NFC North Hot News

Is this really the off-season? It doesn't seem like it, considering all the significant news and speculation around the NFC North as the free-agent deadline looms. Names like Colvin, Crowell, Hunt, Diggs, Bbaja-Biamila and Clifton highlight this week's roundup.

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Not so Rosey relationship

The Bears reportedly have offered unrestricted free-agent linebacker Rosevelt Colvin $13 million over five years.

That, however, might not be enough to retain Colvin's services.

"If his market is what they (Colvin and his agent) said they wanted, then I don't see us being a real player," Angelo said. "We disagreed (in his value) and we said that we'll wait and see where he's at.

"We want him back. We've made that known."

Colvin's replacement?
If the Bears lose their leading sacker of the past two seasons, Rosey Colvin, in free-agency, Bryan Knight may get first crack at filling the role of pass-rushing strong-side linebacker.

The 2002 fifth-round pick from Pitt showed some of the same potential as a rookie that Colvin did after he was drafted in the fourth round out of Purdue.

"Bryan Knight is somebody that when we drafted him, he was very prototypical of Rosey when he came out," G.M. Jerry Angelo said. "He did a nice job in the time that he was allowed to play. Obviously we want Rosey back, and we're going to know that probably within the next month, what his status is going to be."

Knight had just 1-1/2 sacks last season, nine less than Colvin had in reach of the past two seasons. But Colvin had just two sacks as a rookie.

Mainstay in Chicago
Warrick Holdman is due a $3 million roster bonus March 1, which the Bears have decided to pay the linebacker.

With such a decision the likelihood of Rosevelt Colvin being retained decreases dramatically because the team is hesitant to invest a large percentage of cap dollars to one position.

Colvin is seeking approximately $5 million per season, and with Brian Urlacher two years away from free agency the team is unlikely to give that much to another linebacker, especially when Holdman is signed through 2005.

Urlacher's value rises
Brian Urlacher is two years away from free agency, but the three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker's price just went up even though he hasn't been in a Bears uniform in almost two months.

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking signed seven-year, $41 million deal Thursday, which included a $10.5 million signing bonus.

Urlacher is younger than Brooking and is considered a notch above, along with the Ravens Ray Lewis, who signed a $50 million deal that included a $19 million signing bonus last year.

Nine lives are up
It looks as if the Bears will release James "Big Cat" Williams next week. The veteran right tackle has spent his entire 12-year NFL career in Chicago, but is due a roster bonus of around $500,000 in March as he enters the final year of a four-year contract worth $17 million.

Despite the fact that Williams has started 134 straight games, GM Jerry Angelo used a first-round pick on Marc Colombo last season, and he and Mike Gandy could be the starting tackles in 2003.

Considering alternatives
According to Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, the opening-day starting quarterback could very well be a player the team signs when free-agency begins on Feb. 28.

"I'm not ruling that out at all," Angelo said. "I know that that's a sensitive issue, in particular with our (current starter) Jim Miller. I'm very respectful of what Jim has done, but Jim's still post-surgery, and there's some issues in terms of when he's going to be ready. I know he's ready right now or right on (schedule), and that's the way he should think. But, yes, that is a possibility."

Following postseason rotator cuff surgery, Miller is hoping to be able to throw by the start of training camp, but there is no guarantee. If Angelo signs a big-ticket free agent, the Bears probably won't be able to afford to pay a still-rehabilitating Miller. Arizona's Jake Plummer is considered by many to be the top free-agent quarterback, but Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart is expected to be released to create salary-cap room for the Steelers. Two other lesser-known names linked to the Bears recently are New Orleans Saints backup Jake Delhomme and Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Shaun King. Angelo and Bears coaches have evaluated all four in staff meetings, but they are prohibited from publicly discussing specific players until they become free agents.

"We're going to be aggressive," Angelo said. "We're going to be very aggressive. I have tremendous respect for our Jim Miller and what he's done here, as well as Chris Chandler. I don't want it to be like they're yesterday's news. We understand the volatility of the position, and the durability was a real problem this year."

Miller missed eight starts last season because of elbow and shoulder injuries and played hurt and at less than full strength in half of the games he did start. Chandler failed to finish four of his seven starts, suffering, among other injuries, a sprained neck, sprained ankle and concussion. Henry Burris proved he needed more experience, and late-season addition Cory Sauter is a restricted free agent whose future is uncertain. If a viable replacement for Miller is to be in place by opening day, he will come via free agency rather than in the draft.

"(Even) if you're right on the quarterback, he'll probably do something in his second year," Angelo said. "The veteran obviously is the safest route to go. We're going to look and explore in all the areas, but we'll start with (free-agency) first."

Not all blame on A-Train
Angelo has been critical of Anthony Thomas since the season came to an end, but added that his 3.4 yards per carry was not entirely his fault.

"We went back when we had the time to look back at the season last year and we found that our line really played well in ‘01," Angelo said.

The offensive line had several injuries in 2002, which hurt the unit's continuity. Rex Tucker and Marc Colombo finished the season on Injured Reserve, while only James "Big Cat" Williams started every game.

Rehab could go into training camp
CB Reggie Austin (torn right ACL) may not have recovered sufficiently to participate by the start of training camp.


McMahon still viable

Steve Mariucci isn't handing over the starting quarterback job just yet, but he said Joey Harrington, last year's first-round pick, will go to camp as the No. 1 quarterback. That doesn't mean he doesn't have expectations for backups Mike McMahon and Ty Detmer.

"I met with Mike McMahon and I told him I'm counting on him," Mariucci said. "I want him to compete and I want him to be ready to win games for us."

Detmer was virtually the forgotten man on the roster last year, but Mariucci likes having him around. They were together at Green Bay and San Francisco, and Mariucci likes his savvy as well as his locker room presence.

Could Rogers be new go-to guy?
The draft is still two months away but the speculation is running high that the Lions will take Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Rogers would give second-year quarterback Joey Harrington the big-play threat the Lions currently lack, and Mariucci isn't denying the team's interest.

"We're going to take a good look at Charles," Mariucci said. But it's not an automatic that an NFL team is willing to spend a No. 2 pick on a wide receiver. "You've got to take a lot of things into consideration,"

The Lions have no shortage of wide receivers. They signed Az-Zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder as free agents a year ago, and have former second-round pick Germane Crowell is on the roster, but their production last year was anemic at best.

Deadline looming
Crowell was unable to complete his comeback from last year's knee injuries and the Lions must decide by March 1 whether they're going to dish out the $2 million roster bonus called for in his contract.

Expected to return
Free agent DT Kelvin Pritchett fills a need in the defensive line rotation and probably will be re-signed.


Gets transition tag

The Packers used their transition tag on DT Cleditus Hunt on Thursday, which means they are obligated to pay him at least a one-year contract worth $4.69 million.

Likely to receive higher tender
Linebacker Na'il Diggs is one of seven players on the Packers who are scheduled to become restricted free agents on Feb. 28, but one of two who are likely to receive a higher tender from the team.

Diggs, selected in the fourth round of the 2000 draft by the Packers, is expected to receive more than the minimum tender to deter other teams from pursuing Diggs.

If Diggs received a minimum tender, another team would only have to give up a fourth-round draft choice to the Packers. If Diggs receives a first-round tender, another team would have to give up a first-round pick.

Players receiving a minimum tender will receive a one-year contract worth about $619,000. A first-round tender is about $1.3 million. A first- and third-round tender, the highest of tenders, is worth about $1.8 million for one season.

Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila also is expected to get a higher tender from the Packers.

Latest surgery only complicates rehab
Chad Clifton is one player who deserves a measure of luck. But all the news continues to be bad for the Packers left tackle. Clifton's arduous fight to resume his football career in 2003 has become even more difficult following arthroscopic knee surgery Jan. 31. It only compounded his rehabilitative efforts stemming from the traumatic pelvic injury that he suffered Nov. 24 on a violent block by Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp during an interception return.

"As he was going through his rehab here he noticed that his knee was locking up on him," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "So they gave him an MRI and Dr. (Patrick) McKenzie noticed he had a deviation down there that had to be cleaned up."

McKenzie removed some pieces of cartilage from the right knee. Clifton missed portions of three games at mid-season after suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in the same knee. "When they call it a deviation it (cartilage) kind of wears down," Beightol said. "Of course, if it gets down to the bone it makes it really a problem. My understanding is it certainly wasn't to there."

The Packers have been no more than cautiously optimistic that Clifton would make it back in time for the start of the regular season from his separated pelvis. The injury was so rare that physicians struggle trying to specify a recovery time. Clifton doesn't appear to be in any pain from the pelvic injury and is rehabilitating on a regular basis with the Packers' medical and training staff. He is lifting weights and working out, but it probably will be some time before the Packers will allow him to experience the pounding associated with running.

"The word I get is he's healing nicely," Beightol said. "Everything is real positive."

Two weeks ago, McKenzie also performed arthroscopic surgery on guard Marco Rivera's right knee. He suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in the knee Nov. 17 but didn't miss a game. Thus, Clifton and Rivera join tackle Mark Tauscher and center Frank Winters as offensive linemen coming off knee surgery.

Wayne's poor world
The Green Bay Packers, trying to create salary cap room to sign some of their soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, have reportedly approached linebacker Nate Wayne for a salary reduction. Wayne is scheduled to be paid $2.25 million this season, including a $750,000 roster bonus due on March 10.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Packers called Wayne's agent, Harold Lewis, regarding the pay cut. Wayne's salary cap number of $2.8 million ranks fifth among the team's six defensive starters under contract for next season.

Harris said that he has spoken with Packers negotiator Andrew Brandt, but "It was more about making it cap-friendly," Harris told the Journal Sentinel. "To take a cut in pay for Nate Wayne is not anything introduced or talked about. We think he's a top player. I feel the team feels the same way about him."

Among highest paid cornerbacks in '02
Tyrone Williams earned $3.8 million in 2002, which made him the league's seventh highest-paid cornerback, according to a recent report by SportsTicker. Williams is due to receive a $4 million roster bonus on March 1, but the Packers are expected to release him prior to that date in order to avoid paying him the bonus.

Williams and the Packers have been trying to negotiate a new contract, according to various reports.

Fourth highest paid kicker in '02
Ryan Longwell was the fourth highest paid kicker in the National Football League in 2002, according to a recent report. Longwell earned $1.25 million.

Wanting to start somewhere
Unrestricted free agent defensive lineman Billy Lyon is a versatile veteran, but he wants to start and may not return next season.

Free agent CB Tod McBride is a steady nickel back who wants chance to start.

Unrestricted free agent defensive lineman Billy Lyon is a versatile veteran, but he wants to start and may not return next season.

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