NFC North news, notes and quotes

Can the Bears be "more than fine" by acquiring a top-notch wide receiver via trade or free agency? Can NFL analyst Matt Millen put a dispute with the Lions aside when it comes time offer commentary on them? Can Packers safety Nick Collins adjust to a new defense without the benefit of attending OTAs this offseason.


Most of the recent Bears talk concerning wide receivers has been about those who aren't on the roster.

Two tremendously skilled wide receivers with serious character concerns are available. Plaxico Burress is a free agent facing prison time, and Brandon Marshall, who has 13 police incidents on his record, wants a trade out of Denver.

Both are impact players, Pro Bowl talents and difference makers. Both are also potentially trouble. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has good things to say about both, but he's not campaigning for either one, even though the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall was his go-to receiver the past two years with the Broncos, catching 206 passes for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"We're good to go," Cutler said Wednesday after the Bears' 13th and final OTA practice. "We've got everything we need out there. With Devin (Hester) and Earl (Bennett) and Brandon (Rideau) and Rashied (Davis) and the tight ends, and our running backs doing a good job of getting out of the backfield, we're going to be more than fine from the outset."

But they could be a lot better. The Bears continue to show interest in Burress, but not to the point of doing anything about it.

"Plaxico Burress is a good football player," coach Lovie Smith said. "Of course we all know that. We keep all of our options open."

Then comes the obligatory disclaimer from Smith: "But I feel good about our team that we have right now, and I feel good about the receivers we have right now."

The odds of landing Marshall aren't good, perhaps unrealistic, and Smith refuses to answer questions about players under contract to other teams because of the NFL's tampering rules. That doesn't mean the Bears are not interested; they just can't admit it. A big hurdle could be compensation should the Broncos decide to deal their star receiver. The going trade rate for a No. 1 receiver is two draft picks in the first three rounds. Even though Marshall's rap sheet might lower his value, the Broncos can hold firm knowing the receiver has few options and little leverage.

Burress caught just 35 passes for 454 yards in an injury-plagued 2008, but in the previous three seasons, he caught 29 TD passes and averaged 70 receptions and 1,076 yards. He's also been durable, missing just eight games in seven seasons before 2008.

The case against Burress, criminal possession of a weapon, was brought after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub last November. It has been adjourned until Sept. 23, but, if convicted of that charge, Burress faces a minimum sentence of 3 1/2 years. His lawyer claims the case won't go to trial until next year. Even if Burress beats the rap, he could be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Still, the Bears continue to weigh the risks and rewards of signing the 6-foot-5 Burress, who has better size and a more impressive track record than any wide receiver on their roster. He also has a more checkered past than anyone at Halas Hall, which includes chronic tardiness and absence from practices and team meetings.

Burress also has faced domestic violence problems in the past, and prior to catching the game-winning TD pass in Super Bowl XLII, he had reportedly been fined by the Giants 40-50 times.

The Bears suspended three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris for one game last season because of habitual tardiness.

What happens if they make Burress their go-to receiver and he pulls the same immature, me-first shenanigans? And, considering he's already worn out his welcome with the Steelers and Giants, it seems likely he'd do the same here, but he hasn't been ruled out.

"The door is never closed on anyone who's available," Smith said. "It's not like we're aggressively going after him, but we evaluate everyone that we think will make our team better."

As for Marshall, the Bears don't have a first-round draft pick next year, having used it to acquire Cutler, and it would take at least a No. 1 to get Marshall.

It was a little over a year ago that Cutler ripped his No. 1 receiver following offseason horseplay that resulted in Marshall cutting an artery, a vein, a nerve, two tendons and three muscles in his right arm.

"Yeah, he's not my favorite person right now," Cutler said then. "I mean, I support him, but it's always something with him."

Prior to that, Marshall had been arrested for DUI and a domestic dispute.

"He's been in (former Broncos coach Mike) Shanahan's office many times," Cutler said last offseason. "I've been up there with him. He said the same thing: ‘This is a wakeup call. This is the last thing that's going to happen. Blah, blah, blah.' I mean, until he goes out and proves it, we'll see what happens."

Despite the offseason drama, Marshall caught 104 passes for 1,265 yards last season. But Cutler hasn't spoken to him recently.

"He's a great player," Cutler said. "I played with him for three years, put up a lot big numbers with him, and wherever he ends up, obviously he's going to be successful. Whether or not it's here, that's up to the guys upstairs. But, as of right now, I'm 100 percent happy with what we've got."

But could he be happier?


The Matt Millen saga continues.

The Lions fired Millen as their team president in September, but they reportedly have not paid him the balance of his contract. Millen confirmed the dispute in a recent conference call to discuss his new job at NFL Network.

"That's kind of ongoing right now," Millen said.

Asked if he could be more descriptive, Millen said: "I can't be. I'm just going to leave it at that."

Millen will serve as an analyst for NFL Network on "Thursday Night Football," and he will work as a college football and NFL analyst for ESPN. He said the situation with the Lions would not affect his coverage of them.

"I have absolutely no issue with the Detroit Lions at all," Millen said. "We're golden, and things are working forward. That's the first thing.

"The second thing is, how will I handle that with the Lions? I'll handle the Lions like I do any other football team — just look at them and break them down and see where they're at."

The Lions have gone 31-97 since they hired Millen in 2001. They were 31-84 when they fired Millen in September, then went on to lose the next 13 games and finish the NFL's first 0-16 season.

Millen is not scheduled to cover any Lions games, but issues directly or indirectly related to the team are bound to come up in studio shows at ESPN or on site for NFL Network.

Millen's first game for NFL Network is Nov. 12, Bears at 49ers. The Bears' defensive line coach is Rod Marinelli, the last man Millen hired to be the Lions' head coach. Steve Mariucci, whom Millen hired and fired as Lions coach, is also an NFL Network analyst.

If anything, Millen sounded tempted to be pro-Detroit, praising general manager Martin Mayhew, coach Jim Schwartz, owner William Clay Ford and Lions fans.

"Here's the thing with Detroit," Millen said. "I love Detroit. I love ... I'm a huge fan of Martin Mayhew. I'm a huge fan of Jim Schwartz. I think that's an excellent hire. I think Jim did a good job of putting his staff together.

"But there is no bigger fan anywhere of Mr. Ford than me, and I would love to see him holding a trophy. That would be great for me — for him, rather — but more importantly it would be great for the fans of Detroit. They deserve it. They're awesome fans.

"So I'll just handle Detroit like I would any other football team, but obviously having been there for 7 1/2 years, they're a big part of me."

Millen risked angering Lions fans, however, with this comment he made to

"I don't go backwards. I just don't think like that. There's nothing I can do about (Detroit). All I can do is from here on out.

"I understand. In Detroit, they need a bad guy. I was a bad guy. I was to blame for the fall of the auto industry and the housing market. Somehow, I had something to do with (Detroit mayor) Kwame Kilpatrick (resigning), although I'm not sure what.

"But that's what happens when you lose in this game. You give everyone a cheap and easy story to jump on."


Nick Collins ended his latest mini-holdout, reporting June 16 for the final week of the Packers' four-week organized team activities.

The Pro Bowl safety was on the field for only the jog-through portion at the start of the practice open to the media and the public June 17 but was purely an observer before leaving to do individual work with the strength and conditioning staff.

Collins didn't speak to reporters after practice.

The fifth-year veteran previously cited family issues for why he's stayed away much of the offseason, but his alleged unhappiness with his contract situation also is believed to be a factor. Collins is entering the final year of his rookie contract and hasn't hidden his desire for a lucrative extension following his breakout 2008 season.

His cameo appearance at the voluntary OTAs is a good indication Collins won't be skipping the team's mandatory minicamp, which will be held June 22-24.

Head coach Mike McCarthy refrained from discussing at length Collins' extended absence in the offseason program — Collins appeared for about a week earlier in the spring.

"He obviously hasn't been here, so we'll see how the rehab workout (June 17) went," McCarthy said. "Once again, these segments are voluntary."

Nevertheless, Collins' non-participation in OTAs, when installations of the new 3-4 defensive scheme were done, could be to his detriment.

Anthony Smith, a free-agent signee this year, is well-versed in the 3-4 after playing the previous three years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith has been holding down a starting spot — along with Aaron Rouse, who's filling in for Atari Bigby as he recovers from ankle surgery — and is determined to win the job when training camp opens Aug. 1.

Collins was targeted to be the "quarterback" of the defense and make the on-field calls. Since he's been unavailable, however, those duties seemingly will fall to inside linebacker A.J. Hawk.

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