Pursuing the Pack

The salary cap has reduced the NFL's free agency signing period to a spectator sport for Green Bay. In the few days since the March 3 opening bell, the Packers have only watched as their division rivals shop around, trying to catch the two-time NFC North Division champion Packers.<P>

So far the most active North neighbor has been the Chicago Bears.

After ending their failed one-year experiment with QB Kordell Stewart, Chicago signed former Chiefs QB Jonathan Quinn to serve as a backup to Rex Grossman.

Quinn (6-6. 240 pounds) signed a two-year deal with the Bears Wednesday. He spent the past two seasons as Trent Green's backup with the Chiefs. Now Quinn will be reunited with his former QB coach Terry Shea, who is now Chicago's new offensive coordinator.

Previously Quinn backed up Mark Brunell for four seasons in Jacksonville, and also served a stint in NFL Europe.

The Bears hope they found a gem in RB Thomas Jones. Originally signed by Arizona with the seventh overall pick of the 2000 draft, Jones spent three disappointing seasons with the Cardinals before they gave up and dealt him to Tampa Bay last season. Jones had his best NFL campaign with the Bucs in ‘03, rushing for 627 yards on 137 carries and playing in all 16 regular-season contests with three starts. He also had 24 catches.

The Buccaneers also utilized Jones (5-10, 220), as a kick returner. He turned in 271 yards on 17 returns for a 15.9-yard average. He did not serve as a returnman in Arizona.

Jones signed a four-year deal with the Bears, who are looking for depth behind starting RB Anthony Thomas.

The Bears also signed Chiefs' free-agent tackle John Tait to a six-year offer sheet. KC has through March 12 to match the offer.

The Chiefs designated Tait (6-6, 323) as their transitional player before the March 3 deadline so if the Bears sign Tait, they do not owe KC any compensation.

The pursuit of Tait could mean that the Bears are not sold on the recovery prospects of 2002 first-round draft pick Marc Colombo, who had two operations on his left knee before the 2003 season.

With plenty of room for improvement, the Detroit Lions have been shopping on both offense and defense.

The Lions addressed two of their biggest needs in the early days of this year's free agency period, signing CB Fernando Bryant from Jacksonville and G Damien Woody from Super Bowl champ New England.

Detroit will look to Woody to help remedy an offensive line that struggled in several categories, including their teams' dead last rushing ranking last season.

Woody was a Pro Bowl selection at center in 2002, then switched to guard in 2003 to fill an injury gap. He had a strong season for the Patriots before suffering a season-ending injury in the Patriots' divisional playoff win over the Tenessee Titans.

On defense the Lions look to improve their backfield by signing former Jaguar CB Fernando Bryant. Jacksonville's first round pick in 1999 out of Alabama (26th overall), Bryant (5-10, 180) was a five-year starter for Jacksonville. He has five career interceptions.

The Vikings haven't been active outside their roster, but like the Packers Minnesota re-inked an important component of their offense before losing him to free agency.

Minnesota signed tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser to a five-year deal. The 27-year-old Kleinsasser, one of the league's top blocking tight ends, was considered to be one of the possible free agent prizes this year had he been allowed to hit the market.

Kleinsasser (6-3, 270) was Minnesota's second-round draft pick out of North Dakota in 1999. An impact player since his second season, Kleinsasser reached career highs in catches (46), receiving yards (401) and touchdowns (4) for Minnesota's top-ranked offense last season.

Keeping the valuable Kleinsasser has been a bit of a struggle for the Vikings. They made him their franchise player last season after contract talks failed, then paid him about $3 million according to the tag rules.

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