The Chicago Bears' search to find a tall cornerback to eventually replace veteran Charles Tillman led the team’s Director of College Scouting Marty Barrett to attend the private Pro Day last month of Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, according to a source present at the workout.

In his latest mock draft, ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects the 6-foot-1, 198 pound Desir will be selected in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 54th overall pick. The Bears currently own the 51st overall selection.

A relative unknown after spending two years at Washburn, followed by the two seasons at Lindenwood, Desir finished his college career with 25 total interceptions and 52 pass breakups en route to being named a Division II All-American three times.

Desir participated in the East-West Shrine game, Senior Bowl, and was invited to the NFL combine in February.

With Tillman back on a one-year deal, the Bears are believed to be leaning towards drafting a cornerback with a larger frame in the event Tillman leaves the organization after 2014. Since the club already has money and years locked up in undersized 5-foot-8 cornerback Tim Jennings, the Bears need to find a young cornerback big enough to one day matchup with the taller wide receivers in the NFC North, especially Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

In addition to Barrett and the Bears, four other NFL teams were present at Desir’s Pro Day on March 20.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since free agency began on March 11, the Minnesota Vikings have been busily working the free-agent market to upgrade their defense. Those efforts, according to ESPN Stats & Information, have landed the Vikings among the league leaders in guaranteed money spent since the start of the new league year.

The Vikings have given out $50.2 million in guaranteed money since March 11, which is the fifth-most in the NFL. Only the Buccaneers ($74.3 million), Broncos ($65.5 million), Browns ($63.8 million) and Raiders ($51.0 million) have included more guaranteed dollars in new contracts.

That sum is the cost of doing business for a team that ranked second-to-last in the league in defense last season, but even though the Vikings have spent a sizable amount of money to sign players from other teams, the number itself shouldn't necessarily signal a departure from the draft-and-develop philosophy the team has employed the past three years, largely because of how much of the guaranteed money was wrapped up in the Vikings' new deal for 2010 fourth-rounder Everson Griffen.

Griffen got $19.8 million guaranteed as part of his five-year, $42.5 million contract, and he'll have been paid all of that money by the end of next season. The only money that would accelerate onto the Vikings' salary cap if they cut Griffen after 2015 is the $3.6 million in signing bonus proration left on his deal. The deal that includes the second-most guaranteed money -- for defensive tackle Linval Joseph -- has a similar structure. In that case, the Vikings gave Joseph $7.1 million in base salary guarantees, and a $2.4 million roster bonus they paid him last month, so the only cap charge they'd face by cutting him after 2015 is the $1.8 million of bonus proration left on his deal.

In total, the deals the Vikings gave out this spring would only include $5.73 million of dead money after the 2015 season. The pay-as-you-go method employed by assistant general manager Rob Brzezinski has allowed the Vikings to give out big contracts and stay out of salary cap trouble. Even the $45 million deal the team gave wide receiver Greg Jennings a year ago will only carry a $6 million cap charge after this season; the Vikings gave Jennings $17.8 million in guaranteed money, in the form of a $10-million signing bonus and guaranteed base salaries in each of his first two seasons. That deal came with a bigger signing bonus than most of the contracts the Vikings have done lately, but on a $45 million total deal, the Vikings' cap burden in the final years of Jennings' contract is still relatively small.

That structure will also allow the Vikings to be aggressive next year, should they choose to do so; with the cap possibly rising as high as $140 million, the Vikings could already have $30 million in cap space for 2015, before restructuring any deals or releasing any players.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2010, when Julius Peppers arrived in Chicago, only two NFC North players have more sacks than him.

Peppers
Matthews
One of them is now his teammate.

That means the Green Bay Packers -- with the addition of Peppers -- have two of the top-three pass rushers in the division. Since Peppers' first season in the division, only Jared Allen, who left the Minnesota Vikings to sign with the Chicago Bears in free agency this offseason, has more sacks among NFC North players than Clay Matthews and his new teammate, Peppers (see accompanying chart).

The partnership between Matthews and Peppers should be mutually beneficial.

From Matthews' standpoint, he believes it will mean fewer double teams.

"This guy's (6-foot-7), 290 (pounds); I'm 6-4 on a good day and 255," Matthews said during a recent interview with USA Today. "They're going to double the big guy, and that leaves plenty of opportunities for me. I haven't had too many one-on-one opportunities, and when you do, you're expected to win -- at least in our locker room -- the majority of the time, because that's supposed to be a mismatch."

Matthews expects to be fully recovered from his second thumb injury -- the two of which kept him out of six games last season (including the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers).

With Peppers and Matthews, the possibilities for defensive coordinator Dom Capers are many. He could line them up on the same side of the formation, forcing a guard or tight end to block one of them. He could separate them, leaving a dominant pass-rusher on each side. Or he could rush one or both of them from the inside.

"I'm excited about it," Matthews said. "Most people are curious as to how they're going to use him in a 3-4 scheme, but I don't think it matters. I think you line him up on the field in a zero-, one-, three-, five-, seven-, nine-technique -- he's going to get attention, and he's going to get double teams. It's going to create opportunities for one of us on the field to have our one-on-one matchups, and that's where that person needs to win."

Even if Peppers can only repeat his performance from last season, when he posted seven sacks, that would be more than any Packers' defensive lineman posted last season. Mike Daniels was tops with 6.5 sacks.

The Packers want to expand Daniels’ role this season and also hope to get more production from B.J. Raji, who will move back to nose tackle. They also plan to use Nick Perry and Mike Neal the same way they will use Peppers -- as a multi-position player they are calling the elephant spot.

"I think he's going to give teams a lot of trouble, especially with Clay, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels," Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush said this week. "Within also the D-line, they can't just double Clay anymore, so he's going to wreak havoc over there. I played with him in Carolina before I came here to the Packers, so I got to see his ability over there in Carolina. He's definitely a force to be reckoned with. I think with Clay and the whole gang, I think we'll be a championship caliber team."
Diligence by the Chicago Bears’ front office in free agency helped to carve out flexibility for the NFL draft, but defense still remains the major focus.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draftInsider is out on ESPN Insider today, and his choices through the first two rounds definitely reflect the team’s intentions to orchestrate a renaissance on defense.


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Earlier this month, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., stood firmly by his belief that the Minnesota Vikings needed to address their quarterback situation before doing anything else in the draft. He said the team needed to chart its future at the position more than it needed to fill holes on its defense in the first round.

"You can't be the fourth team in the division at quarterback by a wide margin and have any chance of being any more than a borderline playoff team, at best, and probably in the cellar, more than likely, if things at other positions don't go your way," Kiper said.

In his fourth mock draft, Kiper still believes the Vikings will take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick, counting on the presence of Matt Cassel to help buy them time to develop their new signal-caller before putting him on the field.


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The Green Bay Packers began the process of rebuilding their defense by adding free-agent pass rusher Julius Peppers and re-signing several of their own key players -- B.J. Raji, Sam Shields and Mike Neal among them -- but there's still much to do in next month's draft.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider today, and his projected first-round pick for the Packers at No. 21 overall should help in that process.


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Detroit’s potential dalliance with trading up for Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins might scream splash, but practicality might be the better approach for the Lions in the upcoming draft, as they need to upgrade on defense.

The Lions hold the 10th overall selection and will have plenty of strong defensive prospects capable of contributing immediately available in addition to several solid options for the offense in the later rounds. Mel Kiper’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft (this one covering two rounds) is out Thursday, and his picks appear to fall right in line with what ultimately might be best for the Lions.


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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pick after pick crawled across the bottom of television screens last April 25, 26 and 27 and those wondering when the Green Bay Packers would draft a safety got their answer when the 254th -- and final -- pick in the 2013 NFL draft was announced.

Three safeties went in the first round, but none to the Packers.

Two more came off the board in Round 2, but neither was a Packers pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisHa Ha Clinton-Dix may be available to the Packers when they draft in the first round.
Seventeen more were drafted on the third and final day, yet the Packers still had not filled one of their biggest needs.

That's not to say they went into last year's draft wholly convinced that they didn't need help at the position. But when it came time to exercise each of his selections, there wasn't a safety sitting there that intrigued general manager Ted Thompson enough to make that call.

Thompson liked a few of the safeties in the draft, but the ones he was sold on were either already off the board or would have been a reach at the time of his pick.

So here are the Packers, nearly a year later, and Thompson still has not put pen to paper on a contract for a new safety of any consequence. (And no, street free agent Chris Banjo does not count.)

That has to change next month, when Thompson will take nine selections into the May 8-10 NFL draft, doesn't it?

If Thompson fails to land one of the top, say, five or six safeties in this draft -- be it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both of who are locks to go in the first round; or possible second- and third-round picks like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Terrence Brooks of Florida State -- then he will be handcuffing defensive coordinator Dom Capers in much the same fashion he did last season.

Last summer, Capers and coach Mike McCarthy opened the competition at free safety to a pair of second-year players, Jerron McMillian (a 2012 fourth-round round pick) and M.D. Jennings (an undrafted free agent the same year). It was a close competition, more so because neither one stood out, and when strong safety Morgan Burnett was unavailable for the season opener because of a hamstring injury, that duo started Week 1 at the two safety spots.

The Packers thought so little of their performances that they cut McMillian late last season and did not even bother this offseason to offer Jennings a restricted free agent tender, which would not have cost them any guaranteed money.

"Obviously we didn't get the production that we wanted from that [free safety] position," safeties coach Darren Perry said this offseason.

To be sure, the Packers need Burnett to show that Thompson wasn't misguided when he signed him to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer.

"I think he's fully capable of doing it," McCarthy said this offseason. "Morgan's going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities."

In order for Burnett to flourish, he can't be worried about the player lined up next to him. That player was supposed to be Nick Collins, the three-time Pro Bowl safety whose career was cut short in 2011 by a neck injury. At age 30, he still would have been in the prime of his career last season.

If the Packers don't find another Collins, they must at least come close.

Since the team's resurgence in the early 1990s, they have enjoyed a strong group of safeties -- from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Collins; all were Pro Bowl selections during their time in Green Bay.

The dynamic of the position has changed in recent years. Whereas Butler was a fierce hitter, today's safeties are judged just as much on speed and ball skills as anything else. What NFL teams need now are safeties than can cover chunks of yardage in milliseconds and knock passes away or, better yet, intercept them. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that didn't get a single interception from a safety.

"The intimidator isn't necessarily needed anymore," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. "The big hitters, you don't need that."

Kiper doesn't believe Clinton-Dix will be around when the Packers come up at No. 21 in the first round, but Pryor very well could be available.

Even if Pryor is gone or Thompson passes on him, he will have other options, says Kiper.

"Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois you could make an argument is the best cover safety in the draft," Kiper said. "He's coming off the [foot] injury but he had a very good career, has great ball skills, real good hands for the interception. And Ward is a decent tackler, but he doesn't have tremendous size [5-foot-11, 193 pounds].

"The days of that big, intimidating safety are just about over. Terrence Brooks from Florida State would fill that void at that point as a safety that could come in and help you right away."

No matter what Thompson does in the draft, Capers and McCarthy plan to work cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this offseason. Perhaps the fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year will be the full-time answer; he certainly showed enough as a rookie to warrant more than the 39.4 percent playing time he got last year. But if the Packers think Hyde can allow them to concentrate on other areas of need in the draft, they'd better be right.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Josh Samuda, who sustained a gruesome injury to his right ankle during the team's workout on Tuesday, had surgery in the Twin Cities to mend a broken fibula, dislocated ankle and deltoid ligament damage on Wednesday, according to a source close to the situation. He should get more information about his prognosis as the week draws to a close, the source said, but while the injury isn't thought to be career threatening, the initial expectation is Samuda will miss nine to 10 months.

Samuda, who signed a reserve/future contract with the team in January, was injured during a footwork drill where one player chased another in a close circle. His ankle appeared to give out, and he was helped off the field several minutes later. On Tuesday, there was some concern that Samuda sustained more serious damage inside his deltoid ligament, but those fears were allayed once doctors were able to see the full extent of the injury.

"We'll wait, like, six weeks and see how he starts to heal," the source said. "He’s in good spirits. It’s a freak accident; it's unfortunate and severe, but he's focused on rehabbing his body."

The Massachusetts product spent the 2012 season with the Miami Dolphins, playing in all 16 games before the team cut him at the end of training camp in 2013. He had signed with the Vikings to give the team some interior line depth, but while the 25-year-old figures to play again, he's got a long road back from a nasty injury.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Green Bay Packers report for the offseason program on Tuesday, don't expect linebacker Clay Matthews to put his twice-broken right thumb through any vigorous work right away.

But when training camp begins in July -- and more importantly when the regular season kicks off in September -- Matthews does not expect there to be any issues.

In an interview with USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Matthews said he expects his thumb to be a non-issue going forward.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
AP Photo/Mike RoemerClay Matthews hopes thumb casts, like this one worn Nov. 10 against the Eagles, are in his past.
"It's been getting better, so I have no doubt," Matthews said. "Obviously, OTAs will probably be one thing. I can't imagine I'll be too heavily involved with some of the stuff. I'm sure I can do stuff here and there."

But when training camp opens?

"I'll be ready," Matthews said.

For the first time, he revealed exactly what happened following his second injury, which occurred on Dec. 22 when he sacked Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Matthews had returned from the first break, called a Bennett's fracture, six weeks earlier against the Philadelphia Eagles -- a game he called "by far my worst professional game, but there was a legitimate excuse" -- and after wearing a club cast that left him ineffective for that game, he opted for a much smaller cast.

All was well until his thumb hit the helmet of teammate Mike Neal on the way to sacking Roethlisberger.

Rather than opting for the same surgery that he had when he first broke his thumb on Oct. 6 against the Detroit Lions, he went with something different.

"It's called a tendon transfer," Matthews said. "I broke it [the first time], and they did a closed-pin reduction. [The thumb] was dislocated, so they put it back in there. The bones line up, but it was a real small piece of the bone. So, everything was fine. I was coming out, I was working hard, and I was in a cast.

"And unfortunately, on a sack of Roethlisberger, the tip of my thumb [hit] my teammate's helmet. All that pressure went down the cast, broke it again. So then, to make it tighter, we took part of the tendon, turned it around, drilled some holes and they almost tied a knot through. It's stronger than [the left one]. Now it's super tight."

The Packers kept Matthews on the active roster for the playoffs, hoping he could return if they made a Super Bowl run.

Matthews estimated that his thumb is "about 75, 80% of where it needs to be."

"It's getting there," he said. "By the time the season rolls around, it'll be fine. I'm optimistic about it. I mean, I've never heard of a career-ending thumb injury, but no one had heard of a Bennett's fracture when I had done that."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some quick thoughts on a few Minnesota Vikings quarterback items:
  • Freeman
    Josh Freeman has signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants -- the beneficiaries of his now-infamous "Monday Night Football" misadventure last October -- and one of the most bizarre quarterbacking episodes in Vikings history has an appropriately perplexing conclusion. But for a team like New York, who has a proven quarterback in Eli Manning, there might be some logic behind the move. The Giants obviously evaluated Freeman on more than his 20-for-53 performance against them at MetLife Stadium, and after Freeman's 2013 season -- which included an unsightly divorce with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano -- the Giants probably didn't spend much to acquire the quarterback. If they felt they could rehabilitate his game away from the pressure of a starting spot, they might have made a sensible move in signing Freeman. It's essentially the same reason the Green Bay Packers would have had interest in signing Freeman had they not brought back Matt Flynn, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, and it's a derivation of what the Vikings were trying to do with Freeman, with one important difference. The Vikings didn't have a stable enough quarterback situation to treat Freeman purely as a speculative signing, which is probably what they should have done. Instead, they tried to rush him into the lineup, and paid for it with an embarrassing loss to an 0-6 team on national TV.
  • Ponder
    Ponder
    By May 3, NFL teams have to decide whether they will exercise fifth-year contract options for 2011 first-round picks, keeping those players under contract through the 2015 season. Those options are guaranteed only against injury; otherwise, teams face no penalty for cutting a player before the start of the 2015 season. If the Vikings picked up quarterback Christian Ponder's option for the 2015 season, and Ponder played under that contract, it'd cost the team the average of the third through 25th-highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL, or $9.686 million. As expensive as that number sounds, the Vikings could always buy insurance against injury and pick up the option if they saw any chance of offensive coordinator Norv Turner coaxing more out of Ponder, who doesn't figure to be on the field -- and at risk of injury -- that much in 2014 anyway. The decision will indicate what the Vikings still think they have in Ponder: whether they see any potential left, or whether they're just hanging onto him as a backup in case they only take a developmental QB in the draft. General manager Rick Spielman has said Ponder "will be here" in 2014, but if the Vikings did decide to cut him, they would realize a cap savings of $1.76 million.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw at his pro day on Wednesday morning, five months after tearing his ACL, but the Vikings reportedly only had a scout there. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer were both at the team facility during the Vikings' offseason workout on Tuesday, and the Vikings have draft hopefuls in town on Wednesday and Thursday for their top-30 prospects event. They've typically been sending Spielman, Zimmer and Turner to meet with quarterbacks after their pro days, and though the Vikings could still schedule a private workout with Murray between now and the draft, their approach to his pro day might indicate he's not as high on their list as other quarterbacks. Then again, we're in that time of year where teams are doing their best to conceal their intentions, and it's always possible the Vikings are trying to do that with Murray.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings made a pair of roster additions Tuesday, bringing back tight end Allen Reisner and claiming former San Diego Chargers linebacker Terrell Manning off waivers.

Reisner spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the Vikings, shuttling between the practice squad and the active roster after signing with the team as a rookie free agent. He signed with Jacksonville before the 2013 season and played five games for the Jaguars, starting three and catching five passes for 40 yards.

Manning played one game with the Chargers last season after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2012. He played mostly special teams in five games with the Packers in 2012 and was let go by the team in the final round of cuts last August, after returning from a parasitic infection that caused him to lose 20 pounds during training camp. He was an outside linebacker at North Carolina State, and Packers general manager Ted Thompson thought enough of him to trade three picks in order to move up and draft Manning in the fifth round in 2012.

With competition likely coming at linebacker, Manning might have a chance to push for playing time.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the Green Bay Packers do nothing else at the quarterback position this offseason, at least they know they have someone who has proven he can win games as a backup.

That is a better situation than they were in a year ago, when they had no clue whether Graham Harrell or B.J. Coleman could function with a meaningful NFL game on the line.

Flynn
Flynn
And it's a better situation than they were in in September, when they broke training camp by cutting Harrell, Coleman and Vince Young.

By re-signing veteran quarterback Matt Flynn on Tuesday, the Packers renewed an insurance policy that paid off last season after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Flynn came back on Nov. 12 after failing to win starting jobs with the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders (and following a brief stint with the Buffalo Bills).

Just 12 days later, he rallied the Packers to a comeback tie against the Minnesota Vikings and went 2-2 in his next four starts to keep the Packers in playoff contention before Rodgers returned to win the regular-season finale -- and NFC North title -- against the Chicago Bears.

Whatever Flynn's shortcomings were (likely a lack of arm strength and an unfamiliarity with new offenses) when he got his chances in Seattle and Oakland, he has proven to be comfortable and effective in Green Bay, where he began his career in 2008 and still holds a share of the team’s single-game passing yards record (480 against the Detroit Lions in the 2011 regular-season finale, a mark Rodgers tied in Week 2 last season against the Washington Redskins).

Perhaps the Packers won't need Flynn or they will decide Scott Tolzien is a better option after he goes through coach Mike McCarthy's offseason program for the first time. But for now, they don't have to worry about the unknown that came with Coleman, who never caught on with another team; or Harrell, who, coincidentally on Tuesday, was hired as an assistant coach at Washington State, according to media reports.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre's reunion with the Green Bay Packers was supposed to happen last season, but the high school football team he helped coach got in the way.

So said Packers president Mark Murphy on Tuesday, just before he and several current and former players boarded a bus to begin the team's annual Tailgate Tour.

Favre
At just about every stop along the way during past tours since the Packers jettisoned Favre by trading him to the New York Jets in 2008, Murphy has been asked about the relationship between the team and its former quarterback.

No doubt Murphy will be asked it again on the five-day trip that includes stops in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"There's not a lot to report," Murphy said Tuesday morning. "We do have on-going communications with him, and I think relations are good. We're hopeful to have him come back soon.

"We wanted to have him come back to a game last year, and his team kept winning and winning, so it kind of made it tough to find a time where it worked."

Perhaps Favre’s return could take place this coming season, considering he reportedly will not return to his role as offensive coordinator at Oak Grove High School, which won the Mississippi 6A title last fall.
Neil Hornsby over at Pro Football Focus put together a piece Wednesday identifying five teams that could push themselves into the playoffs Insider by identifying and addressing one specific positional need in the upcoming NFL draft.

Conrath
Conte
He pointed to Carolina in 2013 as an example. Headed into last year’s draft, the Panthers needed to fix issues at defensive tackle. They did so by drafting interior linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short with their first two selections, turning what had been identified as a glaring weakness into a major strength.

For the Chicago Bears, the significant weakness, according to Hornsby, is the safety position.

Horsby writes: “It would be far from unfair to say the worst position group in football last year was the Bears' collection of safeties. Both regular starters were listed in the worst five of our 86 ranked players at the position. Major Wright and Chris Conte combined to give up more than 1,000 yards in the air, and if anything, were worse as run defenders. Both missed more than 10 tackles in that phase alone, and were both in the top 10 for missed tackles overall.”

Obviously, the Bears tried to upgrade the safety position in free agency by acquiring Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray. But at this point, those players appear to be depth signings, capable of starting games in a pinch. The club needs to raise the talent level, especially now that Conte might end up missing some training camp coming off a shoulder surgery.

Though it’s unclear whether the Bears will address safety immediately with the No. 14 pick, it’s pretty much guaranteed that at some point in the draft the team will take one, possibly even two.

By Hornsby’s rationale, that could be the difference in the Bears earning their first trip to the playoffs since the 2010 season.

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