NFC North News

As the Bears started their work on the field the rest of the division is still busy working the phones and meeting with players.

The Detroit Lions Thursday signed veteran safety Brock Marion to a four-year deal with terms undisclosed.

Marion, 33, 5-11, 208-lbs is an 11-year veteran and is expected to join an aging safety corps including holdovers Brian Walker (31), Bracey Walker (33) and Terrence Holt, a second year player from North Carolina State.

Detroit was able to get Marion, a quality player who probably has at least one more year of solid play left in him, at a bargain basement rate according to sources close to the negotiations.

Detroit is also interested in linebacker Ian Gold and Former Buffalo Bills standout Ruben Brown, both of which the Bears are pursuing.

Sign one QB and lose another
Twelve year veteran quarterback Ty Detmer signed a one-year $775,000 contract with the Atlanta Falcons leaving the Lions without an experienced veteran quarterback.

Detmer, who primarily served as a tutor for quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Mike McMahon will have a similar role with the Falcons.

"That's one of the things that we talked about," Detmer said. "I've been doing that pretty much the last few years with different quarterbacks."

Except this time, the tutor is star quarterback Michael Vick who has never worked in the West Coast offense that new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp will install this season.

Meanwhile McMahon is expected to sign a one-year contract with the Lions for $1.3 million, the top tenure for a restricted free agent.

If another team signs McMahon to an offer sheet, Detroit can match the offer and keep McMahon or they can elect to receive first and third round draft picks instead.

The Vikings are starting to look more familiar to new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. He's been on the job a few months, which has helped. But it also helps that he's pulled in three free agents he was comfortable with in past years with the Jets and Bills.

The most significant, of course, is cornerback Antoine Winfield. The Vikings whisked him away from the Jets two weeks ago. The Jets had a verbal agreement and were moments from signing Winfield when Winfield felt, among other things, a tug of loyalty to Cottrell, who was his defensive coordinator for two seasons in Buffalo.

"It's obvious guys love to play for Ted," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "He just brings out something in them."

Cottrell then played a role in Steve Martin, a big nose tackle from Houston, leaving behind an offer from the Texans and more money from the Giants to join the Vikings. Martin gives the Vikings a large backup presence they need now that Fred Robbins left for the Giants.

Martin is a St. Paul native. He wanted to return home. But he also expressed a desire to play for Cottrell.

Martin played under Cottrell with the Jets in 2001. It was one of his best seasons with 78 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in 15 games.

Next up was safety Tyrone Carter, a former Viking and University of Minnesota All-America player. Carter was drafted in the fourth round by the Vikings in 2000 and played his first three seasons in Minnesota.

He left for the Jets and more money last season, but was released in a cost-cutting move by the Jets on March 1.

The first person to call him after he was released was Cottrell. Carter was a backup for Cottrell in New York during the first six games of the 2003 season. But then, after injuries hit the team, Carter became a dependable starter for the final 10 games.

"He had the ability to make the calls, get everybody lined up correctly," Cottrell said. "He's also a solid tackler and has a nose for the ball."

Carter didn't hesitate rejoining the Vikings, where he will be used as a backup safety and special teams player. He said one of the main reasons was Cottrell.

The Green Bay Packers are exploring the possibilities of trading for Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch. The Browns gave the Packers permission to speak with Couch and coach Mike Sherman reportedly met with him last Thursday.

Cleveland signed former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia to a four-year, $25 million contract this off-season, making Couch expendable. The Browns want to unload Couch and his salary. He is scheduled to earn $7.3 million this season, but would count $3.6 million against the Browns' salary cap if he is released or traded before June 1.

While on a scouting trip yesterday to watch quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Packers coach Mike Sherman stopped in to see Couch, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Obtaining Couch in a trade before the June 1 deadline would give the Packers an edge over other teams who would pursue the quarterback after he is released. Green Bay also could renegotiate the final two seasons of his contract, which call for him to earn base salaries of $7.6 million and $8 million.

The Packers might be able to obtain Couch for a mid-round selection in the upcoming draft, given Cleveland's desire to unload his salary.

Couch has been inconsistent with the Browns. He has thrown more interceptions (67) than touchdowns (64). Last year he went 3-5 as a starter while rotating with Kelly Holcomb.

The Packers are seeking a quarterback to compete against Craig Nall and to eventually step in for Brett Favre. Veteran Doug Pederson has been Favre's backup the last two seasons. He is an unrestricted free agent.

Packers re-sign Hawthorne
Experienced depth on defensive was the priority as the Packers re-signed unrestricted free agent defensive back Michael Hawthorne recently.

Hawthorne, 27, joined the Pack as a free agent two weeks into the 2003 season. He quickly became the team's go-to guy as a backup at corner and safety and saw a lot of playing time in nickel and dime packages.

The Purdue product produced career highs in interceptions with two against Oakland, and passes defensed with six. After joining the team Sept. 15 Hawthorne played in every regular-season game and both post-season contests. He started the final two regular-season games after cornerback Mike McKenzie went down with a toe injury.

Hawthorne (6-3, 200 pounds), was a sixth-round draft pick of New Orleans in 2000. He spent three seasons with the Saints and now is entering his fifth NFL campaign.

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