NFC North Update

In our weekly NFC North update, our division affiliates (all of whom have team magazines except us) tell us more about the Bears/Bank One saga, Kordell's unwillingness to teach Grossman, the Vikings' attempt to re-sign Chris Carter (and then retire him), more on Brett Favre's heir-apparent Akili Smith (are we kidding?) and much more from around the division.

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Banking on it

While the Bears weren’t allowed to sell naming rights to the new Soldier Field they found a different route to cashing in. The Bears have come to an agreement with Bank One to allow the company to be a presenting partner.

The 12-year deal is reportedly worth $30 million and is the first of its kind in NFL history.

Bank One, the country’s sixth largest bank, has had a relationship with the Bears dating back to 1934 when Bears founder George Halas opened an account at the bank. In the early years, the bank advanced the Bears money for player paychecks, with the Bears repaying the loan from that Sunday's gate receipts.

The bank will have their name featured prominently throughout the stadium, on game broadcasts, on certain non-game TV and radio programs, at training camp and at community outreach and other events. "Bears football presented by Bank One" will be a signature phrase for the team.

Although, it is unique to the NFL similar deals presenting partnerships are common in golf, tennis and college football bowl games.

The Bears are reportedly seeking similar smaller deals in an attempt to boost their profits in the new stadium.

Quarterback rift

According to a Bears insider Kordell Stewart and Rex Grossman do not have a teacher and student relationship. Obviously, Stewart has to learn the Bears offense as does Grossman, but the veteran is reluctant to help a rookie that could eventually supplant him as the starter.

However, backup QB Chris Chandler has filled that role for Grossman.

Long road ahead

Defensive lineman Bryan Robinson missed the two weeks of spring practice that ended June 19 while being treated as an in-patient at an alcohol treatment center, and he could miss the start of training camp.

Robinson, who started 48 straight games at left end from 1998-2001, was arrested twice within a four-month span last year for driving under the influence. After completing rehab, he will be sentenced tomorrow and the term is expected to last 30 days. If he serves the full sentence, Robinson would miss the start of training camp, scheduled to begin July 25.

Bears coach Dick Jauron has been a staunch backer of Robinson's while not condoning the pair of DUIs that got him into his current predicament.

"Our first thought is always the health and welfare of the player," Jauron said. "Bryan knows that he made an error. He made a terrible error in judgment, and he's got to pay a price; whatever price they determine that he has to pay. I'm certainly in agreement with whatever they've decided, and so is he."

Robinson has worked hard to regain the strength he lost last offseason when a mysterious fall at home resulted in a pair of fractured wrists. That kept him from lifting weights for most of the offseason and resulted in a weaker player during a 2002 season that was a major disappointment. Robinson lost his starting job at end last year to rookie Alex Brown, but he is expected to start at tackle this season or to be part of a three-man rotation inside with Ted Washington and Keith Traylor.


Carter to join Ring of Honor

One of the Vikings objectives for the month of July is to re-sign Cris Carter -- and then let him retire.

For the last couple of months, word has circulated that the Vikings might be interested in signing a veteran wide receiver to do the job Cris Carter was doing prior to last season.

It now looks like Carter will be the guy they sign. One of the Vikings’ objectives heading into training camp is to sign Carter to a ceremonial contract, let him retire as a member of the Vikings and schedule a jersey retirement for the home opener Sept. 14 vs. Chicago.

With the retirement of his No. 80, Carter would become a member of the Ring of Honor, which is a team hall of fame.

Such signings are not uncommon for stars who will go into the NFL Hall of Fame as a player for one team, even though his final playing action was with another. For example, RB Roger Craig ended his career with the Vikings. However, before leaving the game, he signed a contract with the 49ers and then retired as a member of their organization.

Such a move would be fitting, since Carter will become the first player of the "post-Purple People Eaters" era to go into the Hall of Fame as a Viking.

Lingering injury a concern

It appears defensive lineman Talance Sawyer's lingering knee problem could linger a little longer. He had surgery to repair some cartilage damage in the knee early last season and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.

Sawyer had hoped to be ready by training camp, but that may not be the case. As a result the Vikings – who like his pass-rushing ability – may wait to re-sign him. Depending on how long it takes for his knee to recover, Sawyer could be a late-camp addition if there is an injury.

Impressive so far

The defensive line is perhaps the most difficult position to judge in non-contact drills, but Kevin Williams has shown every bit of the quickness that caused his draft stock to rise quickly in April. Indeed, he has looked so good the Vikings are expecting to let him play some end as well to keep him on the field more often. At a minimum, the third-down pass rush will improve. A quick start by Williams would open things up for Chris Hovan, who saw more double teams than any other Vikings lineman last year.


Running backs signs

Free agent running back/fullback Adam Tate signed with the Green Bay Packers, the team announced. Tate was the second-leading rusher for the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe this season. Tate rushed for 207 yards on 53 attempts (3.9-yard avg.) and scored two touchdowns in the 10-week spring league. The Galaxy finished with a 6-4 record and beat the Rhein Fire in World Bowl XI last Saturday. Tate also caught 10 passes for 87 yards (8.7-yard avg.).

Tate, 25, signed as an undrafted rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in April of 2002. He was placed on waivers late in training camp last year and was out of football until the NFL Europe season began.

Tate is a longshot to make the Packers 53-man roster. Ahman Green, William Henderson and Najeh Davenport are locks to make the team. The other two spots will be up for grabs between veteran Lamar Smith, Nick Luchey, Tony Fisher, Reggie White, Jerry Westbrooks, Tommy Collins, and Tate.

Tate split time at running back and gained 1,479 yards rushing in 320 attempts over two seasons at the University of Utah. He had 19 rushing touchdowns, which ranks seventh on the school's all-time list, including 12 as a senior in 2001, third on the university's single-season list.

Return specialist added

The Green Bay Packers today added NFL Europe standout Brian McDonald to their pool of return specialists. Green Bay, which ranked near the bottom of the league in punt and kickoff returns last season, will be looking at a handful of candidates when training camp opens next month.

McDonald averaged 27.8 yards on 14 kickoff returns for the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe this spring, ranking second in the league behind the Rhein Fire’s Kendall Newson (28.7-yard avg. on 15 runbacks). He returned five punts for 43 yards (8.6-yard avg.).

As a receiver, McDonald caught 19 passes for 312 yards (16.4-yard avg.).

McDonald played for the Louisville Fire of the AFL2 in 2001 and set the league record for all-purpose yards with 3,289. He signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in January of 2002 and was allocated by the Eagles to play for Frankfurt. He finished the '02 season as the league's third-ranking punt returner (27 for 289 yards, a 10.7-yard avg.) and tied for 16th in pass receptions with 23 for 310 yards.

McDonald will be competing in training camp against free agents Antonio Chatman, Gari Scott and Erwin Swiney; draft picks DeAndrew Rubin, Carl Ford and Chris Johnson; and third-year pro Robert Ferguson for the right to return punts and kickoffs this season. The Packers had the worst punt return unit in the NFL in 2002, averaging just 4.2 yards per return. The Packers were 26th overall in kickoff returns with a 20.4 yard return average. In 2001, the Packers also finished near the bottom of the league. What are the odds?

Akili Smith did absolutely nothing during his four seasons in Cincinnati to make anyone think he could one day be the successor to Brett Favre in Green Bay. Then again, the Packers didn't have anything to lose. Thus, Smith signed a one-year contract with the Packers for a bargain-basement price that reportedly included a signing bonus of $15,000.

Now he will enter a crowded backup quarterback picture that includes old standby Doug Pederson, who is 35; second-year man Craig Nall, who is coming off an outstanding season in NFL Europe; and Eric Crouch, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska who quit last summer when the St. Louis Rams tried to make a wide receiver out of him.

"Talent-wise and stuff, when he came out of Oregon he showed a lot of talent in the workouts," Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley said. "You could see (in his workout for the Packers June 10) that he's still a very good athlete. There's a lot of things Akili brings to the table that you're excited about having. "Obviously, we're happy with Doug, and Craig had a heck of a season over in NFL Europe and Eric has done a nice job for us. He's progressed faster than we thought that he might."

Favre, who will turn 34 in October, has hinted that he might retire, perhaps as early as January 2004. The Packers didn't have a chance to draft one of the top four quarterbacks this year and went for Smith, who was the third player picked in 1999. Smith, 6-2 1/2 and 230, was drafted so high almost solely on the basis of his outstanding season for the Ducks in '98. He averaged 314 yards passing per game, throwing 32 touchdowns and merely eight interceptions. His offensive coordinator in '98 was Jeff Tedford, who also has developed Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller.

Smith, however, was a complete bust in Cincinnati. He played in 22 games in all, starting 17 and finishing with a 3-14 record. His career passer rating was 52.8. "Every time he got in a game he seemed overwhelmed," a personnel director for an AFC team said last week. Hatley said the Packers weren't concerned with Smith's numbers in Cincinnati. "I don't think you try to (explain his past struggles)," Hatley said. "I think you try to bring him and coach him up and see if he can fit into your system.

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