NFC North Tour: Mysterious Lions

Detroit seems happy to perpetuate the mystery of what it will do with the No. 2 overall draft pick. In Chicago, the Bears are looking to find a long-term cure at safety. And in Minnesota, the news is — surprise! — at quarterback.

Martin Mayhew is a man of mystery when it comes to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Lions' general manager has made it clear he would like to trade down. He has thrown out some other info to suit his purposes. But other than that, he's keeping his cards close to the vest.

"I've seen a lot of stuff written that I think is a little bit premature about what our thoughts are and who we're going to take and who we're down to and that kind of stuff," Mayhew said. "There's a lot of work to be done still."

Some of what has been written has been on the Lions' official Web site. The Lions have posted stories about visits by the apparent top candidates for the No. 2 pick: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung.

They wouldn't do that and then, say, draft Oklahoma left tackle Trent Williams, would they?

"You never know what we might do," Mayhew said. "That's one of the smart things about it."

Okung has not generated the buzz Suh and McCoy have. But teams generally are more comfortable paying a premium for a left tackle than they are for a defensive tackle, and Mayhew said Okung was a "tremendous talent" and it was "very possible" he has been underrated by the media.

Then he added this when asked if Okung clearly was the best left tackle in the draft: "I think big-picture, overall, taking everything into account, there are probably two guys that are the best two out there." He declined to go further.

Mayhew obviously thinks the smartest move would be to trade down if he can get enough in return for the pick.

"First of all, we don't have a desperate desire to move back," Mayhew said. "That's the first thing, because we're going to get a quality player there.

"But I think what happens is, you get a quality player at a premium price, whereas you might get a quality player later at a better price. If you believe that you want to take advantage of the opportunity to get value in the draft, it would make more sense to get more players at better prices than to get one player at a premium price."

Mayhew said he felt the Lions would receive an offer for the No. 2 pick based on his conversations with one team, but acknowledged they wouldn't necessarily take it.

"I feel confident that we'll have an opportunity to move back," Mayhew said. "Now, will that be an opportunity we want to take advantage of? Will it be a situation where we feel we'll get the appropriate value? I couldn't answer that question right now."

Asked if he also hoped to encourage more offers by making that comment, he said: "We'll see."

The common thinking is that a team would have to come up for a quarterback. Quarterback-needy teams include the Redskins at No. 4, the Seahawks at No. 6 and the Browns at No. 7. The Rams could take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall.

"It's going to be interesting to see the way it all shakes out," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Quarterbacks make people move at the top of the draft, and I think it will be interesting to see when it's all said and done how much interest there is in those guys and where we go with that second pick."

Asked if his trade-down opportunity depends on what the Rams do first, Mayhew said: "I didn't really get into that. By my way of thinking, if we go back, we have to have a comfort level with going back. It doesn't matter what happens ahead of us."


Eric Berry
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
For most of Lovie Smith's tenure as the Bears' coach, the only constant at the safety positions has been change.

The last time the Bears went through a season with the same player at either safety spot for all 16 games was in 2004, when Mike Green made every start at strong safety. The revolving door has spun just as quickly at strong safety as it has at free. Since the start of the 2004 season, there have been a combined 40 lineup changes at the safety positions — 20 at free and 20 at strong.

And the problem appears to be getting worse. Last year saw the most safety turnover in any of Smith's six seasons. There were 11 lineup changes, six at strong and five at free.

The Bears have browsed free agency for safety help but have yet to buy. So the search is expected to move to next month's draft, but they don't have a selection until the third round.

The Bears have had some success drafting safeties in later rounds but not much in terms of consistent, high-level production. Kevin Payne, a fifth-round pick in 2007, has started five games at free safety and 16 at strong safety. Craig Steltz, a fourth-round pick in 2008, has made minimal contributions, yet he started the final two games last season, one at each safety position. Chris Harris was a sixth-round pick in 2005, and Green was a seventh-rounder in 2000.

Several factors have accounted for the musical-chairs situation in the secondary, with inconsistent play and injuries at the top of the list. The Rams' O.J. Atogwe is the pearl of free-agent safeties this year. But he hasn't received much interest, primarily because snagging the restricted free agent would be expensive since the Rams are expected to match almost any offer, although that isn't a guarantee.

It's worth noting that, in addition to picking off 18 passes and forcing 14 fumbles in the past four years, Atogwe has started 60 of 64 games, providing productivity and durability. Atogwe is the kind of athlete with range and big-play ability that the Bears desire, and that kind of player might not be around by the time the 76th pick in the draft rolls around.

"We just ask that guy to do an awful lot," Smith said, "and you need to invest a little bit more into the safety position. We've hit well on some lower picks, but sometimes you need to invest a little bit more, whether that's through free agency or through higher draft picks."

There are four outstanding free safeties in this year's draft, but then there's a major drop-off in talent.

Tennessee's Eric Berry, Texas' Earl Thomas and USC's Taylor Mays are expected to be taken in the first 25 picks, and South Florida's Nate Allen could also sneak into the first round. After that the next true free safety might have only fifth-round value.

But there are a handful of strong safeties who could project to free and might be worth a third- or fourth-round pick, including Oregon's T.J. Ward, Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett, South Carolina's Darian Stewart and Kansas' Darrell Stuckey.

"Right now everybody's looking for a more athletic safety," said Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who has the final say on draft day.

"The demands of what they're being asked to do (are great), in coverage particularly (because) offenses are spreading defenses out. So teams are starting to look for more the athletic safeties, and in the last few years you're starting to see those players go higher in the draft.

"It's becoming a more and more difficult position to find and to play."

No one knows that better than the Bears.


Tarvaris Jackson
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
While the Vikings remain hopeful that Brett Favre eventually will decide to return for a 20th NFL season, coach Brad Childress expressed confidence in backups Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels.

Childress, speaking at the NFC coaches' breakfast during the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, pointed to how much Jackson and Rosenfels learned from playing behind Favre last season.

Childress especially focused his comments on Jackson, who has yet to sign the tender the Vikings extended him as a restricted free agent. Nonetheless, it's not expected Jackson will get any offers because that would mean a team would be willing to give up a third-round pick.

"I think they both evolved and grew even though it might have been in a vicarious way last year with Brett. Through him," Childress said. "But I know there was great dialogue and I watched Tarvaris in his games and in his snaps do a great job and I thought he grew mentally, which was as important as anything, in how he approached the game and how he approached practice.

"Really some of the intangible things because there's not statistics for that. I think on face talking to him he'd really admit that it was a great year and you can't put a premium on that. Being around a guy like Favre and growing in our system and seeing how a Hall of Fame quarterback operates our system."

Indications are that if Favre surprises everyone and does decide to retire that Jackson (10-10 as a starter in four NFL seasons) would take over. Jackson was the Vikings' No. 2 quarterback last season.

"If you took it off of last year, yeah," Jackson would be the starter, Childress said. "But we're going to get to the field here before we start next year so we'll just see how those guys have evolved."

Meanwhile, Childress said he had no update on Favre's possible return and clearly the Vikings remain in wait-and-see mode.

"I don't know," Childress said. "Just the same as it has been really. I just don't know. I told these guys before, in this business you have to be able to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity because that's what this is about."

That could continue into the first part of training camp, too, because no one will be surprised if Favre decides to join the Vikings after they return from their stint in Mankato.

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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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