NFC North Tour: Bears Revamp 'D'

In Chicago, it's hello, Julius Peppers, and goodbye, Alex Brown. In Detroit, the Lions are leaving no stone unturned in trying to reverse their losing ways. In Minnesota, the Vikings are waiting on you-know-who.

The Bears' defense will have a drastically different look in 2010, especially along the line.

With recently acquired Julius Peppers anchored at one end, the Bears cut eight-year veteran Alex Brown on Thursday afternoon in a cost-cutting move. He had base salaries of $5 million this season and $5.5 million in 2011. Brown has started every game in six of the last seven seasons at defensive right end. The Bears have already informed unrestricted free agent Adewale Ogunleye, their starter at left end the past six seasons, that he is not a part of their future.

Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije are expected to compete for the starting spot opposite Peppers, with Anderson providing a pass-rush presence and Idonije filling the role of run stopper.

The 30-year-old Brown had six sacks in three of the past five seasons, 4.5 in 2007 and seven in '06. The fourth-round pick in 2002 out of Florida played in every Bears game since Week Two of his rookie season, a total of 127 in a row, the second-longest consecutive-games streak among all NFL defensive linemen.

Brown started all 16 games in five of the last six seasons, but was relegated to backup in 2007 in a failed experiment to force Anderson into a starting role. While Anderson's 5 sacks that season were one-half more than Brown, Brown's 58 tackles were second among Bears linemen and 22 more than Anderson's 36.

Peppers could move to right end permanently, although the Bears have discussed playing him at both ends.

"There are pros and cons with both sides," Bears coach Lovie Smith said at the owners' meetings in Orlando, Fla., earlier this week. "We're keeping our options open with him. He's played both. We could just lock him into the left and let him go against the (opponent's) worst tackle, the right tackle. But we're going to let him play both. We can try to find ways to get him one on one, which is important for us.

"He really doesn't have a preference. He's had sacks on both sides. I've seen him be dominant on both sides. There are a lot of options he's given us. It might be a good thing to have him on one side and (tackle) Tommie (Harris) opposite him, or two of them together. Who do you double?"

Idonije has bounced back and forth between backup gigs at tackle and end since joining the Bears in 2004, bulking up to almost 300 pounds when he played inside and dropping to 270 when he was at end. He had 2 1/2 sacks last season and has never had more than the 3 1/2 sacks he had in 2008, but the Bears believe he will benefit from focusing one just one position.

"It's amazing what the guy can do with his body," Smith said in regard to Idonije's ability to gain and lose weight while maintaining the sculpted look of a bodybuilder. "I'd like to see him lock in and be more of a defensive end and see how good he can become."

Anderson, a fifth-round pick out of Alabama in 2006 burst on the scene with 12 sacks as a rookie, playing mostly as a situational pass rusher. But he has never recaptured that knack for the sack, totaling just 9 1/2 in the next three seasons. He did, however, show glimpses of his old form last year.

"We were very happy with Mark Anderson last year," Smith said. "He played better than he was given credit for. We feel comfortable with him. He's been a starter for us in the past."

Bears quick hit

— Restricted free agent safety Danieal Manning is not participating in the Bears' off-season program, which began Monday, March 29, because he's upset at receiving the lowest tender offer ($1.176 million) from the team.

Manning has more starts at safety (38) than anyone since Lovie Smith took over as coach in 2004 and maybe he deserves a higher offer. He's also got as good a chance of anyone on the roster to wind up as one of the starters at safety because he's the most physically gifted. He's also one of the better kickoff returners in the NFL, and that alone should make him valuable to the Bears, who place a premium on special teams. But Manning has a much better chance of getting the multiyear contract he believes he deserves if he is in the building.

Detroit Lions


Pacman Jones
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
After losing an NFL-record 30 games over two years, the Lions have looked everywhere in an attempt to upgrade their talent level. They have not been afraid to explore players who have had character issues.

The Lions looked into trading for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, whom the Chargers eventually shipped to the Jets. They're looking into signing cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones, an unrestricted free agent attempting a comeback, and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent from the Saints. All of those players have had off-field issues.

Coach Jim Schwartz pointed out that people mature and that Academy Awards have been won telling the stories of "somebody being high, going all the way down to the bottom and then getting back again." One example he cited was wide receiver Cris Carter, who had addiction problems early in his NFL career with the Eagles but overcame them with the Vikings. Carter has been a Hall of Fame finalist.

"Should you not have been interested in Cris Carter when he went to Minnesota?" Schwartz said. "Well, he proved that you should have been. There's been a million of them."

But the Lions have taken a practical approach in these situations, trying to weigh risk and reward.

"We haven't just taken a blanket, 'Hey, look, we're not messing with that at all,' or, 'We're ignoring that, and we're signing them strictly on football,' " Schwartz said. "There's obviously a balance to it."

Everyone has been involved, all the way up to owner William Clay Ford and vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. Mayhew said they definitely had talked to the Fords about Jones and his workout.

"Those are football decisions, and Jim and Martin are going to make them," Ford Jr. said. "I'm not going to comment, because it's all hypothetical now. I think you have to take it on a case by case."

Ford Jr. said Mayhew and Schwartz run all personnel decisions by ownership, as a courtesy. He said Mayhew, Schwartz and Sheldon White, the vice president of pro personnel, "will know those people and their character far better than I will."

Mayhew said the Lions have unusual insight into Jones and Hargrove. Schwartz was the Titans' defensive coordinator when Jones played for them in 2005-06. One of Mayhew's old teammates is former NFL star cornerback Deion Sanders, who has been working with Jones. Mayhew is also friends with Hargrove's agent, Phil Williams, who once represented him.

"In both those guys' case, we have a little bit of history with both those guys," Mayhew said. "So we have a little bit more information I think than some other people might have."

Mayhew said he would not be rushed into anything. Despite a report at profootballtalk.com that the Lions had agreed to terms with Jones, the Lions are taking their time.

"It was like, 'Huh?' " said Ray Savage, Jones' agent. "We have a couple trips scheduled to a couple teams. I talked to Martin, and I talked to the Detroit Lions, and there is interest. They're kind of dragging their feet a little bit. I'm trying to get them a little bit more information so they can make this thing happen. But we've not talked numbers or anything yet."

Knowledge goes both ways. Though Schwartz has firsthand knowledge of the talent that made Jones the No. 6 overall pick in '05, he also knows about Jones' off-field problems. Jones was suspended for the 2007 season and part of the '08 season. He did not play in '09.

"There's something to be said for 'clean slate,' but he obviously doesn't have one, you know?" Schwartz said. "He's at a little different point in his career (with) everything that's gone on. There's going to be more scrutiny with him. I mean, if he gets a parking ticket, it's going to be news. And he needs to understand that, and I'm sure he does. And the team needs to understand that.

"Clean slate sounds good and probably should be the case, but he's probably not in that category."

Lions quick hit

Shortly after the 2009 season ended, general manager Martin Mayhew made it clear the Lions would be looking for a new running back.

Instead, the Lions have been curiously quiet since. Their only acquisition has been DeDe Dorsey, the most valuable player of the UFL title game last year. They didn't chase free agents like Chester Taylor and Thomas Jones. So is it safe to assume, then, that the Lions are focusing on the draft April 22-24?

"I don't think so," Mayhew said. "Frequently, running backs are out there available in free agency later in the year and that kind of thing. We also have the trade option. And obviously there's a draft coming up. So I think we have several different opportunities to improve in that spot."

Minnesota Vikings


Donovan McNabb
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
While the Vikings continue to wait for Brett Favre to decide if he will return for the 2010 season, they evidently have lost out on the opportunity to get Donovan McNabb as his possible successor.

At least for the short term.

McNabb, who is being shopped by Philadelphia, reportedly has told the Eagles that if he is going to be traded his first choice was to play for the Vikings.

This makes sense because of McNabb's familiarity with Vikings coach Brad Childress and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers.

McNabb and Brad Childress arrived in Philadelphia in 1999 — Childress was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator — and McNabb knows Rogers very well from their time together at Syracuse.

McNabb also is from the Chicago area and being in Minnesota would put him about an hour-long plane ride from his hometown.

The Vikings' issue is they don't want to do anything to alienate Favre after making it clear to him that he could have all the time he needs to make up his mind about whether he wants to play a 20th NFL season.

Favre might not arrive in Minnesota again until after the Mankato portion of training camp is complete, but the Vikings aren't going to complain as long as he returns.

Childress' feeling is that Favre's outstanding play helped the Vikings to a second consecutive NFC North title and to reach the conference title game this past season and there is no reason he can't repeat those results. Favre will turn 41 on Oct. 10.

Meanwhile, there is a chance the Vikings could hope that McNabb gets traded to a place like Oakland for the final year of his contract and then becomes a free agent next offseason.

That could leave him in a position to join the Vikings — assuming Favre is not debating about returning for a 21st season come next spring.

Vikings quick hit

For the second consecutive year, the Vikings have signed a former Green Bay Packer. This year's addition, however, isn't exactly of the same high-profile nature of the team's marquee signing of 2009.

Last August, Favre ended his second attempt at retirement in late August and agreed to a two-year, $25 million contract with Minnesota. This time, the Vikings signed defensive end Michael Montgomery to a one-year contract for approximately $630,000.

A sixth-round pick by the Packers in 2005, Montgomery becomes the second player the Vikings have signed since free agency opened. Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd was signed to a two-year pact worth $545,000 per season.

Montgomery comes to Minnesota after failing to fit into the Packers' new 3-4 defensive scheme last season and also battling injuries. Montgomery's agent, Blake Baratz, said it was important to get his client back into a 4-3 defense.

Montgomery will be expected to back up both end positions, but the reality is that starting right end Jared Allen rarely comes out of games.


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