NFL Nation: Kevin Shaffer
Harris was by far the most newsworthy name, but his inclusion was not unexpected. As we discussed last week, Harris was due a $2.5 million roster bonus before training camp and a $2.312 million base salary in 2011. Because of several accounting moves, his salary-cap number would have been $11.115 million, an unmanageable figure assuming the NFL reverts to a cap system under its new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The cap issue suggests there is a chance Harris could re-sign with the Bears at some point. But it should be pretty clear to everyone that Harris, even at age 27, is a shell of the player that earned three consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 2005-07. If anything, the Bears were too patient in waiting for him to regain his form from a series of mid-decade injuries.
After recording a career-high eight sacks in 2007, Harris managed nine over the next three years combined. He lost his starting job early last season to Matt Toeaina, whose contract extension in December was among many clues that Harris' time in Chicago was nearing an end.
The No. 14 overall pick of the 2004 draft, Harris ultimately will be remembered as a dominant force during a four-year stretch and an enigma for the three years that followed. Although Toeaina is signed for 2011, it's safe to say that a playmaking defensive tackle should be high among the Bears' offseason priorities.
As for Hillenmeyer, it's unclear if he will continue playing. The Bears placed him on injured reserve last year because of concussion issues. He turns 31 in October.
1. Discipline: There were a total of 43 penalties in the two NFC North intradivision matchups in Week 3. The Green Bay Packers set a team record with 18 in their 20-17 loss to the Chicago Bears. The Minnesota Vikings had 12 in their 24-10 victory over the Detroit Lions, who had eight. Only the Bears (five penalties) contained themselves. As a result, the Packers, Vikings and Lions all rank among the NFL’s 10 most-penalized teams. One word describes our second-ever NFC North four-fecta: Sloppy.
2. Deep thinking: Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Bears coach Lovie Smith each missed an opportunity to take an unconventional approach to the final two minutes of Monday night’s game. McCarthy elected not to allow the Bears to score a quick touchdown, thus giving his offense a better opportunity to score a game-tying touchdown. And Smith decided against kneeling on the ball to guard against that possibility. I still don’t think either coach should be criticized for his approach, but the alternatives would also have been defensible. Historically, teams who have been in the situation the Packers would have been in have still lost 90 percent of the time.
3. Patience in Detroit: The Lions didn't necessarily plan on going 16-0 this season, but it's clear that frustration is mounting after their 0-3 start. "It's just getting old," center Dominic Raiola said. "I mean, just the whole losing around here, it needs to change. Right away." I'm guessing that had something to do with a number of second-half scuffles between Lions and Vikings players, culminating with quarterback Shaun Hill charging after Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Hill said afterwards that the Lions' wouldn't be anyone's "punks."
2. Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears tight end: New coordinator Mike Martz’s offense has no room for a pass-catching tight end. That’s obvious. Just look at his history. And we all know Martz is too inflexible and not smart enough to figure out how to incorporate a tight end. I mean, look at Olsen. He caught a team-high five passes Monday night and now has 10 receptions and two touchdowns in three games. That means Olsen is well on his way to setting new records for tight end receptions and touchdowns in Martz offense. The current high marks are 38 and six, respectively. Olsen is on pace for 53 and 10. What a waste.
3. Chicago Bears offensive line: How many sacks did Packers linebacker Clay Matthews add to his season total Monday night? That’s right. None. With Frank Omiyale making his first career start at left tackle, and a right tackle rotation of Kevin Shaffer and rookie J’Marcus Webb, the Bears more than held their own against the Packers’ pass rush. Quarterback Jay Cutler wasn’t sacked after the first series of the second quarter, and the Bears' offense managed 18 first downs and 276 yards despite getting off only 48 plays and holding the ball for 24 minutes, 11 seconds.
That's the upshot of the final injury report of the practice week for both teams. The Bears ruled out left tackle Chris Williams because of a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the entire week of practice. Right tackle Frank Omiyale will make his first career start at left tackle Monday night against the Packers, and it's expected that Kevin Shaffer will start at right tackle.
Normally I'd express grave concern about this turn of events, given Omiyale's failed experiment as a left guard last season and his brief run as a right tackle this season. But for reasons that haven't been fully comprehended, Omiyale held his own at left tackle after Williams' injury last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. So we'll give him a full night's work before we make any judgments about this arrangement.
The Packers, meanwhile, declared left tackle Chad Clifton (knee) probable for the game, as they did for left guard Daryn Colledge (knee). The NFL defines "probable" as a "virtual certainty" that the player will be available for a game, but whether the Packers decide to start Clifton or rookie Bryan Bulaga remains to be seen.
"Chad Clifton is our starting left tackle," coach Mike McCarthy said Saturday, "and if Chad is ready to go, he'll play there and our rotation will be the same as it's been. It's a medical decision. He's in the stage of his career that his particular knee situation is a little bit unpredictable, so we'll see how he is Monday."
There had been some concern that Colledge's injury would force the Packers' hand. He sat out practice Friday, forcing Bulaga to shift to left guard, but was back Saturday morning. McCarthy said: "I think he's going to be OK."
So, as we've been discussing all week, it will come down to whether the Packers prefer starting a veteran left tackle who is battling chronic knee soreness, or if they turn to a rookie first-round draft choice to make his first NFL start on Monday Night Football. Stay tuned.
Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, a possible starter opposite Tommie Harris, revealed he lost more than 20 pounds during a recent week-long battle with tonsillitis. According to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, Harrison was limited in Wednesday's practice.
"Before I got sick, the offseason was going great," Harrison said. "I just got to get back used to it. I've been out for a long time, so man, my body just has to get used to it. I lost a lot of weight and stuff, so I just have to get it back.
"I know [defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] is going to pick it up and make sure I get back to where I need to be. I'm not really concerned about that. I want to get in there and do it. I need to get in there and do it. But coach Marinelli is going to have me ready."
Meanwhile, if you're keeping track of the Bears' search for a left guard: Dickerson reports the Bears were using Josh Beekman strictly at center. That means Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis and Johan Asiata rotated at left guard.
Green Bay Packers
For those wondering how the Packers plan to stack their cornerback depth, especially considering the shift of Will Blackmon to safety, coach Mike McCarthy heaped effusive praise on second-year player Brandon Underwood.
"I think Brandon Underwood would definitely be a candidate for most improved player from year one to year two so far from what I've seen," McCarthy said. "I think he's really matured in the weight room. He looks very good right now. I know we're only practicing in shorts and helmets, but I think Brandon Underwood is off to an outstanding spring so far. I've been very pleased with what he has shown on film."
Other candidates to back up the initial starting duo of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams include Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush.
Veteran starter Al Harris, meanwhile, said he had shifted his knee rehabilitation from Florida to Green Bay. Harris wouldn't commit to a return date, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, but said his recovery is on schedule.
"I don't want to give any predictions or anything like that, but I'm going to do my part," Harris said. "So if it's up to me, and it's up to me working to get out there, then I'll be out there. But we've got to go with the protocol and do what's right for the team and what's right for me. I'm going to do my part as far as preparing and working to get better."
What NFC North assistant coach will make the biggest impact in 2010?
Tice has assumed responsibility for a group that admittedly underperformed in 2009 but will still return four of its starters. Center Olin Kreutz hopes that offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle will help him return to form. But for the most part, the Bears are counting on Tice to elevate this group based on technical adjustments and a new brand of motivation.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has been heavily discussed. But for the Bears' offense to improve in 2010, Tice will have to find a way to make Frank Omiyale a productive player at right tackle. He'll have to develop a left guard, be it Josh Beekman or Lance Louis or even journeyman tackle Kevin Shaffer. And he'll have to do it in an offense that typically favors the passing game.
Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen remembered Karmelowicz as a coach who taught him how to use his natural abilities to play at an elite level. The Bears are hoping for a similar impact from Tice.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:
We should have a better picture of the NFC wild-card picture by the time Green Bay takes the field Monday night against Baltimore. At 7-4, the Packers and Philadelphia are leading the conference’s wild-card standings. But the Eagles will travel Sunday to face at Atlanta, which is one game back at 6-5. The conference’s other 6-5 team, the New York Giants, face a tough matchup at home Sunday against Dallas. So one way or the other, it’s very possible the Packers will have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the wild-card field with a victory over the Ravens.
Minnesota is expecting a heavy dose of three-step drops and max protection Sunday night from Arizona’s offense, whether or not Kurt Warner starts at quarterback. Warner and backup Matt Leinart were hammered in last season’s matchup between the teams, a 35-14 Vikings victory, taking four sacks and being hit on six other occasions. This season, the Vikings enter the game with an NFL-high 40 sacks, and teams are starting to make adjustments. “We ended up getting a lot of three-step drops from the team we just played [Chicago],” said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “I wouldn’t doubt that will be the case this week.”
It will be a doozy of a matchup Sunday at Soldier Field, where the Bears will try to avoid the embarrassment of a home loss to St. Louis (1-10). There’s nothing on paper to suggest the Rams have the capacity to win Sunday, but the Bears haven’t shown much of that themselves lately. If you want an in-game focus, watch where the Rams line up pass rusher Leonard Little. He’s technically listed as the Rams’ left end, meaning he would line up over the right tackle. Normally, that would be 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams. But it’s likely that Williams will make his first career start at left tackle. Will the Rams move Little to that side to take advantage of Williams? Or will they like the matchup better against new right tackle Kevin Shaffer? Tune in to find out. Or not.
To say that Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco is licking his chops is an understatement. Ochocinco couldn’t even bring himself to talk his usual trash about Detroit’s pass defense. During a conference call with Detroit-area reporters, Ochocinco said the Lions’ secondary is “beautiful.” Presumably, he’s referring to its capacity to give up a monster game. The Bengals have relied on their running game this season, but that could change when they realize that opponents are completing an incredible 70.5 percent of their passes against the Lions this season. Opposing quarterbacks also have a 111.8 passer rating against them, having thrown 27 touchdowns against only six interceptions.
|AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh|
|The arrival of quarterback Jay Cutler has stoked the enthusiasm of Bears fans.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- One night this week, a twin-engine plane flew over this college town an hour south of Chicago. As about 10,000 people watched, a skydiver jumped from the plane and began floating to the ground. Orange smoke billowed from a hand-held canister.
Ooooohs were followed by ahhhhhhhs. The circus continued.
It's been that kind of training camp for the Chicago Bears, who aren't trying to suppress the lofty expectations generated by the acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler. Players and coaches have embraced record-setting crowds who have arrived -- mostly by car, not from the sky -- to watch practice at Olivet Nazarene University,
"The support has been absolutely tremendous from day one," Cutler said early in camp. "We've just got to go out and win games now."
Coach Lovie Smith scheduled a physical camp, putting players in full pads for nine consecutive days at one point. But nothing has wiped away the near-giddiness players and coaches are carrying themselves with. After going 9-7 with quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman last season, the Bears can only imagine what they can do with Cutler behind center.
Just the other day, Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs stopped among a group of reporters and playfully chided them for ignoring him amid all of the excitement.
"You guys know I'm still on the team, right?" Briggs said. "I mean, I'm going to have to do a dance for you guys or something."
The Bears have been dancing all summer long.
1. Who is Cutler throwing to?
It's plainly evident that tight end Greg Olsen is already Cutler's favorite receiver. The two have a clear connection both on and off the field, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner has spent the offseason working on ways to maximize Olsen's size and speed.
|Jerry Lai/US Presswire|
|Tight end Greg Olsen has emerged as Jay Cutler's favorite target early on.|
The unspoken reality is that none of the Bears' wide receivers are close to Olsen's level right now. Devin Hester and Rashied Davis are the team's only receivers who have caught more than seven passes in their NFL careers. But Davis appears to be no better than No. 4 on the depth chart and might not make the team.
Earl Bennett went his entire rookie season without a catch, but he has maintained his grip on a starting job this summer by displaying reliable hands and a thorough understanding of the offense. His relationship with Cutler -- they were college teammates at Vanderbilt -- doesn't hurt, either.
But an otherwise green class of rookies has left Cutler talking up a pair of nomads as possible depth at this position. Brandon Rideau (6-foot-3) and Devin Aromashodu (6-foot-2) are two big targets who have looked decent while hauling in Cutler's pinpoint passes. If the season started today, it appears Rideau would be the Bears' No. 3 receiver.
2. What's the deal with Tommie Harris?
The mystery surrounding the Bears' best defensive lineman has extended from spring into summer, and after two weeks of training
camp it's still not clear how much Harris can be counted on this season.
Smith said at the beginning of camp that Harris was completely healthy, but in truth Harris has been limited throughout the summer and acknowledged this week that he had surgery on his left knee in March. Smith now admits Harris has soreness but said there hasn't been a setback in his health.
At the very least, it appears the Bears are heavily protecting Harris from summer wear and tear. At worst, they are waiting for his knee to improve before they let him engage in extended full contact. In either event, it's the continuation of a 20-month odyssey for Harris' left knee, one that for now has left him a near nonfactor.
It's an especially sensitive issue for the Bears, who need Harris' interior disruption in order to meet their goals as a defense. His primary replacement this summer has been Israel Idonije, but Idonije is best suited as a swing backup. After losing 40 pounds this offseason, Idonije now weighs 266 pounds and doesn't have the build to stand up as a full-time defensive tackle.
3. Can the defense rebound from a down year?
If nothing else, Bears defensive players seem pretty happy this summer. Perhaps it was knowing that Cutler's arrival has taken some intense pressure off their shoulders. If all goes according to plan, the Bears defense can shed its self-inflicted expectations that it must shut out every opponent to compensate for an inconsistent offense.
But the Bears still have defensive questions as camp approaches its conclusion, including Harris and the safety position. They are giving Danieal Manning yet another opportunity to win a starting safety job, but cramping and hamstring issues have limited his practice time. Rookie Al Afalava has gotten some work with the first team, but that might be more by default than by merit.
Don't express those sentiments to Briggs, however. He and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher have been walking with a bounce in their step all summer. With Smith taking over as the de facto defensive coordinator, the tensions of 2008 seem to have evaporated.
"We don't have a weak point," Briggs said. "You can study us and find where our weak point is. You might say safety, but it's not really our safeties. Our weak point is our linebackers."
Briggs spit out that final sentence with a giggle, reflecting the overt confidence the Bears have that their defense can resurrect its mid-2000s dominance.
"I don't want to say we have a renewed confidence," Briggs said "But everyone is working so hard right now."
Injuries have left the Bears secondary in flux for most of the summer. But the early camp flash of cornerback Zack Bowman -- and the sluggish return of veteran Nate Vasher -- has raised some interesting possibilities. Namely: Could Bowman win a starting job? And would that mean the end of Vasher's tenure in Chicago?
Bowman was an interception machine early in camp before being sidelined by a strained hamstring. He won't play in Saturday night's preseason opener at Buffalo, but there is plenty of time for him to get healthy and work his way back to the first team. In that scenario, the Bears might well make Bowman and Charles Tillman their starting cornerbacks -- assuming Tillman returns on schedule from back surgery.
It's unclear if the Bears would pay Vasher his $2.9 million base salary to serve as a nickel or dime back this season, especially considering his middling performance thus far in camp. Vasher said this week that he is "ready to go out and have one of the best years I've had," but not everyone in Bears camp agrees.
|AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh|
|A healthy Orlando Pace could make a huge difference for the Bears offense.|
Newcomer to watch
The acquisition of Cutler was the NFL's most significant offseason move, and I'm pretty sure you're well aware of his potential impact. So for this feature, we'll focus on a player the Bears signed on the same day they traded for Cutler: Left tackle Orlando Pace.
If he's healthy, Pace will protect Cutler's blind side as well as any left tackle in the game. He'll also serve as an anchor for a line that appears bigger and more athletic this season. The Bears are much better with Pace at left tackle and Chris Williams on the right side than with Williams at left tackle and Kevin Shaffer or another veteran on the right.
It was interesting to watch Pace put on a clinic during one-on-one pass drills this week. When he's moving well, Pace simply engulfs his opponent. From a physical standpoint, Pace is sore but otherwise healthy after missing 25 games the past three seasons. His continued health will be a significant factor for the Bears offense.
The Bears are saying Tillman should recover in time for the Sept. 13 regular-season opener at Green Bay. All I can tell you is what I saw this week. Namely: Tillman walking around the perimeter of the practice field for conditioning. Tillman's pace was pretty slow for a player who would be exactly a month away from what is his first game. Stay tuned. ... The Bears appear committed to second-year quarterback Caleb Hanie as Cutler's backup. Hanie has rotated on the second team with Brett Basanez, but it's clear whom Smith prefers. "We liked everything we saw from Caleb last year," Smith said. "He's in a pretty good position to be behind a guy like Jay Cutler." ... Defensive end Mark Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006 but only six in two ensuing seasons, is trying to resurrect his career under new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. C
oaches rewarded Anderson by making him a co-first team defensive end on their first depth chart. "Whatever [Marinelli] says to do, I do," Anderson said. "He's the best out there and I enjoy working with him. For me, everything is looking to the upside right now." ... Cutler's maturity level will be closely monitored after his bitter departure from Denver. From that perspective, it was interesting to hear him say that he expects to have influence over the makeup of his receiving corps. "I think they're definitely going to ask me," Cutler said. "If they don't ask me, I'm going to tell them what I think because I've got to be the one throwing to them on game day and I've got to trust them." ... During a team drill Tuesday night, Smith called defensive plays to defensive coordinator/linebackers Bob Babich, who radioed them in to Urlacher. .. The Bears have a competitive situation at strongside linebacker between Pisa Tinoisamoa, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams. Tinoisamoa is expected to win the job in base sets, but it's possible all three players will see action. "It's a good competition," Briggs said. "You're vying for a starting job in the best linebacking crew in the NFL. Whoever wins the job, [it will] probably be well deserved."
|Al Pereira/Getty Images|
|Bringing Brett Favre to Minnesota would be a short-term solution for the Vikings.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
OK, I promise to institute a statute of limitations on referencing my week off. Right after this one. While on vacation, I decided to jump on the Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon and start The Tipping Point. It was a productive read, if for no other reason than giving me a column idea.
Gladwell traces how broad success stories can start with "tightly focused, targeted interventions" rather than comprehensive grass-roots efforts. He referred to this concept as a "Band-Aid solution," which immediately reminded me of Matt Williamson's analysis of Minnesota and its pursuit of quarterback Brett Favre.
Maybe I have a one-track mind. (Based on your mailbag submissions, many you would agree.) But I thought Gladwell's defense of the Band-Aid solution offered relevance to the Favre situation as well as a number of other personnel matters in the NFC North.
I'm among those who blanch when teams makes changes for short-term gain when the long-term ramifications are less clear. Signing a 40-year-old quarterback. Trading high draft choices for veteran players. Hiring an internal coaching candidate for continuity rather than seeking new ideas. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, it seems, and in sports many of us prefer the building process over the quick fix.
That lofty approach, according to Gladwell, is impractical if not impossible. "[Band-Aids] should not be considered a term of disparagement," he writes. Here's the rest of his argument:
"The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking for walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.
"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady should win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little...."
|Paul Spinelli/Getty Images|
|After being traded to Tampa Bay and signing a new, hefty contract, Kellen Winslow will be one of the most prominent faces of the Buccaneers' new regime.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker
When head coach Eric Mangini and general manager George Kokinis took over in Cleveland and head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik were hired in Tampa Bay, the four men instantly began re-shaping their franchises.
No move was bigger for either team than the deal the Browns and Buccaneers made for tight end Kellen Winslow at the start of free agency. In exchange for a second-round pick this year and a fifth-round choice in 2010, the Bucs got Winslow and the Browns got rid of him.
There are two ways to look at this deal. Cleveland got rid of a potential headache because Winslow was looking for a new contract and might not have fit with the new regime. On the flip side, he might be a perfect fit in Tampa and the Bucs already have turned around and given Winslow a new six-year contract worth $36.1 million.
The trade comes with potential positives and negatives for both teams. James Walker and Pat Yasinskas take a look at who might be the winner in the Winslow trade.
Why didn't Winslow fit with Cleveland? How does he fit in Tampa?
James Walker: When the Browns changed regimes, the writing was pretty much on the wall for Winslow. Mangini and Kokinis wanted to start over -- completely. Cleveland quickly went on a purge where it traded or released veterans such as Winslow, receiver Joe Jurevicius and offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer. The Browns also didn't retain in-house free agents such as safety Sean Jones and veteran linebackers Andra Davis and Willie McGinest. To put it bluntly, there aren't many players on Cleveland's current roster that Mangini is enamored with, because he wants to win or lose with his players. Winslow had trade value so the Browns didn't pass up the opportunity. He was also in his sixth year and wanted a new contract, so that played a factor as well. Winslow's skill sets could have fit with the Browns on the field, so I doubt this particular move had much to do with talent. But in terms of personalities, Winslow is not shy about speaking his mind, while Mangini often likes his team shrouded in secrecy. This oil-and-water combination probably would not have worked anyway. So this was a good separation for both sides.
Pat Yasinskas: Tampa Bay is starting over, too, and one team's trash is another's treasure. The new contract should make Winslow happy and he's landing in an offense that's going to be built largely around his skills. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will build a downfield passing game around Winslow and wide receiver Antonio Bryant. While Winslow's outspoken nature caused him some problems in Cleveland, that shouldn't be an issue with the Bucs. Morris is only 32 and excels at relating to players. Morris also isn't one of those coaches who tries to control his players' actions and words at all times. He lets them be individuals and Winslow will be allowed to be himself. The change of surroundings also give Winslow a fresh start and that could help more than anything. Although there will be lofty expectations because of the contract, he won't be under the microscope as much as he was in Cleveland. Tampa Bay fans are intense, but this isn't a situation like Cleveland, where Winslow's high draft position meant anything less than perfection was failure.
How will the Browns replace him and how will the Bucs use him?
|Jerome Davis/Icon SMI|
|The Browns will attempt to replace Winslow with a committee of tight ends, including free-agent signee Robert Royal.|
James Walker: The Browns no longer have a tight end with 80-catch potential on their roster. So they are hoping to replace Winslow's production by committee. Cleveland signed former Buffalo Bills tight end Robert Royal, who could be a serviceable starter but never had more than 33 catches in a season. The Browns also have veteran Steve Heiden returning from a serious knee injury and second-year player Martin Rucker, who is still learning but has some potential. If the three tight ends can contribute a combined total of 50-60 receptions next season, I think Cleveland's coaching staff would be happy with that type of production. The tricky thing is Winslow's ability to create mismatches in the middle of the field would have made life much easier for Cleveland's quarterbacks, particularly Brady Quinn, who often likes to check down to his short and intermediate options. If Quinn is the starter, I think he is going to miss Winslow's presence the most. Winslow has tremendous hands and was one of the few consistent weapons in Cleveland's offense the past few seasons who showed up ready to play every week. So how will Winslow be utilized in Tampa's offense, Pat?
Pat Yasinskas: James, while Cleveland is going away from having a pass-catching tight end as a big part of the offense, the Bucs are going in the exact opposite direction. Tight end wasn't a big part of the offense in former coach Jon Gruden's system, but it will be with Morris and Jagodzinski. They've scrapped Gruden's West Coast offense and will go with a system that is supposed to balance the run and the pass. The Bucs don't yet know if Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich will be their quarterback. But they do know they want the quarterback throwing often to Winslow and Bryant. The Bucs have plenty of depth at tight end with Alex Smith, John Gilmore and Jerramy Stevens on the roster. Those other three tight ends will get some playing time and they'll be asked to take on some blocking duties in the running game. But Winslow wasn't brought in here to be a blocker. He'll line up at tight end, but he'll also get some snaps in the slot and out wide. It's a pretty safe guess that the Bucs will be looking to get somewhere around 80 catches out of Winslow.
Did the Bucs overpay with the $36.1 million contract extension?
Pat Yasinskas: There's no doubt Tampa Bay went overboard in giving Winslow a new six-year deal that makes him the highest-paid tight end in history. In theory, that kind of contract should go to the league's best tight end. Winslow hasn't qualified as that -- yet. But the Bucs based this deal on his enormous potential. Yes, it's true he hasn't ever fully reached his potential.
The Bucs are banking Winslow can stay healthy and be the best tight end in the league. They're going to make him a focal point of the offense and his acquisition was the first big move by Dominik and Morris. The contract is a further statement about how huge a role the Bucs want Winslow to play.
James Walker: After watching Winslow the past three seasons, I think he's going to do well in Tampa, and the change of divisions will help his production to the point where fans could forget the extension.
Nothing against your NFC South, Pat. But Winslow had to face the top-flight defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens four games a year and still put up very good numbers. He had tremendous battles with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Ravens safety Ed Reed, and those two players often said Winslow was one of their toughest matchups annually. I would guess Winslow is licking his chops looking at some of the safeties and linebackers in the NFC South, compared to the personnel he had to face earlier in his career. As you mentioned, Pat, health is the only question.
As far as your contract theory, contracts are relative to the current market. Two years ago Daniel Graham of the Denver Broncos was the highest-paid tight end. Last season it was Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts. And those are not the league's two best tight ends. A year from now someone else likely will become the highest paid at the position, because that's how the market works.
How will this trade work out?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2008 STATS REC YDS TD AVG LNG 43 428 3 10.0 30
Pat Yasinskas: After firing Gruden and releasing Derrick Brooks, the Bucs were lacking star power. The Glazer family, which owns the team, likes star power and they got some flash in Winslow. He instantly gives the team a big name and his personality should help liven up a locker room that didn't have a true spirit last season. Yes, the price tag was steep and there are plenty of other needs the Bucs could have filled if they kept their second-round pick. But they would not have gotten an instant star in the second round. They get that in Winslow and, for better or worse, he'll be one of the front men for this new regime.
James Walker: For the Browns, they will probably use the additional second-round pick (No. 50 overall) on either a receiver or a running back. Cleveland's offense was abysmal and ranked No. 31 out of 32 teams in the NFL in 2008. The Browns used four different quarterbacks and couldn't get anything established on the ground or through the air. So help at running back or receiver makes the most sense. This is particularly the case if the Browns trade No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards. There have been talks involving at least one team in the New York Giants. The Philadelphia Eagles also are a possibility. In addition, Donte Stallworth's legal situation makes the receiver position a priority. The Browns need all the help they can get. So there is some pressure on Cleveland to select the right player with this pick, particularly since the team gave up one of its best players.
|Kellen Winslow speaks to the media after being traded from Cleveland to Tampa Bay.|
Pat Yasinskas: Things could change in the long term if the Brown
s hit big with their draft picks. But there's no question the Bucs are the winner in the short term. They got a very good player, who still has the potential to become great. If he does, the price tag won't be that big a deal. I've always thought NFL general managers treat draft picks too preciously and are too hesitant to part with them. I'm glad Dominik broke that tradition because I believe that any pick beyond the first round is just a guess anyway. There's no guessing with Winslow. We already know the guy is good. Yes, he had some injury problems and has been a little controversial at times. But there's no question he's one of the most talented tight ends in the league. Now, he'll get his chance to produce.
James Walker: Although I have no problem with Cleveland starting from scratch, I do also believe Tampa got the most of this trade. It will pay immediate dividends for the Buccaneers, because they get a proven commodity. No tight end Tampa would have drafted this year comes with the game-breaking ability of Winslow, particularly if they chose to draft a tight end in the second round or lower. The Browns now have two second-rounders (No. 36 overall and No. 50) to plug an additional hole. But as I mentioned, they have to nail the pick first to get value in return for this trade. With a first-year general manager leading his first draft, there certainly are no guarantees. A fifth-rounder in 2010 is pretty much a non factor. It won't help Cleveland next season, and statistically there is a little probability a fifth-round pick could ever significantly help unless the Browns found a gem. This is a "win-now” league and Tampa helped itself the most to win in 2009. The Browns might be able to help themselves with this trade down the road. Maybe.
So much for fine-tuning.
On the day Chicago traded for Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears also agreed to terms with seven-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Orlando Pace. It's expected that Pace will take over at left tackle and shift second-year player Chris Williams to the right side, but we should get more details on that from general manager Jerry Angelo later Thursday.
UPDATE (8 p.m. E.T.) Pace got a three-year deal worth $15 million, with approximately $6.1 million paid out in 2009.
Pace has missed 25 games over the past three seasons, and St. Louis released him earlier this month. The Bears signed free agent Kevin Shaffer last week, presumably to play right tackle, but at the very least Pace gives the Bears significantly more flexibility and depth at a position they targeted for upgrade this offseason.
As of this minute, here's what the Bears' starting offensive line might look like on the first day of training camp, with an asterisk (*) next to their three new starters:
Thursday's high-profile moves have certainly shaken up the NFC North. You've got to wonder what Minnesota and Green Bay, which have largely stood pat this offseason, are thinking right now. The Bears haven't done anything substantive to improve their defensive personnel, but maybe their offense can carry them to a division title in 2009.
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."
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images; Andy Lyons and Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|The AFC North has lost some star power, with Bart Scott and T.J. Houshmandzadeh departing through free agency and Kellen Winslow Jr. sent off in a trade.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
With the busiest portion of free agency coming to an end, it is officially time to evaluate the decisions made by all four AFC North teams.
The range of activity in free agency varied this year. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens were extremely active in signing and losing players, while the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers only visited with a couple of players without reaching deals.
Let's examine the moves.
Analysis: Going into free agency, I thought the Ravens were doomed for failure with the amount of big names set to hit the open market. Baltimore certainly lost some of those players, but a creative and cost-effective plan allowed general manager Ozzie Newsome to soften the blow. The Ravens lost three key starters in linebacker Bart Scott, center Jason Brown and safety Jim Leonhard. They also released starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. But Baltimore quickly added talent in free-agent cornerback Domonique Foxworth, veteran center Matt Birk, tight end L.J. Smith and return specialist Chris Carr. Keeping Pro Bowl linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs were vital. And if the Ravens put together another solid draft class, which is Newsome's forte, Baltimore should be fine in 2009. This good grade is given to the Ravens for their resiliency in coming up with a plan to stay in contention despite losing a wealth of talented players.
Key pickups: WR Laveranues Coles, QB J.T. O'Sullivan, P Ryan Plackemeier
Analysis: No one was surprised when former Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh left Cincinnati for the Seattle Seahawks. But it was surprising when the Bengals paid former New York Jet Laveranues Coles $28 million over four years-- including a whopping $9.75 million in his first year -- to replace Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh had 90-plus receptions the past two seasons, while Coles is more of a 60 to 70 catch receiver. Someone will have to make up that missing production whether it is a bounce-back year from Chad Ocho Cinco or a career year from one of the young receivers -- Chris Henry, Andre Caldwell or Jerome Simpson -- in the No. 3 role. Keeping tailback Cedric Benson was important, but the team still needs a big-play threat at that position. J.T. O'Sullivan was a decent pickup to back up quarterback Carson Palmer. With Palmer's return, a stellar draft could put Cincinnati in position to surprise next season.
Analysis: The Browns are cleaning house, and they probably are not done yet. New coach Eric Mangini and first-year general manager George Kokinis are turning over the roster quickly through every avenue possible. The Browns have not retained most of their in-house free agents such as safety Sean Jones and linebackers Andra Dav
is and Willie McGinest. They also cut offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer and receiver Joe Jurevicius and traded former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. for a pair of draft picks. The replacements have not been overwhelming. Former Jets linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens are both stop-gap players who are 30-plus. Royal is not nearly as dynamic a tight end as Winslow, and Cleveland still has a lot of holes left to fill in the draft. The Browns are clearly starting from scratch, which is why they are attempting to stockpile draft picks. Coming off a 4-12 season, Cleveland appears to be headed for another transition year in 2009.
Key pickups: None
Analysis: Pittsburgh hasn't signed anyone outside of its building. Instead, the team placed its focus on keeping together last year's championship team. The Steelers retained three starters from their offensive line in guard Chris Kemoeatu and tackles Willie Colon and Max Starks and brought back a host of backups and special-teams players. They are staying true to their identity of not being major players in free agency. But it would have been beneficial to add at least one or two offensive linemen from the outside to compete and provide depth. That probably won't happen until next month's NFL draft. Starting cornerback Bryant McFadden bolting to the Arizona Cardinals could be softened if William Gay continues to develop in 2009. The Steelers are banking on it. Pittsburgh also brought in a few intriguing free agents, such as receiver Joey Galloway and cornerback/return specialist Chris Carr, for visits. But its reluctance to pay much on the open market this offseason forced those two players to sign with other teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:
- The Cleveland Browns continue to try to retool the offensive line, setting up a visit with free-agent tackle John St. Clair.
Morning take: After releasing former starter Kevin Shaffer over the weekend, the right tackle spot is up for competition. Drafting a right tackle in the top five is risky, making St. Clair an option.
- The Baltimore Ravens will officially release cornerback Samari Rolle on Monday.
Morning take: This move has been widely expected for weeks here and in other media circles. The $4.1 million Baltimore saves provides room for draft picks and likely a big extension for Terrell Suggs.
- Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones' new show, "Dhani Tackles the Globe," premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel.
Morning take: Jones always had a lot of personality, and football fans should get to see it in this show. England, Thailand and Singapore are some of the places Jones is expected to visit.
- From last weekend, former Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Khalif Barnes signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.
Morning take: Things have been quiet on the Steelers' front since losing Barnes, receiver Joey Galloway and cornerback/returner Chris Carr to other teams. Barnes was one of the last quality offensive line prospects in free agency. It looks like the Steelers won't add depth there until next month's draft.
Posted by ESPN.com staff
- Will the Ravens be better at the start of the 2009 season than at the end of the 2008 playoffs? Baltimore Sun writers Ken Murray and Bill Ordine provide the point-counterpoint.
- The Ravens released backup inside linebacker Nick Greisen, 29, after two seasons in Baltimore.
- After losing starting tackle Stacy Andrews to free agency, Baylor star Jason Smith would fill a big hole on the Bengals' O-line -- if he lasts until pick No. 6.
- A series of cash roster bonuses, most owed to players today, has led to the release of another veteran. Cleveland cut starting right tackle Kevin Shaffer Thursday.
- Andre Frazier, a backup outside linebacker and standout special-teams player, signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract Thursday to remain in Pittsburgh.
This is how player acquisitions get discussed among the general populace in the year 2009: Via YouTube highlight reels.
Yes, this is a small sampling, but the current cut-up making the rounds on new Chicago safety Josh Bullocks isn't exactly the stuff of inspiration. I can't embed it on this blog, but you can view it on the Chicago Tribune's blog here. Go ahead. It won't bite.
David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune is guessing the Bears believe new defensive backs coach Jon Hoke can point Bullocks in the right direction. Or maybe they'll find their actual 2009 free safety next month in the draft. All that's assured now is Bullocks will be in uniform for next week's mandatory minicamp at the Bears' practice facility.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times believes it's possible the Bears will consider new free agents Marvel Smith and Kevin Shaffer if they cannot make a quick deal with free-agent offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald looks back at the performances of recently-drafted wide receivers.
- Free-agent defensive end Michael Montgomery might make another visit before deciding whether to return to Green Bay, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson speaks with Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, among other things revealing that his now-infamous recruiting discussion with free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was a 1-minute conversation -- by phone.
- Free-agent cornerback Karl Paymah is scheduled to visit the Vikings on Friday morning, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Star Tribune reports the Vikings are also considering a late run at free-agent fullback Leonard Weaver, who spent the past four seasons in Seattle.
- Pat Carter, who spent the past three seasons as Detroit's tight ends coach, is working as a volunteer coach for the University of North Alabama. Here's the story from the TimesDaily.
1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Atlanta Green Bay 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New England 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Detroit Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Miami Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Kansas City Washington 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Baltimore 4:05 PM ET Tennessee Denver 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Arizona 4:25 PM ET New York San Diego 4:25 PM ET Seattle San Francisco 8:30 PM ET Carolina New Orleans