Around the NFC North
Six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who missed the final three preseason games with a bruised knee, says he will play in Sunday's season opener.
That's the extent of the good news from Briggs, who wants to be traded if the Bears won't renegotiate his six-year, $36 million contract that has three more years to run. That's unlikely to happen this year, if at all, which means Briggs will have to deal with it, at least for awhile. The timing of his request is questionable at best, coming just before the Bears embark on a season in which they hope to improve on last season, when they fell a game short of the Super Bowl.
"It was necessary," Briggs said. "This wasn't the first time I contacted the Bears. I contacted the Bears after the (2010) season. If the organization says (it's) not willing to talk about my deal now or during the season or at the end of the season or next year, then I know that my days here are numbered."
Only if the Bears decide they are, since they hold all the cards. Briggs is under contract, so he's in no position to demand anything. If the Bears want to play hardball, which they seem inclined toward, they can basically tell Briggs, "You play for us or you don't play."
That's kind of the point of a contract, but Briggs and his agent Drew Rosenhaus don't seem to understand that, even though Briggs agrees that his was a fair deal when it was signed prior to the 2008 season.
"Since I've signed the deal, have I not lived up to the contract?" Briggs said. "OK, and (I've) continued to do that year in and year out."
Apparently Briggs believes that living up to a contract for half of its duration makes him an honorable man. But it begs the question: If it was a fair deal then, why isn't it a fair deal now?
"If I play at X amount of money, and then this year I'm asked to play for half of that, my play doesn't decrease, right?" Briggs said. "Correct? So I have every right to go in and ask -- and ask -- for a raise or, in this case, ask to at least flip the years. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that."
One of the options Briggs has suggested is flip-flopping this year's base salary of $3.9 million with his 2013 base salary of $6.5 million, which would give him an extra $2.6 million this year.
There's nothing wrong with asking for a raise. There's also nothing wrong with the Bears saying, "No." Or pointing out that he signed a contract for six years, not for three years with an option to whine about a renegotiation halfway through.
"The main ingredient here is to get something," Briggs said. "Or have management that's willing to even talk. Whether it be, 'Hey, let's deal with it at the end of the season,' then I have something to work with. But when the organization says 'We're not talking now; we're not talking ever,' then that puts me in a position where I know my days are numbered."
On the positive side, Briggs says his contract situation won't affect his play on the field, which has been exceptional since he cracked the starting lineup early in his rookie season.
"Nothing changes out on the practice field," he said. "When we go out there and I get coached, and I learn and I get ready for our opponent. Nothing changes."
And there's no reason to doubt that Briggs will continue to be a Pro Bowl player.
"It hasn't affected him," coach Lovie Smith said. "To me, everyone here has a contract, and they're all honoring their contracts. When you go to work, when you have a job to do, your teammates are all expecting you to do your job, and that's what Lance has done. If there is something going on, you can't tell it out here, and that's all I'm interested in."
As the Lions show improvement, and appear headed to being consistently competitive, the roster decisions become more difficult,
That was the case Saturday as some veteran offensive linemen were released, along with cornerback Nathan Vasher and punter Nick Harris.
The linemen - Kirk Chambers, Rudy Niswanger and Donald Thomas - have played a combined total of 17 seasons. But Harris was the most notable cut.
He has been the team's punter for More than seven seasons. But youth, which also means lower finances, meant his time in Detroit was up. Still, Harris left with his head held high after rookie free-agent Ryan Donahue won the job.
Said Harris, "The Lions would be getting a good punter either way. But Ryan's going to do well. He has a huge upside, awesome potential."
Harris said the team was straight with him. "They told me it came down to two things -- my contract and my age," he said. "They said they wanted to get younger and cheaper and that it had nothing to do with performance."
With Donahue making the minimum salary of $375,000, going with him takes Harris' $1.4 million salary off the books.
Leaving will be difficult, he said. "It's hard because I consider Detroit my home now. My kids were born here. I have really great connections here now with friends, relationships, church.
"I know in the NFL nothing lasts forever. I just didn't expect it to end so quickly here."
He wanted to make sure he exited being positive.
He said, "I had a good career here and I felt it went well (during the preseason). Being in the NFL, I know how it works and I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.
"Don't depict me as sour grapes or being bitter in any way, because I am really not. When I got cut in Cincinnati, I came here and things turned out great. I am optimistic that something good will come out of this."
The day after the cut to 53, the Lions picked up guard Jacques McClendon on waivers from Indianapolis and running back Keiland Williams from Washington. The arrival of Williams resulted in Aaron Brown being placed on waivers.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Running back James Starks received an earful from quarterback Aaron Rodgers as they headed off the field following a drive-killing sack in the Aug. 26 preseason game at Indianapolis.
What may have appeared to the national TV audience as Rodgers' scolding his young back for not helping left tackle Chad Clifton on defensive end Dwight Freeney, who recorded the sack on the third-down play, was nothing of the sort.
Although Rodgers had motioned Starks from the quarterback's right side in shotgun formation to the left side moments before taking the center snap, Starks wasn't to blame for the sack since Freeney beat Clifton on a move to the inside.
The criticism leveled by Rodgers in Starks' direction after the play amid the Lucas Oil Stadium din instead had to do with where the running back didn't get in time to try to help bail out his quarterback before Freeney arrived.
"I was supposed to get out on the checkdown a little faster," Starks said. "(Rodgers) just was telling me if you go out to chip on him and (the guy's not there), 'Look for the ball a little faster and get out on your checkdowns.'"
Starks chalked it up as a big lesson learned in his development as an all-around NFL back. While veteran Ryan Grant is healthy again after missing all but one game last season because of an ankle injury and projects to make the start in Thursday's season opener, Starks could be thrust into a major role in the game against the Saints.
It's no secret the New Orleans defense is blitz-centric under wily coordinator Gregg Williams. That probably will result in the Packers' going with a heavy dose of their third-down formations with extra protection for Rodgers even on early downs.
Just who will be Green Bay's third-down back hasn't been publicly revealed by the coaches this week, but Starks looks to be the ideal candidate more than Grant or rookie Alex Green.
"In my opinion, from last year to this year, he's made a tremendous amount of headway (in that role) -in terms of his understanding of the schemes and what different defenses and what problems they pose," said Jerry Fontenot, the Packers' first-year running backs coach. "He's come quite a distance."
Starks, who emerged as a productive rusher as a rookie in the Packers' late-season run to the 2010 title, carried the football only four times this preseason. He missed one game because of an ankle injury.
Yet, he received plenty of run as Rodgers' backfield protector in the exhibition games Starks played, especially for long stretches in the third preseason game against the Colts. In that game, Green Bay went no-huddle for most of the first half in which the starters played, and Starks was the primary third-down back who stayed on the field.
Fontenot on Monday reiterated head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy's declaration at the start of the preseason for having the backs - namely Grant and Starks - share the load of carrying the football this season.
"(Will it be) evenly dispersed?" Fontenot said. "I can't guarantee it. But, I'm certainly going to try to get each of those guys equal opportunities to carry the football, hold onto the football and control the clock for us."
However, if McCarthy goes with the no-huddle as a counterpunch to the Saints' blitz schemes, Starks presumably stands to gain the most with playing time.
"I'm comfortable," Starks said of the third-down role. "I learn each day new protections and stuff, as far as where I've got to be and certain checkdowns and certain protections. I'm still getting better at it."
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