NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears' architect of the Jay Cutler trade was "relieved of his duties," the Lions are expected to draft one of the top two defensive tackles, and the Packers are contemplating the puzzle on their offensive line. The NFC North is full of intriguing offseason stories.


CHICAGO BEARS

After nine years as the Bears' senior director of pro personnel, Bobby DePaul is out of a job, but probably not for long.

DePaul, 46, who helped orchestrate the trade that brought quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears a year ago, was relieved of his duties Monday afternoon. DePaul also helped build the Bears' teams that won back-to-back division titles in 2005 and in ‘06, when the Bears advanced to Super Bowl XLI.

The 21-year NFL veteran shouldn't have any trouble finding another job. He is well connected throughout the league and has a strong reputation, having helped to bring in key players such as running back Thomas Jones, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, guards Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza, defensive tackle Anthony Adams and tight end Desmond Clark.

DePaul's plans for now remain on hold.

"On vacation until further notice — ha, ha," he said in a text message Monday night.

The timing of the firing is unusual, considering that the start of free agency is less than three weeks away, but most of the Bears' homework on players who will become available on March 5 has already been completed.

DePaul helped acquire street free agents who were discarded by other teams, most recently linebacker Tim Shaw, who was signed after the season opener yet still led the team with 30 special teams tackles and played at a Pro Bowl level. Place-kicker Robbie Gould, the third-most-accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, was also signed as a street free agent. Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu was signed off the Redskins' practice squad in 2008, and he emerged late last season as a possible starter for the 2010 season.

In addition to supervising the pro personnel department and the evaluation of NFL talent, DePaul was involved with day-to-day football operations and assisted in salary cap maintenance and contract negotiations.

He came to the Bears after serving as a member of the Eagles' player personnel department for four seasons (1997-2000). Prior to that, he was an assistant coach with the Redskins (1989-93) and Bengals (1994-96).

An early report said that DePaul was escorted from Halas Hall Monday afternoon, but that was contradicted by a team source who witnessed his departure. DePaul was a linebacker on Maryland teams that won three ACC titles and made four bowl appearances.

  • The possibility of Tim Ruskell replacing Bobby DePaul in the Bears' front office is more than likely, according to multiple NFL sources who believe the hiring could happen within the week.

    "He's clearly the front-runner," according to one source, "more so than most people think. It's almost a given."

    Ruskell resigned as the Seahawks' president of football operations/general manager after it became obvious he would not be rehired when his contract expired at the end of the 2009 season.

    Expectations are that Ruskell will be named the Bears' vice president of player personnel under general manager Jerry Angelo, one of his closest friends in the business. Ruskell would take over the pro personnel duties that were handled by DePaul for nine years, until he was fired on Monday. Ruskell may also assume the duties of director of college scouting if Greg Gabriel follows DePaul out the door.

    The 53-year-old Ruskell worked under Angelo for 14 years in Tampa, first as a Buccaneers regional scout (1987-91) and then as the Bucs' director of college scouting form 1992-2000. But from 1992-96, the Bucs had losing records in all five years, including double-digit losses four times. In the next four years, the Bucs never had a losing season, and they had double-digit wins three times.

    Ruskell's five years in Seattle were also inconsistent. His first draft brought standout linebackers Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill. They and free agents like wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and defensive end Bryce Fisher helped get the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL, where they were defeated by the Steelers 21-10.

    But just one of his six 2006 draft choices is a starter for the Seahawks. His first-rounder that year, cornerback Kelly Jennings, has 1 career interception. Two draft picks in each of the past three years, out of a total of 22, were starters last season.

    Ruskell's forays into free agency and have not been very successful in recent years. Last year, he spent $40 million over five years, including $15 in guaranteed money, on 32-year-old wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He caught 79 passes for 911 yards and three touchdowns in ‘09; decent numbers but not enough to justify his contract.

    Ruskell traded his 2007 first-round draft pick for wide receiver Deion Branch, who cost a king's ransom ($39 million over six years). That deal has been a shipwreck. Branch has averaged just 44 catches and 559 yards in four seasons in Seattle.


    DETROIT LIONS

    There is little debate about what the Lions will do with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft as the Scouting Combine approaches. It seems everyone expects them to take a defensive tackle — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

    At the Senior Bowl, executives, coaches and scouts generally agreed that Suh and McCoy were obvious choices for the Lions. Coach Jim Schwartz did nothing to dispel that when asked a general question about how much harder it is to find interior pass rushers.

    Schwartz always talks about multidimensional players, and his response was about players with both the size and strength to stop the run and the athleticism to get to the quarterback.

    "I think that when you find one of those guys, they're extremely valuable," Schwartz said. "The shortest distance to the quarterback is a straight line, and the people that are the closest are the defensive tackles. They can affect the rush."

    Players like that help the defensive ends.

    "If you're a good outside rusher, you can win every single time, and if you're not getting the push inside, you're not getting somebody winning inside, then it's easy for the quarterback to step up and it doesn't matter that you won outside," Schwartz said.

    NFL Network's Mike Mayock and ESPN's Todd McShay think St. Louis will take McCoy first overall and Suh will fall to the Lions. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. is sticking with Suh first overall, McCoy second.

    Kiper was asked about the chances the Lions would not take Suh or McCoy. He said second overall was "a little high for a corner," as good as Florida's Joe Haden might be, and there was no running back worthy of the pick, including Clemson's C.J. Spiller.

    Kiper said the Lions would be happy with Suh or McCoy.

    "Both of those kids are outstanding players, because they both give you one thing — consistent productivity — and most defensive tackles don't," Kiper said. "Most defensive tackles had a game here or there where they weren't quite as good and they leveled off a bit. These two guys brought it every game."

    Kiper said both would fit the Lions' system well.

    "Everybody always says McCoy's a better pass rusher," Kiper said. "Well, I agree to a certain extent, but it's not like Suh didn't get after the quarterback.

    "Suh does. He's an outstanding bull rusher. He's improved his technique from his junior year to his senior year. The way he plays the run, the motor that he has, the productivity was unbelievable. The leadership, the way he plays the game will set a tempo up front.

    "McCoy gives you more versatility in terms of the way you can move him around. He's a one-gap penetrator as I said, and he'll wreak some havoc in the backfield, as will Suh.

    "It depends who St. Louis takes. I don't think they'll sit there and worry either way. I think either one of those players for either one of those teams will be good fits."


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Think Aaron Rodgers wants Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher back next season?

    The Packers' Pro Bowl quarterback brought his trusted personal protectors on the football field to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a few weeks ago.

    Rodgers won't be making the final call, but he's made it known publicly since the season ended that he would like the team to re-sign its free agents, including Clifton and Tauscher.

    The long-tenured bookends of the offensive line comprise two-fifths of Green Bay's short list of unrestricted free agents.

    Advanced age and declining health are concerns with both Clifton and Tauscher. Yet, unless general manager Ted Thompson lands a blue-chip, starter-ready tackle late in the first round of the April draft, Clifton and Tauscher would give the Packers the most security manning the left and right sides, respectively, going into their 11th year together.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy was satisfied at season's end with the contributions of both players.

    Clifton, who turns 34 in June, overcame an early-season ankle injury. Tauscher, who will be 33 in June, returned at midseason from knee surgery he underwent the previous January and proved to be a steadying influence for a previously overrun O-line.

    "I really like what Mark Tauscher has done in his time here," McCarthy said. "I thought he definitely got stronger as the season went on. He thinks he's over the hump from a rehab standpoint with the strength in the knee, so those are all positives.

    "No different with Chad. Chad has come back from multiple surgeries last year and was kind of grinding and fought through the season."

    Having Clifton and Tauscher well and able to function allowed the Packers to trot out the same starting line the last eight games of the season, including the NFC wild-card playoff loss at the Arizona Cardinals.

    In sharp contrast, Green Bay had six different starting line combinations in the first nine games, when it surrendered 41 of Rodgers' league-high 55 sacks.

  • Confirmation of how bad the Packers were on special teams last season came with the unveiling of Rick Gosselin's comprehensive rankings in The Dallas Morning News on Feb. 13.

    Green Bay finished 31st out of 32 teams, marking the fourth time in the past five seasons in which the Packers have fielded one of the league's worst special teams units. They were last for both the 2005 and ‘06 seasons and 26th in 2008.

    The 2009 Packers were charged with 460 1/2 points in Gosselin's rankings of 22 kicking-game categories. The Carolina Panthers edged Green Bay for last place with 473 points.

    The rankings revealed that the Packers were the worst team with inside-the-20 punts (15) and penalties (28).

    Although the rough season didn't cost Shawn Slocum his job after his first year as special teams coordinator, general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy have begun to shake things up with that area of the team.

    McCarthy removed Curtis Fuller from special teams assistant coach - Fuller was reassigned to a different coaching role - and replaced him with former return standout Chad Morton, who was a coaching administrator for the Packers last year.

    Green Bay signed free agent Tim Masthay shortly after the season ended to provide competition for incumbent punter Jeremy Kapinos, who ranked last in the league with a net average of 34.1 yards.

    Finding an offseason challenger for kicker Mason Crosby also could be in the works.

    Crosby didn't kick well for much of the second half of the season and finished 27-of-36 on field goals. The conversion percentage of 75.0 was Crosby's lowest in his three years as Green Bay's kicker.

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