NFC North News and Notes: Mar. 12

Can Nate Burleson be the Robin to Calvin Johnson's Batman in Detroit? Will Aaron Kampman be missed in Green Bay? Is LaDainian Tomlinson positive he's ready to accept a backup role in Minnesota?

Detroit Lions

Perhaps we should have known the Lions would sign wide receiver Nate Burleson as a free agent.

WR Nate Burleson
Getty Images: Otto Greule Jr.

Late last season, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was asked if he was surprised how defenses paid so much attention to wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

"No, I've seen Randy get it," said Linehan, who once was Randy Moss' offensive coordinator in Minnesota. "I'm sure when they do their PowerPoint presentation getting ready for the game, they're adding not just one but maybe two people extra – three total people – to defend him."

Linehan said the Lions needed "some kind of eraser" to wipe out that game plan.

"Something has to give there because you can't keep trying to get a guy the football that's being triple-covered and not feel good about some of the other things we've got to do," Linehan said. "I think the players know that's going to be a big part of our goals in the offseason."

Burleson had spent the first two years of his NFL career with Linehan and Moss in Minnesota. His best NFL season remains 2004, when he caught 68 passes for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns for the Vikings. About a year ago, as the Lions' new coaching staff was preparing for free agency and the draft, Linehan kept bringing up the same guy.

"So many times he'd say, 'We really need a guy like Nate Burleson,' and, 'Nate Burleson had this,' and, 'Hey, this is the way I used Nate Burleson,'" Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "It got to the point with saying, 'Well, let's not get a guy like Nate Burleson. Let's go after Nate Burleson.' "

No wonder, then, that as soon as the free-agent market opened at 9 p.m. PT March 4, Burleson received a text message from Schwartz, a call from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and then another call from Linehan, who had flown to Seattle to see him.

"I remember being in Minnesota, and they were just rolling every coverage towards Randy Moss," said Burleson, who broke into the NFL under Linehan in 2003 and '04. "They were putting linebackers in front of him, a cornerback over the top and a safety running over at the snap of the ball – two or three guys just about every play.

"And Scott, he would preach to me, 'You've got to get open. I know you're young. I know you just got here. But you have to get open. Do what you did in college and make plays.'"

That's what Linehan will be preaching to Burleson again now.

"This is a unique offense from the standpoint of a weapon like Calvin Johnson and a quarterback like Matt Stafford, and we need to round that out," Schwartz said. "We need to round it out with another guy that can make a play, another guy that can move the chains for us and can make defenses pay when they want to trick coverage up and they want to try to take Calvin Johnson out of the game plan.

"This is the first step to making sure we don't see those kind of defenses again."

Green Bay Packers

Consider general manager Ted Thompson to be one up on the scoreboard early in free agency.

OT Chad Clifton
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

Although the Packers suffered a notable loss when Aaron Kampman bolted for the Jacksonville Jaguars, they held on to two more key players in left tackle Chad Clifton and free safety Nick Collins.

Clifton wasn't interested in leaving Green Bay, where he has been a starter since his rookie season in 2000, never mind that he visited with the Washington Redskins on the opening day of free agency March 5.

That purported courtship probably helped Clifton's financial cause with the Packers, who meted out a three-year contract that is worth about $19.5 million. The deal is loaded with all sorts of roster bonuses, including an upfront payout of more than $6.3 million.

"I can finish my career here in Green Bay, and that's what I really wanted to do," said Clifton, a Pro Bowl player who will be 34 in June.

Clifton's signing March 6 came a day before former teammate Kampman landed a lucrative four-year, $24 million deal from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The writing was on the wall last season for Kampman to go elsewhere after playing eight years with the Packers. He wasn't happy to be moved from defensive end, where he was a two-time Pro Bowl selection, to outside linebacker in Green Bay's new 3-4 scheme.

Kampman will return to end with the Jaguars.

"I'm excited to put my hand back on the ground, very excited," he said. "I have a fire burning to do that."

The Packers have plenty of depth at linebacker to compensate for the loss of Kampman. Brad Jones figures to be given the first shot to win the full-time job at left outside linebacker after he started eight games there as a rookie last season, including the final seven after Kampman suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Meanwhile, the Packers are in the process of taking care of one of the cornerstones of their defense.

They are in negotiations with Collins, a Pro Bowl player the last two seasons, on a long-term contract after he showed good faith in the team by signing its one-year, $3.3 million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent.

"He is a marvelous athlete," Thompson said. "He's got range. He's got hands. He's got anticipation. He's a good tackler. He's a good player. He's one of the core guys that we want to have."

Collins is expected to participate in the team's offseason program, which begins March 15, after he skipped some of the voluntary workouts last spring in protest of not having a contract extension.

Incumbent left guard Daryn Colledge could do something similar this offseason. Colledge, a restricted free agent, isn't happy that the team made him a qualifying offer at only the second-round level.

Minnesota Vikings

After losing Chester Taylor to the Chicago Bears, the Vikings turned their attention to a Hall of Fame running back.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Getty Images: Donald Miralle

LaDainian Tomlinson, who was cut by the San Diego Chargers last month, made his first free agent visit this week when he met with the Vikings.

Coach Brad Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman were among a contingent of team officials who dined with Tomlinson at a Minneapolis steakhouse on Wednesday and then continued meetings on Thursday.

Tomlinson is eighth all-time in NFL history with 12,490 rushing yards and was the league's MVP in 2006. But with plenty of tread on his tires, the soon-to-be 31-year old said he would have no problem with assuming Taylor's third-down role and playing behind Adrian Peterson.

"I don't have a problem with it," Tomlinson said. "I know I can catch the ball really well out of the backfield, can run routes, and that's something that I've always looked for as I got older in my career – being able to fall back on that, not having to carry the ball as much.

"I think that's what was lost in San Diego because I was the only guy that could really carry the ball 20 times. So my third-down role was reduced. So now I'm looking for that. It's something I can do, and I can fit in well."

Tomlinson is a different player than Taylor was in that he's not as good of a blocker but is probably an even better receiver. Last season marked the first time in his career he did not rush for 1,000 yards and finished with career lows in rushing yards (730), carries (223) and receptions (20).

In other words, less might be more for Tomlinson when it comes to playing time.

"You're going to utilize his strengths," Childress said. "He's a plus in how he looks at the run, and he's a plus in terms of being not just a decoy in the pass game. He's one of those guys who has been split all over the formation and been productive all over the formation. Until you really coach a guy, you can see him on tape and you see, yeah, he can do this and he can do this. Kind of like I told you about Adrian, the first time we put the ball in his hands. When you see him in our offense, and then you let your mind go a little bit in terms of how you want to get him touches."

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