NFC North Notes

With the draft approaching, NFC North teams are narrowing their needs and priorities. Here is what each team in the division might be looking for on April 26 and 27, plus other notes compiled from PackerReport.com, LionsFans.com, and VikingUpdate.com:

MINNESOTA Center of attention

Cory Withrow -- who was one of only two Vikings restricted free agents to receive a tender from the Vikings -- signed his one-year tender, but is hoping for a trade.

That is something coach Mike Tice said he would work for. "I have a list that I'm taking home of teams' centers," Tice said. "I've put together a tape of him playing the past two years. I'll try to do what's right, to give him a chance before he gets too old."

Tice, who developed Withrow when he was offensive line coach for the Vikings, believes Withrow, right now, is better than at least three or four starting centers in the NFC alone. And he feels compelled to try to get Withrow a chance to start before he gets too old. So he intends to call some coaches around the league from those teams he feels Withrow would be an upgrade for and offer Withrow in a trade.

Keeping Culpepper

Owner Red McCombs said the team is ready to enter the season with quarterback Daunte Culpepper whether or not a contract extension is completed.

"We've never given any thought to trading him,'' McCombs said, "and we're not dancing on hot coals as to whether we get him signed, either. He's under contract and is our quarterback for (2003). If we get him signed, fine. If we don't, that's fine also. But we've never given any thought to trading him.''

Culpepper is entering the final season of a five-year contract he signed in 1999.

Culpepper is believed to be seeking an extension that would place him among the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks. The Vikings, however, have offered him substantially less.

QB joins the crowd

The Vikings have 40 players â€" a team record â€" taking part in their offseason workout program and another handful of players are expected to arrive this week. Among them is Daunte Culpepper, who has been working out in Florida and will be arriving at Winter Park this week to begin his offseason program with the team. In past years, many Vikings players stayed in Florida to work out at Cris Carter's compound, but that has changed since C.C. left the Vikings.

Ornamental promotion

Give the St. Paul Saints credit for having a sense of humor.

The Saints are an independent minor-league baseball team based in St. Paul who play in the Northern League. Through the years they have trotted out a pig they call "Kevin Bacon," and had it deliver baseballs to the umpire. They have held a Conehead night, given seat cushions depicting MLB commissioner Bud Selig on one side and union head Donald Fehr on the other.

And now this: Sometime this season 2,500 fans will receive a complimentary Randy Moss hood ornament. It hasn't been designed yet, but it is a clear reference to Moss' incident Sept. 24, when he tried to turn right illegally at a downtown Minneapolis intersection. A traffic control agent fell to the street after Moss' 2002 Lexus bumped her.

"This is done tongue-in-cheek," Saints media relations director Dave Wright said. "All our promotions are intended to make you chuckle."

Draft needs/priorities

The main reason the Vikings are concentrating on cornerback and offensive line in free agency? There appears to be enough depth at defensive line in the draft for the Vikings to address those needs there.

The Vikings will address cornerback, OL and punter in free agency. They hope to find an impact defensive lineman in the draft. Then they will attack the secondary free-agent market for a safety, a backup middle linebacker to learn behind veteran Greg Biekert and a wide receiver.

GREEN BAY

Likely to re-sign with Packers

Nose tackle Gilbert Brown's future with the Green Bay Packers cleared up Thursday night when Miami's Jermaine Haley agreed to an offer sheet with the Washington Redskins. With Haley, whom the Packers were pursuing, playing either for the Redskins or Dolphins next year, the Packers are likely to re-sign Brown.

Brown, entering his 10th season with the Packers, has been bothered by as assortment of injuries over the past two seasons but is still effective against the run. He started 11 of 16 games at nose tackle last year. Files grievance against former team

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nate Wayne recently filed a grievance against the Green Bay Packers seeking a $750,000 bonus he feels he should receive, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Packers will have to count $375,000 against their salary cap until the matter is resolved. If Wayne wins the claim, the Packers will have to count the entire amount against their salary cap for this season.

Wayne was due a roster bonus on March 1, but the team had a 10-day window to make a payment. The Packers released Wayne on March 10 for salary cap purposes but Wayne says that the team exceeded the 10-day limit before releasing him and is, thus, due the bonus.

Nwokorie fills several needs

The Packers have tried to replace Holliday in the defensive line rotation by signing unrestricted free agent Chukie Nwokorie from Indianapolis. Nwokorie, 6-3 and 284, accepted a two-year, $2 million deal that included a $500,000 signing bonus. He will back up at both ends and also could work inside on passing downs. The Packers have been interested in Nwokorie for several years. John Schneider, one of their scouts, pushed hard for Nwokorie. Signed by Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent in 1999, Nwokorie had his best season two years ago when he started five games at left end and totaled 71 tackles and 5 sacks. Last year, he suffered a neck injury before training camp that landed him on the physically unable to perform list. He wound up playing in just three games. "He was mainly looking for an opportunity to get playing time and make a contribution," agent Frank Murtha said. "They have a need at both the 'elephant' and 'power' end positions. "He doesn't fit the bill as an edge rusher because he's a bigger man. He's extremely strong." Murtha said Nwokorie had interest from the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints but chose the Packers because of the opportunity to play and the team's long-standing interest in him. Two years ago, the Packers considered signing him as a restricted free agent and last year they attempted to deal for him just before the trading deadline. Nwokorie joins Aaron Kampman and Jamal Reynolds as backup ends.

‘Nasty kid" signs

The Packers added depth to their offensive line by signing center-guard Grey Ruegamer, an unrestricted free agent from New England.

Ruegamer, 6-4 and 310, could wind up being the swing man inside on the line.

A third-round pick by Miami in 1999, Ruegamer spent 15 of 16 games inactive his rookie season and was cut after training camp the next year. He eventually resurrected his career in New England, where he served as a backup the last two seasons.

"He's a tough, mean, nasty kid," said Rich Moran, a former Packers guard who served as Ruegamer's agent. "He's focused and he's getting better every year."

Said an NFC scout: "He's right on the bubble. If you need him to start you got a starter. If not, you've got a solid swing guy. He's a better athlete than (Bill) Ferrario. Smart. Versatile."

Draft needs/priorities

QB -- Brett Favre is getting up there and suggesting this might be his final season. Craig Nall, who is playing in NFL Europe, is all that's behind him.

LB -- Nate Wayne, the weak-side starter, is gone to Philadelphia. Hardy Nickerson, the starter in the middle, is finished. Hannibal Navies is on board but there is a great need for more bodies.

DL -- The Packers lost versatile backup Billy Lyon to Minnesota and DE Vonnie Holliday to Kansas City. They signed Colts DE Chukie Nwokorie to a two-year contract.

DETROIT

Feels good with ‘Mooch"

Quarterback Joey Harrington feels good about his future -- and the Lions' future -- as he continues the grind of off-season workouts. And one of the big reasons he feels good is the level of comfort he has with new coach Steve Mariucci, who is using virtually the same offense, the same terminology and the same offensive staff Harrington learned last year as a rookie under former Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg. "There are definite carryovers," Harrington said. "I think it all comes from Bill Walsh, the godfather (of the West Coast offense) if you will. There are definite similarities. "The offense is exactly the same. The terminology, very little change. But everything else is pretty similar." Therein lies the comfort level. "Very nice," he said, "because I spent probably half the year last year trying to get comfortable with what was going on in the meeting rooms and on the practice field, let alone trying to figure out what was going on on the field. It's a definite plus for me."

Filling a need

In less than a week, the Lions went from abject poverty to an embarrassment of riches at the middle linebacker position.

Almost from the minute Chris Claiborne became an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 28, it was determined he would not be back with the Lions. When he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in late March, it became official -- the Lions had no middle linebacker.

Within a six-day span in early April, however, the Lions solved that problem by signing two experienced middle linebackers -- four-year veteran Wali Rainer from Jacksonville and seven-year veteran Earl Holmes from Cleveland.

And Lions president Matt Millen says he has no intention of moving either of them to one of the outside linebacker positions.

Millen says the addition of Rainer and Holmes simply gives the Lions some of the needed flexibility they were lacking last year.

"Both have been starters in the league, both have played in big games so they have experience," Millen said. "They give us flexibility.

"With the two of them we have a flexibility in scheme. We can cover them up, we can also uncover them and keep them in the bubble to thump if we have to. So that gives us some flexibility, as well."

Draft needs/priorities

The Lions need a big-play offensive player. With RB Willis McGahee recovering from knee surgery and WR Charles Rogers looking very inviting, it appears the WR is the weapon of choice to be delivered to second-year QB Joey Harrington.

DB -- Even with the signing of CB Dre' Bly, the Lions need help in their defensive secondary. They will look for either a safety or a cornerback in the draft.

LB -- They need to get a starter on the strong side, even after the addition of Wali Rainer, who will likely man the middle.


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