NFC North News

While the Bears are the only organization that will have a coaching change, the rest of the team's in the division have work to do this offseason.

The Lions need another big-time cornerback and will be in the free agent market at that position and probably at offensive guard. They'd probably be interested in CB Champ Bailey (brother of their own rookie OLB Boss Bailey) but it's doubtful Washington will let him get away.

Unrestricted free agents -- LG Eric Beverly (A dependable player who is probably better suited to a backup role than starting); OG Ray Brown (After 18 years it's finally over); RB Shawn Bryson (Not a lead RB but has quality as a backup and catches the ball well, Lions want him back); CB Doug Evans (Signed when the Lions CBs were all hurt and gave them some good playing time, probably won't be re-signed, however); OLB Jeff Gooch (A good nickel LB and special-teamer, might get more money elsewhere); OLB Barrett Green (Has enough speed to make him valuable but sometimes over-thinks situations and assignments); DE James Hall (Was the steadiest of the Lions DEs in 2003 and will be retained as a starter); WR Shawn Jefferson (Almost 35 years old, coming off a torn meniscus, a great guy and good player but probably won't be re-signed); P John Jett (Very steady punter whose torn calf muscle ended his season prematurely); DT Kelvin Pritchett (Good player in the d-line rotation and good in the locker room); CB Otis Smith (Played surprisingly well after being signed late in camp but he'll be 39 years old before the 2004 season starts, probably won't be re-signed); RB Paul Smith (Signed late in the season and impressed with his toughness on special teams and ability as a backup RB, the Lions want him back); S Bracy Walker (Good special teams player and backup at SS, Lions would like to re-sign him).

Restricted free agents -- WR Scotty Anderson (Averaged 19.1 yards on 17 catches before an ankle injury ended his season but Lions still question his toughness); S Julius Curry (Spent most of the season on the practice squad, will probably be re-signed); P Nick Harris (Was not consistent as the replacement for injured John Jett but might go to camp in 2004); QB Mike McMahon (Completed only 29 percent of his passes in limited playing time in 2003 but he'll be tendered because the Lions like his athleticism); WR Reggie Swinton (Filled in adequately on returns when Eddie Drummond was hurt and has speed, which makes him a keeper); FB Stephen Trejo (Almost exclusively a special teams player, is expendable).

FEELING A DRAFT: After drafting QB Joey Harrington with the No. 3 pick in 2002 and WR Charles Rogers with the No. 2 pick in 2003, the Lions will get the No. 6 pick in the 2004 NFL draft.

They have many needs including RB, WR, OG, TE, DE, CB and S but they will probably use their first-round pick on a skilled position offensive player or a defensive back.

Too early to say exactly how the Lions are leaning but FS Sean Taylor of Miami would be mighty tempting to a team that got very few plays from its safeties this year.

MEDICAL WATCH: The Lions have four players scheduled for surgery early in the off-season. They are LT Jeff Backus (elbow), OT Matt Joyce (elbow), DE Kalimba Edwards (sports hernia) and C Dominic Raiola, who will have a surgical procedure similar to the one performed on QB Joey Harrington a year ago to control an irregular heart beat. There is some concern with Edwards, who had a similar surgery last year and never got back to full effectiveness as a pass rusher.

Players expected to become unrestricted free agents are TE Jim Kleinsasser, NT Fred Robbins, P Leo Araguz, C Cory Withrow, OL Lewis Kelly and OL Everett Lindsay. CB Eric Kelly and RB John Avery will be restricted free agents.

Kleinsasser probably will be the toughest to re-sign. He was the team's franchise player in 2003. The Vikings won't designate him as such again this season, even though he's had his best season, because they would have to give him a hefty raise to do so.

Rookie Kevin Williams has made Robbins expendable. Araguz will have no other offers. Withrow is expendable. Kelly and Lindsay are important backups that need to be retained. Especially Kelly, the heir apparent at right guard.

Kelly is a valuable special teamer and dime back. Avery showed promise as a kickoff returner and receiver out of the backfield.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Vikings will draft 19th in the first round. Depending on moves they make in free agency, the Vikings priorities for that first pick will be: Defensive end, outside linebacker, receiver, tight end or cornerback.

MEDICAL WATCH: LB Chris Claiborne, who missed three of the past four games, is expected to have surgery on his heel. Claiborne was having the best season of his career until heel, ankle and shoulder injuries slowed him.

LB Henri Crockett also might require shoulder surgery. Other players may have minor surgeries.

WR Randy Moss played the final four games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He never appeared on an injury report because he didn't miss practice. Moss might have to miss the Pro Bowl. He also missed the Pro Bowl following the 2000 and 2002 seasons because of injuries.

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