him through a full offseason in their modified quarterback school. I wouldn't be surprised if they drafted a quarterback and/or picked through what's left of the free-agent market later this spring.

But would it make sense to even consider Tebow in that vein? From what I could tell from our Machiavellian readership base, the only people who want the Packers to pursue Tebow are Bears, Lions and Vikings fans. Tweeted @ScottD408: "can we make the Packers take Tebow?"

Longtime readers will remember that we discussed a Packers-Tebow union before the 2010 draft, sparked mostly by some awfully nice comments from coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson. (That’s where the otherwise incendiary photo illustration in this post came from.)

For what it's worth, McCarthy said in February 2010 that "I would definitely love to coach him." McCarthy added: "I think the guy's a winner, just the way he plays the game. I know a lot's being said about his mechanics. Just the way he approaches the game of football, I think he'll do everything he needs to do to improve. But you look for football players. And his record in college, I think, speaks for itself. But I'd love the opportunity to work with a Tim Tebow."

McCarthy and Tom Clements, once the Packers' quarterbacks coach and now their offensive coordinator, are considered two of the best quarterback tutors in the NFL. As we discussed in 2010, if you're a Tebow fan, you would hope he lands in a place like Green Bay, where he would have a well-honed structure to straighten out his game.

But the Packers aren't a public-service organization. They would only acquire Tebow if they thought he was their best option to back up Rodgers. I'm not sure if many of us could say that at the moment.
Amid the usual uncertainty of the NFL offseason, here's one move you could have bet the house on: The Vikings re-signing veteran quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

Rosenfels
Rosenfels
Rosenfels is a long-time favorite of general manager Rick Spielman, who has now re-acquired Rosenfels three times since initially bringing him to the Miami Dolphins in 2002. Alex Marvez of Fox Sports first reported Monday's contract agreement between the sides.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said last month that third-year player Joe Webb would be his No. 2 quarterback, and if that's still the case, the Vikings will be the rare team that carries a veteran as its No. 3 quarterback. But most teams have a veteran presence mixed in either at starter or backup, so with Christian Ponder, Webb and Rosenfels comprising their depth chart, the Vikings' youth-age ratio would match conventional wisdom.

In the end, the most important question is who would replace an ineffective or injured starter. By all accounts, the Vikings' first choice for that role is Webb. Rosenfels offers a better option at No. 3 than most teams can afford.

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There aren't many people around the NFL -- coaches, executives or even media analysts -- who think the Minnesota Vikings will select a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick of the April draft. But to cover his bases, if nothing else, general manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that the Vikings will "be doing the full monty" on Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III during next week's scouting combine, along with predraft workouts and pro days.

Griffin
Griffin
Luck
Luck
It's exceedingly rare for NFL teams to use first-round draft picks on a quarterback in consecutive drafts, and the Vikings selected Christian Ponder last season with the No. 12 overall pick. The most recent example in 1989, when the Dallas Cowboys used the No. 1 overall pick on Troy Aikman and then committed another first-round pick to Steve Walsh in the supplemental draft.

Although quarterback is the most important position in the game, the Vikings have greater needs elsewhere. Luck is widely expected to be drafted No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts, and presumably, the only way Griffin could work his way into their picture is if Spielman and his scouting staff are blown away by his predraft work.

To that end, Spielman said the Vikings are "very confident in what Christian Ponder brings" but added: "If one of those quarterbacks is too good to pass up, you have to weigh that too. … . You never know what happens on draft day, and I would rather be over-prepared than under-prepared."

It wouldn't be surprising, however, if the Vikings sign a veteran quarterback to back up Ponder when the free-agent market opens.

"We have some veterans that we have our eye on that can come in and play that mentor role but could also come in and play if they had to play as well," Spielman said. One option for that role is Sage Rosenfels, whom Spielman signed late last season and is a pending free agent.

Big Decision: Backup quarterbacks

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
3:15
PM ET
Previewing some of the big decisions facing NFC North teams early in the 2012 offseason:

Our Air and Space division boasts arguably the top grouping of starting quarterbacks in the NFL. We have a presumptive MVP in the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, a 5,000-yard passer in Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and, in the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler, an upper-level starter who was having perhaps his best season before fracturing his right thumb in December. The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, are hoping for a big jump from first-round draft pick Christian Ponder in 2012.

The relatively settled nature of those starters overshadows what could be division-wide change in their backups. The Packers' Matt Flynn, the Lions' Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, the Bears' Caleb Hanie and the Vikings' Sage Rosenfels are all pending free agents. Let's look at the decisions awaiting each team:

Packers: Flynn could draw interest as a potential starter from several teams, most notably the Miami Dolphins -- who hired former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as their head coach last week. The Packers' only chance to keep him would be to use their franchise tag, requiring a commitment of about $14 million in cash and cap space. That's not going to happen. The logical successor is third-string quarterback Graham Harrell, and the Packers might have revealed their intentions by promoting him to the active roster late this season when he began receiving interest from other teams.

Lions: Quarterback depth is valuable, but you wonder if a team with tight salary cap problems can afford to keep two vested veterans behind their franchise quarterback. Hill ($3.02 million) and Stanton ($900,000) accounted for about $4 million in cap spacein 2011, and if the Lions desperately wanted to shave that figure, they could promote Stanton and sign him to a cheaper contract than what Hill was paid last season. But Hill has a longtime association with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and is generally considered one of the most reliable backups in the NFL. There are no easy answers here.

Bears: Hanie's disastrous stint as Cutler's replacement might have sealed his exit from Chicago. But the Bears will have new offensive leadership with coordinator Mike Tice and a quarterbacks coach/passing coordinator who has yet to be hired, so it's possible the new regime will have other thoughts. The Bears didn't think enough of rookie Nathan Enderle to start him in a meaningless Week 17 season finale, making it hard to imagine his ascendance to No. 2. That could leave veteran Josh McCown, another pending free agent, as an option. Or the Bears could seek help on the free agent market themselves.

Vikings: The situation in Minnesota is less clear-cut. Ponder remains the starter, and 2011 backup Joe Webb is under contract for 2012. Webb was impressive in one start and appearances in 10 other games, accounting for five touchdowns, but the Vikings' continued commitment to Ponder suggests they might look for other ways to use Webb. If he develops into a hybrid receiver/quarterback/returner, it's possible the Vikings would want an established veteran behind Ponder. That could be Rosenfels, a longtime favorite of general manager Rick Spielman, or he could come from elsewhere.

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