NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears are raising their ticket prices and explaining why. The Lions are trying to maintain some consistency in the building. And the Packers could be among the teams considering LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook. Take a trip around the NFC North and get caught up on the big talkers.


Despite a third straight non-playoff season in 2009, the Bears will increase the price for most ticket categories at Soldier Field for the 2010 season. Approximately 25 percent of all seats will remain flat for the second consecutive year.

Non-club seat increases range from $2 to $17. Club seats will be raised from $10 to $20 per ticket. The Bears' non-club ticket prices will now range from $68 to $125, and they account for approximately 85 percent of the seating at Soldier Field.

"Although we're the largest single-team market in the league, we have the smallest stadium capacity, and we pay one of the highest amusement taxes in the NFL," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. "That could lead us to having the highest ticket price in the league, but we don't. We're among the top, but we do our best to balance the economics of being competitive with being sensitive to Bears season-ticket holders because the goal is to bring a championship team back to the city."

Last year the Bears held the line on ticket prices across the board.

"Last year we went through the process and decided not to raise ticket prices due to the unprecedented economic downturn," Phillips said. "It was the right thing to do. I think the reality now is that the biggest goal we have financially is that we have to remain economically competitive with the other teams in the league with the goal of building a championship team, obviously."

The Bears' 2010 home schedule includes matchups against the Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks, Patriots, Jets and their three NFC North rivals — the Vikings, Packers and Lions. The Bears' away schedule includes their three division foes, and the Cowboys, Giants, Bills, Dolphins and Panthers.


  • Panthers DE Julius Peppers is considered the jewel of this year's free-agent class, a player who could immediately improve an entire defense. But he'll get a deal worth at least $15 million a year with about $40 million guaranteed.

    Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips was asked if the team could get in a game with stakes that high.

    "Within the context of what our budget is," Phillips said, "I think we have a lot of flexibility. We can't talk about individual players (yet). I can tell you we are in the midst of putting the finishing touches on what our plan is. Come March 5, we'll see what situation we pursue."

  • Contrary to what some fans and media believe, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips thinks the offseason shuffling of the coaching staff and the front office will help the Bears return to the postseason for the first time since the 2006 season.

    "Anytime you have a losing year you are going to get some negativity given the passion of our fans," Phillips said. "I get that. I think the reality is, I'm hopeful that the moves we made in the offseason are going to be viewed as positive.

    "Internally, we feel really good about it. We feel good about the process of hiring a new offensive coordinator (Mike Martz). I feel good about the process of having a guy like Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator."

    The Bears only interviewed one candidate from outside the building for the defensive coordinator spot, but Perry Fewell turned the Bears down and instead took the defensive coordinator position with the Giants. Weeks later, the Bears decided to promote Marinelli, who was the assistant head coach/defensive line coach last season.

    "From a fan perspective, until it gets translated into winning games, there will be doubters," Phillips said. "But I think right now, the things I've heard, when you listen to Mike Martz talk publicly, he gives the fans legitimate reason for hope and we're excited about it."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every year since I've been here, whether there has been a salary cap or no salary cap, we have always had a competitive budget. We always budget what we can spend on players. We set a budget for this year as well. It really has nothing to do with the (potential) lockout (in 2011)." — Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips.


    When the Lions fired president Matt Millen in September 2008, many wondered whether they should fire their scouts, too.

    The Lions' draft record had been horrible under Millen. They missed on top-10 picks like quarterback Joey Harrington and wide receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, while also failing to find gems in the middle and late rounds.

    But Martin Mayhew, who was promoted from assistant general manager to GM, stuck up for the scouts and said the Lions simply needed to make better decisions. Mayhew made many changes to the process, such as realigning scouts and preparing harder before draft day, but he made few changes to the staff.

    The result? The first draft under Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz netted players like quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy.

    "There were people clamoring for change in our scouts, and we didn't make any dramatic changes," Mayhew said. "The early returns on our draft class is pretty good. So I think those guys feel somewhat vindicated."

    A big part of the problem was the Lions' constant turnover in coaches, coordinators and systems. The scouts would look for one type of player, then another, then another.

    "We've had a lot of coaching changes," said Schwartz, who began his NFL career as a scout with the old Browns in 1993-95. "Within the coaching changes, there have been a lot of changes in scheme and a lot of changes in philosophy. That's difficult for scouts.

    "It's not so much what a scout likes. It's how it fits with what you're doing offensively or defensively. They need the comfort level of knowing that what you expect from players isn't going to change from year to year and you're not going to all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, we were just kidding. We're going to scrap that. We're going to go to something else.' "

    Schwartz came to the Lions from the Titans, one of the NFL's most stable organizations. He was their defensive coordinator for eight years. Jeff Fisher has been their head coach since 1994, when they were the Houston Oilers. Schwartz also can point to perennial contenders like the Colts and the Patriots, whose head coach, Bill Belichick, was his boss in Cleveland.

    "I think when you look at teams that draft well over time, there's a lot of continuity there — continuity in their system — and they're drafting a certain kind of player," Schwartz said. "There's a reason why people have cliches like ‘square peg and round hole' and things like that, because there's some players that are really good players but just may not fit a particular scheme and may be more effective in something else."

    The Lions want to break their pattern of instability. For the first time in more than a decade, they have brought back their head coach and both coordinators intact. The scouts have been working on firmer ground.

    "They're a little bit more comfortable," Schwartz said. "We drafted players who fit what we do, and it gives the scouts a comfort level to look and say, ‘Hey, look, I know that's the kind of guy they were looking for.' "


  • The Lions released defensive end Jared DeVries but might bring him back. DeVries spent last season on injured reserve with a torn Achilles' tendon suffered in training camp. He had an upcoming $400,000 roster bonus, with one year left on his contract at a base salary of $1.3 million. Unsure about DeVries' recovery at this point, the Lions were going to release him before paying the bonus. DeVries asked them to release him now so he could test the market before free agency begins March 5.

    "They just didn't want to make the commitment, for whatever reason," DeVries said. "My Achilles is fine, but I can understand their caution. I appreciate the opportunity to let me explore the options and also appreciate the opportunity to possibly come back."

    Lions president Tom Lewand said the Lions will continue to talk to DeVries' agent.

    "We think the world of Jared," Lewand said. "He was the epitome of a professional and has been for his entire career. We certainly hope that that ongoing dialogue that we have with him is productive."

  • DeVries, a third-round draft pick in 1999, was the second-longest-tenured Lion, behind kicker Jason Hanson. A heart-and-soul player, he had a career-high 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 2007. Lewand said that played a role in why the Lions gave him an early release.

    "We were willing to grant that to him based in no small measure on the kind of person and player he's been for us for 11 years," Lewand said. "It's obviously rare in this day and age to have somebody play for such a long time with the franchise that drafted him."

  • The Lions claimed linebacker Ashlee Palmer off waivers from Buffalo. Though he is coming off clean-up ankle surgery, he said he is fine. "I'm ready to hop back on the field right now and hit somebody, honestly," he said.

    Palmer, 23, is an outside linebacker listed at 6-foot-1, 236 pounds. He signed with the Bills last year as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi. He played 14 games for them, with two starts, and ranked second on the team in special teams tackles with 13. But the Bills have made a coaching change and are switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

    "I believe it's a good move," Palmer said. "I feel good. I guess my services were no longer needed in Buffalo. I'm excited about the Detroit Lions picking me up. Hopefully I can just come in and contribute anywhere, whether it's playing time here, special teams here, wherever I can help. It really doesn't matter to me. I'm not one of those guys. I just want to be on the field playing and just helping the team out wherever it's needed."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "There were people clamoring for change in our scouts, and we didn't make any dramatic changes. The early returns on our draft class is pretty good. So I think those guys feel somewhat vindicated." — Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, on his scouting staff.


    The Packers hired an out-of-work, 30-something running back at midseason last year when they brought back Ahman Green.

    So, despite being the architect of the NFL's youngest team four years' running, general manager Ted Thompson might not be averse to show interest in LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook.

    The high-profile, but aging and injury-marred running backs were released by the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively, in successive days Feb. 22 and 23.

    The Packers aren't settled at the halfback position behind starter Ryan Grant, so giving consideration to the All-Pro likes of Tomlinson and Westbrook as well as former Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl selection Willie Parker, an unrestricted free agent, would make sense.

    Injuries and inconsistent play have kept young prospects Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn from being effective change-of-pace complements to Grant the last couple seasons. In fact, Green, who played in only eight games, finished as the Packers' second-leading rusher among backs in 2009 with 160 yards.

    The dropoff from Grant, who rushed for a career-high 1,253 yards, to the other backs was so sharp that quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 316 rushing yards outgained the total output of 308 yards by Green, Jackson, Wynn and fullback John Kuhn.

    Westbrook's multifaceted abilities would mesh with what the Packers need, but his playing future is in doubt because of two concussions he sustained last season.

    Westbrook, who will turn 31 in September, told Philadelphia radio station 97.5-FM The Fanatic that he doesn't plan to retire and is preparing to play with a new team next season.

    "I'm going to put all my effort into doing that," Westbrook said. "I will make a return to the NFL."

    Jackson and Wynn will be back in the fold for the Packers this offseason. Green, who turned 33 on Feb. 16, is due to become an unrestricted free agent but recently said he expects to be re-signed.


  • The Packers whittled their extensive free-agent list by one when they re-signed safety Derrick Martin to a two-year, $1.9 million deal Feb. 22.

    Martin, entering his fifth year in the league, would have been a restricted free agent. The contract contains a $355,000 signing bonus.

    Green Bay acquired Martin, a converted cornerback, from the Baltimore Ravens for offensive tackle Tony Moll in a trade before the start of last season.

    Martin didn't play well in his only start on defense as a replacement for an injured Atari Bigby, but Martin distinguished himself on special teams. He ranked second on the club with 21 special-teams tackles, a career high.

  • Cornerback Al Harris feels he's on pace to be recovered from a late-season knee injury by the start of summer.

    In his latest video journal on that provides insights into his rehab work at a center in Miami, Harris talks of his prognosis. He sustained torn anterior-cruciate and lateral-cruciate ligaments in his left knee in a game Nov. 22 and underwent surgery eight days later.

    "(The recovery for) an injury like this takes from nine to 10 months," Harris says. "We're going to try to speed it up just a little bit without getting crazy and see if we can do it in, don't tell anybody ...," as he raises five fingers and a thumb to signify six months.

  • A pretrial hearing in defensive end Johnny Jolly's felony drug possession case was pushed back again.

    The hearing was to have been Feb. 18, after being postponed Jan. 26, but Jolly's attorney requested another delay. The hearing was rescheduled for March 8.

    Jolly was arrested in July 2008 and charged with possession of at least 200 grams of codeine.

    The four-year veteran will be a restricted free agent without a new collective-bargaining agreement in place by March 5. Jolly, a former sixth-round draft pick, has been a key starter the last two seasons, so the Packers are expected to offer him a second-round tender to keep other teams from trying to sign him.

  • Jolly isn't scheduled to be there, but the majority of the team's pending nine restricted free agents are slated to appear at Packers Fan Fest on March 12 and 13 at Lambeau Field.

    Names on the players' appearance list include safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, offensive linemen Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz and fullback John Kuhn, all of whom the team is expected to retain as restricted free agents.

    None of the Green Bay's five unrestricted free agents — offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, linebacker Aaron Kampman, running back Ahman Green and nose tackle Ryan Pickett, who was designated the team's franchise player Feb. 24 — is scheduled to be at the fan fest.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's still people who hate Aaron Rodgers and think he had something to do with Brett Favre leaving the Packers. But, he had nothing to do with it. He's just a player going in to make plays, and he helped our team get to the playoffs this year. He's going to continue to be a great quarterback." — Linebacker Nick Barnett, in an appearance on the NFL Network on Feb. 22.

  • Viking Update Top Stories