NFC North News and Notes: Mar. 19

Is Matthew Stafford already the face of the franchise in Detroit? Will Green Bay fans give Ted Thompson a break after all that cash he spent? Can Albert Young be Adrian Peterson's backup in Minnesota?

Detroit Lions

The Colts do it with Peyton Manning. The Saints do it with Drew Brees. And the Lions already are doing it with their franchise quarterback, even though he just turned 22 and has only 10 NFL games under his belt.

QB Matthew Stafford
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

The Lions' coaches and executives are asking for Matthew Stafford's input and keeping him in the loop on personnel matters. They even had him help recruit free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson.

"It's awesome to know that they trust me," Stafford said. "Obviously, I'm not making draft picks. I wouldn't want to. It's a tough job. But just seeing if I'm familiar with a guy and maybe his past and understand how he could work in our offense or how he might not, that kind of thing.

"I'm sure it will keep growing as my relationship with all the guys up there keeps growing. But it's exciting to be able to bounce ideas. I think they know that I know a lot of guys in the league and personnel pretty well. It's fun to be able to kind of help out a little bit."

Stafford said he and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan talked about Burleson last year and "thought that he could really fit." When the free agent market opened at 9 p.m. PT March 4, Burleson got more than a text message from coach Jim Schwartz and a personal visit from Linehan in Seattle. He also got a phone call from Stafford.

"He just talked to me briefly," Burleson said. "He was like, 'Hey, man, look, I hear we're interested in you. We'd love to have you here, and I'm excited about the season.'"

Burleson said that made an impact, though Stafford played it down.

"He seemed excited," Stafford said. "I guess he was excited enough. I don't think it was my call that made it all work, but I'll take credit if you want to give it to me."

When the Lions landed Burleson and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, general manager Martin Mayhew informed Stafford via text message. There is little doubt that this team is Stafford's now.

"I feel a whole lot better walking around this building than I did probably a year ago when I first got drafted and came in," Stafford said. "It's a completely different feeling. I'm excited to kind of take this thing over and get us going in the right direction."

Stafford didn't join the Lions last year until after they made him the first pick in the draft in late April. He went through only the end of the offseason program. He competed with Daunte Culpepper for the starting job at first.

"Last year was kind of a different deal, going through training camp, splitting reps, doing all that kind of stuff," Stafford said. "But it needed to be done."

After winning the job for the season opener, Stafford played 10 games – throwing 20 interceptions, suffering knee and shoulder injuries, learning a lot. Now he returns for the offseason program as the clear-cut No. 1.

Linehan said late last year that this offseason would be "huge" for Stafford.

"It's the most critical, I think," Linehan said. "You've got to develop that timing and rapport with your guys, where you're doing a lot of the work and you're promoting a lot of the extra work, because that's what the great quarterbacks do. They keep the guys working towards getting better at the things we weren't good enough at."

Green Bay Packers

Cynics can't call general manager Ted Thompson a cheapskate this offseason.

S Nick Collins
Getty Images: Joe Murphy

Thompson, who hasn't endeared himself to some fans and even a few of his players in the past for not spending money to lure big-name free agents, went on a shopping spree in the first couple weeks of free agency. The catch is, the big bucks stayed in house.

"The Packers always try to be proactive in our discussions with our current players," Thompson said.

The re-signing of left tackle Chad Clifton during the opening weekend of free agency triggered a significant haul for Green Bay in Thompson's sixth year of calling the shots.

The Packers also sandwiched long-term deals for nose tackle Ryan Pickett and right tackle Mark Tauscher, both of whom, like Clifton, were unrestricted free agents, around a multi-year contract for free safety Nick Collins, a restricted free agent.

Those four players, all long-time starters, surely weren't short-changed.

The contracts add up to a potential value of more than $80 million. What's more, the aggregate first-year pay exceeds $35 million, as the Packers worked the uncapped year to their advantage by loading the deals with sizable roster and workout bonuses that won't have to be counted in future years if a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.

"We had the opportunity to try to sign everybody back," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're focused on bringing our own free agents back, getting better as a football team, starting internally, and then we'll add another draft class to this group.

"We like where we are today, but the importance of the offseason program and keeping your own players has been our focus, and that time is upon us now."

The Packers protected themselves in the short term on the offensive line by bringing back dependable veterans Clifton and Tauscher, who have started since their rookie season with the team in 2000. Tauscher, whom the team re-signed at midseason last year after he recovered from major knee surgery, received a two-year deal worth upward of $8.7 million.

Pickett and Collins, cornerstones on a highly-rated defense, previously had one-year deals as the team's franchise player and indispensable restricted free agent, respectively. Their contracts were extended three years, locking them up through 2013.

"We're excited about our future," said Pickett, whose deal is worth nearly $25 million, with $10 million in first-year pay.

Pickett was going to make $7.003 million this year as the franchise player.

"We're excited we get another shot of just being together as a unit and going out to win the Super Bowl," Pickett said. "That's our ultimate goal. All of this stuff is behind us, and now our No. 1 goal is to hold the trophy."

Collins, a two-time Pro Bowl player, originally signed the team's qualifying offer of $3.3 million. His new deal is worth $26.75 million, with $14 million in first-year pay.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings' failure to land LaDainian Tomlinson means the defending NFC North champions could end up looking internally to fill the spot vacated by running back Chester Taylor.

RB Albert Young
Getty Images: Scott Boehm

Albert Young, who spent 2008 on the practice squad and was the No. 3 running back on the depth chart last season, had little opportunity with Adrian Peterson and Taylor in front of him, but with Taylor now in Chicago, Young has a chance to play an important role in 2010.

Even as the Vikings courted Tomlinson – he decided to sign a two-year deal with the Jets – coach Brad Childress went on a Twin Cities radio station and said he has plenty of confidence in Young.

In fact, Childress said that he and quarterback Brett Favre talked about Young when the two spent time together at Favre's home in Mississippi recently.

Young had 12 carries for 53 yards in 2009 and played on special teams.

"Probably not enough has been said about Albert Young," Childress said on KFAN Radio. "Albert Young is a guy that has developed here tremendously in the last two years.

"As a matter of fact, Brett Favre and I had a long conversation about him when we were down south, and he believes he's got a chance to be a good back in this league."

Young knows that no matter what is said about him, he's still going to have to produce if and when he's given the opportunity.

"I feel I have a pretty good relationship with Brett because our lockers are so close," Young said. "It's good to have a quarterback that has confidence in you and a coaching staff that believes in you. But I have to do my part. It's good to have that backing and I appreciate it. I would rather have them talking good than bad. But I don't want to get too caught up in the rhetoric."

Whoever fills Taylor's role will have a difficult job because he was far more than just a backup. Taylor often replaced Peterson in third-down situations and was adept in pass protection and as a receiver.

"I've been doing this for two years in the system, so I better be ready," Young said. "The thing about the NFL is it's just a matter of getting an opportunity to get out there. That's the main thing. There's a lot of good players out there. It's just a matter of getting an opportunity to get on the field."

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