NFL Nation: John Tait
A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:
Who's out: John Tait, right tackle (retired unexpectedly)
Who's in: Chris Williams (2008 first-round draft pick)
Outlook: The Bears originally expected Williams to start at left tackle, and he still projects there in the long term. But the fallout from Tait's unexpected retirement, as well as the free-agent departure of John St. Clair, left Chicago scrambling.
As it turned out, veteran free agent Orlando Pace was the best option. Rather than shifting Pace out of his longtime spot on the left side, the Bears decided to let Williams break into the NFL at what is generally considered a less challenging position.
This seems to be a reasonable arrangement and a good response to Tait's decision. All things equal, new quarterback Jay Cutler would surely prefer backside protection from Pace rather than an untested player. Williams will get a chance to learn the NFL game without that pressure.
Outlook: The Lions didn't lose anyone they had hoped to retain, but the quarterback transition is the biggest item on their agenda this summer.
Unless Stafford proves to be the rarest of talents, it's likely Culpepper will open the season as the Lions' starter. If he can achieve modest success, he will give Stafford the long-term gift of a full season of development on the bench.
Who's out: Mark Tauscher, right tackle (Currently a free agent as he rehabilitates a torn anterior cruciate ligament)
Outlook: The Packers almost certainly would have brought back Tauscher were it not for the injury, and it's always possible he could return at midseason if and when he fully recovers. Until then, however, the Packers will have to determine if anyone on their current depth chart can handle the job.
Barbre will get the first chance. He's seen reserve action in 15 games over the past two seasons, mostly at guard, but has a mean streak that could serve him well in a primary run-blocking position of the offensive line. Some consider Lang, a fourth-round pick in 2009, a potential long-term answer.
Who's out: Matt Birk, center (Signed with Baltimore as free agent)
Who's in: John Sullivan (Sixth-round pick, 2008)
Outlook: The Vikings made a late run at trying to sign Birk but all along seemed prepared to pass the torch to Sullivan, a Notre Dame project who was one of the first players to report for offseason training this winter.
Sullivan doesn't have Birk's size, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep some of the game's top defensive tackles out of the Vikings' backfield. But from a mental standpoint, no one expects any difficulty with Sullivan's line calls or his capacity to otherwise handle the position.
Free-agent offensive lineman Orlando Pace was scheduled to visit Chicago on Monday, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was released by St. Louis earlier this month. He primarily played left tackle during his career with the Rams but most NFL teams are projecting him as a right tackle for 2009.
Pace, 33, missed 25 games over the past three seasons because of various injuries. The Bears could simply be checking up on his health, or they could have genuine interest.
The timing of Pace's visit is interesting, considering the Bears signed free agent Kevin Shaffer last week ostensibly to serve as their right tackle. If Pace were to sign, Shaffer could provide some high-priced insurance at both tackle positions. The Bears are planning to start second-year player Chris Williams at left tackle.
Including Williams, the Bears seem likely to three new starters along the offensive line in 2009. Frank Omiyale could start at left guard, and there will be a new right tackle in some fashion to replace the retired John Tait.
Pace has also visited the Baltimore Ravens. He is by far the highest-profile free agent known to have visited Chicago's Halas Hall this offseason. Here is what Scouts Inc.'s Jeremy Green said recently about Pace's prospects for moving to right tackle at this point in his career.
"I think he could play right tackle and it might almost be better for him to play right tackle. He's not going to be as physical in the running game as you might like, but he's also not going to be facing the opponents' best speed rusher like he was on the left side. He has really struggled with some guys that can really rush the passer. It was getting to the point where guys were running around him. But even if he's at 80 percent, I think he can handle the guys on the other side. You could do a lot worse than having a player who is 80 percent of what Orlando Pace once was, especially on the right side."
As we look ahead following a wild opening weekend of the NFL's free agent market, the ESPN blog network will take a look at what's next. Let's have some fun and try matching a remaining player with an NFC North team:
It won't sound exciting to many Bears fans, but offensive lineman John St. Clair looks like a pretty important figure right now. The signing of free agent tackle/guard Frank Omiyale gives the Bears some flexibility, but there is still no obvious successor to retiring right tackle John Tait.
St. Clair is an ideal short-term fit for that role, much as he was in 2008 at left tackle. He hasn't attracted a ton of interest from other teams, and it is in both sides' interest to find a common ground.
It's been a long time since the Lions have had a consistent returner, and they could use more depth in their defensive backfield even after acquiring Anthony Henry and Eric King over the weekend. This makes Carr a real value.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported the Packers might target San Diego's Igor Olshansky, who would give them another option at defensive end as they convert to a 3-4 defense.
Olshansky isn't exactly a household name, but the Packers don't have a proven pass rusher at this point to play either end position.
Ok, let's have some real fun.
We here in the Black and Blue didn't have the kind of blockbuster free agent weekend that a few other divisions enjoyed. That could change a bit if receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh agrees to terms with Minnesota, possibly as early as Monday, but otherwise the NFC North took a secondary position in the initial stages of the NFL's offseason player scramble.
But with a nod toward AFC North colleague James Walker's 7-step drop, and in recognition of my own absence over the weekend, let's touch on a few pertinent points before moving forward this week:
- Chicago's acquisition of offensive lineman Frank Omiyale gives the Bears extra flexibility but doesn't necessarily answer the question of who will replace retired right tackle John Tait. Omiyale's $5 million in guarantees suggests he will start somewhere, but he has experience across the line and likely will focus on guard, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. This means the Bears likely will have three new starters on their line in 2009: Chris Williams at left tackle, Omiyale -- possibly at left guard -- and whoever replaces Tait. You would have to assume that current free agent John St. Clair remains the favorite for that job.
- I can only hope Green Bay wasn't too serious about signing free agent defensive end Chris Canty, who agreed to terms with the New York Giants on Sunday evening. This quote from Canty's agent, Brad Blank, spoke volumes: "They acted like the Packers always do. They said, 'Good luck with [the Giants], and if it doesn't work out, we're interested.'" (Check out Pete Dougherty's full story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.) Assuming Blank provided an accurate portrayal of the Packers' message, then it's the stance of a team that considered Canty a secondary target at best. If the Packers had serious designs on signing Canty -- and it's not as if they are overloaded with 3-4 defensive ends -- then they needed a much more aggressive approach.
- This is just me talking, but what I liked the best about Detroit's weekend is that the Lions got something in return for quarterback Jon Kitna, who under no circumstances was going to be back with the team in 2009. I don't know whether cornerback Anthony Henry, whom the Lions acquired from Dallas in return for Kitna, is going to have a huge impact this season. But most teams simply would have released Kitna and went about their business. The trade sends the appropriate message that new general managerMartin Mayhew is going to leave no stone unturned and will try to capitalize on every asset possible to improve the roster. It's also a sign of Mayhew's negotiating skill that he was able to get a return on a player near the end of his career who had no future with the team.
- I continue to be amazed at the way Minnesota is willing to throw money around at darn near every position except quarterback. The Vikings' latest target, Houshmandzadeh, figures to get a deal from someone worth around $6 million per season. Over the weekend, backup tight end Jim Kleinsasser signed a new three-year, $9 million deal. That's only slightly more than the Vikings will pay quarterback Sage Rosenfels, whom they acquired Friday to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for their starting job. (Rosenfels signed a two-year, $9 million contract.)
The Chicago Bears are hoping right tackle John Tait will reconsider his plans to retire and went to the length Tuesday of posting a story about his situation on the team's Web site. Here's the statement that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo provided:
"John informed us a few weeks ago that he was considering retirement. He has been a great player and representative of our team since joining us in 2004. We would like to have him back for another season, but certainly respect his decision if he chooses to retire."
This marks the team's first public statement on the issue since reports emerged last weekend. The Bears aren't exactly deep at the position; presumptive left tackle Chris Williams will be their only tackle on the roster when free agency begins. Tait's skills are declining, but he might provide a better option in 2009 than anyone the team could scrounge up on the free-agent market.
Expect the Bears to scout the right tackle position heavily when the annual scouting combine begins this week. Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at the looming process.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Pending free agent quarterback Chris Simms didn't downplay the possibility of signing with the Bears in an interview with Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. Said Simms: "Who wouldn't be interested or thinking about the Chicago Bears?"
- Get this: Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford went to the same high school as former Detroit quarterback Bobby Layne. Here's a feature on Stafford from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota special teams captain Heath Farwell, who missed the 2008 season because of a knee injury, plans to test the free-agent market, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Vikings have attempted to re-sign him, but Farwell would like an opportunity to play linebacker as well as special teams.
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sets up the combine with facts and figures.
To the extent there have been rumors about a possible position change for Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports it won't happen.
There have been suggestions that Tillman could move to safety and replace veteran Mike Brown, who was told last week he won't be offered a new contract. But Tillman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to remain at cornerback, according to the report.
In the end, finding a replacement for Tillman at cornerback would have proved more difficult than replacing Brown.
Tillman won't be cleared in time to participate in the Bears' mandatory minicamp next month. He should be ready for training camp.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald believes Brown could have helped the Bears in some capacity in 2009.
- So does David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. But Haugh suggests that the Bears will miss retiring right tackle John Tait more than Brown in 2009. Haugh: "Nobody who made $11 million his first season on a new team, as Tait did in 2004, really can be described as taken for granted. But Tait was like a good paperboy in that you really didn't appreciate the job he did until somebody else tries to do it."
- Detroit guard Stephen Peterman on why he re-signed with the Lions before testing free agency: "Through all this, I'm glad to be back. I want to be a part of rebuilding this thing and win a Super Bowl." John Niyo of the Detroit News reports.
- Minnesota has hired a replacement for former defensive assistant Brendan Daly, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Diron Reynolds will work mostly with the defensive line.
- Speaking to a Rotary Club meeting Monday, Green Bay president/CEO Mark Murphy didn't get a huge crowd response when he noted the Packers set themselves up at quarterback in 2008. The Fond du Lac Reporter covered the event.
John Tait's likely retirement puts Chicago in serious shopping mode for a right tackle over the next few months. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times suggests the Bears will need to make a strong push to re-sign veteran John St. Clair, an impending free agent whom they aren't believed to have shown much interest in at this point.
The top tackles of the draft are likely to be off the board when Chicago's No. 18 overall pick arrives in the April draft. That means the Bears probably can't count on a rookie stepping in as an immediate starter and therefore need to have a veteran contingency plan at the position.
Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald also supports the St. Clair re-signing.
If you're interested, we'll bring you a list of free agent right tackles a bit later Monday. For now, let's continue around the NFC North:
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has a suggestion for bait to acquire Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin: Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Haugh: "Though Urlacher may have reached the point where his value to the Bears is higher than it would be in a trade, it can't hurt to ask whether Urlacher is still untouchable. My sense is that question would not inspire a unanimous answer at Halas Hall."
- Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte tells the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman that he wants a chance to win the Vikings' starting position if he returns. Frerotte: "A lot of people say, 'Why wouldn't you want to go back there and, if you're not starting, just stand there and watch?' But it's not about that for me. I played a lot with those guys, so I can still play."
- Minnesota team officials are asking the Minneapolis City Council to allow them to sell more billboards in and around the Metrodome, according to Michelle Bruch of the Downtown Journal.
- Former Detroit receiver Mike Furrey told a national radio audience that the Lions would anoint Daunte Culpepper their starter in 2009. Later, Furrey backed off the certainty of that comment in an interview with Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com also refutes Furrey's information.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the Packers' relatively light set of looming decisions on their pending free agents.
NASHVILLE -- It's a beautifully sunny morning here. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s and it's hard to imagine weather playing a role in Sunday's matchup between Green Bay and unbeaten Tennessee.
We took a pretty clinical look Saturday at Green Bay's decision to release veteran defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, noting his lack of production over time. But it also represented the end of an era for one of the Packers' longest-tenured players.
I thought Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a nice job putting Gbaja-Biamila's career in perspective, noting how he made Green Bay his home and connected with fans through a number of charitable endeavors. Give it a read if you get a chance.
We'll check back upon arrival at LP Field. For now, let's take a jaunt around the division:
- Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel profiles cornerback Charles Woodson, who said long-standing rumors about his toughness and work ethic should never have surfaced. "If anybody ever watched me play football, there was never a question," Woodson said.
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes the Packers are running against the NFL tide by using Ryan Grant as their exclusive runner. They have given Grant the ball on 71 percent of their running plays; the Titans represent the opposite end of the spectrum with their split between LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looks at five key decisions the Bears made that have helped them to a 4-3 record. Among them: Keeping John Tait at right tackle and resisting the urge to release receiver Marty Booker.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks tailback Kevin Jones could have a big day Sunday against his former team.
- Detroit Free Press writers consider whether the Lions could finish 0-16 this season. Michael Rosenberg: "The Lions do not do anything well."
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at how Minnesota dealt with its latest off-field distraction, the possible suspension of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
- Vikings safety Madieu Williams, who will return Sunday from a neck injury that sidelined him for nearly three months, isn't worried about his first hit. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has the story.
Had a nice chat Friday night with Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf before his team's preseason opener at the Metrodome. Wilf committed some $70 million in guaranteed money during the Vikings' preseason shopping spree, and he was eager to see the first game action of the summer.
Although some might view the Vikings' moves as a quick-fix approach to building a contender, Wilf's philosophy has been to focus on winning now and in the future. He has charged Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel, with assembling personnel behind the current veteran base to provide seamless transition of talent.
I didn't bother asking Wilf about the elephant in his suite: The Vikings' long-running, and still-unsolved, quest for a new stadium. Wilf and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission are revising a proposal for downtown Minneapolis that was once priced at $954 million. They hope to bring it before the Minnesota state legislature in 2009 -- but the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011 and they are on most observers' short list for relocation to Los Angeles.
Wilf de-leveraged himself soon after buying the team in 2005 by saying he would never move it. He continues to follow that rhetorical path, and is instead relying on Minnesota state leaders to salvage a community asset before the NFL steps in and forces his hand.
In an extended profile of Wilf in Sunday's Star Tribune, reporter Judd Zulgad broached the topic. Wilf repeated his mantra: "I'm not considering moving [the team.] I'm not considering selling it."
In other, somewhat lighter news around the NFC North:
- The Vikings are giving a long look to their last link of the 2005 trade that sent receiver Randy Moss to Oakland. Sixth round draft choice Jaymar Johnson is working as a punt returner and receiver. The Vikings received the pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for receiver Troy Williamson, whom the Vikings originally drafted in 2005 with one of the two draft picks they received from the Raiders for Moss. (English majors, go ahead and diagram that sentence.)
- In a Q&A with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said he didn't anticipate signing a veteran quarterback to back up starter Aaron Rodgers. Currently, Rodgers' backups are rookies Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. "We feel pretty comfortable where we are," Thompson said. "And I understand the risk involved. But our coaches like our guys."
- The Chicago Bears hadn't changed the configuration of their offensive line in time for practice Saturday night. In the wake of presumptive left tackle Chris Williams' back surgery, the Bears kept John Tait at right tackle and John St. Clair on the left side. There has been some discussion of moving Tait back to left tackle.
- Tom Kowalski of MLive.com cleans up some pending roster moves for the Detroit Lions: Cornerback Stanley Wilson will miss the season because of a torn Achilles tendon. Placekicker Jason Hanson will rest his strained left leg for at least a week, leaving kicking duties to Dave Rayner. The Lions also plan to remove tight end Dan Campbell and receiver Shaun McDonald from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday.
The Chicago Bears weren't ready to pull the plug on rookie left tackle Chris Williams after doctors repaired a herniated disc in his back Thursday, but they seemed more hopeful than confident.
Williams, who also had back trouble during his college career at Vanderbilt, hasn't practiced since the Bears' first day of training camp, a development that stalled the team's plans to revamp its offensive line. While it's possible doctors could clear Williams to play at some point during the season, the Bears will have to decide if it's worth carrying him on their active roster until that point -- and if he would be well-suited by returning after missing essentially all of training camp and probably a good portion of the regular season as well.
"We have to wait and see probably for a few weeks and see how the rehab is," general manager Jerry Angelo said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In the meantime, the Bears have some tough decisions to make along the offensive line. Veteran John St. Clair has been filling in for Williams, but the Sun-Times reported the team could ultimately move right tackle John Tait back to the left side and signing veteran Fred Miller to play right tackle. In that scenario, St. Clair would compete for the starting left guard job.
Those are not the kind of decisions the Bears wanted to be making during the first week of the preseason.
Around the division after a bit of a late start for us Friday morning. (Call it a Favreover).
- The Bears' first-team offense didn't exactly light it up in a 24-20 preseason loss to Kansas City. Chicago trailed 14-3 at halftime, and neither Kyle Orton nor Rex Grossman distinguished himself in the team's quarterback competition. Orton dropped the ball while scrambling on a third-down play, while Grossman fell on his back while dropping back from center. Meanwhile, the Chiefs' offense sliced through the Bears' first-team defense on its opening drive.
- Second-year quarterback Drew Stanton took his first live snaps in nearly two years during the Lions' 13-10 victory over the New York Giants. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press suggests that Stanton could buy coach Rod Marinelli another season as head coach if he makes him the starter later this season. "Stanton might become Marinelli's coaching safety net," Sharp writes.
- Rookie right tackle Gosder Cherilus was called for two false starts and a holding penalty Thursday night.
- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and the rest of the team's starters will play about a quarter in Friday night's preseason opener against Seattle.
- OK, you can relax now. The makers of Madden NFL 09 said Thursday they will release an update that puts quarterback Brett Favre with the New York Jets. The store edition of the game will continue to feature Favre win a Green Bay Packers uniform on the cover, but if it helps, the manufacturer will send you an updated, downloadable cover to print out.
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