NFC North News

While the Bears try to get healthy, the rest of the division is hoping their players will show up for practice.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers at least considered giving running back Najeh Davenport the middle tender as a restricted free agent in early March before settling for the $656,000 tender and right of first refusal.

A key factor why the club didn't go up to the $1.43 million tender was the shoulder surgery that Davenport underwent March 11.

Thus, the Packers will have Davenport at a bargain-basement price for another season as the primary backup to Ahman Green. Next year, however, all bets are off.

Davenport will be an unrestricted free agent in March and could attract significant interest if he can stay healthy and perform as well in 2005 as he has in the past.

Toward that end, Davenport has changed agents, hiring Drew Rosenhaus and dumping Michael Harrison.

"I've mentioned to the Packers that we would like to get an extension done for him," Rosenhaus said. "I'm looking forward to working with the Packers on Najeh, and hopefully we can get a long-term deal.

"He's definitely a player that's capable of being a quality starting running back in this league. I'm hopeful of working something out with the team before we get into the season. We'll see what happens."

The Packers signed Rosenhaus clients Earl Little and Arturo Freeman, a pair of safeties, during the offseason.

Davenport has played in just 34 of a possible 48 games in his first three seasons. He has 187 carries for 963 yards and an impressive 5.1-yard average. Also, he has a kickoff-return average of 25.6.

NOTES
Brett Favre has been excused from the Green Bay Packers' final off-season minicamp, which started Wednesday.

Packers coach Mike Sherman also excused the star quarterback from the team's post-draft mini-camp.

The last 17 months have been tough for Favre and his family. His father, Irvin, died just before a December 2003 game against Oakland. Then in the middle of last season, Favre's brother-in-law Casey Tynes died in an all-terrain vehicle accident on Favre's Mississippi property and Favre's wife, Deanna, started treatment for breast cancer. Last December, Favre's good friend and former teammate Reggie White passed away. For those reasons, Sherman says giving Favre a break is in the veteran QB's best interests.

Defensive tackle Grady Jackson was by Sherman as he recovers from knee surgery. Tight end Bubba Franks is not under contract and did not report for practices, as expected.

Cletidus Hunt and Javon Walker were also not in attendance because of contract disputes.

Hunt has been walking on thin ice with the Green Bay Packers, and it is quickly cracking all around him. Like a year ago at this time, the underachieving defensive tackle did not report to the first practice of the June mini-camp, raising the possibility that he might be released by the team this week.

Hunt's absence took many players, coaches and personnel by surprise and did not sit well with Sherman.

"It is fairly discouraging," Sherman said. "You expect more out of people, so to say it's discouraging is probably an understatement."

For the second straight off-season, Hunt has decided to not participate in the team's off-season workout program, or volunteer opportunity practice sessions. By not participating, he forfeited a $250,000 workout bonus as part of the six-year, $25 million contract he signed before the 2003 season.

Hunt is scheduled to count $3.2 million against the team's salary cap this season.

Walker, who skipped the team's mandatory post-draft minicamp, wants a new contract. He has two years remaining on a deal that he signed as a rookie in 2002, but feels he is underpaid.

Sherman said he has tried to contact Franks, who was named as the team's "transition" player in February. As a transition player, Franks can sign a one-year contract worth $2.095 million, or negotiate a long-term deal. His salary cap number probably would be lower in 2005 if he was signed to a long-term contract because the team would be able to prorate his signing bonus over the term of the deal.

Minnesota Vikings
From injuries to excused absences to unexcused absences, the Vikings had more than a handful of players that didn't attend the start of their developmental camp.

The Vikings began the second of four weeks of developmental camp Wednesday with more than just the three players they were expecting to miss.

Safety Corey Chavous and cornerback Brian Williams continued to be no-shows for the voluntary camp, each for slightly different reasons. Chavous was reportedly upset with the Vikings for pursuing safety Donovin Darius during the offseason and might also be unhappy with his contract situation. However, it's unlikely the team would renegotiate his deal.

Williams also was reportedly unhappy with the Vikings signing cornerback Fred Smoot in March. The Vikings are hoping both will be back for training camp.

At running back, veteran Moe Williams was absent, giving rookie Ciatrick Fason more opportunities in the backfield. Fason was practicing behind Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore, but Williams is still expected to assume the third-down role when he returns to action.

Wide receiver Kelly Campbell was also missing, giving more practice plays to rookie Troy Williamson.

"They (Campbell and Williams) were excused," offensive coordinator Steve Loney said. "They both had personal business and Mike (Tice) excused the two of them so we knew that they weren't going to be here."

The absence of Chavous would have created an opportunity for third-round draft pick Dustin Fox in practices to become more familiar with the Vikings' system, but under NFL rules Fox is not allowed to participate in voluntary workouts while Ohio State is still in session. He is expected back for the last week of developmental camps in mid-June.

Pro Bowl center Matt Birk was still in California recovering from his fourth surgery (labrum/hip) in nine months. He's expected to miss three months.

In his absence, backup center Cory Withrow will be starting through the summer camps and training camp, and probably well into the preseason. Withrow brings five years of NFL experience, along with two years additional years as training camp and practice squad material.

"This is my eighth training camp with these guys, with a lot of them. We've had a lot of fun. We've had a lot of ups and downs and it's great to know that your teammates count on you and that you can be counted on," Withrow said. "There's a lot of pressure, but no one puts more pressure on me than me. This is awesome. We have awesome team chemistry and an awesome atmosphere, and I'm looking forward to the season to get going."

NOTES
Vikings season ticket holders, who have been shielded from Minnesota's harsh winters on game days in the Metrodome the past 24 seasons, will have to bundle up one day if new owner Zygi Wilf gets his wish for an open-air stadium.

"I'm a strong believer of an open venue," Wilf said May 25 after his group was unanimously approved by NFL owners at meetings in Washington, D.C. "I think that it is a good advantage to have some of the other teams come up to our nice warm Minnesota winters so they can enjoy playing football up where it hurts, a la Green Bay."

The 55-year-old shopping mall developer from New Jersey projects himself as a football purist. He grew up as a New York Giants fan, still has season tickets and treasures his Lawrence Taylor jersey and a football autographed by the 1961 Giants.

Wilf's desire for an open-air stadium, however, already is meeting resistance from local officials who, for more than a year, have been promoting a $645 million domed stadium as part of a $1.6 billion retail commercial-housing development in Anoka County, which is just north of the Twin Cities.

Proponents of a domed stadium argue the merits of having a 12-month facility that can host indoor events such as concerts, Final Fours and possibly a Super Bowl. Wilf is only concerned about Vikings home games, and figures an open-air stadium will cost $150 million to $200 million less than a domed stadium.

Red McCombs sold the Vikings for $600 million, walking away with a windfall of about $480 million, including expansion fees, annual profits and $254 million in franchise appreciation. McCombs, however, wouldn't have sold if he had been successful in getting a new stadium.

Wilf believes he can succeed where McCombs failed. Wilf already has met with officials in Anoka County and the city of Blaine, and landowners in that area.

His experience as a developer will help him secure enough land to build a profitable complex. He also is willing to invest more of his own money in a new stadium than McCombs was, saying public funding is only "part of the formula."

The Vikings' lease with the Metrodome expires in 2011. For years, McCombs has threatened to move the Vikings if he didn't get a new stadium. vWilf said he would never move the Vikings.

"No way," he said. "To me, this is not a matter of economics, this is a matter of passion. We will be in the Minneapolis area forever."

DETROIT LIONS
All preliminary indications are good for the return of linebacker Boss Bailey to fulltime duty after missing the Lions' entire 2004 season with surgery to his right knee.

For starters, Bailey's surgery was performed in early August, which means he will have had nearly a full year of recovery time when he goes to training camp in late July. And, secondly, the knee seems to be holding up well in the rehab work prescribed by the Lions trainers and medical staff.

Although coach Steve Mariucci limited Bailey to one-a-day workouts in the Lions mini-camp a month ago, both he and the third-year linebacker from Georgia were enthusiastic about Bailey's condition.

"Everything felt good," Bailey said. "I was so ready to go . . . and everything turned out the way I hoped it would.

"Once I felt going, everything felt comfortable. I felt my reads were pretty good. Can always get better at that but it wasn't as bad as I thought it could be." Bailey said the knee felt "100 percent."

The return of Bailey to fulltime duty as the strong side linebacker is crucial to the maximizing of the Lions young linebacking crew. He started all 16 games as a rookie, showing the speed and athletic ability the Lions were hoping for when they took him in the second round of the 2003 draft.

When he encountered a knee problem midway in training camp of 2004, however, it revived concerns that the knee injury Bailey suffered at Georgia in 2000 might be a recurring problem.

Mariucci says he is optimistic that Bailey is on his way to a full recovery and will be ready for the start of the regular season in September. He will get another chance to evaluate Bailey's comeback during two weeks of workouts that get underway this week.

NOTES
Lions president Matt Millen is biding his time, keeping a watchful eye on former New England cornerback Ty Law, who was in for a visit a few weeks ago.

The Lions have indicated a strong interest in Law and say they will compete financially for the four-time Pro Bowl players when he is sufficiently recovered from the broken left foot he suffered last season.


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