NFC North News

The Bears were cautiously signing mid-level free agents, the Lions were handing out bigger contracts, and the Packers were talking more in-depth about their coaching staff during the first week of free agency.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears added another $4.45 million to their salary-cap war chest early in the week by releasing defensive end Phillip Daniels and quarterback Kordell Stewart, increasing the odds that they'll make a bigger splash in the free-agent market than they did last Wednesday, when they signed running back Thomas Jones and backup quarterback Jonathan Quinn.

Daniels was due a base salary of $3 million this season and a $1 million roster bonus on March 1, with a salary-cap value of $5.6 million, while Stewart's base salary would have been $1.45 million with a cap value of $2.45 million.

The Bears still have in the neighborhood of $14 million in cap money and used a bunch of it on an offer sheet to Chiefs tackle John Tait. The front-loaded deal has an $11.5 million cap charge this year. Kansas City has until Friday (March 12) to match.

Daniels had been arguably the Bears' best all-around defensive lineman for several years, but his sack totals never approached the expectations that earned him a five-year, $24 million contract as a free agent in 2000. He had just 2 1/2 sacks last season and only 23 in four years with the Bears. He also is not the prototypical defensive end in the scheme the Bears will play this season, especially with his high cap number, which would have been the fifth largest among players at his position.

"Some of the players we have, their roles are going to diminish, and that's when the salary implication comes in," Angelo said. "When you talk about cap casualties, it's not necessarily that he's making too much money, it's his new role in the new scheme. If his role diminishes, then obviously he becomes a concern. The three things you're looking at (are) productiveness, how he fits the scheme, and obviously what his salary is."

With Alex Brown emerging as a potential standout at defensive end and 2003 first-round draft pick Michael Haynes showing promise last season, Daniels became expendable.

Stewart became excess baggage when he failed to grasp the system immediately last season, struggled mightily and then saw rookie Rex Grossman show enough production to make coaches believe he will be the Bears' quarterback of the future.


NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
  • The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Jonathan Quinn has started just one game in the past five seasons, but he spent the past two seasons learning Terry Shea's offense as the Kansas City Chiefs' No. 3 quarterback, so he should be prepared to step in for Bears starter Rex Grossman if necessary.

    Quinn, 29, is still somewhat of an unknown quantity because of his limited playing time in his six years. He is a pocket passer with adequate but not exceptional arm strength. He throws a catchable ball and has shown good mechanics and accuracy when he has time. But he struggles to beat the blitz or when he is hurried because he is not very mobile in the pocket.

  • If there was one message that Bears coach Lovie Smith got from the several thousand fans who attended the Bears fan convention Friday and Saturday - other than that they were thrilled to have him in town - it was that they have seen more than enough of the short slant pass that was a staple in John Shoop's offense.

    "Quite a few people have told me that," a grinning Smith told a packed ballroom Saturday morning during a question and answer session featuring himself, GM Jerry Angelo and team president and CEO Ted Phillips. "There is a place for that, but you have to throw the ball down the field, and you're going to see that from us."

    One fan was more specific in his criticism of the short passing game.

    "We don't mind the two-yard slant," he said, "we just don't want to see it on third-and-10."

    Even Smith got into the act. Asked how he planned to beat the Packers - one of his stated goals - he said, "First of all, maybe we should get rid of the slant pass."

  • The Bears cleared another $3 million under the salary cap Wednesday by releasing linebacker Warrick Holdman, who was due a $2.4 million roster bonus on Friday in addition to a $600,000 base salary. The Bears still have about $14 million under this year's cap.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a good fit. He was looking to compete as a starter, and we felt we could recruit him in that fashion, being sensitive to Anthony (Thomas) as well. We felt we needed two good backs, and we didn't want the same back, the same style of back. So we accomplished that. We wanted to create more big plays, and obviously that starts with speed, and he gives us that dimension." - GM Jerry Angelo on RB Thomas Jones.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: Defensive tackle - UFA Keith Traylor won't be back, and holdovers Bryan Robinson and Alfonso Boone are ordinary players, not the kind of playmakers that Lovie Smith needs for his defense; Offensive left tackle - Mike Gandy filled in here for most of the past two seasons, but he's a guard, and he plays left tackle like a guard. 2002 first-round draft pick Marc Colombo may never make it back from a dislocated knee cap suffered in November of that year. The Bears say if they get John Tait, he will play right tackle; Wide receiver - The Bears need a complement for Marty Booker, preferably one with big-play capabilities.

    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (3): OG Corbin Lacina; DT Keith Traylor; WR Dez White.

    RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (2): OT Mike Gandy; DE Joe Tafoya.

    EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (2): OT Steve Edwards; WR Ahmad Merritt.

    PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: FB Stanley Pritchett.

    PLAYERS ACQUIRED: RB Thomas Jones; QB Jonathan Quinn.

    PLAYERS LOST: DE Phillip Daniels; LB Warrick Holdman; CB Todd McMillon; QB Kordell Stewart; OG Chris Villarrial.

    MEDICAL WATCH: OT Marc Colombo will not be ready to compete in minicamps and is shooting for the start of training camp, but he may not be able to come back at all after suffering a dislocated knee cap in November of 2002 and ensuing complications; OG Rex Tucker (torn right ankle tendon) is already back in action and should be 100 percent by the March minicamp; QB Rex Grossman (fractured right index finger) should not be hindered during minicamp practices.



    DETROIT LIONS

    The Lions' defensive secondary problems began five years ago when former first-round draft pick Bryant Westbrook suffered a torn Achilles midway in the 1999 season.

    Since then, the secondary has been virtually nothing but headaches - first for Bobby Ross and Gary Moeller, then for Marty Mornhinweg and eventually Steve Mariucci.

    Westbrook never made it all the way back, Robert Bailey got old, Terry Fair never recovered from a foot injury, Todd Lyght gave it his best shot but his best years were behind him when he got to Detroit in 2001 and Chris Cash did all that could be expected from a sixth-round draft pick.

    After 4 1/2 years of misery, however, Mariucci and Lions president Matt Millen might have finally gotten a handle on the problem.

    They started a year ago by signing unrestricted free agent Dre' Bly, who immediately blossomed into a Pro Bowl cornerback. And they drafted Terrence Holt, who - in the second half of his rookie season — showed promising signs of being an NFL-caliber player.

    And in the first week of free agency, Mariucci and Millen took what they hope will be the next step in upgrading the defensive secondary by signing free agent cornerback Fernando Bryant from Jacksonville.

    Although he might not be the ball hawk that Bly turned out to be with six interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two touchdowns on returns, the Lions believe Bryant's aggressive man-to-man coverage style will fit well with Bly, giving the Lions their best set of cornerbacks in years.

    If Holt continues to develop at free safety and if holdover Brian Walker can handle the strong safety job, the Lions will be far more capable in 2004 than they were in 2003.

    Anything above and beyond that - say, Miami safety Sean Taylor in the draft - will make it just that much better.


    NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
  • Robert Porcher isn't calling it a career after 12 NFL seasons but he's getting a feel for the business side of the game as an intern in the operations side of NFL Europe.

    Porcher was in Orlando last week as the NFL got organized for workouts for players allotted by league teams to play in Europe in the spring months before the start of training camps in July.

    Of course, he had a slight mid-week distraction while his agent, Ricky Lefft, worked out details of a reworked contract to keep Porcher with the Lions for a 13th season, but he still found himself enjoying the internship.

    "I am taking a look at just how the whole operations side of football is run," Porcher said. "I've been here since the 18th (of February) and it's a very good experience. I'm learning a lot.

    "I have a newfound admiration for our front office people, just for the job they do."

    Porcher said he has been involved in virtually all areas of the front office operation of NFL Europe, everything from insurance coverage for players to allocation of players to making sure that the facilities were set up properly for the start of workouts.

    "It's a good experience," Porcher said. "You learn a lot."

    Porcher, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, is the Lions' career sack leader with 95.5.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's contagious, because there's some excitement. Because the team just got better. That's why we lift weights, that's why we practice - to get a little better. Well, we just got better by signing these guys." - Coach Steve Mariucci on the enthusiastic response by Lions players to the signing of free agents Damien Woody and Fernando Bryant.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    The Lions filled two critical needs when they landed guard Damien Woody and cornerback Fernando Bryant in the third day of the free agent signing period.

    They still have some pressing needs - including another starting guard, a wide receiver, running back, safety and a pass rusher.

    After laying out close to $30 million in a six-year deal for Woody and $24 million in six years for Bryant, the Lions aren't out of cap room but any remaining moves will probably be at a lower level.

    The rest they will have to get in the draft or simply go without.

    They re-signed DE James Hall and re-worked DE Robert Porcher's contract to keep him for a 13th NFL season. They would like to bring back LB Barrett Green and G Eric Beverly also, but only for the right price.

    NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: 1. Running back. They released veteran RB James Stewart for cap reasons and last year's biggest producer, Shawn Bryson, is a UFA, leaving only second-year RB Artose Pinner. They need a lead back, probably in the draft but might have to re-sign Stewart just to stay respectable for a year; 2. Wide receiver. The Lions released Bill Schroeder after two unhappy and unproductive seasons but they have to find a replacement to line up across from WR Charles Rogers. Two possibilities - UFA WR Tai Streets of San Francisco and a first or second-round draft pick; 3. Guard. By signing UFA Damien Woody from New England, the Lions are all set at LG but would like to land an experienced starter at RG, then re-sign Eric Beverly as a backup to all three interior line positions.

    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (12): OG Eric Beverly; OG Kerlin Blaise; OG Ray Brown; RB Shawn Bryson; QB Ty Detmer; CB Doug Evans; LB Jeff Gooch; LB Barrett Green; WR Shawn Jefferson; P John Jett; CB Otis Smith; LB Brian Williams.

    RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (7): WR Scotty Anderson; LB Donte' Curry; P Nick Harris; QB Mike McMahon; CB Leonard Myers; WR Reggie Swinton; FB Stephen Trejo.

    EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (5): CB Chris Cash; S Julius Curry; WR David Kircus; LS Jody Littleton; OG Josh Lovelady.

    PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Eddie Drummond; DE James Hall; DT Kelvin Pritchett; S Bracy Walker.

    PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Fernando Bryant; CB Dainon Sidney; OG Damien Woody.

    PLAYERS LOST: DT Luther Elliss; S Corey Harris; WR Bill Schroeder; RB James Stewart.

    MEDICAL WATCH: WR Charles Rogers has finally begun working out. He broke his collarbone in early October and wasn't cleared to do any kind of upper body conditioning until March 1, when he began easing back into the routine.



    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    A growing number of NFL coaches have hired long-time football men to serve in advisory positions. Now Mike Sherman has joined the list.

    Sherman named former NFL head coach and defensive coordinator Vince Tobin to the new post of special assistant on his revamped coaching staff.

    Tobin, 60, will report to Sherman, presenting him with ideas regarding the next opponent and on the Packers' offense, defense and special teams. He has been out of football for two years but was being paid by the Detroit Lions after they fired him as defensive coordinator following the 2001 season.

    As head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 1996-'00, Tobin wished he had had an experienced aide by his side.

    "You sometimes need a sounding board, somebody that's not coaching a particular position or has their own area of the team to protect," Tobin said. "You don't always get as forthright an evaluation as you would if you had somebody who can look at it a little bit more objectively."

    The addition of Tobin means the Packers will have a club-record 18 assistants. The total doesn't include two strength and conditioning assistants, quasi-assistant running backs coach Edgar Bennett and LeRoy Butler, who is committed to an on-field role in minicamps and training camp.

    Sherman, who runs the risk of being worn too thin in his dual role as coach and general manager, hasn't always made the best decisions during games. In Tobin, he will have a confidant who has been an NFL head coach for one more season than he has and a resume replete with 35 years in coaching.

    "Any time you have another set of eyes, a guy that's been in this league as long as he has, he can offer valuable experience in all phases of the game," Sherman said. "I was going to do it last year.

    "Hiring an older coach, all he wants to do is be a part of this team and has no goals or aspirations to be any more than what he's hired to do. That certainly enhances his ability to be focused and to stay on board with me."

    Tobin has no ties to Sherman but is friends with vice president Mark Hatley. The only member of the Packers' staff whom Tobin has worked with is running backs coach Johnny Roland.

    "I certainly could have called it a career but I think this will be a win-win situation for both the Packers and for me," Tobin said. "I have a lot of football left in me. I plan on coaching for several more years."

    No two situations are exactly the same, but Sherman is following in the footsteps of others in the NFL.

    Last year, former NFL head coaches Dick LeBeau, Mike White and Marty Mornhinweg served in advisory capacities in Buffalo, Kansas City and Philadelphia. Jimmy Raye with the New York Jets, Steve Shafer with Jacksonville and Marvin Bass with Atlanta were examples of older coaches helping head coaches in niche-type roles.

    "The thing I'm excited about is the ability to work with pretty much the whole team," Tobin said. "Just an ability to use the knowledge that I've picked up over the years."


    NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
  • Mike Sherman interviewed several candidates, including former Packers offensive linemen Jeff Dellenbach, before giving the assistant offensive line/quality control job to former Packers center James Campen, a high school coach for the past nine seasons at his alma mater, Ponderosa, in Shingle Springs, Calif. He had a 29-20-1 record in five seasons as head coach, resigning in December to pursue an NFL job.

    Campen, 39, started 47 of 61 regular-season games as an gung-ho, overachieving center for the Packers before his career ended with a torn hamstring in Week 4 of 1993. He turned down an offer to work in quality control under Ray Rhodes in Philadelphia.

    "Quite honestly, I didn't feel I was ready to contribute in ‘96," Campen said. "You go through a maturity process. I'm overwhelmed. This was my preference."

  • New tight ends coach Joe Philbin, 42, served as Larry Beightol's assistant in 2003 with the offensive line after directing the offensive line at Iowa from 1999-'02. He is viewed as a possible successor when Beightol, 61, calls it quits.

    Calling Philbin "a rising star," Sherman hopes the switch to tight ends might do for him what it did for Andy Reid and himself. Philbin recently turned down opportunities to interview for other NFL openings.

    "All kidding aside, I have a wife and six kids," Philbin said. "I would have been leaving by myself. There really was not a lot of discussion about leaving Green Bay."

    Philbin played tight end at Washington & Jefferson College (Pa.). He served as an offensive coordinator for eight of his 19 years as a collegiate coach.

  • Jeff Jagodzinski, who was fired last month after five seasons as Packers' tight ends coach, will coach the same position for the Falcons.

    "I love ‘Jags,'" Mora said. "Smart. Big-picture guy. He did a lot of their red-zone stuff."

    Mora also hired Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator 48 hours after he was fired by the Packers.

    "I don't want to criticize another organization for what they did," Mora said. "The Falcons are very fortunate Ed's a member of our staff."

    The deal between Donatell and Mora became final in a span of about five minutes Jan. 17 with a series of quick phone calls between Mora and Donatell, general manager Rich McKay and Mora, and McKay and agent Bob LaMonte.

    Donatell was a graduate assistant at the University of Washington in 1981-'82 when Mora was a defensive back for the Huskies.

    "He had just walked out of Mike's office (Jan. 15) when he called me," Mora said. "He said, ‘Jim, I just got released.' I said, ‘No you didn't. There's no way that happened.'

    "We have similar schemes and motivational philosophies. I knew he was a guy that I could bring in and just say, ‘Run the defense,' and know I was getting what I wanted. We'll have constant discussions leading up to and during the game but I don't want Ed to feel every time he makes a call he has to worry about what I'm saying."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "The thought of playing somewhere else is sickening to me. I grew up with that green and gold and No. 93 on my back. I grew up with that. I grew old with that. I became a man with that. I found out things that I never knew I could do with that, and being around the state of Wisconsin has made me a different guy, a caring guy, an understanding guy. It made me a better father and a better son." - NT Gilbert Brown, who was cut by the Packers Tuesday.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    Tackle Chad Clifton avoided being the franchise player when he signed a six-year contract that includes a $10 million signing bonus this year as well as a $1 million roster bonus.

    The Packers have passed on quarterback Drew Henson, at least for now, but they aren't passing on all the quarterbacks available in unrestricted free agency.

    Late in the week they were in the process of setting up a visit with Tennessee quarterback Billy Volek, an unrestricted free agent who has emerged as a candidate to be heir apparent to Brett Favre.

    "They said they really liked Billy," agent Ken Staninger said. "The thing about Billy is he's in a good situation playing behind Steve McNair. But he's looking for the closest route to getting on the field. Right now, I'm not sure where that is."

    Volek has visited Atlanta, where the Falcons are considering him to back up Michael Vick.

    This was Volek's first season as the true backup and he played in seven games, starting one. In his only start, he showed the toughness of Favre by remaining in the game against Buffalo despite suffering a broken rib and a cut spleen in the third quarter.

    NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: The Packers will be looking to improve their shaky defense in the early stages of the draft; They would like to replace Marques Anderson as the starting strong safety; They would like to sign a defensive end to be in the rotation at the least. Possibly, he would take some playing time away from Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila; They need a cornerback, because Bhawoh Jue is the best that's behind Mike McKenzie and Al Harris; And they would like to find the heir apparent to Brett Favre.

    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (8): P Josh Bidwell; S Antuan Edwards; WR Antonio Freeman; CB/S Michael Hawthorne; QB Doug Pederson; DT Larry Smith; OT Marcus Spriggs; TE Wesley Walls.

    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): S Bobby Jackson; NT Rod Walker.

    RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (4): CB Bhawoh Jue; LB Torrance Marshall; TE David Martin; DT Rod Walker.

    EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (5): OT Kevin Barry; RB Tony Fisher; LB Paris Lenon; CB James Whitley; LB Marcus Wilkins.

    PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Chad Clifton; S Curtis Fuller.

    PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.

    PLAYERS LOST: NT Gilbert Brown.

    MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.





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