NFC North: Free agent breakdown

A look at who will be free agents and the salary-cap situation of the Packers and their rivals.

The Green Bay Packers enter this offseason with one significant advantage over their NFC North counterparts.

With free agency beginning on Feb. 27, the Packers have just three unrestricted free agents to get under contract. That's in start contrast to Chicago (nine unrestricted free agents), Detroit (18) and Minnesota (12). The Vikings have several stalwarts, including center Matt Birk, safety Darren Sharper and tight end Jim Kleinsasser.

The Packers' free agents are right tackle Mark Tauscher, backup nose tackle Colin Cole and backup defensive end Michael Montgomery. All three are quality players but none of them are budget busters.

Tauscher, coming off of reconstructive knee surgery, was in line for a big payday but probably will re-sign with the Packers at a reduced price. He would have been a hot commodity, but because he's iffy for training camp, his transition with a new team could be delayed.

The Packers probably would like to keep the hard-working Cole, who would provide quality depth at nose tackle, but he elected to see what he's worth on the market.

Meanwhile, the agent for Montgomery, Brian Overstreet, told Packer Report that they are sitting back and being "patient" as the new coaching staff determines where or if Montgomery fits in the new 3-4 defense. At 273 pounds, Montgomery doesn't seem big enough to play end and isn't athletic enough to play linebacker, but he flashed some potential last season.

"Mike thinks he can play footballl. He'd love to be in Green Bay," Overstreet said. "He's spent four years there and was drafted there, so that being said, it's just a waiting game to see if he fits in with the new scheme."

The Packers reportedly will be about $25 million under the projected salary cap of $123 million. The Vikings reportedly are $28 million under the cap, the Bears $21 million and the Lions $38 million.

The following is a team-by-team glance at the NFC North's free agents.


Once again, general manager Ted Thompson has a lot of money at his disposal. Whether Thompson breaks from his track record of being a frugal spender when it comes to available players from other teams remains to be seen. The team's radical switch in defensive philosophy from a 4-3 base scheme to a 3-4 might convince Thompson to try to woo a big-name free agent — Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and the Baltimore Ravens duo of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker Bart Scott are intriguing.

Unrestricted free agents

— DT Colin Cole has been a serviceable role player, but that was in the previous 4-3 system. The implementation of the 3-4 front could make him expendable since, but at 6-foot-1 and 330 pounds, he seems to be a fit at the nose.

— DE Michael Montgomery, another backup, also might not be brought back because he is undersized (6-5, 273) to be an effective end in the new scheme.

— OT Mark Tauscher has been a mainstay in the Green Bay lineup at right tackle since his rookie season in 2000, but his starting days could be over. Tauscher will need the entire offseason and perhaps training camp to recover from a late-season torn ACL and subsequent surgery, leaving him to possibly accept a one-year deal to return as a backup.

Restricted free agents

— S Atari Bigby will be spending most of the offseason rehabbing a surgically repaired ankle that caused him fits all of last season. When healthy, Bigby has been a tenacious and productive starter at strong safety.

— WR Shaun Bodiford missed the entire 2008 season because of a back injury and is a long shot to be back with the team loaded at receiver.

— CB Jarrett Bush has been a top special-teams player his first three years with the team, but he's struggled when called upon as a situational defensive back.

— TE Tory Humphrey stayed healthy for a full season for the first time in four years with the club and showed some flashes as a pass catcher. The late-season emergence of rookie Jermichael Finley and returning starter Donald Lee don't bode well for Humphrey's moving up the depth chart, however.

— DE Jason Hunter has done good things on special teams and for him to stick with the team, he'll probably have to make a successful switch to outside linebacker since he's undersized (6-4, 271) to stay at end.

— FB John Kuhn was an unsung player on offense in 2008 as a dependable run blocker and for grinding out some yards in short-yardage situations.

— WR Ruvell Martin is no better than the fifth wideout on the roster, but he has an upside as a big target (6-4, 220) to move the chains.

Exclusive-rights restricted free agents

— CB Tramon Williams gained seasoning in 2008 with nine starts and produced with five interceptions to rank third on the team. Depending on the status of Al Harris, who isn't a shoo-in to be kept by the team in the new scheme, Williams could be promoted from the nickel-back role he primarily had.




It wouldn't bother the Bears much if they didn't re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents, although tackle John St. Clair has proven his value over the years by being able to start games at three different positions, including all 16 at left tackle last season. Strong safety Mike Brown has been the heart and soul of the secondary for the past nine seasons when healthy, but his 15 games in 2008 was the first time he played more than 12 games since 2003. The Bears on Friday parted ways with Brown.

Unrestricted free agents

— S Mike Brown makes the defense better when he's on the field, but in the past few seasons he hasn't been able to stay healthy, so he's unlikely to be brought back.

— QB Rex Grossman will be allowed to leave and seek a fresh start with a change of scenery.

— RB Kevin Jones didn't contribute much last season, and the Bears will be looking for a more productive complement to Matt Forte in free agency and/or the draft.

— WR Brandon Lloyd started off impressively last season but then missed six weeks with a sprained knee and disappeared for most of the remainder of the season.

— OLB Darrell McClover doesn't figure as a defensive contributor, but he was a standout on special teams.

— S Brandon McGowan is a physical, in-the-box type but has been hurt more often than not, but he could be back at a bargain price.

— OT Fred Miller was signed late in the season strictly as insurance and never played. He will give retirement a second try.

— OL John St. Clair filled in admirably at LT last season but is not the guy you want starting there for very long, but he is a valuable backup because of his versatility. However, with 2008 first-rounder Chris Williams waiting to take over at LT, the Bears won't pay St. Clair as a starter, although some team might.

— S Cameron Worrell was brought back late as insurance but doesn't figure to return.

Restricted free agents


Exclusive-rights restricted free agents



WR Marty Booker (released)


The Lions are trying to build off the ashes of the NFL's first 0-16 season. They have newcomers in the front office and on the coaching staff, and they have a roster to overhaul. General manager Martin Mayhew said the biggest decision the Lions must make this offseason is at quarterback — and they have to get started soon. Daunte Culpepper ($2.5 million) and Jon Kitna ($500,000) have upcoming roster bonuses. Dan Orlovsky is set to become an unrestricted free agent Feb. 27. The Lions have the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Unrestricted free agents

— RB Aveion Cason helped boost the Lions' return game, but not enough, and wasn't a factor in running game.

— DT Shaun Cody didn't live up to expectations as a second-round pick and hasn't heard from the Lions.

— WR Keary Colbert joined the Lions late and didn't make an impact.

— T Damion Cook played a backup role along the line. If he returns, it will be for depth.

— T George Foster struggled after being traded from Denver and lost right tackle job to 2008 first-rounder Gosder Cherilus. Unlikely to return.

— K Jason Hanson is still going strong after 17 seasons in Detroit and will be back, either signing a long-term deal or as a franchise player.

— RB Rudi Johnson did not regain his Pro Bowl form in Detroit. Unlikely to return.

— LB Paris Lenon was a smart, hard-working veteran but didn't make enough plays in the middle. Unlikely to return.

— OL Andy McCollum filled in at center while Dominic Raiola was injured in 2008 and Lions ran the ball well. Still unlikely to return.

— WR Shaun McDonald didn't produce the same way after Mike Martz left.

— DT Langston Moore was a solid role player, but the Lions cut him once and have young defensive tackles.

— LB Ryan Nece was signed because of his experience in the Tampa Two, and the Lions are ditching the Tampa Two. Unlikely to return.

— FB Moran Norris signed during the season and made an impact as a lead blocker. Lions want him back.

— QB Dan Orlovsky didn't make mistakes as a starter, but didn't make enough plays, either. Unlikely to return.

— TE John Owens was a solid blocker but didn't make an impact as a receiver.

— G Stephen Peterman wasn't dominant, but the Lions want to re-sign him.

— DE Corey Smith was a good role player on defense and a playmaker on special teams. Could be back.

— CB Stanley Wilson never developed and spent 2008 on injured reserve. Unlikely to return.

Restricted free agents


Exclusive-rights restricted free agents



— CB Leigh Bodden (released).

— WR Mike Furrey (released).

— TE Dan Campbell (released).

— OG Edwin Mulitalo (released).

— S Dwight Smith (released/failed physical).

— OL Jon Dunn (released/failed physical).


Brad Childress and other members of the Vikings' coaching staff and front office have been spending long hours in meetings at Winter Park the past few weeks. Among the decisions that must be made are whether to make an attempt to bring back free agent center Matt Birk and safety Darren Sharper. Both likely will be allowed to walk. The quarterback position is another area of focus. Tarvaris Jackson has yet to prove he's worthy of being a starter in the NFL and the Vikings could look elsewhere for help.

Unrestricted free agents

— DT Kenderick Allen spent the season on injured reserve after injuring his right wrist during the Vikings' preseason opener. It would not be surprising if he does not return.

— C Matt Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, likely will be allowed to sign elsewhere after 11 seasons with the franchise. John Sullivan, a sixth-round pick in 2008, could be Birk's replacement.

— S Michael Boulware spent the year on injured reserve after suffering a broken wrist during the preseason. Could return in a special-teams role in 2009.

— LB Heath Farwell, a valuable member of the special teams, missed the season after tearing his right ACL in the preseason opener. The Vikings' struggles on special teams in 2008 should increase Farwell's value.

— LB Napoleon Harris signed early in the regular season after middle linebacker E.J. Henderson was lost because of a foot injury. Harris, who had been let go by Kansas City before joining the Vikings, likely will be allowed to leave.

— OT Marcus Johnson, the lone remaining member of the Vikings' 2005 draft class, was a non-factor in 2008 and almost certainly won't be back.

— DT Jimmy Kennedy signed late in the season as insurance in case Kevin and Pat Williams were suspended by NFL for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. Kennedy could look for more security elsewhere.

— TE Jim Kleinsasser doesn't put up big stats but he is one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends. His workman-like approach makes it hard to believe the Vikings wouldn't want him back.

— CB Benny Sapp served as the nickel back after Charles Gordon suffered season-ending injury in early November. Vikings could look to upgrade at this backup corner spot.

— S Darren Sharper has been starter since joining the Vikings in 2005 but likely will be allowed to leave. Tyrell Johnson, a second-round pick in 2008, would be the leading candidate to replace Sharper.

— LB Dontarrious Thomas signed during season to add depth after Henderson was injured. The Vikings probably won't try to bring him back.

— DT Ellis Wyms proved to be a valuable backup to 3-technique Kevin Williams. He has expressed a desire to return.

Restricted free agents

— DT Fred Evans was the primary backup to Pat Williams at nose tackle. Evans is considered to be an ascending player and will be brought back.

— CB Charles Gordon suffered a gruesome ankle injury that ended his season in November. But he is expected to be ready to go by training camp. He was used on punt returns and as the nickel back before the injury.

— DE Otis Grigsby was impressive in training camp but did little during the season. He could be allowed to sign elsewhere.

— DE Jayme Mitchell suffered a torn left ACL in the Vikings' preseason opener. He had been slated to be the second-team left end and could compete for that role again in 2009.

— FB Naufahu Tahi took over as starting fullback in 2008. The Vikings likely will bring him back but also could look elsewhere for an upgrade at the position.

Exclusive-rights restricted free agents




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