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Tag:Detroit Lions
Posted on: March 8, 2012 12:05 pm
 

2012 Free Agency Previews: NFC North

It's understandable if you can't see him at first glance, but that's Driver making the Lambeau Leap. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Bears

In Week 11, after beating the Chargers 31-20, the Bears were 7-3, and though we didn’t expect Chicago to catch the Packers in the NFC North, we thought the Bears had a good shot to land a wild card playoff spot. And then, Jay Cutler broke his thumb. And then Matt Forte tore his MCL. And then backup quarterback Caleb Hanie didn’t produce much of anything. And then, the Bears lost five-straight to fall out of the postseason race, including an overtime loss to Tim Tebow and the Broncos (thanks Marion Barber!), leading to the firing of general manager Jerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz. 

So yeah, not a great end to the season in Chicago.

Free agents of note
The Bears have franchise-tagged running back Matt Forte, so they don’t have to worry about whether they can sign him to a long-term deal for the time being … If defensive end Israel Idonije wants to return, as he’s said in the past, he provides solid play on the defensive line … Tight end Kellen Davis is a candidate to return, simply because there’s not a great free agent market for tight ends … Defensive tackle Anthony Adams already has been let go.

Needs
The Bears are in bad need of a receiver. Especially considering Forte was the team’s leading pass-catcher and considering Johnny Knox and Roy Williams -- two actual receivers -- combined for just 74 catches and four touchdowns. That’s not so good. If Jay Cutler had some help from his receivers, he could be a top-10 quarterback in the league.

Chicago also needs help in its secondary with a number of Bears cornerbacks on the free agent market. Only Charles Tillman is a sure bet to return, and though he’s a solid player, Chicago could become a top-10 defense if it shores up the backside of its defense.

Plus, we saw just how important a backup quarterback is for the Bears. With Josh McCown and Caleb Hanie probably not returning, the Bears will need to find Cutler’s backup.

Targets
The Bears don’t have a true No. 1 receiver, but that would change very quickly if they could land San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, who would be a great catch for Chicago. The Bears are going to have to spend some money in this area, and they should have the cash to land a top-notch receiver. Texans defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams would look good on the other end of the line from Julius Peppers, but there’s probably little chance the Bears would want to sink so much money into two defensive ends. Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan might not be a bad idea at cornerback, if Chicago feels like paying top money to one of the better guys in the league.

Packers

Most of the way through the regular season, Green Bay was the big-time favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Packers offense was ridiculously good -- quarterback Aaron Rodgers had one of the best seasons by a quarterback ever -- and though the defense clearly had problems, we thought Green Bay’s offense more than made up for that big deficiency. Hell, even when Matt Flynn played, he did nothing but set franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns for a single game.

And then the Packers played the Giants in the postseason, and though we thought Jason Pierre-Paul was a bit crazy to guarantee a victory against Green Bay, that’s exactly what New York accomplished, upsetting the defender Super Bowl champions. To make matters worse, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin left after the season to take over the Dolphins organization.

Free agents of note
One of the most popular free agents on the market is quarterback Matt Flynn, who has put together two amazing games as Green Bay’s backup in the past two years. The Packers could have franchise-tagged him, but there was no chance they were going to sink that much money into a backup quarterback. Better to let somebody else make that mistake … Already, the Packers have wrapped up tight end Jermichael Finley by signing him to a two-year, $15 million deal ... There’s a good chance the Packers won’t re-sign running back Ryan Grant … It sounds like Green Bay might be content to let go of center Scott Wells, though he’s been very solid his entire career.

Needs
Truthfully, the Packers don’t have a huge number of high-profile needs. If Grant leaves -- which seems like a pretty good bet -- they’ll need a running back to go with James Starks. The thing with Starks is that he wasn’t all that good last season. Not that the Packers necessarily need a big-time running back, because as long as Rodgers is on the team, the offense should be fine. But still, Starks probably won’t be asked to carry most of the load by himself.

The Packers had the worst pass defense in the league, but they also have talent in the secondary. Besides, that statistic is skewed because of how high-powered Green Bay’s offense was, meaning opponents had to throw the ball in order to try to keep up with the Packers. But Green Bay would do well to upgrade the linebacker corps with A.J. Hawk struggling and with Erik Walden most likely not returning.

Targets
If the Packers decide Wells isn’t worth paying, they could go after Texans center Chris Myers. The two sides apparently met at the NFL combine.

Lions

If there was ever a time for an NFL analyst to make Detroit his “sleeper” team, it was 2011. With a tough defense featuring Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril and a return to health for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who could toss the ball with impunity to Calvin Johnson, it was an easy call to predict the Lions would make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

And that’s exactly what Detroit did this season, as Stafford and Johnson overcame a tepid running game and the defense was good enough to set the Lions on a five-game winning streak to open the season and to win three of their last four to earn a wild-card berth. Although Green Bay will always make it tough, the Lions could continue making waves in the NFC North.

Free agents of note
The Lions made the right move by franchise-tagging Cliff Avril after his monster season -- it’s the first time they’ve used the tag since 2007. Now, they need to sign him to a long-term deal to make him happy. They also need to make sure he doesn’t hold out. … Shaun Hill is one of those solid backups every NFL team wants to have. He probably won’t go anywhere. If you consider Stafford’s injury history, there’s a decent chance Hill will play in Detroit anyway … It seems like there’s a good chance linebacker Stephen Tulloch will leave for Philadelphia.

Needs
As good as Stafford was last season, throwing for 5,038 yards, the Lions running game struggled. Jahvid Best and rookie Mikel Leshoure couldn’t stay on the field with injuries, meaning the Lions had to go with journeyman Kevin Smith to handle most of the carries. Though Smith, who was out of the league until Detroit called him, was solid, he’s also a free agent (along with Jerome Harrison). If Best and Leshoure are healthy, the Lions running game should be fine.

Detroit also needs to shore up its pass defense. The Lions ranked 22nd in the league against the pass, and you really saw them exploited in the playoff game against the Packers when Rodgers threw for 466 yards.

Targets
If the Detroit doesn’t re-sign left tackle Jeff Backus, the Lions could go after Jared Gaither. Since they also need help in the secondary, signing New Orleans’ Tracy Porter, New York’s Aaron Ross or Pittsburgh’s William Gay could be a good idea.

Vikings

In Leslie Frazier’s first full season as head coach, the season went relatively brutal for Minnesota. The Donovan McNabb acquisition backfired, and first-round pick Christian Ponder, who replaced him, didn’t fare much better. In fact, the best quarterback performances came when Joe Webb, who originally was supposed to be a receiver in the NFL, led the team up and down the field. Making matters worse, Adrian Peterson sustained an ankle injury, came back too soon and then tore up his knee. At this point, it’s unclear if Peterson -- rewarded with a ridiculous contract before 2011 -- will be ready to play at the beginning of next season.

One interesting note for Minnesota going forward. In the offseason, the organization hired Rick Spielman to be the general manager, though he didn’t have much success as the Dolphins GM and he contributed mightily to Minnesota’s 3-13 season last year. But before, the Vikings had shared authority with Frazier and other team executives. Now, Spielman will control the player personnel and Frazier will control his coaching staff. If Minnesota fails, expect Spielman to get more of the blame.

Free agents of note
Longtime guard Steve Hutchinson is likely on his way out because he’s 34 and very expensive for the team’s salary cap needs … The Vikings very well could lose Visanthe Shiancoe, whose stock as one of the better tight ends in the league has taken a hit. They’d better hope Kyle Rudolph is ready to go … The Vikings would like to keep linebackers E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson.

Needs
The offensive line badly needs to be upgraded, and that’s probably most likely going to happen in the draft when (we assume) Minnesota takes USC’s Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick and moves last year’s left tackle, Charlie Johnson -- still a dependable lineman -- to one of the guard positions. So, the Vikings will upgrade the left tackle spot and one of the guards spots.

The secondary, which intercepted only eight passes last year (tied for the worst total in the league) needs to be improved as well. Minnesota would do well to find somebody who can force turnovers. Somebody like Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan or Kansas City’s Brandon Carr.

Targets
If, for some reason, the team doesn’t draft Kalil, it could go after Jared Gaither, whose career was boasted by his performance in San Diego at the end of the season. Assuming the Vikings don’t want to pay tons of money to Saints guard Carl Nicks, the Vikings could go after a guy like Baltimore’s Ben Grubbs, who would be less expensive. The Vikings would also prefer to upgrade their receiving corps to give Percy Harvin some help. Pierre Garcon and Mario Manningham might be two options.

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:28 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:40 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Offensive line rankings

Is Nicks, our top free-agent offensive lineman, done hoisting Brees? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling lists of the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the offensive linemen.

It's not the sexiest position in the NFL -- just ask Andre "C-Cup" Smith -- and there's a feeling in the NFL these days, whether it's right or wrong, that offensive line is becoming a fungible position. It's OK to laugh at that idea, because a few years ago, wide receiver was the same way. It'll shift back and forth in the next few years. Right now, you'll pay a nice price to land a wideout and offensive linemen are relatively cheap.

Some of the guys on the list below won't be cheap however. There's a pretty nice group of offensive linemen hitting the market this year, and teams might be wise to avoid trying to race in the free-agent market and focus their efforts on improving protection.

1. Carl Nicks

Breakdown: Nicks is probably the best guard in the league, and it doesn't help that his teammate, Jahri Evans, signed a $56.7 million deal for the next seven years. Especially since Nicks wants more money. With Drew Brees franchised, the Saints are essentially forced to let Nicks and top wideout Marques Colston both hit the market and good luck bringing Nicks back. He's the only guy who can hurt the guard-related stock for Stanford's David DeCastro.
Potential Landing Spots: Saints, Cowboys, Chargers, 49ers

2. Chris Myers

Breakdown: Honestly if Meyers left it would be a) a huge mistake for the Texans and b) a big surprise. Everyone talks about Mario Williams as the guy they need to re-sign, but Meyers is substantially more valuable to what they do (especially with the defensive personnel vs. the offensive personnel). Houston's offensive line is by far and away the most underrated in the NFL and while Eric Winston is the anchor, Meyers is the leader. I'd like to think that Houston won't let him walk, simply because the AFC South window is too big not to keep making a run at another division title.
Potential Landing Spots: Texans, Packers, Ravens

3. Jared Gaither

Breakdown: Gaither was a supplemental draft pick with the Ravens in 2007, washed out, went to the Chiefs and then looked finished in the NFL at an early age. But he was a big factor in revitalizing the Chargers run late in the season; after Marcus McNeil went down, Philip Rivers was offered no protection until Gaither came into town. The Chargers want to keep him, but this is a very shallow class for free-agent tackles, and Gaither could pull in good money on the market. He's got gobs of talent and is still young, but keeping him motivated is a concern.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Rams

4. Ben Grubbs

Breakdown: Grubbs, the Ravens 2007 first-round pick, made the first Pro Bowl of his career in 2011. He's a free agent only because Baltimore's had to use their franchise tag on Ray Rice and couldn't commit to the guard. The Ravens still want to re-sign Grubbs, and that could happen between now and March 13 when free agency begins. Working in the Ravens favor is the deep nature of this crop of free-agent guards.
Potential Landing Spots: Ravens, Bengals, Giants, Bears, 49ers

4. Scott Wells

Breakdown: Wells and the Packers are in the middle of a headed non-discussion about a new contract. Wells believes he deserves big money, and the Packers believe he deserves the type of money that a shorter, 31-year-old center would get on an open market. But Wells isn't just any center; he's proven his worth in working with different quarterbacks in Green Bay and helping to develop Aaron Rodgers. Wells made his first Pro Bowl in 2011 and has missed just one game since 2006. He won't want to leave Green Bay but he also won't take less than he's worth. It wouldn't be surprising to see him move closer to Tennessee (he's from there and played for the Vols in college) either.
Potential Landing Spots: Packers, Texans, Broncos

5. Demetrius Bell

Breakdown: Bell's been playing football for less than 10 years, but he's clearly quite good at it. Or at least good enough to keep being named the Bills left tackle. The seventh-round pick out of Northwestern State could come back to Buffalo, but if there are teams in need of offensive line help, there's a good chance he'll bail. The offensive line market is odd this year, in that it appears to be guard and center heavy. The tackles aren't exactly stacked and that could result in a nice deal for a guy like Bell.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions, Bills, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Rams

6. Evan Mathis

Breakdown: Mathis hasn't started 16 games since coming into the NFL. But he's coming off easily the best season of his career and has said he'll take a discount to remain with the Eagles under the tutelage of Howard Mudd. Mathis said he'd work for "$20 and a pizza," but the reality is he got paid the league minimum last year, and at 30, he'd be insane not to maximize his money-making ability.
Potential Landing Spots: Eagles, Saints, Seahawks, 49ers

8. Geoff Schwartz

Breakdown: Schwartz played all over the line for Carolina in 2010 before missing all of 2011 with injury. It'll be interesting to see Ron Rivera's coaching staff handles the offensive line: Schwartz and Jeff Otah are holdovers from a previous regime and might not necessarily stick. But Schwartz, at 25, would be a nice, versatile and discounted signing for someone who needs help and depth across the line.
Potential Landing Spots: Giants, Bills, Panthers, Seahawks

9. Dan Koppen

Breakdown: You know what's weird? Everyone's willing to toss out the "system" word as it relates to anything with the Patriots quarterback but don't bother discussing how their offensive line, which features a pretty cohesive unit, helps Tom Brady's success. Whatever, it's fine. That's the "Patriot Way." But Koppen isn't going to get the franchise tag like fellow lineman Logan Mankins and he stands to make more money for a team that needs a center.
Potential Landing Spots: Packers, Ravens

10. Jake Scott

Breakdown: The good news is this: Scott played for an offensive-line monster in Mike Munchak. Munchak consistently creates cohesive offensive units that over-produce relative to their value. But the bad news is that Scott's 30 (not too old) and if you bring him into another organization, he's not going to have that same Titans cohesiveness. Is that overplayed? Yeah, maybe. But Scott will have bigger questions when it comes to Chris Johnson's production in 2011, whether that's fair or not.
Potential Landing Spots: Titans, Saints, Eagles, Seahawks

HONORABLE MENTION

Jeff Backus, Nick Hardwick, Vernon Carey, Anthony Collins

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 12:02 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 6:06 pm
 

Lions use franchise tag on Cliff Avril

Avril terrorized quarterbacks in 2011. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The flurry of franchise-tag activity on Monday continued with the Lions locking up one of their more important defensive players, using the non-exclusive franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril.

As noted by our Lions Rapid Reporter John Kreger, Avril is guaranteed a one-year salary of $10.6 million now, but other teams may negotiate with the defensive end. If someone else offers Avril a contract, the Lions can either match or get two first-round picks in exchange from the team offering the contract.

There was some speculation that Avril would be unhappy with the franchise-tag designation, but he tweeted "#BLESSED" shortly after the news broke.

This is, as Kreger notes, the first time the Lions have used the franchise tag since 2007.

But utilizing the tag on Avril isn't all good news for Lions fans. As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press notes, the Lions now have more than half of their 2012 salary cap tied up with just four players: Avril, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. Those are a good four players to have, but Detroit certainly needs to work on long-term contracts for Avril and Megatron.

The Lions now have, per franchise tag rules, until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal with Avril.

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Posted on: March 4, 2012 11:00 pm
 

Even Suh is offended by bounty programs

Suh says he would never participate in a bounty program. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

For the guy labeled as one the dirtiest players in the NFL, even Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can’t believe the findings of the NFL regarding the Saints and their bounty program.

Suh -- who was suspended two games in 2011 after stomping on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith and has been disciplined by the league a total of five times in his short caerer -- told the Charlotte Observer that he wouldn’t participate in something like that.

New Orleans' forgettable offseason
"It's unfortunate to hear these things come out," Suh told the paper. "Me personally, I don't take part in those things and knowing my teammates and knowing my coaches, we wouldn't allow that.

"I understand it's a tough situation the commissioner has to deal with. As he has in the past, he's going to deal with it with a stiff hand. Hopefully, people can learn from the mistakes and make an example out of it.

Asked how common those kinds of bounty programs are -- where players are rewarded by teammates and the coaching staff for knocking opponents out of the game -- Suh said he didn’t know because he only was aware of what was happening in the Lions locker room.

But the NFL has said between 22 and 27 Saints players participated in one from 2009-11 and former Redskins and Bills players have said they did as well when Gregg Williams, who has been summoned to New York again to meet with NFL security officials on Monday, coached on those teams.

“For me personally and for my teammates, we don't want to put anybody out,” Suh said. “I would never want anybody to target me to take me out so why would I do it to somebody else?"

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Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 5:01 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

The 2012 free-agent quarterback class is an, um, diverse group. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling lists of the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the quarterbacks.

Though the list of free-agent quarterbacks for 2012 isn't necessarily the greatest crop of players in NFL history, it does have the potential to be one of the most intriguing in years, because of one man: Peyton Manning. Manning's saga is well-documented at this point; the back-and-forth between Manning's camp and Jim Irsay dominated the freaking Super Bowl.

Releasing him into the wild seems like a mere matter of timing. So we're going to take that assumption and add Manning to our lists of free agents. We're also including the Saints Drew Brees and 49ers Alex Smith on this list, since both are technically unrestricted free agents, until they receive the franchise tag from their respective teams. There's a better likelihood of Jimmy Clausen unseating Cam Newton than there is Brees not returning to New Orleans, but maybe someone in the Saints office will forget to fax in the franchise-tag paperwork.


Brees offseason could be interesting.  (Getty Images)

1. Drew Brees

Breakdown: The biggest problem for the Saints isn't that Brees might leave. He's not going to unless something really ridiculous happens. The biggest problem for the Saints is that if they're forced to use the franchise tag on Brees, they could end up losing Carl Nicks and Marques Colston. That won't make Brees any happier when it gets down to brass-tack negotiating.
Potential Landing Spots: Saints

2. Peyton Manning

Breakdown: Perhaps you've heard of Manning before. He's third all-time in passing yards (54,828). He's third all-time in passing touchdowns (399). He's won more MVPs than anyone in NFL history (four). And he's second in his own family with Super Bowl rings (one). That last item isn't a shot at Manning, though. It's the reason we believe he's not done when it comes to football, and that he'll come back to the game supremely motivated. No one knows whether or not he'll be fully healthy by the time the 2012 season begins. We do know he won't be fully healthy by the time March 13 rolls around, though. Which means that anyone who signs him will be engaging in a serious high-risk, high-reward game of chicken with Manning's neck.
Potential Landing Spots: Cardinals, Dolphins, Seahawks, Jets, Redskins

3. Matt Flynn

Breakdown: Flynn's attempted just 132 passes at the professional level, but 81 of them are pretty impressive. Those came in the only two starts of his career, when Flynn managed to go 55 of 81 for 731 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. There are concerns that Flynn can't make every throw (right now) and that he might be a product of Green Bay's system. But that system's in Miami now, as former Packers quarterbacks coach Joe Philbin is the Dolphins head coach. If Miami doesn't make a run at Flynn when free agency opens up, that should be a big red flag for anyone else interested in Aaron Rodgers backup.
Potential Landing Spots: Dolphins, Seahawks, Redskins

4. Alex Smith

Breakdown: Smith resurrected his career under new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and, in the span of about two playoff minutes against the Saints, nearly flipped the entire narrative of his career. As it is, Smith's improvement in 2011 is impressive; according to Pro Football Focus, he had the third-highest accuracy percentage in the NFL (factoring in drops, throwaways and spikes) last year, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Smith's said he isn't interested in leaving San Francisco, and Harbaugh's gotten his back publicly, even though there's zero chance they'll use the franchise tag on him.
Potential Landing Spots: 49ers
Henne could surprise in the right spot. (Getty Images)

5. Chad Henne

Breakdown: Miami drafting a quarterback in the second round: an April tradition unlike any other! But no, seriously, Henne's in a long line of signal-callers that the Dolphins took in the second round who didn't pan out. He's had serious problems with interceptions; Henne's got a 3.5 percent INT rate over his career and only nine of his 36 NFL games have not featured him throwing a pick. And Henne tends to look particularly robotic at times in the pocket (these things go hand in hand). But he's only 26 and it's not fair to blame him for all of Miami's woes the past three years. Henne can make all the throws and flashed some serious potential at times during his tenure in South Beach. He's the highest-upside backup quarterback out there and he's got several former coaches -- Brian Daboll, Tony Sparano -- coaching in spots that could use a backup quarterback.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs, Jets, Broncos

6. Jason Campbell

Breakdown: It's hard not to feel sympathetic for Campbell. The former Auburn star and first-round pick has had roughly 25 offensive coordinators since he started taking snaps in college and he's about to start out on his third NFL roster once the free-agency shuffling begins anew this year. He's 30 and hasn't played a full season in the past two years, either because of injury or being benched. The latter was for Bruce Gradkowski, so it's hard to tell what's worse for his reputation. He makes a lot of sense for a team that wants someone to push their starter without making a stink in the locker room.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs, Eagles, Jets

NFL Free Agency

7. Kyle Orton

Breakdown: Orton's was a "winner" with the Bears, he was a stat-hog for a season with the Broncos, he flirted with the Dolphins and finally he was a streak-killer with the Chiefs. He's not going to be anyone's starter in 2011, unless Washington seriously misplays everything in free agency and the draft (not out of the question). But he's an above-average backup in the NFL and could certainly compete with the starters that various teams -- KC, Washington, Jacksonville, for example -- will trot out in 2011. Orton doesn't want to deal with being a "stop-gap option" but it's unlikely he'll have a choice next year.
Potential Landing Spots:
Redskins, Chiefs, Jaguars, Bears, Broncos

8. David Garrard

Breakdown: Pete Prisco's second-favorite quarterback missed the entire 2011 season after the Jaguars cut him and he underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his back. There was interest in the 34-year-old last year after teams lost quarterbacks to injury, but he decided to recover from the surgery instead. While that's the smart move, Garrard won't find the market as friendly for his services this time, especially since his agent said on February 15 Garrard would be ready in "four to six weeks." Expect someone with a steady starter and tenuous backup to look to Garrard.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Broncos, Buccaneers, Rams, Raiders

9. Shaun Hill

Breakdown: Hill's 32 and not exactly a spring chicken. But he performed admirably in place of Matthew Stafford in 2010 and the fit between he and the Lions is a nice one. The Lions are tight with cap space, but Hill appears to like where he's at, and it's not like he'd break the bank in another location anyway.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions
VY's likely to remain a backup. (Getty Images)

10. Vince Young

Breakdown: Now seems like a good time to remind you that the guy who coined "Dream Team" in Philly was indeed the backup quarterback and someone on a one-year contract. His personality and turnovers will cause a problem for teams looking to sign him. Unless that team happens to run the read-option offense and could really use a mobile quarterback with success in the NFL to step in and freelance if/when Tim Tebow gets hurt/melts down.
Potential Landing Spots: Broncos

11. Rex Grossman

Breakdown: Did you know that Rex Grossman is actually "Rex Grossman III"? Poor Mike Shanahan had RG3 on his roster the whole time and didn't even know it. Sigh. Anyway, Grossman's not going to attract a lot of attention on the market, and nor should he. As the old saying goes, though, "love the one you're with." And Grossman and the Shanahans are with each other, even if Rex isn't starting next year. It would be surprising to see him playing anywhere else in 2012.
Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

HONORABLE MENTION

Unrestricted Free Agents: Dennis Dixon, Josh Johnson, Brady Quinn, Charlie Whitehurst, Donovan McNabb, Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton, Caleb Hanie, Charlie Batch, Kellen Clemens

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Posted on: February 19, 2012 2:29 pm
 

Cliff Avril hints at holdout if Lions tag him

Detroit could franchise Avril and he might choose to hold out. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

On Friday, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril admitted that he had no idea if the team would franchise him after his 11-sack, six-forced-fumbles effort in 2011, but made it clear that "I want a deal, obviously." Not long after, the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett reported that two sources close to the negotiations "stopped short of saying Avril definitely will be tagged, both said that’s the likely outcome if the two sides don’t agree on a long-term deal before March 5, the deadline for applying the tag."

On Saturday, Avril again reiterated that he's not particularly jazzed about the possibility of playing on a one-year contract, even one that would pay him around $10.6 million in 2012. In fact, he might consider holding out.

"There's a lot of different possibilities, and that's one of the possibilities -- not showing up," Avril said of missing off-season workouts and training camp (via the Free Press' Carlos Monarrez. "But we don't know. That's not the plan, obviously. But there's a lot of different possibilities, and that's definitely one of them."

Well, the Lions can officially tag whomever they want starting Monday, February 20 and they'll have two weeks to do so until free agency begins on March 5. Monarro writes that Avril "likely wants a long-term deal that would pay him about $12 million per season," something in line with the contracts signed by the Panthers' Charles Johnson and the Chiefs' Tamba Hali last year.

Avril had a fantastic 2011 that included a dominating performance against the Broncos and Tim Tebow in Week 8 when he recorded two sacks, and turned a forced fumble into a 24-yard touchdown. "I know it's the NFL," he said. "People make promises. It's a business. People tell you one thing one year and it might not be the same thing next year. It's expected. But the whole thing last year is I wanted a deal. They basically told me you need to do this, that and third or whatever as far as playing and being productive. I feel like I did that. Obviously it doesn't stop right here, but I do want to be compensated for the work that I'm putting in. That's all."

Fair points, all of them. But here's what the Lions might be thinking: Yes, Avril went off last season, but he also played next to some combination of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairely and Andre Fluellen. They combined for seven sacks at defensive tackle. And Avril played opposite Kyle Vanden Bosch, and he had eight sacks.

"I don't want to be franchised," Avril said. "That's basically what I got last year. The tender was basically the same thing. I just want security and longevity."

Ultimately, Avril's fate may be out of his hands. He can holdout to express his unhappiness but it's seldom a successful strategy to get a new contract, and usually ends up with the organization threatening to fine the player for missed practices and workouts. The most recent exception: Chris Johnson sat comfortably on his couch until the Titans blinked and overpaid him. Johnson, one of the league's best running backs heading into 2011, responded by rushing for 1,047 yards on 262 carries (4.0 average) and just four touchdowns.

We get Avrils' frustration but should it get to that point, it might be in his best interest to sign the $10.6 million franchise tender and spend the spring and summer trying to hammer out a long-term deal.

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Posted on: February 17, 2012 10:30 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 9:49 am
 

Report: Lions likely to tag Avril if no new deal

Avril wants to stay in Detroit but would prefer to avoid the franchise tag.  (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

Despite what Marshall Faulk might say, Matthew Stafford is a big reason that the Lions have gone from 0-16 in 2008 to 10-6 in 2011 and qualified for then playoffs for the first time since 1999. But Stafford and that high-powered offense wasn't the only reason.

Detroit's defense also had something to do with the organization's turnaround. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the unit ranked ninth overall last season, up from 22nd in 2010, and 32nd during the winless '08 season. So, yes, we tip our cap to you, Gunther Cunningham.

In an effort to keep the group together, the Lions are hoping to re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril, who would prefer a long-term deal over the franchise tag.

"I honestly don't know if they're going to franchise me or make a deal," Avril said Friday. "I want a deal, obviously."

On Friday evening, the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett writes that while two sources close to negotiations "stopped short of saying Avril definitely will be tagged, both said that’s the likely outcome if the two sides don’t agree on a long-term deal before March 5, the deadline for applying the tag."

Avril, 25, led the Lions with 11 sacks and six forced fumbles last season, and he'll be in demand should he hit the open market. If he's tagged, Avril can expect around $10.6 million which, thanks to the new CBA signed last July, is $2.6 million less than 2011 franchise tag.

As CBSSports.com's Will Brinson noted earlier this week, "Previously, the franchise-tag number was generated by averaging the top-five salaries at a position to determine a number for that position. This year, the franchise tag value will be a percentage of the overall salary cap figure for the previous five years."

But this isn't an either-or situation (or at least it doesn't have to be). Just because the two sides don't come to a long-term agreement prior to March 5 doesn't mean they can't at some point this offseason.

"The franchise tag actually doesn't exist simply to keep a guy around for another year without paying him big money," Brinson wrote Tuesday. "It's to keep a guy around while you work out a long-term contract.

As far as the Lions are concerned, Avril is an integral cog in what they want this defense to become, but issues remain. Detroit still needs depth at cornerback, which could be addressed in the first round of April's NFL Draft. First things first, however: keeping Avril, whether that means a long-term contract, the franchise tag or a combination of the two.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com