Around the NFC North

The Bears' Robbie Gould gets his sack of gold, the Lions' fans continue to support the team despite another non-playoff squad, and the Packers' Aaron Rodger will have his first performance this week in front of fans since being named the starter.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears on Monday signed Robbie Gould to the most lucrative contract for a kicker in NFL history, according to his agent, Brian Mackler.

The five-year, $15 million contract extension (including incentives) exceeds the five-year, $14.2 million deal that Josh Brown signed with the Rams two months ago and includes a slightly higher signing bonus ($4.2 million) than the $4 million the St. Louis kicker received.

"It was an offer I couldn't pass up," said the 26-year-old Gould. "It's the right contract. It's fair for both sides. It's a win-win situation. Josh Brown's contract helped a great deal by setting the standard and some parameters. I'm very happy he got his done. It helped me."

Gould, who is entering the final year of his original contract at a base pay of $520,000, is now signed through 2013. He is the Bears' all-time FG percentage leader among kickers with at least 50 attempts, connecting on 84.8 percent of his kicks (84 of 99). He has also been successful on 99 of 100 extra-point attempts.

Gould is, thus far, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, although he needs 100 field-goal attempts to officially qualify among the leaders. If he makes his first kick in 2008, he will be the third-most accurate kicker in league history.

"One thing I've always tried to do is be consistent," he said. "The only way I could keep a job here is by being consistent."

Gould says the money won't change him as a player.

"Every year I want to be the best kicker in the NFL, and this won't stop me from working to do that," Gould said. "It won't stop me from being a competitor. I want to continue to be more consistent on field goals and get my kickoffs longer. I want to make every field goal. I want to let my teammates know they can count on me."

Gould owns Bears records with 26 straight field goals from Dec. 25, 2005-Nov. 19, 2006 and 22 straight games with a field goal from Oct. 23, 2005-Nov. 6, 2006. Last season he hit 31 of 36 FG attempts (86.1 percent). A year earlier he was voted to the Pro Bowl and named a first-team All-Pro after finishing second in the NFL in scoring and first among kickers with 143 points, converting 32 of 36 (88.9 percent) FG goal attempts and all 47 PATs.

In the sometimes-inclement Chicago weather, Gould has converted 39 of 45 FG attempts (86.7 percent), the highest accuracy all-time among NFL kickers with at least 20 attempts at the stadium. Gould has hit five game-winning field goals, including a 49-yarder in overtime of the 2006 NFC divisional playoff vs. the Seahawks.

The 6-foot, 183-pounder was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2005 but released. He then spent time with the Ravens, where he was also released. In an October tryout with the Bears later that season, Gould outperformed several contenders and went on to hit 21 of 27 FG attempts as a rookie. When he was summoned for the Bears tryout, Gould was working as a laborer for a construction company owned by a family friend near his home in Pennsylvania.

"It was supposed to be a week-to-week deal," Gould said, "and now it's turned out to be a long-term thing."

Several of Gould's teammates are still hoping for new deals or extensions from the Bears, including Pro Bowlers Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester.

"As for other players, I don't know their situations," Gould said. "I can't worry about my teammates. There's a pecking order. If I didn't get this done this year, maybe I'd have to wait until next year, but eventually I knew someone's going to pay me."

NOTES

  • Fifth-round tight end Kellen Davis arrived from Michigan State with some questions about his work ethic that caused him to slip in the draft, along with an aggravated assault charge stemming from a fight at an off-campus party 19 months ago. But the Bears were convinced he was worth the 158th overall pick. So far he hasn't disappointed them, and coach Lovie Smith said he isn't worried about the character concerns.

    "Kellen Davis has been good two days in a row," Smith said at the end of the rookie minicamp in early May. "We wouldn't bring any guys in unless we felt good about them being a good part and a big part of our team, fitting in and all that. We haven't seen any (problems)."

    The 6-foot-7, 262-pound Davis is a virtual lock to replace free-agency loss John Gilmore as the No. 3 tight end, as long as he shows more willingness to use his excellent size and athleticism as a blocker than he did in college.

  • Third-round wide receiver Earl Bennett had an inconsistent first practice at rookie minicamp, showing soft hands on some catches but dropping at least a couple easy ones.

    "When I first came out, I was a little nervous, jittery," said the all-time leading receiver in the Southeastern Conference. "I'm playing at the biggest stage right now, my first practice. But overall I think I came out and did OK. Any time a ball hits my hands, I consider it a drop, so I dropped a couple. But I'll just try to make it up and catch the next ball that comes to me."

    Coach Lovie Smith said he expected some nervousness from all the rookies.

    "They know that this is the most important job interview they've ever had," he said, "and they know what's at stake."

  • Southern Illinois quarterback Nick Hill was one of 10 undrafted free agents at the Bears' rookie minicamp, and he came in with impressive stats, but the other undrafted free-agent quarterback, Colorado State's Caleb Hanie, threw the ball more accurately than Hill.

    Still, the SIU lefty had his moments.

    "He looked smooth," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We sent him some stuff earlier in the week, and it was evident that he studied it, that he got into the playbook a little bit. He had a pretty good grasp of stuff."

    With only Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton returning at quarterback, the Bears are looking to add at least one more to the final roster and maybe another to the practice squad.

  • Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was a third-round draft pick, just like center Olin Kreutz and linebacker Lance Briggs, who have nine Pro Bowl appearances between them.

    "It doesn't matter where you're drafted," said Harrison, whose mother (Michelle Harrison) is from Chicago. "It just matters what you do when you get out there."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "He has excellent speed, he has good size, he can make you miss. All the things you look for in a good running back, he has." --Bears coach Lovie Smith on rookie RB Matt Forte


    DETROIT LIONS

    Despite their dreadful record in recent years — and a half-century without a championship — the Lions continue to have a passionate fan base in Detroit.

    Fans have vented their frustration with president Matt Millen by marching outside the stadium instead of simply staying away. The Lions have sold out every game since moving to Ford Field in 2002.

    The Lions are top talk-radio chatter. Stories about them generate a ton of hits on local newspaper Web sites, even in the offseason.

    Some are fed up and not coming back, but not many.

    The renewal rate for season tickets is approaching 90 percent, according to chief operating officer Tom Lewand, even though the Lions have gone 31-81 over the past seven seasons and just raised prices for most tickets.

    "The loyalty that our fans have shown is nothing short of phenomenal," Lewand said.

    But the Detroit economy has been tough on all teams, even the successful Pistons and Red Wings, and the Lions have not been immune.

    The Lions have introduced the first split-season ticket packages since Ford Field opened. The five-game plans — named for Lions greats Joe Schmidt and Lem Barney — start as low as $230.

    Referring to the Lions' owners, Lewand said: "The Fords have always been proponents of affordable options."

    Lewand said the Lions sold 50 of the packages by noon the first day.

    NOTES

  • A few players aren't participating in organized team activities because of injuries, such as wide receiver Shaun McDonald and safety Daniel Bullocks (knees). Marinelli is not concerned. "Right now I don't anticipate any problem with anybody being ready to go," Marinelli said.

    Tight end Dan Campbell (elbow) might be the exception. "He's one we're just going to have to kind of wait and see," Marinelli said. "I want to be smart with Dan. We've just got to be smart with him. He's been rehabbing well. It's been a successful surgery. I think everybody else should be fine. I'll be careful with him, cautious."

  • Bullocks is progressing well and might participate a little in the mandatory minicamp May 20-22.

    "The trainer feels good; he loves where he's at," Marinelli said. "I think the minicamp he may have a chance to start doing some more work. By camp, they think, he's going to have a chance to be ready to go."

  • Running back Tatum Bell looks a bit heavy, but it's only May. "He might be up there a little bit more, yeah," Marinelli said. "But like I told these guys — told them all — just make sure we're aware of where we're at. Right now, it's still the offseason. But I want to make sure we're working toward the perfect weight to enter camp. I'm aware of every guy. They're made aware of where I want them."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is one of the big reasons, I explained to them, why we had such a great start last year, is our off-season participation." — Coach Rod Marinelli, on the Lions' good turnout for organized team activities.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The public unveiling of Aaron Rodgers as starting quarterback unofficially begins May 21.

    The Packers will hold the first of four outdoor practices that will be open to fans, provided the weather cooperates, as part of their organized team activities.

    The team's OTAs commence May 19 and are spread over four weeks. The full squad will be on hand, although the sessions are voluntary.

    As the sole veteran of the quarterback group, Rodgers gave way to new understudies Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn in the rookie orientation camp earlier this month.

    Now, Rodgers' every move will be scrutinized, from the OTAs to the mandatory minicamp June 17-19 and then from the first day of training camp July 28 through all of next season.

    Such is the life of playing in the small fishbowl of Green Bay and being the successor to the league's only three-time MVP, Brett Favre, who retired in March.

    "Aaron's a pro. He knows this is his gig now," general manager Ted Thompson said. "I know he hasn't played a lot (his first three years in the league) but ... he carries himself very well. He'll be fine. He knows this is his job."

    Rodgers has spent extra time preparing for the starting gig he has coveted since the Packers selected him in the first round of the 2005 draft. He started working with head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements in their quarterback school on St. Patrick's Day (March 17), the first day the younger players began the team's offseason program.

    Second-year running back Ryan Grant also has been a regular attendee for the conditioning and training at the Packers facilities, even though he's not under contract.

    Coming off a surprisingly prolific second half of last season, Grant is seeking a lucrative contract and has refused to sign the team's tender as an exclusive-rights free agent.

    Grant recently said he won't hold out of training camp in lieu of a long-term pact.

    McCarthy told Sirius Radio on May 9 that he's not concerned about Grant's contract situation lingering into the late summer.

    "We're working through that," McCarthy said. "He's here every day working. It's something that we're just looking at, and we'll move forward when the time is appropriate. I have full faith that those things will always be worked out."

    NOTES

  • Brett Favre is coming back to Green Bay this summer, though no word on whether he'll stick around and come out of retirement to play again.

    A week before his former teammates report for the start of training camp, Favre will be at Lambeau Field on July 19 to present Frank Winters for induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Winters was Favre's trusted center and one of the quarterback's off-the-field buddies.

    Nose tackle Gilbert Brown, a teammate of Favre and Winters, also will be enshrined. He will be presented by onetime teammate Santana Dotson.
    Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr will be a presenter as well, for longtime team video director Al Treml.

  • Prior to his return to Green Bay, avid golfer Favre will play for the first time in the American Century Championship celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe, July 8-13.

    Aaron Rodgers, Favre's successor with the Packers, will be a repeat participant in the event that attracts A-list celebrities from sports and entertainment.

  • Although the St. Louis Rams are relocating their training camp to the Milwaukee suburb of Mequon, they won't be a practice partner for the Packers this year. The Rams previously arranged joint workouts with the Tennessee Titans.

    The Rams will become the third NFL team to have training camp in Wisconsin. The Packers have traditionally trained in Green Bay. The Kansas City Chiefs have been in River Falls for several years.

  • As far as Packers rookie offensive tackle Breno Giacomini knows, he is the first player who is a descendant of soccer-crazed Brazil to join the ranks of the NFL.

    "It makes me proud, my family proud, a lot of people in Brazil," Giacomini said. "They're always calling my mother."

    Giacomini, a fifth-round draft pick out of Louisville, is often confused for being Italian.

    "Really, the only Italian person in my family was my great grandfather," Giacomini said. "Everybody else is from Brazil. My parents came here about a year before I was born."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "(One) of the things he said was he loves the competition, (but) he's just tired of the daily grind. And, I feel the same way." — LPGA star Annika Sorenstam, who on May 13 while announcing her plan to retire at the end of the year referenced the March 6 retirement news conference by Packers quarterback Brett Favre.


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