NFC North issues

The Chicago Bears caught the attention of the football world last week with an unprecedented sponsorship agreement. Meanwhile, other NFC North Division teams continued to tweak their training camp rosters.<p>


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.


No concerns

The Lions have hopes that their second-round draft pick -- outside linebacker Boss Bailey of Georgia -- will be one of the steals of the draft.

While most teams were in open admiration of Bailey's speed and all-around athletic ability, he was passed over through the entire first round of the draft apparently because of concern over two previous knee injuries and his somewhat unimpressive tackling skills. Bailey has no reservations about his knee injuries.

"I had two ACLs," he said. "One was in '97 and one was in 2000. I played two full seasons, no games missed and I've been fine."

The Lions will work with Bailey over the pre-training camp part of the summer to increase his strength in hopes he will become their full-time starting strongside linebacker and a three-down player.

"I feel like I'm a guy you definitely want in there on passing downs because I hve the ability to go cover guys, just be out there in coverage and use my speed," he said. "Kind of cover the field. "First and second down, I think my intensity carries me a long way with making big hits on the running back."

Rogers impressing Mariucci

Lions' rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers hasn't disappointed head coach Steve Mariucci thus far.

There was not much of a question about the talent of rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers. While rumors circulated through the league prior to the NFL draft that Rogers could possibly be tainted goods, the Lions have been pleased with the rookie following the team's latest mini-camp.

"Charlie (Rogers) has been hampered a bit with a hamstring, but he has been putting in the time with the offense and is learning our offensive scheme daily," Steve Mariucci said. "The hamstring has slowed his on the field progress, we expect he will be ready to be a full-go when training camp starts next month. We haven't had any issues with Charlie, he has been everything we expected and we have high expectations for him."

Latest releases

Division III standout receiver Todd Fry, who was signed following the NFL Draft as an UDFA, was released by the Detroit Lions June 26. Fry left Washington & Jefferson as the school's career reception leader (186 grabs). The receiver position remains incredibly deep in Detroit, and Fry likely won't be the last WR to depart.

The Lions also placed undrafted rookie free-agent Rob Vian on waivers prior to releasing Fry. The 6-4, 316 lb Boise State product plays both the tackle and guard position.


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.

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