NFC North Tour: Opening Vault

Our insiders update the offseasons of the Packers and their rivals in Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota. We have everything covered, from the big news to the key transactions to the moves that must be made.

Green Bay Packers

Cynics can't call general manager Ted Thompson a cheapskate this offseason.

Thompson, who hasn't endeared himself to some fans and even a few of his players in the past for not spending money to lure big-name free agents, went on a shopping spree in the first couple weeks of free agency. The catch is, the big bucks stayed in house.

"The Packers always try to be proactive in our discussions with our current players," Thompson said.

The re-signing of left tackle Chad Clifton during the opening weekend of free agency triggered a significant haul for Green Bay in Thompson's sixth year of calling the shots.

The Packers also sandwiched long-term deals for nose tackle Ryan Pickett and right tackle Mark Tauscher, both of whom like Clifton were unrestricted free agents, around a multiyear contract for free safety Nick Collins, a restricted free agent.

Those four players, all longtime starters, weren't short-changed.

The contracts add up to a potential value of more than $80 million. What's more, the aggregate first-year pay exceeds $35 million, as the Packers worked the uncapped year to their advantage by loading the deals with sizable roster and workout bonuses that won't have to be counted in future years if a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.

"We had the opportunity to try to sign everybody back," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're focused on bringing our own free agents back, getting better as a football team, starting internally, and then we'll add another draft class to this group.

"We like where we are today, but the importance of the offseason program and keeping your own players has been our focus, and that time is upon us now."

The Packers protected themselves in the short term on the offensive line by bringing back dependable veterans Clifton and Tauscher, who have started since their rookie season with the team in 2000. Tauscher, whom the team re-signed at midseason last year after he recovered from major knee surgery, received a two-year deal worth upward of $8.7 million.

Pickett and Collins, cornerstones on a highly rated defense, previously had one-year deals as the team's franchise player and indispensable restricted free agent, respectively. Their contracts were extended three years, locking them up through 2013.

"We're excited about our future," said Pickett, whose deal is worth nearly $25 million, with $10 million in first-year pay.

Pickett was going to make $7.003 million this year as the franchise player.

"We're excited we get another shot of just being together as a unit and going out to win the Super Bowl," Pickett said. "That's our ultimate goal. All of this stuff is behind us, and now our number one goal is to hold the trophy."

Collins, a two-time Pro Bowl player, originally signed the team's qualifying offer of $3.3 million. His new deal is worth $26.75 million, with $14 million in first-year pay.

Notes and quotes

— With the prolonged felony case against defensive end Johnny Jolly hanging over them, the Packers are dealing with another player entangled in a legal situation.

Spencer Havner
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Tight end Spencer Havner was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving after he crashed his motorcycle in the early morning March 13 in Northern California.

Charges were pending, as prosecutors reviewed the police report.

Havner, who wasn't wearing a helmet, suffered what police said were major injuries in the mishap that occurred on private property in his hometown of Grass Valley. The most serious of the injuries is a broken shoulder blade, but Havner is expected to have just a short recovery period.

The Packers had little to say about the matter, other than, "We are monitoring the situation."

Havner could face discipline from the NFL for a violation of its personal-conduct policy.

The first-year player was a big contributor on special teams for Green Bay last season and also emerged as a situational receiver with four touchdown catches in his first year on offense after being moved from linebacker.

— The frequently postponed pretrial hearing for defensive end Johnny Jolly, who faces a felony drug possession charge, is slated for March 25 in his hometown of Houston.

Jolly, a starter who is an unsigned restricted free agent, was arrested in July 2008 and charged with possession of at least 200 grams of codeine.

— The Packers' far-reaching search for a new punter took them to the fabled Land Down Under.

They signed Australian Chris Bryan on March 16. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Bryan is a veteran of the Australian Football League.

He is the second Australian punter the Packers have recruited in recent years to try his foot at American football. Nathan Chapman was with the team in the offseason in 2004 but didn't fare well in the preseason and was released.

Bryan, 28, and Tim Masthay, a street free agent signed after last season, are the only punters on the roster. Green Bay didn't re-sign Jeremy Kapinos, an exclusive-rights free agent, after he had subpar numbers the entire 2009 season.

— A few of the players tried on and modeled the team's new alternate uniform, which was unveiled at Packers Fan Fest on March 12 at Lambeau Field.

The uniform is a replica of that worn by the 1929 team, Green Bay's first league champion. It consists of a navy blue jersey with numbers set against a big gold circle on the front, tan pants and a brown helmet with no logo.

"I like the circle around my number," linebacker Brad Jones said. "It pops out. Plus, if you're trying to intimidate somebody, all you've got to do is just hit your chest and your number is right there. It's like playing an old-school video game in real life."

The Packers plan to wear the throwback uniform for at least one home game next season and also use it in future years.

Quote to note: "It's fresh on my mind, and it always will. It's a learning experience. The most frustrating part for me as the head coach is you play 16 games, you create an identity as a football team and then the biggest game you play in that year you don't play to your identity in segments of the game." — Coach Mike McCarthy, speaking two months after the Packers' 51-45 overtime loss at the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs Jan. 10.

Strategy and personnel

Coach Mike McCarthy was optimistic about having good participation from players when the team's offseason program kicked off on Monday, but attendance at the start wasn't perfect.

Incumbent left guard Daryn Colledge is skipping the initial phase of the voluntary workouts because he is without a contract as a restricted free agent. Colledge is instead working out in his hometown of Boise, Idaho.

Colledge is one of six Packers who are restricted free agents and remain unsigned.

"Daryn Colledge and every member of our football team understands the importance of the offseason program," McCarthy said. "But, there's a business side of this, and we respect what everybody has to do at this time."

By league rule, the unsigned players aren't allowed to participate in team activities, unless they have a protection agreement with the team. Fullback John Kuhn reportedly has that protection against liability in the event of an injury and is part of the offseason program.

The other restricted free agents are safety Atari Bigby, defensive end Johnny Jolly, nickel back Tramon Williams and center/guard Jason Spitz.

Cornerback/returner Will Blackmon, also a restricted free agent, signed the team's one-year qualifying offer of $1.2 million.

Offseason update

True to his lukewarm style, general manager Ted Thompson hasn't looked outside the box in the first few weeks of free agency to bring in players from other teams.

Thompson, though, made a big splash in a week's time with exorbitant money he meted out to his own free agents. More than $80 million in potential earnings, including $35 million in first-year pay, went to the unrestricted trio of nose tackle Ryan Pickett, left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher and Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, a restricted free agent.

"The priority was to sign all of our free agents back," coach Mike McCarthy said.

Retaining the aforementioned quartet offset the loss of linebacker Aaron Kampman as an unrestricted free agent. The converted Pro Bowl defensive end didn't take to his position switch in the team's new 3-4 scheme last season and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The only unsigned UFA is running back Ahman Green, who is hopeful of returning as a backup to Ryan Grant after the Packers brought back their all-time leading rusher at midseason last year following a two-year stint with the Houston Texans.

In this uncapped year, Green Bay was left with an inordinate amount of restricted free agents. After rewarding Collins with a lucrative four-year deal, there's more signings to be done with six players who have starting experience.

The Packers have few holes to plug coming off an 11-5 season that included a berth in the playoffs. The upcoming draft is where Thompson loves to bolster the roster, so the focus figures to be on addressing long-term needs at offensive tackle and defensive back and possibly filling an immediate void at punter.

Team needs

1. Punter: The Packers have made a two-for-one swap so far in the offseason, ridding themselves of Jeremy Kapinos after his lackluster full season of handling the job and signing a pair of unproven, left-footed street free agents in Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan. The latter is an import from Australian Rules Football. The position remains unsettled.

2. Offensive tackle: Green Bay re-signed veteran bookends Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher to three- and two-year deals, respectively. While both players would project to remain the starters entering next season, the Packers still are in the market for their successors, particularly with Clifton on the left side.

3. Running back: Having not one, but two capable backs to carry the load is the rage in the league. Green Bay is missing the second piece to complement Ryan Grant.

Medical watch

CB Al Harris continues his rehab from Nov. 30 knee surgery in Florida. Harris is determined to be recovered by the start of summer. ... DE Justin Harrell has been working out in Green Bay the past couple months and could have the green light to participate in offseason workouts with the team after he missed all of last season with a recurring back injury.

Chicago Bears

Zane Beadles
Utah athletics
A couple of Utah prospects make sense for the Bears, who won't have a pick until the third round of next month's draft but still have holes to fill at safety and on the offensive line.

It's difficult to project which players will be available when the Bears finally get around to their first pick, which is 76th overall, but they would probably be delighted if Utah's Zane Beadles was still on the board.

Beadles was mostly a left tackle in college, starting there for the past three years. But several NFL talent evaluators project him to guard, where he started for the Utes as a freshman. While he seems to lack the athleticism necessary to play left tackle in the NFL, he could find a home at right tackle.

The Bears could use him at guard or right tackle. That would allow them the flexibility of starting Beadles at whichever of those two positions isn't filled by Frank Omiyale, who started at guard most of last season but has had more experience at tackle.

Another Utah player the Bears could target on draft weekend is safety Robert Johnson, who was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine but could be a sleeper. Johnson already has a visit set up with the Bears at Halas Hall on April 6.

The Bears were among 16 teams represented at Utah's pro day last Monday. Afterward, Vikings regional scout Kevin McCabe told the Daily Utah Chronicle, "(Johnson) has got great ball skills, and he has great range. He made a lot of great catches down in the corner."

Johnson measured a fraction over 6-foot-2 and weighed in at 203 pounds. He ran the 40 in the 4.6 range, which is adequate, but his 4.06 in the 20-yard shuttle and 6.56 in the three-cone drill would have been tops among safeties at the Combine.

The Bears have changed starting safeties 41 times since Lovie Smith was hired as head coach in 2004. The free safety starter has changed 21 times, while the strong safety starter has changed 20 times. Last year the Bears opened the season with rookie Al Afalava at strong safety, and he started the first eight games until he suffered a shoulder injury. Josh Bullocks replaced him for one game, Afalava returned to start twice more at strong safety but the switched to free safety for three starts before missing the last two games with a knee injury. Kevin Payne started three games at strong safety after Afalava moved to free, but Craig Steltz started Game 15 before Payne returned for the finale.

Payne started the season opener at free safety but was benched after that game in favor of Danieal Manning started the next 10 games. He was benched in favor of Afalava, but Bullocks took over in Week 15 and Steltz started at free in the season finale.

The Bears would like to stop the revolving at safety or at least slow it down.

Notes and quotes

— Despite earlier indications to the contrary, the Bears on Wednesday cut former Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Vasher, eliminating his $2.95 million salary for the 2010 season, in addition to the $3.45 million he would have earned in 2011 and the $3.7 million he would have been due in 2012.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they've already paid Vasher a $9.5 million signing bonus as part of the five-year, $28 million contract extension he signed on June 26, 2007, a year and a half after his first and only Pro Bowl appearance. Vasher also received roster bonuses of $2 million in 2007 and $2.5 million in '08. He had no more bonus money due, which is why, despite three straight unproductive and injury-marred seasons, it seemed plausible that he would at least go to training camp and compete for a job this summer.

"We paid him his money, so it doesn't behoove us to let him go," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said last month. "We're going to take him to training camp."

But the Bears believe they can get more production for less money from free agent cornerback Tim Jennings, who was signed on Tuesday. Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman will go to training camp as the starters, with Jennings, Corey Graham, D.J. Moore and Woodny Turenne expected to compete for backup positions.

After intercepting 16 passes and starting 35 games in his first three NFL seasons, Vasher started just 11 games in the next three seasons and intercepted only three passes. He suffered a severe groin tear in the third game of the 2007 season and played in just one more game that year. A wrist injury that required surgery limited him to eight games in '08.

Vasher's Pro Bowl appearance followed a 2005 regular season in which he intercepted 8 passes, one of which he returned 45 yards for a touchdown against the Packers. That year he also established an NFL record, since broken, for longest scoring play in history, when he went 108 yards with a missed field goal against the 49ers at Soldier Field.

— Defensive end Julius Peppers will continue to wear No. 90 in 2010, the same number he wore for eight years with the Carolina Panthers before he left via free agency to join the Bears last Friday.

Third-round defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert wore No. 90 last season as a rookie, but no new number has been announced for him. When Peppers visited Halas Hall last Friday, he was asked how much he would pay to have Gilbert relinquish the number.

"Hopefully he'll give it up out of respect," Peppers said, laughing.

No word yet on how much, if any, money was exchanged for the switch. Peppers' six-year deal with the Bears could pay him as much as $91.5 million if he hits every incentive.

— On Tuesday former Colts cornerback Tim Jennings was signed to a two-year contract. The four-year veteran became a free agent when he was not tendered a contract offer by Indianapolis.

The 5-foot-8, 185-pound former second-round pick (62nd overall) out of Georgia had two interceptions in each of the past two seasons, when he started a total of 17 games. Jennings is expected to compete for a job as the Bears' nickel cornerback, and on special teams, his two primary roles last year with the Colts.

Chester Taylor will keep the No. 29 that he has worn his entire NFL career.

Unrestricted free agent running back Adrian Peterson wore No. 29 with the Bears for the past eight years, and Friday's announcement about Taylor retaining his number was the latest indication that Peterson, an unrestricted free agent, will not be back with the team.

— The off-season schedule is officially set through June's organized team activities (OTAs), although the start of training camp won't be known until the preseason schedule is released.

The rookie mini-camp, as usual, will be the first weekend after the draft, which this year becomes a three-day affair, with the first round beginning at 6:30 Thursday night, April 22. Rounds 2 and 3 will be Friday, starting at 5 p.m., and Rounds 4-7 are on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.

Rookie mini-camp is at Halas Hall the following Saturday, May 1-2. The full-team mini-camp is Friday-Sunday, May 21-23, also at Halas Hall.

OTAs commence on June 2 and run through June 24. Practices will be Monday through Thursday most weeks, although there will be two open dates, probably at the end of the sessions, since only 14 OTAs are permitted.

Training camp can begin 15 days before the first scheduled preseason game. Off-season workouts begin on March 29.

Offseason update

The Bears have addressed their need for a dominant pass rusher by bagging the crown jewel of free agency in defensive end Julius Peppers, who is 30 but still playing at close to peak efficiency. He should be the missing ingredient in a defense and, more specifically, on a defensive line that seriously underachieved the past three seasons but still has the makings of a decent group. Peppers may even provide the spark that can get former three-time Pro Bowl tackle Tommie Harris back to playing at his former elite level.

For new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Bears added running back Chester Taylor and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

Taylor has been one of the more effective and versatile backups in the NFL for most of his career, which has been spent mostly as the backup to Jamaal Lewis with the Ravens and to Adrian Peterson with the Vikings. Now Taylor is expected to split time with incumbent Matt Forte, and he could even wind up playing a bigger role than the two-year starter who slumped last season in Year 2. Both players are effective runners and reliable receivers.

The 295-pound Manumaleuna gives the Bears a sixth offensive lineman and should work as a complement to incumbent Greg Olsen, who has been a productive receiver but doesn't help much in the running game.

The Bears also have added Colts castoff cornerback Tim Jennings, a four-year veteran who was not tendered a qualifying offer.

Holes remain on the offensive line and at safety, at least one of which could be answered in the draft.

Team needs

1. Offensive tackle: If Frank Omiyale stays at left guard, the Bears would like an upgrade at right tackle for Kevin Shaffer, who is a workmanlike veteran but is not an ideal starter. Chris Williams started the first 11 games at right tackle last season, but he appears to be a better fit at left tackle.

2. Guard: Frank Omiyale was awarded the starting spot at left guard in training camp last year, played himself out of the lineup after six games, but then regained the job from Josh Beekman, started the final six games and played better. He still has a lot to prove and could wind up moving back to right tackle. Journeyman RG Roberto Garza will be entering his 10th season.

3. Free safety: The Bears need a safety who can make plays on the ball and cover better than the handful of safeties on the roster, all of whom seem more effective in the box.

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Colts do it with Peyton Manning. The Saints do it with Drew Brews. And the Lions already are doing it with their franchise quarterback, even though he just turned 22 and has only 10 NFL games under his belt.

The Lions' coaches and executives are asking for Matthew Stafford's input and keeping him in the loop on personnel matters. They even had him help recruit free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson.

"It's awesome to know that they trust me," Stafford said. "Obviously I'm not making draft picks. I wouldn't want to. It's a tough job. But just seeing if I'm familiar with a guy and maybe his past and understand how he could work in our offense or how he might not, that kind of thing.

"I'm sure it will keep growing as my relationship with all the guys up there keeps growing. But it's exciting to be able to bounce ideas. I think they know that I know a lot of guys in the league and personnel pretty well. It's fun to be able to kind of help out a little bit."

Stafford said he and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan talked about Burleson last year and "thought that he could really fit." When the free agent market opened at 9 p.m. PT March 4, Burleson got more than a text message from coach Jim Schwartz and a personal visit from Linehan in Seattle. He also got a phone call from Stafford.

"He just talked to me briefly," Burleson said. "He was like, 'Hey, man, look, I hear we're interested in you. We'd love to have you here, and I'm excited about the season.'"

Burleson said that made an impact, though Stafford played it down.

"He seemed excited," Stafford said. "I guess he was excited enough. I don't think it was my call that made it all work, but I'll take credit if you want to give it to me."

When the Lions landed Burleson and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, general manager Martin Mayhew informed Stafford via text message. There is little doubt that this team is Stafford's now.

"I feel a whole lot better walking around this building than I did probably a year ago when I first got drafted and came in," Stafford said. "It's a completely different feeling. I'm excited to kind of take this thing over and get us going in the right direction."

Stafford didn't join the Lions last year until after they made him the first pick in the draft in late April. He went through only the end of the off-season program. He competed with Daunte Culpepper for the starting job at first.

"Last year was kind of a different deal, going through training camp, splitting reps, doing all that kind of stuff," Stafford said. "But it needed to be done."

After winning the job for the season opener, Stafford played 10 games — throwing 20 interceptions, suffering knee and shoulder injuries, learning a lot. Now he returns for the off-season program as the clear-cut No. 1.

Linehan said late last year that this off-season would be "huge" for Stafford.

"It's the most critical, I think," Linehan said. "You've got to develop that timing and rapport with your guys where you're doing a lot of the work and you're promoting a lot of the extra work, because that's what the great quarterbacks do. They keep the guys working towards getting better at the things we weren't good enough at."

Notes and quotes

— Linebacker Larry Foote went back to the Steelers a year after leaving them to join his hometown Lions. He signed a three-year, $9.3 million deal that includes a $1.8 million signing bonus. He didn't fit the Lions' 4-3 defense as well as he did the Steelers' 3-4, and after winning two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, going 2-14 took a toll in Detroit. "You can't really explain it until you go through it," Foote said. "You talk about dog days. Those were dog days, especially being a competitive person and losing. But I made some good relationships, and it was good going home playing there. I'm just glad I'm back and thank God I didn't sign a longer deal there."

— Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent, visited the Lions. Hargrove, 26, is listed at 6-foot-3, 272 pounds, but he weighed about 300 pounds last season and was still athletic enough to play on the kickoff team. The Lions would have to sign him to an offer sheet that the Saints would not match, plus give up a third-round pick. General manager Martin Mayhew was lukewarm about signing restricted free agents when asked about the possibility last month at the NFL scouting combine. "Unlike just having a draft pick — and say you take a third-round pick and you have a young, inexpensive player for a certain number of years — you're talking about giving up a young, inexpensive player and adding an older, more-expensive player and giving that pick up," Mayhew said. "So, I mean, there are guys of interest to us in that market. But I wouldn't say that we're going to be really, really aggressive in that market."

— If the Lions acquire Hargrove, the question would be whether they still would draft one of the top defensive tackles second overall — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. The Lions already have added two defensive linemen this off-season: tackle Corey Williams and end Kyle Vanden Bosch. They could take Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung, who visited team headquarters before McCoy and Suh.

— The Lions announced they acquired cornerback Chris Houston from the Falcons for a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft and a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft. The teams did not swap fifth-round picks this year. The Falcons had announced that the Lions gave up a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft and the teams swapped fifth-round picks this year.

— Linebacker Landon Johnson visited the Lions. Johnson, 29, spent the last two seasons playing mostly special teams for the Panthers under Danny Crossman, who is now the Lions' special teams coach. The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder was a starter the previous four years for the Bengals.

— The Lions also hosted guard Chester Pitts. Pitts, 30, started 114 consecutive games for the Texans before suffering a knee injury last year. He is recovering from surgery.

— The Lions made major changes to their conditioning program in their first year under coach Jim Schwartz. They changed the layout of the weight room. They changed how the players ran, stretched and warmed up. Most important, they emphasized free weights in an effort to build a bigger, stronger team. That foundation remained the same when this year's program began, but there were more changes. Ted Rath was the strength coach, replacing Malcolm Blacken, who left for the Redskins. The schedule was different — Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. It had been Monday through Thursday. There also is a patch of FieldTurf in the center of the weight room, the same surface on which the players practice indoors at Allen Park and perform at Ford Field. It's a softer, more joint-friendly surface for exercises like box jumps.

Quote to note: "I feel a whole lot better walking around this building than I did probably a year ago when I first got drafted and came in. It's a completely different feeling. I'm excited to kind of take this thing over and get us going in the right direction." — QB Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft last year, entering his first full off-season with the Lions.

Offseason update

The Lions have been one of the most active teams in the NFL since free agency began. They have bolstered their defense through signings (end Kyle Vanden Bosch, cornerback Jonathan Wade) and trades (tackle Corey Williams from the Browns, cornerback Chris Houston from the Falcons). They also signed wide receiver Nate Burleson, whom they hope can keep opponents from keying on star Calvin Johnson, and acquired backup quarterback Shaun Hill in a trade with the 49ers.

And they're not done.

The Lions have been busy hosting free agents, such as defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent from the Saints. They have holes at running back, left guard and in the secondary, and they hold the No. 2 pick in the draft.

The great debate is what the Lions will do with that pick. General manager Martin Mayhew, normally low-key and guarded, has been up front and open about his desire to trade down.

If the Lions stay at No. 2, they could take one of the top two defensive tackles: Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. The Lions still could use a dynamic playmaker in the middle of coach Jim Schwartz's defense, in which the front four play the run on the way to the quarterback and ball carriers are funneled to the middle.

But the Lions don't seem enamored with paying that much money for that position. They could take left tackle Russell Okung, either at No. 2 or in a trade-down scenario. That would help protect their biggest investment — quarterback Matthew Stafford, last year's No. 1 pick — and allow left tackle Jeff Backus to move to left guard.

Team needs

1. Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL and separated shoulder, and the Lions needed more explosiveness at the position even before he got hurt.

2. Defensive back: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz, but the Lions couldn't cover behind it in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round last year, is their only really promising DB.

3. Left guard: Coach Jim Schwartz has said the Lions must find a starter and solidify the position this off-season, after watching Daniel Loper and Manny Ramirez rotate from game to game and within games last season.

Minnesota Vikings

Albert Young
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Vikings' failure to land LaDainian Tomlinson means the defending NFC North champions could end up looking internally to fill the spot vacated by running back Chester Taylor.

Albert Young, who spent 2008 on the practice squad and was the No. 3 running back on the depth chart last season, had little opportunity with Adrian Peterson and Taylor in front of him but with Taylor now in Chicago, Young has a chance to play an important role in 2010.

Even as the Vikings courted Tomlinson — he decided to sign a two-year deal with the Jets — coach Brad Childress went on a Twin Cities radio station and said he has plenty of confidence in Young.

In fact, Childress said that he and quarterback Brett Favre talked about Young when the two spent time together at Favre's home in Mississippi recently.

Young had 12 carries for 53 yards in 2009 and played on special teams.

"Probably not enough has been said about Albert Young," Childress said on KFAN Radio. "Albert Young is a guy that has developed here tremendously in the last two years.

"As a matter of fact, Brett Favre and I had a long conversation about him when we were down south, and he believes he's got a chance to be a good back in this league."

Young knows that no matter what is said about him, he's still going to have to produce if and when he's given the opportunity.

"I feel I have a pretty good relationship with Brett because our lockers are so close," Young said. "It's good to have a quarterback that has confidence in you and a coaching staff that believes in you. But I have to do my part. It's good to have that backing and I appreciate it. I would rather have them talking good than bad. But I don't want to get too caught up in the rhetoric."

Whoever fills Taylor's role will have a difficult job because he was far more than just a backup. Taylor often replaced Peterson in third-down situations and was adept in pass protection and as a receiver.

"I've been doing this for two years in the system, so I better be ready," Young said. "The thing about the NFL is it's just a matter of getting an opportunity to get out there. That's the main thing. There's a lot of good players out there. It's just a matter of getting an opportunity to get on the field."

Notes and quotes

— Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman was among the NFL personnel officials in Tallahassee, Fla., this week to watch Tim Tebow's Pro Day at the University of Florida.

— The StarCaps trial between the NFL and Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams has wrapped up in a Minneapolis court. A decision isn't expected until this spring. Although the loser is likely to appeal, this will be the first indication whether the Williamses' will have to serve four-game suspensions that the NFL handed down against them in December 2008.

— CB Karl Paymah, the only restricted free agent to whom the Vikings did not tender an offer, signed a one-year contract with San Francisco.

— The Vikings hired Matt Sheldon as their assistant defensive backs coach. Sheldon, who spent the past four years coaching linebackers in Buffalo, replaced Derek Mason, who took a job at Stanford.

Quote to note: "I'm definitely going to play football again. I really don't think that's a question at this point barring some freak occurrence. But I'm definitely going to play football again. It's just a matter of will I be back in July or August." — Linebacker E.J. Henderson, who fractured the femur in his left leg in December, leading to questions about whether he would return.

Offseason update

The Vikings continue to wait for the most important piece of offseason news but that isn't something that is in their control. The expectation is that Brett Favre will return for a 20th NFL season but at this point that isn't a certainty.

Favre is the only person who knows the answer right now and it appears he has yet to make up his mind. LaDainian Tomlinson said he talked to Favre while the Vikings were trying to recruit the veteran running back but Favre did not say if he plans to continue.

Tomlinson signed with the Jets and said whether Favre played or not was not a factor in his decision.

The Vikings, who were extremely limited in free agency as one of the final eight teams in the NFL playoffs, have managed to re-sign three of their five unrestricted free agents — wide receiver Greg Lewis, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy and cornerback Benny Sapp. Running back Chester Taylor and offensive lineman Artis Hicks landed in Chicago and Washington, respectively.

The loss of those two mean the Vikings could sign two unrestricted free agents — Tomlinson had been released so Minnesota could have pursued him without losing any of its unrestricted free agents — but part of the issue is the market just isn't all that attractive.

Minnesota doesn't appear to have any interest in a free-agent quarterback, even with the uncertainty surrounding Favre. Tarvaris Jackson is a restricted free agent and Sage Rosenfels remains under contract, so those two would compete for the starting job if Favre doesn't return.

Team needs

1. Cornerback: This becomes a position of need because of the ACL injury suffered by starting right corner Cedric Griffin and the foot problem that plagued left corner Antoine Winfield for much of last season. Benny Sapp has re-signed and Asher Allen will be entering his second season in 2010 but the Vikings could use more depth here.

2. Quarterback: If Brett Favre doesn't return, or even if he does, the Vikings still don't have a long-term solution here. Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels are expected back but are they the answers? The Vikings could use the 30th pick in the draft on this spot.

3. Offensive line: The Vikings lost their most versatile backup when veteran Artis Hicks signed as a free agent with Washington. Hicks was the top backup at both guard and tackle spots and he will be missed. The Vikings are either going to need to look at free agency or to the draft to replace him.

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

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