Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC North

by Ryan Wilson

Chicago Bears

It's the Offense, Stupid

For the fourth consecutive season, the Bears featured a top-10 defense but for the first time since 2004, it wasn't enough to overcome an offense that will be completely overhauled this off-season.

New defensive coordinator Bob Babich enjoyed success similar to that of his predecessor, Ron Rivera. This isn't surprising, for two reasons. First, Babich and head coach Lovie Smith have been working together since their days with the St. Louis Rams (Babich was Chicago's linebackers coach prior to his most recent promotion). Second, the Bears primarily play a Cover-2, a relatively simple defense that relies more on execution than complex schemes designed to confuse the offense. It's to Babich's credit that he was able to field one of the league's best units despite a steady run of injuries throughout the season.

Interestingly, a year ago, Rivera was considered one of the "next hot coaching candidates," but he saw his stock take a hit after leaving Chicago. He spent last season as the Chargers linebackers coach.

Ron Turner wrapped up his third season as Chicago's offensive coordinator, and for the third consecutive season, the team ranked in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency. After soaring to 18th during the 2006 Super Bowl run, the unit fell to 31st last season. Obviously, finding a quarterback is priority No. 1 this off-season, but 1A is wide receiver, 1B is running back, and 1C is getting younger on the offensive line. On the upside, Chicago is set at tight end after rookie first-round pick Greg Olsen and veteran Desmond Clark combined for 83 catches, 936 yards and six touchdowns, or 35 percent of all passing touchdowns thrown by Bears quarterbacks.

Special teams is one area Chicago doesn't have to worry about. Yes, Devin Hester is a national treasure, but kicker Robbie Gould and punter Brad Maynard are also very consistent, and the coverage and return teams, in general, make very few mistakes. If the Bears could somehow figure out a way to make special teams more than one-seventh of the game, they wouldn't have to concern themselves with fixing the offense.

Who Could Leave?

The Bears have 13 unrestricted free agents, and have already released wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, defensive tackle Darwin Walker and offensive tackle Fred Miller.

With Muhammad's release and Bernard Berrian approaching free agency at the end of the month, Chicago has some decisions to make about the wide receiver position. Given that the Cowboys re-signed Patrick Crayton and assuming the Patriots keep Randy Moss, Berrian would be the best available wideout on the market. The former third-round pick had his best season in 2007, hauling in 71 passes for 951 yards and five touchdowns, but he hasn't cracked the top-50 in DVOA during his two years as the Bears No. 2 receiver. If Berrian stays in Chicago, it'll probably come via the franchise tag.

Last off-season, linebacker Lance Briggs said he would never play for the team if he was franchised. He was franchised, and he did play, which just reinforces how little leverage players have when it comes to the designation. In any event, Briggs looks to be headed for free agency this off-season. If the Bears make a late run at Briggs it could be indicative of their long-term concerns about linebacker Brian Urlacher's recent neck surgery.

The team has been noncommittal on quarterback Rex Grossman, and even if he is re-signed, it will almost surely be for backup money and with the understanding that the starting job is wide open.

Perhaps the least talked about but potentially most important player headed for free agency is Brendon Ayanbadejo. He's listed as a linebacker but makes his living on special teams. Ayanbadejo is looking for a big payday, which probably means he won't be back.

Whom Should They Sign?

(52 players under contract, $19.8 million under the cap)

During the season there were rumors that Chicago might make a play for native son Donovan McNabb, but they proved to be groundless. Derek Anderson was also a popular name, but whether the Browns sign their quarterback to a long(ish)-term deal or tender him a restricted free agent offer, he won't be in the Bears' plans.

Steelers guard Alan Faneca is another name that has been mentioned often. He doesn't exactly meet the "getting younger along the offensive line" criterion, but he is a very good run blocker even if his pass-blocking skills have diminished in recent seasons.

Running back Cedric Benson has been disappointing, and soon-to-be free agent Michael Turner is an attractive option, but like Faneca, he won't come cheap.

Detroit Lions

Matt Millen, Blind Squirrels, etc.

Since becoming team president in 2001, the Lions have won 31 games. Thirty-one. By comparison, the Steelers won 15 in a row in 2004, and the Patriots ripped off 21 consecutive wins during the 2003-2004 season and 18 more in 2007.

For the morbidly curious, the wins breakdown thusly: The Lions have beaten division rival Chicago six times. The Cards and Cowboys have each gone down three times, and 14 other teams have been shamed at least once in the last seven years. That means that Detroit is oh-for-Millen against 16 teams, including five other NFC teams: Carolina, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.

But Detroit won seven games in 2007 after averaging just four wins in the previous five seasons. Of course, the Lions were 6-2 at one point last season before ripping off six straight losses -- even though quarterback Jon Kitna guaranteed 10 victories -- but it's a start. So maybe Matt Millen's philosophy on winning football is finally sinking in.

Head coach Rod Marinelli thinks Detroit is close to making the playoffs, and although he's paid to say that, midway through the season it seemed like a distinct possibility. The Lions' soft schedule had a lot to do with the fast start. As the year progressed and the losses mounted, cracks started to show on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was fired after disavowing the running game and allowing Kitna to take a whopping 51 sacks. Detroit promoted offensive line coach Jim Colleto to replace Martz and, shockingly, one of his first pronouncements was to make it clear that the running game would actually be a part of the offense in 2008.

Last off-season, Marinelli hired son-in-law Joe Barry to run the defense. Barry was previously the linebackers coach in Tampa Bay and was a seemingly perfect candidate to run the Tampa-2 in Detroit. The Lions sported the league's second-worst defense,finishinged ahead of only the Dolphins, but some of that can be blamed on personnel that didn't fit the scheme -- no doubt something the team will address this off-season.

Who Could Leave?

Last spring, Detroit sent cornerback Dre' Bly to Denver for running back Tatum Bell and tackle George Foster. Bly was respectable with the Broncos. Bell played in just five games before spending the rest of the season requesting a trade. Foster struggled at right tackle and was benched at various points during the season; the team probably won't try to re-sign him.

There were reports that former Broncos linebacker Al Wilson had visited the Lions. If completely healthy, Wilson would make Boss Bailey expendable. Despite his athleticism, Bailey was unimpressive as a middle linebacker in the team's Tampa-2 scheme. Wilson is strong in run support, but is also able to patrol the middle of the field in passing situations. Even if Wilson doesn't work out, Bailey probably won't be back next season.

Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers has chronically underachieved during his seven years in Detroit, and the Lions would willingly trade him if the right offer came along.

Whom Should They Sign?

(42 players under contract, $23.5 million under the cap)

The Lions couldn't go wrong by signing any defensive player. The team ranked 30th against the pass, which could mean that the secondary needs an upgrade, the pass rush needs an upgrade, or both. A middle-of-the-pack Adjusted Sack Rate and bottom-of-the-league DVOA splits against opponents' No. 1 and No. 2 receivers indicate that the defensive backfield was a bigger liability than the front four.

Unfortunately, there isn't much depth at the cornerback position in free agency. On Wednesday, the Seahawks franchised Marcus Trufant and the Raiders did the same to Nnamdi Asomugha, leaving Asante Samuel as the only premier cornerback on the market. He will be looking for "Nate Clements money," which will likely be out of Detroit's price range. A much cheaper alternative could be Samuel's New England teammate, Randall Gay. He's not as athletic as Samuel, but he's smart, physical, and understands zone concepts. The only problem is that the Patriots will probably try to re-sign him.

Most of the defensive linemen scheduled to become free agents have already been tagged -- Jared Allen, Albert Haynesworth, Terrell Suggs -- but the Bengals' Justin Smith should be available. He's not a pure pass rusher and last season he recorded just two sacks, the lowest total of his seven-year career.

The Lions best option might be to address these needs through the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Apparently, Brett Favre Might Retire

It's safe to say that Mike McCarthy wasn't the most popular hire when the Packers named him to succeed Mike Sherman two years ago. It wasn't that people hated the pick, it's just we didn't know much about him. Plus, he had served as the 49ers offensive coordinator in 2005, a unit that was dead last in DVOA (32nd in passing, but hey, 30th in rushing!). It's tough for anybody to get excited about that.

After an 8-8 rookie season, the Packers won 13 games last season, and apparently, McCarthy had a lot to do with it -- he signed a new five-year deal earlier this month.

Much of the team's success lies with quarterback Brett Favre. In 2006, he completed 56 percent of his passes and tossed just as many touchdowns as interceptions (18). Last season, Favre raised his completion percentage nearly 11 points and had 13 more touchdowns (28) than interceptions.

Donald Driver was still Favre's most reliable option, catching 82 passes, including two touchdowns. But second-year wideout Greg Jennings was Favre's big-play target. Jennings had 29 fewer catches than Driver but almost five more yards per reception (17.4 to 12.8) and 10 more touchdowns.

The emergence of Ryan Grant was also a pleasant surprise and took the Packers running game into the DVOA top ten by midseason.

The defense actually was better in 2006 (sixth overall), but last year's 15th-ranked unit was much improved against the run (ranking sixth, up from 21st the season before). That success was partly due to strong safety Atari Bigby. Bigby caught some deserved early-season grief for his play, mostly in passing situations, but he has been strong in run support. He also improved in coverage late in the year, particularly during the postseason.

Favre is currently going through the annual process of deciding whether to retire, but even if he returns, the Packers are one of the youngest teams in the league, which bodes well for the immediate future.

Who Could Leave?

Green Bay entered the off-season with seven unrestricted free agents, and the only big name in the bunch was defensive tackle Corey Williams. The Packers franchised Williams on Wednesday, ensuring he wasn't going anywhere

Tight end Ryan Krause only had two receptions after a practice-squad promotion, but he will likely remain in Green Bay now that the team has released Bubba Franks.

Vernand Morency is a restricted free agent, but he's unlikely to draw interest from other teams despite the Packers' tender offer. Morency missed the preseason with an injury and only managed 29 carries during the year, fourth among Green Bay running backs.

And then there's Favre, who for the third year in a row is contemplating retirement. Immediately after the NFC Championship loss to the Giants, general manager Ted Thompson said he didn't think the 17-year veteran would retire because of one costly overtime interception.

Favre initially said he would make a decision in two weeks, but two weeks has turned into more than a month. If Favre does choose to call it a career, the Packers are in good shape with Aaron Rodgers, the player McCarthy and the 49ers passed up in 2005 to take Alex Smith. Rodgers has played sparingly during his three-year career, but was impressive during the preseason and a short Thanksgiving Day stint against the Cowboys.

Whom Should They Sign?

(48 players under contract, $18.4 million under the cap)

Al Harris finally made his first Pro Bowl appearance, but he's 33 years old, and teammate Charles Woodson is 31. Still, Packers cornerbacks were fifth against opponents' No. 1 receivers and 17th against No. 2 wideouts. Against No. 3 receivers, however, Green Bay was 31st. There isn't much available via free agency, but again, Randall Gay could be a cheap alternative, or perhaps San Diego's Drayton Florence, who lost his job to Antonio Cromartie and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month.

Franks' release leaves Donald Lee as the only tight end on the roster with any experience. Alge Crumpler would seem like a good fit, but his price could be prohibitive, and the Seahawks and Buccaneers seem to have the inside track for his services. The Titans' Ben Troupe should also be available, but he has been inconsistent for much of his four-year career. Marcus Pollard, Jermaine Wiggins and Eric Johnson are also options, but like Franks, they are on the downside of their careers.

Minnesota Vikings

Purple Jesus Needs a Quarterback

Generally, taking running backs early in the first round is a dicey proposition. It's arguably the most fungible position on the field, and success in the running game is largely dependent on an effective offensive line and a competent passing attack. Minnesota's line was above average; the quarterback was not. In any event, using the seventh-overall pick on Adrian Peterson proved to be the right move. He ranked fifth in DPAR, rushed for 1,341 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry, and scored 12 touchdowns. Peterson also ran for more than 200 yards in a game twice, although he struggled the final month of the season.

Head coach Brad Childress explained that Peterson needs to work on improving his reads at the line of scrimmage, but there aren't many Hall of Fame backs who would succeed against eight- and nine-man fronts over a 16-game schedule.

Which allows us to not-so-subtlety segue to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Childress has preached patience with the first-year starter, but if Jackson doesn't show noticeable improvement in 2008, the Vikings will have to consider a change. Childress told the AP that the job is currently Jackson's to lose, but also pointed out that unrestricted free agents Quinn Gray, Cleo Lemon and Craig Nall don't get him "jumping up and down." The implication: It's better to go with what you got than start over with a player who could potentially make the team worse.

The Vikings' defense fell from fourth in 2006 under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin to 22nd under Leslie Frazier, but remained stout against the run, finishing second in 2007 after a first-place finish the year before. Defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams can take much of the credit for controlling the line of scrimmage; Minnesota was second in Adjusted Line Yards (3.39) in 2007 and first in 2006 (2.95)

Who Could Leave?

There was speculation that the Vikings would release 2005 first-round pick Troy Williamson. After catching just 79 passes and three touchdowns in three seasons, it's fair to say he probably qualifies for bust status. Wide receivers coach George Stewart would love to see Williamson return next season which could bode well for his future in Minnesota.

Robert Ferguson was the team's second-leading receiver, but only managed 32 receptions and one touchdown. He excelled as a blocker, something the team will need as it continues to fashion its offense around Peterson. He's an unrestricted free agent, but could be re-signed on the cheap.

Safety Mike Doss spent much of last season on the bench backing up Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith. He's fully recovered from an ACL injury that prematurely ended his 2006 season, but his contract expires next week and the Vikings won't make an effort to keep him.

With Peterson and Chester Taylor occupying the top of the running back depth chart, situational rusher Mewelde Moore will look for steadier work with another team. Tony Richardson would like to return, but with Childress suggesting that he would like to see Peterson and Taylor on the field together more often, it's not clear there will be much need for a full-time fullback.

Whom Should They Sign?

(49 players under contract, $14.9 million under the cap)

Whatever Williamson's fate, the Vikings -- and Jackson -- need a No. 1 wide receiver. Off-season acquisition Bobby Wade and rookie Sidney Rice were pleasant surprises, but neither posed much of a deep threat.

Again, assuming the Patriots keep Randy Moss, there isn't a legitimate No. 1 receiver in free agency. However, if New England doesn't sign Donte' Stallworth to a re-worked contract, he's available. Stallworth was usually the third option in New England's pass-happy offense, but he had some success as the Eagles' top receiver in 2006. And he would immediately have that role should he end up in Minnesota. There is also Larry Fitzgerald -- who is from Minnesota -- but despite his hefty salary he will probably stay in Arizona.

The unfortunate news that Kenechi Udeze was recently diagnosed with leukemia means that Minnesota could look to add depth at defensive end. Cincinnati's Justin Smith will be expensive, but current Viking Darrion Scott is an attractive option. He was injured for most of last year but had nine sacks the previous two seasons. He will also be a free agent, but will be much more affordable than Smith.

Like the Packers cornerbacks, the Vikings safeties are old. Also like the Packers' Al Harris, the Vikings' Darren Sharper was a Pro Bowler in 2007. While there may not be an immediate need to upgrade the position (although Dwight Smith's off-field troubles could hasten a change), Minnesota could look to add depth. Eugene Wilson fell out of favor in New England but played well in recent seasons. Cincinnati's Madieu Williams could be another possibility, although he would be looking to start. Ken Hamlin had a strong season with the Cowboys but he will likely be in Dallas next season, either via the franchise tag or a new contract.

*All projected cap numbers courtesy of These numbers are "ballpark" and are subject to change. The intention is to give an approximate idea of each team's available resources before free agency and the draft begin.


57 comments, Last at 04 Mar 2008, 4:52pm

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I would ask FO, is Minnesota only a quarterback away from being an NFC title contender or are they still 2-3 years away even with a good qb? If they are a win-now team, how can they not go after Pennington, McNabb, McNair or anyone else that has at least some idea how to play quarterback? Or shouldnt they trade for one of the Tampa backups? I just feel bad for Minnesota fans, entering the season with Tavaris at qb is like entering the season with Herm as your Head Coach, sad and hopeless

2 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The cap number for the Bears is from before the releases. They opened up 10 million more by releasing Moose, Miller and Walker, and of course 3 less players under contract.

3 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I don't see much the Viqueens lack offensively beside the QB. If Brian Brohm falls to them, he'll be there next year. Tarvaris is un-spinnably awful.

4 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Boss Bailey is not the MLB for the lions-they tried that out last season and he failed. Its Paris Lenon, who the Lions will probably rather move to SLB if they can get a MLB.

5 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I think that Vikings number is off for their cap space. I trust ask the commish numbers but I have heard reports that their cap number is closer to 25 mil.

re #1: I am with you. Why not go after Derek Anderson, McNabb or even chicken wing pennginton. The NFC is wide open compared to the AFC. I would think Derek Anderson would be worth an investment since they have the other pieces in place on offense. I know it is easy to call Troy Williamson a bust, but look at who has thrown to him.

6 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The VIkings did release Dwight Smith, almost certainly for what he did off the field rather than on it.

7 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Re #1, there is no way McNair should play football unless its flag football. He is absolutely DONE.

Tarvaris Jackson did play very well in a couple of games. I do think that he has a future in the NFL. The quandry is that the Vikings are ready to win now, Jackson may not be.

The guy I would like to see in Minnesota is Kurt Warner. If Warner was on that team they would be UNSTOPABLE on offense. With Chester and Adrian sharing the workload defenses would have no chance.

Kurt could play for 2 more years, maybe go to a SB and teach Tarvaris a thing or two about being a QB.

Of course it makes far too much sense to ever happen.

9 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Why should the Packers sign a TE? Maybe they're just confident in Lee and back-ups Krause and Humphrey.

I think they have other needs to focus on. OG, SAM, CB Unfortunately, I don't know who's available.

T^2 doesn't make a lot noise in free agency anyway. His track record is building through the draft.

10 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Re 7:

Warner plays great until he gets hit a few times, then he starts making stupid mistakes or one of his limbs becomes non-functional. No team should rely him as their starting QB at this point in time.

11 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I may be misunderstanding, but this sounds like an error: "The Bears have 13 unrestricted free agents."

I count 8. R Grossman, B Berrian, L Briggs, J Gilmore, R Brown, A Garay, J Kennedy, B Ayanbadejo.

Given offensive needs 1 through 1C, it wouldn't make much sense to spend the necessary $ to keep Ayanbadejo, who wants in excess of David Tyree money. David Tyree!

"The team has been noncommittal on quarterback Rex Grossman." It's true in that they haven't put an offer on the table (but are expected to at the combine), but Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith have both said they definitely want to re-sign Grossman and have him compete for the starting job.

12 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Re 5: While I agree with you that the Vikings should pursue a veteran QB, the Vikings QB situation has NOTHING to do with Williamson being godawful. Troy Williamson has had some of the worst drops I have ever seen in my life (click link in my name for an absolute highlight). No matter how good the pass, no matter how open Williamson is, he will always manage to drop the ball.

13 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

"If the Bears could somehow figure out a way to make special teams more than one-seventh of the game, they wouldn’t have to concern themselves with fixing the offense."

Wasn't this attempted already, in the form of the Devin Hester Wide Receiver Experience?

14 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Ayanbadejo is awesome make no mistake about that. He's made the last two probowls as a special teams player. He is good at both coverage and blocking. It also wouldn't make sense to create a weakness out of a strength (special teams), while chasing the Bear's white whale (passing offense).

15 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

How about Mark Brunell for either Minn or Chicago? He certainly doesn't have the best arm anymore, but he doesn't turn the ball over and he was 12th in DVOA in '06 and 11th in '05 in average or below average offenses. With Brunell at the helm in '07, would Chicago or Minn have made the playoffs?

16 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I believe the bears have said they will not franchise berrian but they are still hoping to re-sign him. Their #2 WR would be Mark Bradley going into the draft if they do not.

17 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

as an experiment, i'd like to swap jackson for grossman. sometimes a change of scenery recharges players. sometimes it's just fun to see them suck in a different uniform for a change. heck, maybe we could throw kitna in the mix and just rotate them through the three teams each week.

18 Re: Four Downs: NFC North


I thinkn Vikes definitely would have. Not sure about Chicago, as their QBs didn't were horrible, but not the only obvious weakness dragging down the hole team (so Brunell alone wouldn't be as big an upgrade). Minny almost made it anyway, and QB was by far their big weakness. Brunell probably woulda meant 2-3 more wins for Minny.

I don't think Brunell has much, if anything, left in the tank... but it probably is more than the Tavaris last year (can he improve this year to "Brunell level"?... maybe, but that likely still isn't any good).

19 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Lions probably need to match last year's record in 2008 for Marinelli to keep his job. I haven't looked at the schedule, but (assuming an average schedule) I don't like they're chances. Not sure what it would take for Millen to get canned.

Marinelli wants to run the ball, but the team has an excessive amount of their cap space tied up in WRs. Just not a great fit. Thinking of Detroit WRs, it would seem that Furrey and/or McDonald would be prime candidates to move out. They should both have more value to a team other than the Lions.

20 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Wow, I just watched some youtoobs of Troy Williamson dropping balls. He looks like he is learning a new position. Hasn't this guy played football since he was 4?
How was he drafted that high?

I know he has had different position coaches, but damn, most coaches will usually tell you to get in front of the ball and catch it with your hands.

21 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I don't think the Lions DL is a problem. They typically get good pressure on the QB with very little blitzing. I probably shouldn't say this without consulting PFP 2007 but I would guess they blitz less than almost any other team during the Marinelli era. Their DBs are scary bad.

A change of scenery might help Rogers (who can still dominate when the mood strikes him) but getting enough in return could be tough. I'm guessing he stays in Detroit.

22 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Lions are shopping around Shaun McDonald (aka Wes Welker if used right). I think the Lions are being stupid, they have 4 good WRs and will try to pretend to be the Ravens and Buccaneers of the early 2000s...too bad the defense blows. I still think if any team should run a Patriots type offense it should be the Lions (not saying it will be successful).

#19: The Lions play the AFC South (replacing the AFC West) and the NFC South (replacing the NFC East) and I assume has them as 3rd place so I guess Washington and San Fran (if not, Philly and St. Louis)

23 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The Lions DL probably still needs a edge speed rusher. They were terrible at rushing the passer on 3rd down (6 sacks as a team, guys like Jared Allen had 6.5 on 3rd down alone)....but the secondary was a huge problem and it will not be much better next season either-unless we get some badass rookies.

24 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

My god that was some awful grammar/typing in my post... ouch. Sorry 'bout that.

If Detroit doesn't want their DL, Denver will take 'em... they completely dismantled us last year... Yes, there were a lot of O-Line injuries at the time, but given we get alomst ZERO d-line production, it was depressing to watch. They looked more than competant.

25 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Another need for the Bears is at the safety position. It's arguable to discuss who had the worst year in their profession in 2007 - Adam Archuleta or Brittany Spears.

Not sure who is available in free agency, but that is certainly a position the Bear's brass will need to address in the off-season.

I from what I have read and heard, they really like Joe Flacco, QB from Delaware, who will most likely go early in the 2nd round.

26 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I think the Joe Flacco stuff is all a smokescreen. I don't see why Angelo would telegraph his 2nd round pick this early. Unless, it's the famous double bluff!

28 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

"Bernard Berrian in a contract year," like he was last year, would be the best receiver available. Until he shows up like that every year, let's spend the franchise-tag-level money on an offensive line...

29 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Tavaris Jackson was mostly terrible, but actually wide receiver is the Vikings' biggest hole. If the Vikings had a receiver that struck ANY fear in the hearts of defensive backs, it would be considerably harder for defensive coordinators to defend Peterson with nine man fronts, even with Tavaris Jackson throwing the ball.

Tavaris Jackson is more likely to improve significantly than any of their wide receivers, with the possible exception of Rice, so they need to concentrate on receiver first. That isn't to say, however, that Childress would be nuts to not bring in a veteran qb who can credibly push Jackson, or give the Vikings a chance if Jackson fails or gets hurt. Brooks Bollinger and Kelly Holcomb were utter disasters.

Troy Williamson's salary this year is small enough that they may as well keep him one more year, unless a rookie has a stunning training camp. I actually think Williamson's cap number goes up if they cut him, but I could be wrong. They should definitely resign Darrion Scott now, what with Udeze's diagnosis, unless they draft a DE they really like.

30 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

"The Lions sported the league’s second-worst defense,finishinged ahead of only the Dolphins,"

I think there might be a typo there.

31 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

methdeez, I think Williamson by now is a complete basket-case, mentally, when it comes to catching the ball. It would be easier to keep him on the roster if his speed transferred to effective kick returning, but there hasn't been much of that yet, either. Like I said, I think he might consume more cap space this year if he is cut, and the rest of the receiving corps sucks as well, so it may make sense to give him the last roster spot for receivers, but it is a close call.

I highly suspect he was drafted as high as he was because the previous owner insisted on drafitng a fast receiver to replace Randy Moss, who was traded mostly due to there being a very large bonus coming due soon, and the owner knowing that the team would also be sold soon. The last four years of the McCombs ownership era were a complete disaster for Vikings fans.

32 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

cjfarls, that's the problem. When Rogers cared, the DL could be solid, but the Lions have way too many guys like that (if only so-and-so has a good game).

I don't think Detroit can flip Furrey or McDonald into multiple defensive players, so it's probably not going to be worth it. You can't keep changing schemes on a bad team every couple of years and expect success. The Lions aren't a good team waiting to find the perfect offense, they're a bad team.

The problem with trying to address all these needs through the draft is that they can't pick enough good players to do it even if Millen does have that whole draft thingy figured out now. I don't know about picking up ex-Patriots either. We don't seem to choose the right ones.

33 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

If Detroit doesn’t want their DL, Denver will take ‘em…

It's true. Just ask the Browns.

34 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I don't understand why FO, which recognize the value of a good OL, have given up on Cedric Benson, and thinks RB is more of a need than OL. Why not trying to give him a viable OL ?
The Bears had an horrendous OL last year, and while other AP was better than him, maybe he would be able to amount to something with at least an average one.

35 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I think the Bears new approach to their players on the verge of hitting the market stems from the fact that they are currently in line to be in absurdly good cap shape in '09 and beyond. When most of the other players who might improve the team started to get tagged I suspect the Bears just started to think it a better idea to try to keep the young players who might leave.

36 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Re 34:

While Benson wasn't the main problem with the offense, he did nothing to help it either. Yeah, if you give him a good offensive line he'll produce so will about 50 running backs in this league. Benson never does anything that makes the offensive line look better than it is. He doesn't have the speed or agility to avoid tackles and while he has some power, it's usually just falling forward for those two extra yards. He's Anthony Thomas with better vision.

37 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Well I know I'm in the minority here, but I see Jackson as progressing fairly well. He clearly has some major brain cramps under pressure, but he also showed a very strong and accurate arm in the 2nd half of the season when he was given decent protection.

The Vikings offence is not the problem going into 2008. The defence is older and declining. The offence is younger and improving. I was happy to see that Dwight Smith was let go. I think the Vikings need help in the secondary and DE in order to improve next year. For the Vikings in 08 I think those two areas are actually more important than WR.

38 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The emergence of Ryan Grant was also a pleasant surprise and took the Packers running game into the DVOA top ten by midseason.

I assume you mean Grant took the Packers running game into the DVOA top ten after midseason as he didn't play more than a few plays until game seven in Denver and the Packers running game totally sucked in the first half of the season.

39 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

jimm, they definitely need help at safety, and depending on what they see as Robison's and Edward's upside, DE as well. Who knows if Erasmus James will ever be a productive player? I actually like their young corners, and in their second and third years next year, respectively, I'd bet we would see real improvement, and Winfield is still good.

Their passing attack just sucks, however, and if it doesn't get a lot better, they will have a tough time getting to eight wins again.

40 Re: Four Downs: NFC North


My problem with having too much faith in Jackson's ability is it is riding on the coat-tails of some of the other top-notch players on the team. Quarterbacks who are truly starting quality can win games by making other players better and covering for areas of weakness elsewhere on their teams. Jackson's success was based entirely on safeties camping out in the box to try to corrall Peterson and Taylor. His success was based upon throwing into (literally) half an acre of space with no defenders in it. I think he might improve with time, but he is by no means a decent starter at present. If he takes too long to develop some of the top players (eg. Pat Williams, Winfield, Sharper) on a decent defense may be declining by the time he arrives.

41 Re: Four Downs: NFC North


I was not as happy to see Smith let go yesterday. He was no All-Pro and clearly annoyed Vikings fans with his off-field antics but he was steady enough. The Vikings free up some cap pace by releasing him but they've also added to their list of offseason needs. Safety wouldn't have been a pressing need had they kept Smith and management could have focused their attention on the areas where it's really needed (WR and DE). Now they have to look at finding safety help as well.

I'll be interested to see who replaces him. A safety tandem that includes both Darren Sharper and either Tank Williams or Mike Doss is not something I'm looking forward to.

42 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

40 - Jimmy - I'm not sure how much I buy the 8-9 in a box gave Jackson wide open spaces to throw into. I watched those games and there were very few times when Viking receivers were wide open. They simply didn't get separation very often.

In the last 4 games Peterson was actually not very effective. Jackson was forced to throw in 2nd and 3rd and long most of the time and he wasn't doing that into 8 man fronts because Peterson wasn't even in the game in those situations.

I thought the Vikings actually needed to throw far more often on first down in the last 4 games. If you look at the stats you will see that when they did throw on first down in the second half of the season, they were far more effective than when they ran.

43 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Will - I agree with you re: McCauley, Griffin and even Gordon. I thought Smith was horrible much of the time last year.

I have very high hopes for Ray Edwards due to his age (22 last year?). Also Robison looked decent as a situational rusher. I would like to see them re-sign Scott provided he's not to expensive. I think he's a decent rotation guy.

44 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Jimmy - Smith drove me nuts - he got burned deep several times and he is in my mind a horrible open field tackler. I'm not sure who they will get to replace him, but I can't imagine he'll be any worse.

45 Re: Four Downs: NFC North


I don't think you mean me, I didn't comment on Smith.


I didn't infer that the recivers had achieved seperation, merely position against the corner. If there aren't any safeties lurking deep to break on the ball then all a QB has to do is put the ball in a position where the WR has the best chance of breaking on the ball. What should make it even easier for Jackson is that he doesn't have to worry about linebackers covering the underneath routes as they are on the line of scrimmage worrying about Peterson and Taylor. The effectiveness of the running game makes the job of the QB in reading the passing game much easier, and it didn't give Jackson enough help to be a productive starter.

Your argument that AP was less effective actually reinforces my point, moving extra players into run support would slow him down.

46 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I forgot so say earlier as I was busy at work but this article is pretty good. I was waiting for it hoping to be able to howl and wail my displeasure at its findings but damn you Wilson you wrote a good piece.

47 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The Viking pass defense was once again very inconsistent--half-decent QBs regularly shredded it (which is actually an improvement from '02-'04, when lousy QBs shredded it). I don't have a problem with the Dwight Smith cut--they shouldn't just keep the status quo in the secondary. I like the CB position (young and deep), but the Vikes probably saw safety as a need with or without Smith. They were, after all, rumored to want LaRon Landry in last year's draft.

It's all about adding competent pass catchers this year. Despite the 8-9 defenders in the box, the receivers still rarely got good separation--perhaps we should be impressed Jackson did as well as he did, considering he was usually throwing to WRs draped by DBs (Troy Williamson got open, but that didn't really matter). Sidney Rice shows some real signs of talent last season, and if he improves, and the Vikes pair him up with a competent, athletic WR, then Tarvaris Jackson will progress simply because he'll have better targets.

48 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Re 44:

I read that as Jimmy Smith the player drove you nuts. I was quite confused for a second or two.

49 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Is there a reason (other than these types of trades never happen) that Minnesota and Arizona wouldn't swap Chester Taylor for Larry Fitzgerald?

50 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Probably because even the Cardinals, in their worst years, aren't that silly. Chester Taylor is a nice running back. He doesn't even begin to approach the value of a wide receiver of Fitzgerald's value.

52 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

What about Mewelde Moore for Anquan Boldin?

Maybe Chester Taylor and Mewelde Moore for Anquan Boldin. Come to think of it, that might actually make both teams significantly better (which means it's clearly not going to happen).

53 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Or you could trade them a used stick of gum for a top notch WR, that would look even better.

54 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

How about they re-sign Barry Word and trade him to AZ for Boldin and Fitzgerald?

55 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

1. RE: 53, 54; The Jets just traded a Vilma, a damn good but horribly miscast linbacker, for just a little bit more than Barry Word and a stick of gum- it could happen.

2. Tavaris Jackson is a project QB given the starting job way too early. But he hasn't been that horrible recently and they may as well stick with him and get him some receiver help. Not everyone can be a Rich Gannon - project QB that sat on the bench forever behind Bono and Grbac, but turned out all right.

56 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

With the addition of berrian to the vikes, they have the perfect combo for jackson to throw to. Berrian is an athletic play maker while rice is a possession receiver with good hands. Throw in Allison as a vertical seam threat (who can actually catch when it hits him on the hands, unlike Williamson). Dwight smith has played no where near where he should for his experience, and he seems to shy away from contact.
Personally I feel the vikes need to draft a saftey or a utility corner who can play both. Sitting at 17 is a very interesting spot, you never know who will fall, etc. If Derrick Harvey is still and likely will be available, I think you have to pull the trigger on him. I liked the production between scott, robinson and edwards, but none are every down kind of players. I like Harvey in run support and as a pass rusher. However, Phillips as a FS might be the better move, or even Rogers-Cromartie. Phillips is a top 10 kind of athlete who has underperformed in college. Adding him to the secondary would sure it up for a lot of years, as would adding a Mike Jenkins to pair with Griffin. At 17 you really have a lot of options, a solid OT may still be available, like Ottah, a DE like Harvey or Merling may still be on the board, and certainly at least one of the solid DB prospects will still be available. The addition of Barrian removes the need to consider a Sweed or Doucet.

As a vikings fan, I am exited with the future of the team, especially if we have a draft like last years where our late round picks have been contributing. The way that red character left the franchise was horrid, you gave away the best WR ever for practically nothing but cap space, had several first round busts, and he wouldn't ever take the 20 million in cap space we had every friggen year and do something with it!

57 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Well, the local reaction to Brett's retirement is not nearly as suicidal as I imagined. They seem to have moved past the first few stages of grief right into the resigned but "Rodgers has potential, doesn't he?" stage. Not at all what I was expecting in the heart of Packer country...