NFC North: Tim Pawlenty
More than a decade of memories came flooding back after seeing the Minnesota Vikings' stadium bill pass through the state Senate and head toward the inevitable signature of Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday, ensuring at least 30 more years of franchise continuity.
I picked up the beat in 2001, when state leaders began years of inattention by insisting the Sept. 11 attacks made for an inappropriate time to discuss stadium subsidies. I remember calling a young state legislator named Tim Pawlenty, who cheerfully suggested the team's top stadium lobbyist secure a straight salary rather than working on commission. "There's just no appetite here for more stadiums," Pawlenty said a few years before he was elected governor.
I took a trip to San Antonio, home of former owner Red McCombs, to scout it out as a potential relocation site. I wrote about an NFL meeting in 2003 in which league officials made a preliminary plan to place the Vikings in the NFC West if they eventually relocated to Los Angeles. I watched plans to share a stadium with the University of Minnesota collapse, as did suburban collaborations in Anoka and Arden Hills.
But most of all, I remember sitting in a converted racquetball court in the Vikings' cramped practice facility on June 16, 2005. On that day, new owner Zygi Wilf made a pledge that astonished all of us and figured to haunt him for the rest of his tenure atop the franchise.
Wilf said he would never move the team, regardless of a revenue deficit that forced McCombs to sell. He acknowledged he would like a new stadium but said: "If we're stuck in the Metrodome, then we'll be stuck in the Metrodome."
Given the years of inaction we had already witnessed, most of us figured the only way the Vikings would secure a new stadium would be by waving a ready-made offer to relocate elsewhere. But here, on one of his first days as an owner, Wilf had cut his leverage out from beneath himself and guaranteed a struggle to upgrade the franchise's home.
So on this day, it's worth noting that Wilf and his staff have agreed to relatively equitable terms on a bill for a new stadium without so much as an indirect or implied threat of relocation -- much less engaging in any substantive discussions with another locale.
Really, the only tense moment came last month when a state committee derailed the bill in a spate of political infighting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell swooped into St. Paul to add some weight to the Vikings' campaign, and from then on final approval has seemed nearly inevitable. In the context of stadium debates, Wilf and the Vikings kept the tone cordial, amicable and most importantly aboveboard, securing a state legacy for the franchise and the owner himself.
It's been months since Wilf has spoken publicly on the stadium issue, a strategic decision the Vikings made to minimize attention on the "billionaire subsidy" argument and focus it on Dayton and the resulting job creation a stadium would bring. I'm sure there will be plenty of people who can't get past the additional revenues Wilf and his investors will receive in this deal, and I understand that. But in the context of professional sports, I truly think Wilf and his investors deserve some credit for saving the franchise for Minnesota.
Think about it. For years, state leaders fully exercised the leverage they held by virtue of the Metrodome lease and Wilf's publicly stated willingness to continue playing there. When the tables turned, Wilf declined to reciprocate and instead pursued a deal with the same people who wouldn't take the Vikings' phone calls in previous years.
Really, from a cold business standpoint, Wilf would have been better off minimizing his expenses, awaiting the expiration of the lease then shopping the franchise to the highest bidder from around the country. He paid $600 million in 2005 and, six years later, the Jacksonville Jaguars were sold for $760 million with a stadium situation much worse than the Vikings'. Outsiders bidding for the franchise almost certainly would have left the Minnesota legislature to match a much less equitable deal to keep the team, if it had the opportunity at all.
Instead, over the past seven years, Wilf and his partners have funneled the team more than $100 million in personal funds to account for a competitive player payroll, a larger front-office staff and modernization of the practice facility. Wilf aggressively pursued the stadium issue but passed on every opportunity to up the ante or enhance his leverage by turning his attention elsewhere. You might disagree with some of his decisions as a franchise operator, but Wilf and his investors have proved exemplary franchise stewards.
I can't control how you view Wilf and his group of out-of-town investors. But, Vikings fans, you guys lucked out. This could have been ugly and easily might have ended differently. Zygi Wilf made sure it didn't.
Earlier: The first post-approval questions the Vikings must consider.
The Minnesota Vikings appear to have avoided one obstacle to their suburban stadium proposal. The Ramsey County Charter Commission voted Tuesday night against using a voter referendum to decide whether to use $350 million in county taxes to help pay for the stadium in Arden Hills, Minn.
The commission must still vote to approve the tax, and citizens could petition for a referendum later. But the Vikings said that a referendum approved Tuesday night would have caused a delay that added $100 million to the total cost of a $1.057 billion project.
The Vikings didn't have much time to celebrate, however. A report commissioned by Gov. Mark Dayton suggests that Ramsey County could be left ill-equipped to deal with other county business if it devotes so much taxpayer money to the stadium. It also said the timetable to open in 2015 might be too "aggressive."
Dayton is prepared to call a special session of the legislature this fall if all stadium matters are agreed upon, but that does not appear imminent.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, possibly referring to Dayton's stadium report, cast doubt on whether the Vikings stadium will end up in Ramsey County, according to Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pawlenty: "I'm not sure in the end it will end up in Ramsey County. I think you'll see some more data coming forward about sites and options ... as this unfolds."
- Mark Craig of the Star Tribune reflects on one of the better games of Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson's career.
- Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has two delicate matters to deal with in quarterback Donovan McNabb and receiver Bernard Berrian, writes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
- Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette offers a scouting report on the Packers' next opponent, the St. Louis Rams.
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com goes behind the scenes with Packers special-teams ace Jarrett Bush.
- Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press offers this nugget on the Detroit Lions' playoff chances: "Since 1990, when the NFL went to its current playoff format, 32 of the 36 teams that started 5-0 have made the playoffs, according to STATS LLC."
- Chris McCosky of the Detroit News examines the Lions' nine-man wave of defensive linemen.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz has put his players on an even keel, writes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
- The Chicago Bears' offensive line had way too many breakdowns Monday night, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com on Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: "Under Angelo's watch, the 2011 Bears have the worst offensive line (tight ends included) and the worst group of safeties in the NFL, and maybe the CFL, and arguably a bottom-five group of receivers -- though aside from a drop or two, you can't pin the Lions loss on them."
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "Dane Sanzenbacher is the ultimate everyman, which is a polite way of saying anybody could be the leading wide receiver for the Bears."
Rush Limbaugh: "I know you're not in the statehouse any longer, but there's an issue roiling the state right now and that's the Vikings and their new stadium and how much of it should be publicly financed. The usual threats are being made: If the public doesn't chip in and build a new stadium the Vikings are gone. They'll move to LA or someplace."
Tim Pawlenty: The rumor is you're gonna buy 'em and move 'em. Is that true?
RL: (laughing) "Well, uh, this interview is about you." (laughing)
RL: "I'll keep it focused on you."
TP: (laughing) "All right."
RL: "What's the...? Are you apprised? What's the status of that in Minnesota?"
TP: "Well, the legislature ends today and they didn't pass that bill. There's probably gonna be a special session, so it will probably come back up. But the public doesn't support it. Of course people appreciate the Vikings as an asset in Minnesota, but when I was governor, we didn't get that done for a reason because they wanted a bunch of money from the state. We did build a baseball stadium in Minnesota for the Twins, but there was no state money involved in that. The Twins and a local county paid for that. We didn't put any state dollars into that."
The exchange wouldn't mean much if Limbaugh hadn't recently been part of an investor group that hoped to purchase the St. Louis Rams. The group eventually dropped Limbaugh because of the subsequent negative publicity he brought. So it's at least notable that Limbaugh didn't say, I've been down that road before. No thanks, or words to that effect.
Zulgad asked a team official if there had been any discussions between the Vikings and a group involving Limbaugh. The team's response: "We are 100 percent focused on getting this stadium issue resolved at the Arden Hills site."
I'm sure some of you will consider this post a stretch, and I admit we're working off what wasn't said -- not anything that was. But those of us with institutional memories of this franchise know not to rule out the possibility of any scenario emerging, no matter how unlikely. In the past 14 years, four men have held news conferences to announce they had purchased the team: Tom Clancy, Red McCombs, Reggie Fowler and Zygi Wilf. That group batted .500. The NFL has no real rules about who pursues teams. It doesn't start examining details until it comes time for approval.
Wilf has said he won't move the team but has not ruled out selling to someone who would. The entertainment company AEG is poised to build Farmers Insurance Stadium in downtown Los Angeles. I've been surprised that there hasn't been more discussion of that venue while the Vikings' stadium bill remains stalled in the Minnesota political system. But unless a bill is passed this summer, such talk is only a matter of time.
Typing that word reminds me of the way Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers announced his return from a concussion last season. (I'm baaaaaaacckkkk, he texted to ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde.)
And it was Rodgers' inability to identify the Superman theme song last week that reminded me of the great opening scene from that 1978 movie by the same name. For me, it bears special significance during the NFL lockout.
Surely you recall the scene. Jor-El is concluding the trial of three notorious Krypton criminals. Rendered guilty, General Zod and his companions (Non and Ursa, duh!) are sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone, a glass-like prison that hurtles them screaming into space.
"This is no fantasy," Jor El says. "No careless product of wild imagination. No, my good friends. These indictments that I have brought to you today, specific charges listed herein against the individuals. Their acts of treason, their ultimate aim of sedition. These ... are matters of undeniable fact."
As the NFL lockout continues, can I get any support for the idea of tossing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith into the Phantom Zone, where they will be sentenced to negotiate until such time as a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is reached? Based on General Zod's look of terror, I'm guessing we would have a new CBA in about seven minutes.
I'm available for further fantastical suggestions via the mailbag, Twitter and Facebook.
On with the mailbag:
Tim of Endwell, New York, writes: Do you think the Chicago Bears are giving Mike Martz too much power? With his influence on demanding a veteran quarterback last year, (Todd Collins) the miss-handling of playing time with Devin Aromashodu, and drafting quarterbacks in back to back years. With Martz's track record with previous teams, it seems like he has a lot of influence even though he might not be here for too long.
Kevin Seifert: I think Tim brought up an excellent discussion point. To an extent, the Bears have treated Martz like the mad but brilliant scientist who just needs a full stock of supplies to make crazy magic.
Of course, we don't know what Martz has been denied. But we do know what he's gotten since the Bears hired him last year. He eventually won a battle not only to sign a veteran backup quarterback last summer, but he was also able to return Todd Collins to No. 2 status even after a disastrous early-season outing against the Carolina Panthers.
Martz presided over the fall of Aromashodu, once among quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite receivers. And yes, the Bears have drafted quarterbacks in each of the past two years -- Dan LeFevour and Nathan Enderle -- even though their depth chart seemed set with Cutler and Caleb Hanie. In April, Bears director of player personnel Tim Ruskell freely admitted that Martz played a key role in scouting Enderle and lobbied for him to be drafted.
Martz "really kind of fell for the kid in terms of the intangibles that he brings," Ruskell said. Ruskell added: "He's done a good job over the years if you look at his track record on guys that maybe weren't at the highest tier. He's done a really good job with finding these guys and developing these guys. So, that certainly weighed into the decision."
Ruskell is referring to Martz's work in St. Louis, first with Kurt Warner and later with Marc Bulger. Does Martz's decade-old success with those players merit the influence he now has over the Bears' personnel decisions at the position?
I see where Tim is coming from. After leaving the Rams in 2005, Martz spent two seasons with the Detroit Lions and one with the San Francisco 49ers. He reportedly turned down a contract extension this offseason, meaning his long-term future with the Bears is uncertain at best. Knowing how transient the NFL coaching landscape is, should any assistant be allowed to choose quarterbacks?
I tend to look at it from another perspective. Martz's skill as an offensive mind and quarterback teacher has never really been questioned. His downfalls in St. Louis, Detroit and San Francisco can be attributed more to personality clashes and philosophical differences. If you hire a coach like Martz and plan for him to be with you for more than a year, it's best to treat him like an asset and hope he can leave a lasting impact on your franchise in a way many other coordinators could not.
This discussion would be more difficult if the Bears were using first and/or second-round draft picks to appease Martz. LeFevour was drafted in the sixth round and Enderle in the fifth. I'm fine with the Bears using a late-round pick on the chance that Martz could accelerate development for a player at the most important position in the game. Even if Cutler's presence means that Enderle will never start for the Bears, it's not unheard of for NFL teams to develop and trade backup quarterbacks for draft picks far exceeding the value of where they were selected.
John of Harrisonburg, Va., wants to take our Flash Points project to the next level: Which NFC North team's Flash Point had the biggest impact on the NFL overall?
Kevin Seifert: My first thought was of Packers Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. But Lombardi's most lasting contribution might have been more cultural and social than it was football-related. Lombardi's "winning is everything" philosophy -- apocryphal or otherwise -- put a national bent into simple wording.
(My personal favorite was his notion that discipline is "character in action," but we'll save that for another lockout/rainy day.)
If you're speaking purely of the impact on football, I think it's hard to look past two of the options on the Bears' ballot.
In 1925, Bears coach George Halas paid Red Grange the sport's first $100,000 contract, ushering in a new level of fan interest into the game.
And in the 1940 NFL Championship Game, Halas introduced the "T-Formation," a look that changed the way the game is played. It encouraged the development of the passing game and ultimately led to the now-traditional two-back set.
For impact on the NFL, I would choose one of those two examples over Lombardi's tenure with the Packers.
SanDiegoLion of Encinitas, Calif., writes: The Detroit Lions are getting some buzz on ESPN outlets on the possibility of them being selected for Hard Knocks. ... I would be shocked if it happened as Mayhew seems like he likes things pretty buttoned up.
Kevin Seifert: I'll admit it. The Lions were the first team I thought of when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed on Hard Knocks earlier this week. (Ultimately I think I would want to see the personalities in the Bears' locker room more than anything, but I digress.) Thanks to their draft position in recent years, the Lions have a host of recognizable skill players and are no doubt eager to shed their moribund reputation over the past decade.
But I'm with SanDiegoLion. If it's up to Mayhew, who rarely speaks publicly himself, there is probably not much chance of this happening. But let's not put it all on Mayhew. Lions coach Jim Schwartz is more accessible but is pretty guarded about internal details for competitive reasons.
Of course, the most memorable parts of recent "Hard Knocks" seasons have not been the inside information but the insight into the personalities of coaches and players. I don't think the Lions, or anyone else for that matter, would lose any competitive edge by participating. But I still would be surprised if the Lions agree to do it.
Lyndon of Slave Lake, Alberta, has been out of touch: I could use some good news on the Vikings. Hit me.
Kevin Seifert: As crazy as it sounds, the Vikings have made more progress on their stadium issue in the past month than they did in the 12-plus years combined they've been lobbying.
Their agreement with Ramsey County to build a $1.057 billion stadium isn't perfect, but it's the most workable plan they've hatched yet. How so? For starters, Gov. Mark Dayton is on board and has committed $300 million toward the deal. That's $300 million more than predecessors Tim Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura were willing to offer.
For the first time, they have multiple sites fighting over them. The city of Minneapolis tried to jump ahead of Ramsey County at the last moment and failed, but competition usually has a way of speeding progress.
Finally, most of the opposition to the project has come from legislators who don't want to consider it until after a state budget is finalized. That's a lot better for the Vikings than if they were making the more philosophical objection that public funds shouldn't be used to pay for sports stadiums.
I really don't know if this Ramsey County deal will get approved. But if you're looking for good news, know that the Vikings are closer than they've ever been to success on this vexing issue.
As you know, the team's Metrodome lease expires in February 2012.
Barring an unexpected development, we can close the door on this issue for 2010. This moment offers an opportunity to catch up on where we are and where we're going -- or not, as the case may be. In no particular order:
- Don't allow anyone to tell you this bill's advancement was scuttled by a Minnesota State Supreme Court ruling that essentially invalidated the state's 2009 budget, throwing the 2010 legislative session into chaos. That ruling came only after one committee rejected the stadium proposal and two others stripped it of its financing mechanisms. In the end, there were no breakthroughs on how to come up with some $525 million in public money -- and that was clear before the court ruling. Until someone hatches a financing idea that works for everyone, no stadium will be built.
- Only a small group of state leaders considered this so much as a mildly urgent issue. For now, the rest of them -- including Pawlenty -- seem convinced the Vikings have no other options but to continue playing in the Metrodome beyond the expiration of their lease. As of today, that's probably a safe bet. Los Angeles is nowhere close to luring a team, and the NFL's primary focus is on solving its labor dispute. Los Angeles might enter the picture some day, but to this point it has not.
- The November gubernatorial election could be a game-changing event prior to the presumed 2011 debate. Throughout his two terms, Pawlenty made clear he wouldn't approve general state taxes for a new stadium. Will the next governor follow the same pattern or take a different approach?
- The Vikings have hoped that a significant elected official would emerge as a state-wide leader on this issue. That hasn't been the case, leaving the effort without the political clout or public profile it needs to succeed. I understand why it would be better for a governor or prominent mayor to be the point person rather than a team official, but in the end I think owner Zygi Wilf -- or his brother, Mark -- will have to take a much more public role in order to get something done. After all, their bottom line is the central issue in building a new stadium. There's no sense running from that reality.
Ugh. All I can hear is Carole King in my head, and it's a straight-up curse:
So far away
Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?
It would be so fine to see your face at my door
Doesn't help to know that you're just time away.
While we navigate a cold end to spring and a long wait to the upcoming season, we can at least commiserate together via the mailbag, Facebook or Twitter. Not like we can go outside or anything. So let's dive into the weekend mailbag for some comfort food:
Jeff of Bloomington, Ind., writes: It's all well and good to pick the Packers to win the division, but I think at least one of your reasons is quite faulty. How exactly has Green Bay improved the "yin-and-yang" passing tree you talked about while the Vikings haven't? Sure, Jermichael Finley might have improved, but even if you're willing to predict Donald Driver won't regress a bit (a concession I disagree with), you certainly can't expect him to improve.
Meanwhile, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are probably going to improve in a second season with Favre guiding the offense, and Visanthe Shiancoe is at least comparable to Finley. Also, I don't see Bernard Berrian falling off any more than Driver. I just don't see how the Packers have improved while the Vikings haven't.
Kevin Seifert: Some fair points, Jeff, and they beg further explanation from me. We'll take it point-by-point.
First, my point on the Packers' "yin-and-yang" is based on where it stood during the first half of last season, when the Vikings swept the Packers, relative to the end. Let's republish the chart we first introduced in January. As you can see, Finley caught more passes than Driver or Greg Jennings over the Packers' final eight games. The Packers have a much more layered passing game now than they had while creating an early hole for themselves in 2009.
Second, it's fair to question Driver's sustainability at 35. But let's face it, the Packers have been transitioning toward Jennings for at least two years, and Driver's reception total has dropped in each of his past four years. He doesn't need to be a 70-catch player for the Packers' offense to run at a high level.
Third, one of the neat things we can do in this blog is compare the four teams relative to each other. I don't see the relevance in comparing the Packers' offense to the Vikings' offense. They don't compete against each other. My point was to compare the Packers' skill players in the passing game to the Vikings' defense, which as we noted, is in transition at multiple positions. And that was before Thursday's Hennepin County court ruling that made the suspensions of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams more likely than ever.
David of New Haven, Ind., writes: What is your obsession with downgrading the Bears wide outs? Sure they are young and inexperienced but they also played under the worst offensive coordinator ever in Ron Turner. How are they going to get experience if the Bears sign a veteran? Were Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce stars before they played in Mike Martz offense? He knows what he is talking about so give them a chance before writing them off.
Kevin Seifert: David is referring to our discussion about some comments Gale Sayers recently made about the Bears. Quoting Sayers, one of them was: "They need a couple wide receivers." I noted the Bears have consistently expressed confidence in the current group, and their actions have indicated they mean it. I also suggested that their confidence is based on projections, not previously-demonstrated competence.
To me, there is a difference between healthy skepticism and your basic hatin'. When I look at the Bears' receivers, I see a slot man in Devin Hester and a possession guy in Earl Bennett. In Devin Aromashodu, I see a player who caught fire for the final four games of his fourth NFL season. And in Johnny Knox, I see a speedster who might have more potential than any of his teammates.
It could be a deep group, and the Bears should have some options. But here's where my skepticism clicks in: To this point, there are no hints of a legitimate No. 1 receiver emerging from it. Who among those players do you think will require double teams this season? That's the type of receiver most offenses need to succeed at a high level. All three NFC North teams have one: Jennings in Green Bay, Calvin Johnson in Detroit and either Bernard Berrian or Sidney Rice, depending on matchups, in Minnesota.
If someone of that nature emerges in Chicago, I'll be the first to acknowledge it. I'm absolutely willing to give this group a chance, but that doesn't mean anyone has to guzzle the Kool-Aid.
Mrs. Seifert of St. Paul, Minn., writes: Please quite ESPN. You are the worst blogger.
Kevin Seifert: There goes your Mother's Day present. And your spelling-bee trophy.
Via Facebook, Hans writes: What do you guys think of [Brandon] Pettigrew? I'm hoping he turns out to be like Vernon Davis, a really great blocker and an above-average pass catcher, although Davis drastically improved last season so maybe that's too high of a comparison.
Kevin Seifert: I'll chime in on this one. Davis caught 78 passes and 13 touchdowns last year. That's way above average. In fact, those numbers ranked No. 5 and No. 1 among all NFL tight ends in 2009. If Pettigrew emerges as that type of tight end, I think the Lions would be ecstatic. If he's as good of a blocker as the Lions have suggested, consistent 50-catch seasons would be acceptable.
But I think you're right to put Pettigrew's career arc on a high pedestal. He was a first-round pick last year, a relatively rare scenario for tight ends. He'll need to establish two-way production over an extended period of time to justify his draft position.
Alexdane436 of Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: What is your gut feel about the Vikings staying in Minnesota. Basically, stay or gone?
Kevin Seifert: In the end, I think they'll stay -- but not before an ugly confrontation with the state's political leaders.
The people I trust in this situation have long believed the Vikings' stadium situation won't be addressed until it reaches a crisis. That's what state leadership around the country has devolved to: crisis management. And in reality, this issue won't be a crisis until the Vikings have a legitimate option to move elsewhere.
That's simply not the case this year, and it's why their current bill has been gutted and largely dismissed by the state legislature. That option might not exist next winter, either -- especially if the NFL is focused on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement rather than moving a troubled team (or teams) to Los Angeles.
The Vikings' lease expires in February 2012. If Los Angeles is a legitimate possibility at that point, then I think Minnesota state leaders will respond to that potential crisis. Perhaps the state's next governor, to be elected this fall, will take a different approach than incumbent Tim Pawlenty. But barring a game-changer like that, I think we're headed for a crisis that will be painful, ugly and expensive -- but will ultimately lead to a new stadium in Minnesota.
Pawlenty, and later his chief spokesman, made clear he won't approve any new state taxes as part of the bill. That would seem to put into jeopardy one of the bill's main financing tools: "User fees" on jerseys, hotel rooms, rental cars and the like. Pawlenty said: "We're not going to be raising or dealing with state taxes to subsidize that."
According to the Star Tribune, spokesman Brian McClung added: "We remain opposed to any stadium plan that includes tax increases, including the hotel tax, jersey tax, and rental car tax in one of the plans unveiled today. The governor continues to believe the team needs a local partner to be successful in their effort."
And House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher also expressed significant reservations: "I don't think that I'm going to do anything extraordinary here for this bill," she said. "I'm not sure that this bill is ready for prime time."
Some of this is no doubt political posturing. But there isn't much time; the state legislature adjourns May 17.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Jason Hoppin of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The Minnesota Vikings' 2010 pursuit of a new stadium arrived in the form of a bill that is both an option play and a Hail Mary pass."
- Vikings place-kicker Ryan Longwell has designs on playing in golf's U.S. Open, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on rookie Green Bay linebacker John Russell: "The Packers view Russell, who they signed as an undrafted free agent, as a potential pass-rushing linebacker. He doesn't have blinding speed, but his quickness and knowledge of the game sparked their interest. He said that when he was around 260 pounds he ran in the mid-to-low 4.7-second range in the 40-yard dash."
- Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at rookie offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse.
- Detroit rookie defensive end Chima Ihekwoaba is attempting to make the rare step to the NFL after playing college football in Canada, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh doesn't plan on having a long learning curve, writes Terry Foster of the Detroit News.
- First-year player Trevor Canfield will get a chance to compete for a Lions guard position, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Michael Wright of ESPNChicago.com ranks the top 65 players on the Bears' roster.
Pawlenty called that prospect "unlikely but possible," which actually is more optimistic than any public statements I've seen or heard him make. This report from the Star Tribune details a number of financing proposals under consideration to replace the Metrodome, including one that would require a less expensive design. The current price tag is $870 million.
The story suggests that, at the very least, a bill will be introduced before the end of the legislative session. The Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season. Stay tuned.
Continuing around the NFC North with the draft one week out:
- Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe on the new Wrangler jeans quarterback Brett Favre donated to his teammates: "They're very nice. I might need to break them in a little bit, though. They're kind of stiff. ... Maybe drag them behind my car for a couple miles." Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has more.
- The Vikings moved receiver Darius Reynaud to running back after he played the role of New Orleans tailback Reggie Bush on the scout team prior to the NFC Championship Game, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Actor Dan Lauria will play former Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi in an upcoming Broadway show.
- The Packers hosted Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton on a visit Wednesday, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- New Detroit cornerback Chris Houston is lobbying the Lions to draft Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next month, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch will play primarily on the right side, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Newly retired Lions tight end Casey FitzSimmons is still feeling the effects of his last concussion, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Chicago's contract with linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is worth $875,000, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
- Here are the fifth- and fourth-round installments of ESPN.com's best-ever draft series.
The team signed running back DeDe Dorsey on Tuesday, according to Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News. Dorsey was a final cut last season by Cincinnati and played a major role in the HBO production of "Hard Knocks." He spent 2009 in the United Football League, and I doubt he will be the last running back the Lions sign this offseason given the knee and shoulder injuries of starter Kevin Smith.
Meanwhile, the Web site Pro Football Talk reports the Lions will work out free-agent receiver Donte Stallworth on Wednesday. The NFL reinstated Stallworth on Monday after a yearlong suspension for his role in the death of a pedestrian following a drunken driving accident in Miami.
There is a big difference between working out a player and deciding to sign him to a contract. But one thing is clear: The Lions will continue to turn over every rock to improve their talent level.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- From a Detroit Free Press editorial: "No National Football League club should feel worse about the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl than the Detroit Lions, now the sole team in the league's National Conference and the only one of the NFL's original members never to make it to the big game."
- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who suggested a new lottery game last week to help pay for a new Vikings stadium, said Tuesday there are no such provisions in his upcoming budget proposal. Mike Kaszuba has more in the Star Tribune.
- The relationship between new Chicago assistants Mike Martz and Mike Tice has the potential to be "highly combustible," writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
- Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris supports the team’s decision to name Rod Marinelli its defensive coordinator, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- The similarities between New Orleans coach Sean Payton and Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy are "striking," writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Nose tackle Ryan Pickett, a pending free agent, wants to re-sign with the Packers. Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
Foote started 14 games last season at middle linebacker, but a foot injury opened the door for rookie DeAndre Levy to establish himself as the likely 2010 starter. The Lions don’t have much depth behind Levy, but at this point Foote isn’t likely to agree to return as a backup.
It’ll be interesting to see if any of the Lions’ starting linebackers from 2009 return in 2010. Julian Peterson is due to make $7.5 million in 2010, and Ernie Sims did not appear to be a great fit for the Lions’ new defensive system.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press checks in with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during a Super Bowl promotional tour.
- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty suggested several options for funding the construction of a new Vikings stadium, including a new Minnesota Lottery game. Here is coverage from the Star Tribune.
- Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com notes the Bears chose receiver Juaquin Iglesias over Austin Collie in the 2009 draft.
- The Bears interviewed San Francisco assistant Shane Day for their quarterbacks coach position, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- Few people realize that Colts coach Jim Caldwell is from the town of Beloit on the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks at that part of Caldwell’s life.
Speaking on his weekly radio show, Pawlenty said: “Anybody can hire an architect and design a stadium. The problem is who is going to pay for it.” Pawlenty said he won’t allow a sales tax increase to pay for part of the structure and doesn’t sound interested in diverting existing taxes, either.
Neither the Vikings nor the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Metrodome, have proposed a financing package. In the most recent proposal the Vikings endorsed, they offered to pay about 25 percent of the total cost.
The Vikings’ lease in the Metrodome expires in 2011.
But because of infighting amongst the parties, the Vikings boycotted the presentation and refused to endorse any of the proposals. And so it goes.
You can read the specifics on the Web site of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC), or in this Star Tribune news story. One proposal projects a completely new stadium as costing $870 million, about $84 million less than an earlier cost analysis. Another proposal, which would use part of the existing structure, projects at $771 million.
The Vikings, however, are still smarting from a recent MSFC request that the Vikings sign a two-year lease extension at the Metrodome or face reinstituted rent charges. Without it, their lease would expire after the 2011 season.
In a statement released Thursday, the Vikings said they “appreciate” the commission’s efforts but said they are “moving forward with those leaders who want to resolve this issue in 2010.”
At this point, it’s not clear who those leaders are. Owner Zygi Wilf recently met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but Pawlenty said he is not in favor of using public money to fund the project. When the price tag was at $954 million, Wilf was offering to pay $250 million while the public came up with the rest.
Via the Star Tribune, Childress said the “process is not over yet” and that the Vikings are “working vigorously to try to address [the issue].” That suggests Harvin is still having some lingering effects but feels well enough to resume practicing.
Migraines have afflicted Harvin since he was a child, but they have occurred with exceptional frequency and intensity during his first NFL season. By nature, the onset and duration of the episodes are largely unpredictable.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf met privately with Gov. Tim Pawlenty to discuss the team’s stadium issue. Here is the Associated Press account via the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Green Bay cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., the team’s youngest assistant at 31.
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: “Ted Thompson, the general manager of the Green Bay Packers, needs to open the team's vault, pull out the corporate checkbook, grab his favorite gold-plated ballpoint pen, find the place where it says ‘Pay to the order of’ and fill in the name of safety Nick Collins.”
- Packers linebacker Brad Jones has an economics degree but is a few credits short of a degree in astrophysics. That and more in this edition of Tuesdays with Wilde at ESPN Milwaukee.
- Virginia McCaskey, 86, still has her hands in the operations of the Chicago Bears, writes Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears tailback Adrian Peterson doesn’t expect to play in Chicago next season, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press suggests the Lions should trade receiver Calvin Johnson.
- The Lions are trying to win their last three games of the season, not use them for evaluating players, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Free Press.
- The Lions sent out 400 to 500 complimentary tickets to former season-ticket holders for Sunday’s game against Arizona, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
I hope it doesn't sound like an exaggeration to suggest that Tuesday was one of the most historic days in recent NFL history. It was probably anticlimactic for some people who have felt all along that Brett Favre would sign with Minnesota. Perhaps it was disgusting to others who have been repulsed by the drawn-out spectacle of Favre's decision-making process.
But as Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune writes, you can't deny the enormity of what occurred:
The most iconic quarterback of his generation, a player who mastered the most important and scrutinized position in sports while revitalizing the quaintest franchise in football, in two years maneuvered his way from the team that not too long ago regarded him as a deity to the team that not too long ago regarded him as Diablo. This doesn't happen, not with a player of this fame at a position of this importance in a rivalry of this intensity.
As a result, I have to tell you that we're going to be a little Favre-heavy around here for the next few days. But I will pledge to spread the wealth as much as possible in the interim. This will still be your place for one-stop NFC North shopping. Don't worry about me. I'll just push through the finger soreness.
So let's start off the day as we always do, with a spin around the division:
- In case you were wondering, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has already quashed the idea that signing Favre could help the Vikings secure public financing for a new stadium. "I don't think that Brett Favre's coming on board with the Vikings will change the stadium debate," Pawlenty said, according to Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I do think, though, it's going to be good for the team. It's going to be good for the state. It's going to be exciting."
- Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune wonders which of the Vikings' three incumbent quarterbacks -- Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels or John David Booty -- will be looking for a job after the preseason.
- It appears Chicago has given Frank Omiyale the left guard job even though Josh Beekman has had a good training camp, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Bears used Chris Williams at left tackle on Tuesday while Orlando Pace took a day off, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune takes a look at the one healthy member of the Bears' secondary, safety Kevin Payne.
- Among the items I didn't get a chance to bring you Tuesday: Detroit placekicker Jason Hanson had minor knee surgery this week. Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News explains.
- The Lions could get a ticket-selling boost from the Favre signing, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down contract figures for Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji.
- The Packers are taking it slow with linebacker Clay Matthews, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune report that Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield did not attend Tuesday's voluntary organized team activity.
Normally, you can't get too excited when a player skips a voluntary workout. But the absence comes immediately after Winfield missed the Vikings' mandatory minicamp to attend the funeral of a close friend's mother last weekend. Coach Brad Childress acknowledged Winfield was at the funeral but would not discuss whether the absence was excused.
Childress also made clear that all veterans had been "invited" to attend this week's OTAs. It's well-known that Winfield is entering the final year of his contract and has yet to reach an agreement on an extension. Are the two issues connected? Winfield deserves the benefit of an opportunity to explain before we jump to any conclusions. But the evidence, at least, is mounting.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty joked Tuesday that he will sign an executive order for Twins catcher Joe Mauer to play quarterback for the Vikings in light of the indecision of retired quarterback Brett Favre. It's at the beginning of the video here. (Mauer once turned down a scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State.)
- Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press checks in with former Green Bay offensive lineman Jerry Kramer.
- Green Bay safety Atari Bigby on the effect of his ankle injury last season: "Every step hurt. Every step. Walking around, not even on the field -- I mean, just like walking in the mall, walking from my couch to the bathroom." Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette traces Bigby's comeback.
- Former Chicago safety Mike Brown will visit Kansas City, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. It's believed to be Brown's first free-agent visit since the Bears told him this winter that they did not plan to re-sign him.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz on the best golf advice he's ever received: "Go out, and when you hit a good shot, enjoy it and be happy. And when you hit a bad shot, tell yourself, 'You know, I'm really not that good,' because if you think that you're good, every bad shot you hit, you're going to get frustrated." Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press reports.
- Will the Pontiac Silverdome be a prop in a future Steven Spielberg movie? Kathleen Gray of the Free Press looks into it.