Around the NFC North

Chicago Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs tried to clarify his strong statements about his contract and future, Pro Bowl cornerback Dre Bly is traded and the Lions try to explain, and the Packers finally made their first move in free agency. Get news, notes and quotes from around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS


Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs attempted to clarify his standoff with the Bears when he spoke to FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer and then Chicago's sports-talk radio station WSCR-AM 670, but he didn't back off his threat to sit out the 2007 season rather than accept the team's franchise tag and the one-year, $7.2 million contract that comes with it.

He said he wouldn't play under those terms.

"That doesn't mean I'll sit out a year," Briggs said, "but I'm prepared to do that."

Briggs also has been quoted as saying he will never play another down for the Bears, but he has backed off that statement.

Briggs wants a multi-year deal commensurate with his considerable achievements, and he rejected the notion that the Bears' seven-year, $33 million offer a year ago meets his requirements. The Bears have characterized their offer as a six-year deal for $33 million.

"The deal was for seven years," Briggs said. "I believe I'm worth more. I want fair-market value. But, when they say, ‘Take it or leave it,' that's not a negotiation. I figured we'd meet somewhere in the middle."

Briggs said Bears general manager Jerry Angelo did not return the latest call from the weak-side linebacker and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Because he was a third-round draft choice in 2003, Briggs did not get anywhere close to the money that first-rounders receive, even though he's outperformed most of them. His base salary last season was $710,000, and he anticipates he'll only get one chance at a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with a guaranteed signing bonus well in excess of $10 million.

The franchise tag delays his entry into the free-agent market by a year, and a serious injury could prevent him from ever cashing in on a long-term deal.

"How many contracts will I see?" Briggs said. "This is it for me."

NOTES

  • Even before defensive tackle Tank Johnson was sentenced to 120 days in prison for violating terms of a 2005 probation, the Bears were experiencing a tumultuous off-season, especially for an NFC championship team.

    General manager Jerry Angelo was panned for trading a running back, Thomas Jones, who had rushed for 2,545 yards over the past two seasons, to the Jets in exchange for moving up from 63rd to 37th in the second round of the upcoming draft.

    Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has vowed not to play this season under the franchise tag and has said he will sit out the season rather than suiting up for $7.2 million for the Bears.

    "When you win, you're not oblivious to problems," Angelo said. "Your problems are just different problems. So these things, from my perspective, are part of that. We have to weigh each player individually. There's going to be other things as we go along.

    "These situations aren't isolated. There'll be other players with other situations. It just comes with being successful. I can't say it any clearer than that. If you're in the business, it's probably more common practice to see that."

  • New Bears quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton spent last season as an assistant quarterbacks coach with the 49ers, helping offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler develop promising young quarterback Alex Smith. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 2,890 yards with 16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 74.8 passer rating.

    Now, Hamilton will be working with Norv Turner's brother Ron, the Bears' offensive coordinator, and young quarterback Rex Grossman, who endured a roller coaster 2006 season.

    "I think (Grossman and Smith) have a lot in common," Hamilton said. "They're both tough, gritty and very competitive guys, and they both started 16 games last year. With a young quarterback, you want to make sure that going into the ballgame that you make certain that they have a comprehensive understanding of what you're trying to do and make things as absolute as possible."

  • Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris still isn't moving with the quickness that got him voted to the past two Pro Bowl teams, but he's confident that he'll be full strength long before the Bears start training camp in late July.

    "I'm doing well," Harris said three months after a season-ending hamstring injury. "I'm just rehabbing every day, trying to get back and experience the same thing that my teammates got to experience this year (Super Bowl XLI)."

    Harris said his rehab is restricted only by common sense.

    "I do whatever I want," he said. "I can run, I can jump, I can jog. I just have to do it a little slower now, but as time goes on, I'm getting better and better each week and I'll be ready."

  • Bears coach Lovie Smith has a much different take on the franchise tag than Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who says he won't play for the Bears in that role.

    "When you franchise somebody, you're saying, No. 1, that you want them to be a big part of your future," Smith said. "Lance is a big part of our future."

    But the Bears have no intention of Briggs being in their future beyond the 2007 season. They have not negotiated with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, since Briggs rejected a seven-year, $33 million deal a year ago. But the Bears definitely want Briggs on the field for the coming season.

    "He's a good football player," Smith said. "We want him to be a part of our team. I would look at the franchise tag like that. You only put franchise tags on guys that you think a lot of. Great players; that's what Lance is."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know on the outside it looks like we want to dismantle the team. It has nothing to do with that. We want to keep this the best possible football team that we can. And that's what we're trying to do." — Bears GM Jerry Angelo


    DETROIT LIONS

    The Lions had good reasons for trading Dre' Bly. A pure cover corner, he wasn't at his best playing a zone, run-stuffing role in the Tampa Two defense. He wasn't leading the way the Lions felt a defensive captain should.

    But when the Lions shipped Bly and a sixth-round draft pick to the Broncos for running back Tatum Bell, offensive lineman George Foster and a fifth-round pick, they got rid of one of their few Pro Bowl players.

    And they further thinned an already thin position.

    For now, at least, Stanley Wilson is penciled in as Bly's replacement. The Lions drafted Wilson in the third round in 2005. They say they are pleased with his development, but he hasn't shown he has anything close to Bly's ability.

    The other starting corner is Fernando Bryant, who has missed 26 games and made zero interceptions in the three years since leaving the Jaguars as a free agent.

    The Lions signed free agent Travis Fisher. That fits their pattern of signing players who have played for their coaches in the past. Fisher comes from the Rams, where Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz was the head coach.

    But Fisher is expected to provide depth as the replacement for free agent Jamar Fletcher. He isn't considered a long-term answer. He is on a one-year contract.

    Expect the Lions to target cornerback in the upcoming draft — not with their first pick, but not too long thereafter.

    NOTES

  • The signing of running back T.J. Duckett might have less to do with Kevin Jones' foot injury than the Lions' lack of a short-yardage game. The Lions needed insurance for Jones, who might miss part of the 2007 season, but acquiring Tatum Bell from the Broncos seemingly took care of that. Duckett brings a bruising inside running game — though critics in Atlanta and Washington say he runs softer than he looks — and the Lions have had a lot of trouble running in the red zone.

  • The Lions lost a fan favorite when fullback Cory Schlesinger signed with the Dolphins as a free agent. Schlesinger spent his first 12 NFL seasons in Detroit and endeared himself to the blue-collar faithful by breaking facemask after facemask in collisions with linebackers like the Bears' Brian Urlacher. He fit the football character coach Rod Marinelli says he wants, but he didn't fit offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system. He had eight catches and zero carries last year.

  • Since hiring Rod Marinelli last year, the Lions have brought in a large number of players who have played for their coaches before. Three of the four free agents they have signed fit the pattern: Defensive end Dewayne White came from Tampa Bay, where Marinelli was the defensive line coach and defensive coordinator Joe Barry was the linebackers coach. Wide receiver Shaun McDonald and cornerback Travis Fisher came from St. Louis, where Martz was the head coach.

  • More old friends might be on the way. The Lions lost out on former Rams receiver Kevin Curtis. But they have hosted offensive linemen Edwin Mulitalo, who played for offensive line coach Jim Colletto in Baltimore, and Cosey Coleman, who played in Tampa Bay.

  • Curtis' flight to Philly might have been bad news for the Lions, but it might have been good news for Mike Williams. Had the Lions signed Curtis, the thin ice under Williams' feet might have cracked. Williams is still standing for now, but his future in Detroit depends on whether he can keep his weight down.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "From the start of the week, Philly was where I wanted to be." — WR Kevin Curtis told Philadelphia reporters, after choosing the Eagles even though many thought he wanted to reunite with Mike Martz in Detroit.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers no longer can be criticized for standing idly by during free agency, although the news of their first acquisition hardly made headlines.

    The team signed cornerback Frank Walker, an unrestricted free agent formerly of the New York Giants, to a one-year contract March 15. The deal is reportedly valued at $1.24 million, including a $750,000 base salary and bonuses of upward of $500,000.

    The 5-foot-11, 196-pound Walker stands to fill the void at nickel back.

    The sixth-round draft pick started only five games in four seasons with the Giants but is regarded for his tenacity and having a nose for the football. Of his 52 career tackles, 43 are solo, and he has five interceptions as a pro.

    Green Bay kept Walker from literally getting off the ground when it brokered the deal the morning of March 13. Walker, who had visited the Packers earlier in the week, boarded a plane in Atlanta for a scheduled visit to Seattle and had to plead to flight attendants to let him off shortly before takeoff after agreement was reached on the contract.

    "The contract was easy. Getting him off the plane was hard," Walker's agent, Harold Lewis, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    NOTES

  • Head coach Mike McCarthy is anticipating near-perfect attendance when the team begins its off-season workout program March 19.

    "There are a handful of veteran guys who most likely won't be here," McCarthy said. "(But) it's going to be an excellent off-season program."

    Quarterback Brett Favre will be among the handful of no-shows. Favre is recovering from last month's surgery on his left ankle. McCarthy said Favre is progressing well with his rehab, and the 17th-year veteran apparently is on track to at least do some partial work during the full-squad minicamp in mid-May.

    Favre's top backup, Aaron Rodgers, figures to be eased into the start of the off-season workouts, which includes a quarterback school coordinated by McCarthy, after recovering from a broken left foot sustained in November. Rodgers, though, is the subject of trade rumors involving Oakland receiver Randy Moss.

  • Favre will be honored March 30 by a drug-counseling agency for the public stance he took last season on the NFL's handling of the one-year suspension leveled against teammate Koren Robinson for a repeat violation of the substance-abuse policy.

    Favre felt that the league "turned its back" on Robinson by banishing the team from having interaction with the receiver during the suspension, which began in October. Robinson also is barred from team facilities until he possibly gains reinstatement this September.

    "If he can't play, fine. If that's your ruling, fine," Favre said after Robinson was suspended. "But, at least let him come in where guys can say, ‘Hey, Koren, can we help you out? You need someone to talk to?'"

    A support system was in place for Favre when he was treated in 1996 for an addiction to painkillers.

    "He had a few close teammates who supported him then, and I'm sure those memories were fresh in his mind when he chose to speak out in support of Koren," Packers spokesman Zak Gilbert said.

    Favre will receive a Bronze Key Award, the highest honor of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, from the Waukesha, Wis.-based Addiction Resource Council.

  • Cornerback Al Harris is having a banner off-season. It started in early February with his receiving a two-year contract extension, for which he had been lobbying for a year.

    Then, on the eve of the start of the off-season workout program, South Florida resident Harris spent a few days at Disney World and was married there.

  • The Packers' annual shareholders meeting will be held the morning of July 25 at Lambeau Field.

    It's the fourth time, and the second straight year, that fans who own "stock" in the publicly supported franchise will congregate inside the stadium for the event. Shareholders are allowed to bring one guest.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believe very strongly that our general manager, Ted Thompson, knows exactly what he's doing. He's always had a plan; he sticks by it; and all of our front-office people do a great job, so we just continue to trust them. I really feel that we've got a lot of the pieces already in place." — Defensive end Aaron Kampman on management's low-key approach to acquiring players in the off-season thus far, despite the team's having more than $20 million in salary-cap space.

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