NFC North News

The Bears aren't the only team in the division busy adding talent through free agency.

The following is a compilation from the Insiders network.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Vikings were making news around the NFL nation in the past week, from persisting inquires about Randy Moss to other teams that were looking to make a push for Antoine Winfield. In the end, the Vikings still have Moss and added Winfield.

How serious were trade talks — if any — regarding Randy Moss? Many reporters around the league questioned their teams' personnel people once Miami and Minnesota newspapers ran with the story the last couple weeks.

In Arizona, the reply was, "Not today. At this point, it's mostly just rumor." That came from Rod Graves, Cardinals VP of operations, on whether the Cardinals were attempting to trade for Moss, who once played for Cardinals coach Dennis Green.

New York wasn't left out of the questioning either. The latest he said/she said coming out of Jets camp involved their alleged pursuit of Moss, who has said he'd like to come to the Jets and is a player the Jets would be desperate to acquire, warts and all.

Yet the Vikings insist they are not shopping Moss and Jets officials say they haven't contacted the Vikings about Moss. And acquiring Moss became an even lower possibility following the Jets' trade Friday for WR Justin McCareins.

The Vikings finally rolled up their sleeves and got down to some serious free-agent recruiting when they lured Bills cornerback Antoine Winfield away from the New York Jets by placing him on a private jet and whisking him from New York to the Twin Cities late Thursday night. By Friday he had agreed to a six-year, $35 million contract that includes a 10.8 million signing bonus.

Winfield, the Vikings' top priority in free agency, had skipped a flight to Minneapolis earlier Thursday to stay in New York with his agent, Richard Katz, and negotiate a deal with the Jets.

The Jets and Winfield reportedly agreed in principle to a five-year, $30 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus. But Winfield backed away, citing personal reasons.

That's when Vikings coach Mike Tice pounced and arranged for Winfield to be flown to the Twin Cities at 11 p.m. He arrived at 1 a.m.

The Vikings had ranked cornerback as their top need and have more room under the salary cap than any other NFL team, about $30 million. Winfield's defensive coordinator for two of his five seasons in Buffalo was Ted Cottrell, the Vikings' new defensive coordinator.

The Vikings have been traditionally slow movers in free agency. The only player they had in the first two day of free agency was Texans nose tackle Steve Martin, a player they're looking at as a backup.

The Vikings pass defense ranked 26th last season, but led the NFC with 28 interceptions.

Minnesota also inked Marcus Robinson to a four-year deal worth $9.2 million. The Vikings have looking for someone to compliment Randy Moss since Cris Carter retired. The Vikings hoped D'Wayne Bates would be that receiver, but he's not flourished his two years in Minnesota.

Robinson hasn't been the same player since blowing out his knee in 2001, but with Moss receiving double teams on a regular basis he could be a nice addition.

DETROIT LIONS
The Lions' defensive secondary problems began five years ago when former first-round draft pick Bryant Westbrook suffered a torn Achilles midway in the 1999 season.

Since then, the secondary has been virtually nothing but headaches - first for Bobby Ross and Gary Moeller, then for Marty Mornhinweg and eventually Steve Mariucci.

Westbrook never made it all the way back, Robert Bailey got old, Terry Fair never recovered from a foot injury, Todd Lyght gave it his best shot but his best years were behind him when he got to Detroit in 2001 and Chris Cash did all that could be expected from a sixth-round draft pick.

After 4 1/2 years of misery, however, Mariucci and Lions president Matt Millen might have finally gotten a handle on the problem.

They started a year ago by signing unrestricted free agent Dre' Bly, who immediately blossomed into a Pro Bowl cornerback. And they drafted Terrence Holt, who - in the second half of his rookie season -- showed promising signs of being an NFL-caliber player.

And in the first week of free agency, Mariucci and Millen took what they hope will be the next step in upgrading the defensive secondary by signing free agent cornerback Fernando Bryant from Jacksonville.

Although he might not be the ball hawk that Bly turned out to be with six interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two touchdowns on returns, the Lions believe Bryant's aggressive man-to-man coverage style will fit well with Bly, giving the Lions their best set of cornerbacks in years.

If Holt continues to develop at free safety and if holdover Brian Walker can handle the strong safety job, the Lions will be far more capable in 2004 than they were in 2003.

Anything above and beyond that - say, Miami safety Sean Taylor in the draft - will make it just that much better.

The Detroit Lions signed veteran wide receiver Tai Streets to a one-year deal for $1.5 million with a $700,000 signing bonus on March 10.

The deal adds much needed depth and grit to a receiving corps that was spotty at best. Streets was earmarked for the Lions from the day free agency began. He was their #1 target at that position despite an early visit from Darrell Jackson of the Seahawks.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Josh Bidwell turned down a bigger signing bonus in hopes of obtaining better numbers while punting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bidwell is the first of the Green Bay Packers' flock of free agents to leave for another team this off-season.

Bidwell, one of the younger kickers available this season in free agency, on Friday accepted a three-year offer from the Buccaneers that reportedly includes a signing bonus of $150,000 as part of a $1.87 million contract. $150,000 signing bonus as part of a modest $1.87 million deal that averaged $623,333. His base salaries will be $535,000 in 2004, $540,000 in '05 and $545,000 in '06, plus a roster bonus of $100,000 in the final year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bidwell, who recently turned 28, overcame a bout with cancer during his rookie year in 1999 and has been steady for the last four seasons. He averaged 41.7 yards with a net of 35.1 last season, which placed him in the middle of the pack among punters in the National Football League.

But Bidwell struggled with pooch punting and directional punting in the playoffs this season. However, he often caught the snap from center well and got off punts quickly when the weather and surface of Lambeau Field got nasty.

The Packers signed free agent Travis Dorsch in early January, and will pursue other veteran free agents and rookie punters.

The Packers offered a slightly bigger signing bonus to Bidwell, but he opted for the warmer weather where he hopes to improve his numbers and obtain a bigger contract in three years. The Bucs were seeking a punter after Tom Tupa signed a four-year, $3.74 million contract with Washington last Saturday. Tupa's deal included a $675,000 signing bonus.

Tennessee Titans' backup QB Billy Volek came calling in Green Bay this week. The Packers are believed to be about $1 million under the $80.5 million salary cap, which might prohibit them from signing Volek as a possible future starter when Brett Favre retires. Volek has started in one game in four seasons as Steve McNair's backup in Tennessee, but could command a contract similar to the two-year, $4 million deal Carolina gave Jake Delhomme last off-season.

With a deep crop of quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL draft, the Packers may opt to groom a future successor to Favre, if Favre plays for a few more seasons.

"I'm hoping he'll play another four or five years," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I'm going to play golf and talk with him and make sure he does come back. So much of the season all we're talking about are fronts and coverages and blitzes.

"I want to step back and talk to him. We might talk about what we're doing and where we're going, talk about our plans and what changes we might make. What's good, what's bad. We'll just relax and play golf."

Volek has already visited with the Atlanta Falcons and has a scheduled visit this week with the Denver Broncos. The Buffalo Bills also have reportedly shown interest in Volek.


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