The Detroit Lions finally achieved some of the success seemingly predicted annually for them over the past couple of years. But the NFC North isnt standing still and the Lions wont stand still addressing needs.
Detroit should look at middle linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver, in that order, according to a breakdown by ProFootballFocus.com. Not sure wideout would be at in the top three of most lists, given Nate Burleson and Titus Young supporting Calvin Johnson, but the number of drops by Burleson and Young were part of the thinking.
Teams dont typically go hard after middle linebackers in either the draft or free agency. The reason MLB is on the list is the uncertainty over Stephen Tulloch, a highly rated every down linebacker who is a free agent. But the Lions dont sound like they intend to let Tulloch walk without a contest.
Stephens a guy that fit our system very well, said defense-based Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. Hes young, hes tremendously durable, hes tremendously productive and I think he can be a big part of what were doing in Detroit. I think that our linebackers were much improved last year. We still have a lot of work to do on defense but guys like Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch made a big difference on our defense.
Cornerback is always a concern in a division that has Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and his corps. Chris Houston and Eric Wright didnt hurt the Lions terribly but neither is rated a top corner and PFF mentions Tim Jennings as a reasonably priced option, although that assumes the Bears wouldnt have him back at the right price, and theyve got more money to spend than do the Lions.
Unstated were any concerns over the age of left tackle Jeff Backus, turning 35, a fixture since he arrived in 2001, or center Dominic Raiola, who was selected a round after Backus. Offensive lineman can play well into their 30s but protecting Matthew Stafford is a franchise priority.
This is apparently the week of Jay Cutler news.
Reports surfaced earlier this week the Bears are pushing hard to find a trade partner for the enigmatic quarterback, though Ian Rapoport reported the organization informed Cutler in mid-January they were shopping him around.
It seems clear Cutler's time in Chicago has come to an end and an ensuing move is more of a formality at this point.
But apparently Cutler may not even suit up again...for ANY team.
Rapoport reported on NFL Network Wednesday night Cutler is mulling over retirement, even as he's healthy and working out now after shoulder surgery.
"There's no guarantee Cutler even plays in 2017, one of several veterans who are still considering whether they want to play or not play, retire, walk away. A lot of things at play here for Jay Cutler."
Host Dan Hellie immediately followed up, asking for clarification on the retirement part.
"It is a consideration; it's something he's confided in people," Rapoport said. "But Dan, I would say, it's not a surprise for quarterbacks this age. We've heard [Ben] Roethlisberger talk about it; we've heard Tony Romo talk about it. If it's not perfect, if he can't find the team he wants or the contract he wants, it's very easy for Jay Cutler to walk away."
Cutler, 33, has made more than $112 million in his 11-year career and is owed at least another $2 million in 2017, even if he's cut by the Bears.
John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.
Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.
Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.
Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.
Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.
It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.
The Bears also announced the additions of assistant coaches Brandon Staley and Derius Swinton II Wednesday morning:
Staley will replace Clint Hurtt as outside linebackers coach and Swinton will be the assistant special teams coach under Jeff Rodgers.
Swinton is reprising his role he held on the Bears coaching staff in 2015 before leaving to take a promotion with the San Francisco 49ers special teams.
Hurtt left the Bears to take a position as the defensive line coach with the Seattle Seahawks. Staley spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Division-III John Carroll University, the alma mater of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Hall of Fame coach Don Shula.