Black & Blue Review

While the Bears, Lions and Vikings have been active in free agency, the only thing the Packers have been able to do is watch starters sign elsewhere.

Minnesota Vikings
Much has been said of the Minnesota Vikings' lack of commitment in spending the funds necessary to improve the team. As stories of financial issues regarding team and owner Red McCombs are written, there is absolutely no question the organization has stepped up to the plate.

The Vikings have secured the services of cornerback Fred Smoot. Arguably, Minnesota can stake the claim they have one of the best starting pair of cornerbacks in the league (Antoine Winfield and Smoot), and now the team has addressed an issue at safety.

The acquisition of former Green Bay Packers standout Darren Sharper makes the entire defensive backfield of the Vikings a solid and athletic unit. Sharper, released last week in a salary-cap related move, wasted no time in jumping ship to a division rival.

Adding to the promise heading into the 2005 season, the team recently re-signed tight end Jermaine Wiggins to go along with the earlier signing of nose/defensive tackle Pat Williams.

All the activity comes on the heels of the Vikings' blockbuster trade with the Oakland Raiders featuring wide receiver Randy Moss. In dealing Moss, the Vikings may have lost a legitimate star player but received a viable player in Napoleon Harris to add to a less-than-stellar linebacker crew. With the seventh selection in the draft, which the team secured in the deal, the Vikings have the opportunity to improve most any position on the team.

Green Bay Packers
The only good news to come out of Green Bay of late has been Brett Favre's decision to return for his 15th year in the league.

With the season opener about six months away, coach Mike Sherman is trying to put a positive spin on inability of the Green Bay Packers to retain its free agents.

The Packers last week released safety Darren Sharper in a salary cap move, and Sharper signed a multi-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings Saturday. The Packers also have lost guards Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera and safety Bhawoh Jue in free agency, and had to release reserve offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer to clear room under the cap.

By releasing Sharper, the Packers saved about $3.4 million against this year's cap. Green Bay is currently about $6 million under the cap, but will need about half of that money to sign its draft picks.

Green Bay has seven selections in this year's draft. Most of the emphasis will be on defense – defensive line, linebackers and safeties. But the Packers will need to fill the vacancies left by Wahle and Rivera, and draft a quarterback to eventually compete for a starting spot when Favre retires.

Sharper, Wahle and Rivera were with the Packers before Sherman arrived in 2000, and Jue was selected by Green Bay in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

"We've been fortunate enough to be able to hang on to people for a while," Sherman said. "It's very unique to hang on to an offensive line as long as we had - that's an oddity. All of a sudden there's change, (but) these changes happen to every team every year. It just didn't happen to us recently because we've been able to keep them on board, but the numbers get so prohibitive and we had to make a move. This will be a good thing for us and we'll get it worked out and it's a good thing for those players.

"But obviously, we don't have to play a game tomorrow, or the next day, or even the next day. We'll line up in September and we'll have a good team ready to go and make a run at this thing come September."

The Packers named tight end Bubba Franks a transition player in February, meaning they have the right to match any offer to Franks made by another team. Franks has yet to entertain any offers, but Sherman is confident the Packers will re-sign him.

"Bubba Franks is one of my favorite all-time players," Sherman said. "I just can't imagine going out there without Bubba Franks. We're going to work hard and see if we can get a deal going with him. I know Bubba wants to be here and we want him here."

Detroit Lions
The signing of Jeff Garcia reunites him with head coach Steve Mariucci, who coached his former pupil to three Pro Bowl's while in San Francisco.

After a one-year stint with Cleveland ended in his February release, Garcia considered Tampa Bay, Denver, and most recently Seattle before making his decision. The clincher was Garcia's relationship with Mariucci.

In six seasons as a starting quarterback, the first five with the 49ers, Garcia has completed 60 percent of his passes for 18,139 yards, 123 touchdown passes, 65 interceptions and a career passer rating of 87.2.

Garcia, 35, is expected to push current starter Joey Harrington for the same position. With a stellar supporting cast in place, the Lions want to motivate Harrington to finally succeed in the Motor City, and live up to his draft-day billing. Garcia will give him a run for his money -- literally.

With a wealth of west coast offense experience, primarily under the tutelage of Mariucci and new Lions' offensive coordinator Ted Tollner, Garcia will have every opportunity to supplant Harrington. Although Harrington remains penciled in at the position, the Lions patience is withering. The job could very well be determined in training camp.

The one-year deal is worth $2 million.

The move immediately shores up the backup quarterback vacancy after the departure of Mike McMahon (Philadelphia) during the week.

The Lions added two starters through free agency in the same day.

On March 7th, safety Kenoy Kennedy inked a five-year, $14 million deal with $4.3 signing bonus.

Earlier in the day, the team signed free-agent tight end Marcus Pollard to a three-year, $6 million contract with a $2.3 signing bonus.

Kennedy, formerly of Denver, was the top free agent safety in the market and immediately upgrades the Lions secondary. Kennedy is expected to team with third year player Terrence Holt or incumbent Brock Marion.

Detroit hopes that Kennedy's physical play won't keep him off the field for the Lions in 2005. Kennedy has a history of being fined and has even been suspended for a game for hits on receivers including one on Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts.

Pollard, 33, gives the Lions a pass catching specialist at the tight end position, a weapon they have lacked in the West Coast offense.

The Colts cut the ten-year veteran from Bradley, because they have younger players on the roster that could give them similar production at a lower price. Last season's 29 catch total was his lowest in six seasons. Pollard became expendable in the light of the emergence of former Iowa star Dallas Clark and Ohio State rookie Ben Hartsock.


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