NFC North tour: Help for Cutler?

Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall could interest the Bears; Matthew Stafford vs. Duante Culpepper begins at upcoming Detroit minicamp; Vikings watch and wait for Brett Favre.

Most of the recent Bears talk concerning wide receivers has been about those who aren't on the roster.

Two tremendously skilled wide receivers with serious character concerns are available. Plaxico Burress is a free agent facing prison time, and Brandon Marshall, who has 13 police incidents on his record, wants a trade out of Denver.

Both are impact players, Pro Bowl talents and difference makers. Both are potentially trouble. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has good things to say about both, but he's not campaigning for either one, even though the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall was his go-to receiver the past two years with the Broncos, catching 206 passes for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"We're good to go," Cutler said Wednesday after the Bears' 13th and final OTA practice. "We've got everything we need out there. With Devin (Hester) and Earl (Bennett) and Brandon (Rideau) and Rashied (Davis) and the tight ends, and our running backs doing a good job of getting out of the backfield, we're going to be more than fine from the outset."

But they could be a lot better. The Bears continue to show interest in Burress, but not to the point of doing anything about it.

"Plaxico Burress is a good football player," coach Lovie Smith said. "Of course, we all know that. We keep all of our options open."

Then comes the obligatory disclaimer from Smith: "But I feel good about our team that we have right now, and I feel good about the receivers we have right now."

The odds of landing Marshall aren't good, perhaps unrealistic, and Smith refuses to answer questions about players under contract to other teams because of the NFL's tampering rules. That doesn't mean the Bears are not interested; they just can't admit it. A big hurdle could be compensation should the Broncos decide to deal their star receiver. The going trade rate for a No. 1 receiver is two draft picks in the first three rounds. Even though Marshall's rap sheet might lower his value, the Broncos can hold firm knowing the receiver has few options and little leverage.

Burress caught just 35 passes for 454 yards in an injury-plagued 2008, but in the previous three seasons, he caught 29 TD passes and averaged 70 receptions and 1,076 yards. He's also been durable, missing just eight games in seven seasons before 2008.

The case against Burress, criminal possession of a weapon, was brought after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub in November. It has been adjourned until Sept. 23, but, if convicted of that charge, Burress faces a minimum sentence of 3 1/2 years. His lawyer claims the case won't go to trial until next year. Even if Burress beats the rap, he could be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Still, the Bears continue to weigh the risks and rewards of signing the 6-foot-5 Burress, who has better size and a more impressive track record than any wide receiver on their roster. He also has a more checkered past than anyone at Halas Hall, which includes chronic tardiness and absence from practices and team meetings.

Burress also has faced domestic violence problems in the past, and prior to catching the game-winning TD pass in Super Bowl XLII, he had reportedly been fined by the Giants 40 to 50 times.

The Bears suspended three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris for one game last season because of habitual tardiness.

What happens if they make Burress their go-to receiver and he pulls the same immature, me-first shenanigans? And, considering he's worn out his welcome with the Steelers and Giants, it seems likely he'd do the same here, but he hasn't been ruled out.

"The door is never closed on anyone who's available," Smith said. "It's not like we're aggressively going after him, but we evaluate everyone that we think will make our team better."

As for Marshall, the Bears don't have a first-round draft pick next year, having used it to acquire Cutler, and it would take at least a No. 1 to get Marshall.

It was a little over a year ago that Cutler ripped his No. 1 receiver following offseason horseplay that resulted in Marshall cutting an artery, a vein, a nerve, two tendons and three muscles in his right arm.

"Yeah, he's not my favorite person right now," Cutler said then. "I mean, I support him, but it's always something with him."

Prior to that, Marshall had been arrested for DUI and a domestic dispute.

"He's been in (former Broncos coach Mike) Shanahan's office many times," Cutler said last offseason. "I've been up there with him. He said the same thing: 'This is a wakeup call. This is the last thing that's going to happen. Blah, blah, blah.' I mean, until he goes out and proves it, we'll see what happens."

Despite the offseason drama, Marshall caught 104 passes for 1,265 yards last season. But Cutler hasn't spoken to him recently.

"He's a great player," Cutler said. "I played with him for three years, put up a lot big numbers with him, and wherever he ends up, obviously he's going to be successful. Whether or not it's here, that's up to the guys upstairs. But, as of right now, I'm 100 percent happy with what we've got."

But could he be happier?

Lions: Quarterback derby

Coach Jim Schwartz has said the arms race between veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper and rookie Matthew Stafford will begin during the Lions' minicamp June 23-25 and extend into training camp.


QB Matthew Stafford
Getty Images
While saying Culpepper has been great, Stafford sounds eager to compete for the starting job.

"I would love to start Game 1," Stafford said on Galloway and Co. on ESPN Radio in his hometown of Dallas, asked to draw up his ideal scenario. "I think every player that plays in the NFL would love to play every game, and that's just how I am and that's how I attack this season.

"I know there's going to be a learning curve, and if I don't start Game 1, I'm not going to get down on myself. I'm going to go out there and try to win a job at some point. I'm in here to win it, though."

Stafford said the biggest transition from college to the pro was learning the offense, but it hasn't been as tough as he thought it would be.

"As far as the mental side of the game goes, I'm keeping up with the other guys and doing a pretty good job of giving myself a chance to compete," Stafford said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. "The first day I got out the field I was struggling to call plays, and then now I feel I know exactly how to call them and what we're looking to do against the defense."

Teammates have given Stafford rave reviews, and Stafford looked sharp in the last practice open to the media, threading a couple of passes through tight coverage downfield.

Stafford said his goal this season is to learn as much as he can, but added: "Hopefully that's playing and not learning through sitting. I'm a competitive guy, and I want to be playing the game rather than watching, as anybody does. I want to get a grasp of what this league is like and hopefully get out there and help this team win some games."

Stafford said he had not talked to the coaches about when he will play. Schwartz -- as well as general manager Martin Mayhew and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan -- have said Stafford will play when he meets two criteria: He's ready, and he's the best quarterback.

Vikings: Favre watch continues

Two days after Brett Favre made it clear during an interview on HBO that if his arm enables him to play in 2009 he will be a member of the Vikings, owner Zygi Wilf told fans at a town hall meeting that the ball is in the court of the retired quarterback.

"Like I've said many times before, be it Brett Favre or anybody else, we will do the most we can to get the players we need to be a better team with," Wilf said at the first-ever State of the Vikings event in downtown Minneapolis. "If that means Brett Favre or it means anybody else, we're going to go out and do that. We'll just have to wait and see. The interview with Brett Favre (on HBO), although I didn't watch it myself, everybody told me that it shows the player he is, down to earth and somebody who has a passion for football.

"When somebody has that passion for football, as long as he has it, and the willingness to come back, you have to really look at that and see how they fit with your team. Right now, it's all up to Brett Favre to determine where his future is at and we'll just leave it at that."

Favre had arthroscopic surgery on a partially torn biceps tendon in his right shoulder in late May, performed by Dr. James Andrews, and recently threw passes to players from Oak Grove High School near his home in Mississippi.

"Dr. Andrews said more or less four weeks you should know if (surgery) was completely successful," Favre told WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Miss. "I threw a couple of balls today where I really felt it ... different places in my shoulder where it's sore. I threw the ball OK, but OK isn't good enough in the National Football League. At least not for me, so it's got to get better."

And evidently that is going to need to happen before the Vikings report to training camp on July 29.

While it probably would be a mistake to call it a hard deadline, Favre did tip his hand to a timetable on the situation.

"There is time, but there isn't time, if that makes sense," Favre said. "I don't need to wait for camp to say it's 100 percent. I need to know before then, and so do the Vikings."

Vikings coach Brad Childress, meanwhile, is confident Favre will return only if his arm is far better than it was at the end of last season when he was with the Jets. Favre announced his retirement in February in large part because of the injury.

"I just know this," Childress said. "He won't play unless he feels like he's capable of playing at the level he's played over the course of years. But I know he's working hard at it."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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