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2011 NFL Free Agency Primer: NFC North Release Candidates

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Once this lockout ends there is going to be a mad scramble to sign free agents, make trades and set rosters. Adding to what promises to be a chaotic time is the fact that another 75-100 NFL caliber players are going to be released and joining the ranks of the unemployed. 

This morning I am going to focus on the NFC North and what players stand most likely to be released. It isn't the most appealing of names, but there does promise to be a couple that will interest San Francisco. 



Chicago Bears

G- Robert Garza: The Bears offensive line was horrible last season, one of the worse in the league. They left Jay Cutler out to dry way too many times and nearly got him killed. Robert Garza had a down season, but is still a pretty decent interior linemen. However, the Bears desperately need to upgrade a long the line. Therefore, the 2.7 million Garza is set to make in 2011 could be used to find an upgrade at his position. There is a lot of available talent out there and Chicago would be well suited to spend 5-6 million on an upgrade here. 

LB- Lance Briggs: I know he really doesn't belong on this list. After all, Briggs is a Pro Bowl linebacker and has been an extremely solid player for Chicago. But, hear me out a second. He is set to make nearly 8 million this season when all is said and done. The Bears want to start to compete with the big dogs for a conference championship. The roster as it stands, doesn't equate to this aspiration. Additionally, Chicago isn't in a great salary cap situation and they need to find upgrades at other position. 

That said, it is extremely unlikely they part ways with one of their best defensive players. If they do, it will be because they need to find upgrades at other position and the 8 million could be used nicely.


Detroit Lions

WR- Nate Burleson: The Lions added Titus Young in April's draft and Burleson was somewhat of a disappointment in his first year with Detroit. He is set to make nearly 3 million and Detroit could use that money to upgrade a long the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, they are only 7 million under the cap as I write this. Therefore, the Lions are going to have to cut money somewhere in order to upgrade; Burleson is expendable. 

TE- Tony Scheffler: More of a trade candidate because he brings a lot to the offensive side of the ball. However, there remains a possibility Detroit releases him outright. The reason? They are going to be running more three wide receiver sets and have former 1st round pick, Brandon Pettigrew, ready to take over as the full time tight end. Scheffler has a ton of value, so I expect the Lions to look trade first. Also, there is a possibility they keep him and run a nice amount of three wide receiver/two tight end sets.

C- Dominic Raiola: He has been one of the Lions most consistent offensive linemen over the last decade, but that really isn't saying much considering how bad that line has been. Detroit have young and cheaper options at the center position and Raiola is set to make nearly 4 million this year. Look for Detroit to release him if they see younger players ready to step in. Once again, you are looking at a team that needs defensive upgrades in order to content in 2011.

OT- Gosder Cherilus: The former Boston College standout just hasn't been the offensive linemen many expected him to be after going in the 1st round a few seasons ago. Cherilus, it seems, regressed a little bit in 2010. Couple that with the fact that he is set to make 3 million this year and you have a likely release candidate. The Lions did draft Jason Fox last season, and he seems to have more upside at this point. A change of scenery may be what the doctor ordered for Cherilus. 

DE- Kyle Vanden Bosch: Detroit signed the "pass rush specialist" last off-season to get heat on the quarterback. While, his four sacks doesn't seem like the plan worked; Vanden Bosch did get into the offensive backfield rather frequently in 2010. The Lions did, however, draft Nick Fairley, to play inside with Suh. So the question is this; do the Lions invest tens of millions a long a defensive front when their secondary is so weak? He is set to make 4.5 million this season and that money could be used to re-sign the surprising Chris Houston, or go after a true #1 corner. 

DL- Corey Williams: Probably more of a realistic release candidate than Vanden Bosch, I fully expect Williams to be looking for a new home in 2011. He is set to make 5 million this year, and the Lions have two younger starters a long the interior of their defensive line. Williams has been a strong performer over his career, and 2010 was no different. However, the Lions need to look at salary cap logistics, and he is expendable.


Green Bay Packers

RB- Ryan Grant: Grant being on this list comes with a little bit of a preface. The Green Bay Packers are going to look for an upgrade at the RB position, if they find it Grant is gone; if not, his roster spot is safe. The Notre Dame alum is set to make 5.6 million this season and is extremely limited in the passing and blocking game. Green Bay needs to find a back that can protect their franchise QB, Aaron Rodgers. Plus you cannot forget how James Starks played down the stretch last season. Grant is so much a liability here, I think that the Packers are going to have to cut ties. If so, there will be a nice little market for the former 1000 yard rusher. 

OT- Mark Tauscher: The selection of Derek Sherrod pretty much means that the 12 year vet is going to be released when the new league year begins. Tauscher is set to make nearly 5 million and will not be in the Packers starting lineup plans for 2011. Additionally, Tauscher is non-committal about playing this year because of a nagging shoulder injury. If he is released and decides to play, there will be a nice amount of teams clamoring for him

DL- Johnny Jolly: He was lucky to avoid prison time for a 2008 conviction on drug possession. That said, Jolly has been suspended indefinately be the NFL and may not see action until the 2011 season begins, if then. Green Bay will likely cut ties with him and his 2.6 million dollar 2011 salary. If Goodell grants Jolly a reprieve and allows him to play in 2011 there should be a lot of interest on the free agent market; including San Francisco.


Minnesota Vikings

WR- Bernard Berrian: This could all change if Sidney Rice decides to sign somewhere else once free agency begins. However, Berrian has been a major disappointment for Minnesota and is set to make 4 million this year. The Vikings are incredibly thin at wide receiver, and even more so if Rice leaves. This leads me to believe they may ask Berrian to remain on the roster with a lower salary. However, the major question is whether or not he will take a pay cut; I seriously doubt it.

FB/TE- Jim Kleinsasser: The Vikings drafted Kyle Rudolph in the 2nd round of April's draft and really have no need for the veterans services. Additionally, Kleinsasser is set to make 3 million in 2011, which is way too much for a #3 tight end. He will get a lot of play from teams looking for a h-back type of player, San Francisco included.

DL- Jimmy Kennedy: I really didn't understand why the Vikings signed this "bust" to a 2Y-5MM contract last off-season. He has never shown the determination to be an every down defensive tackle in the NFL; what a waste of talent. It is pretty obvious that he will not remain on Minnesota in 2011. Expect there to be tepid interest from some teams around the league. But, I wouldn't rule out a stint in the UFL.

DL- Kevin Williams: It would be a crying shame to see the Williams' wall imploded this off-season, they were fun to watch. Pat Williams is set to be a free agent, and Kevin is set to make 6 million in 2011. The Vikings also Drafted Christian Ballard in April and have Fred Evans waiting in the wings. This is a team that doesn't hesitate to move on from its past, and that will probably be the case with the Williams' "brothers". If so, expect a lot of teams to be in competition to acquire Kevin Williams. He is an extremely stout run defender and plays with a never ending motor. In fact, Williams would be a great fit in San Francisco.

Analysis: Really not a lot to see hear. You are looking at players that don't fit into San Francisco's need category, or just don't represent upgrades from what they currently have. 

That said, there are a couple names that could intrigue San Francisco once free agency begins. Kevin Williams comes to mind first. He would be a great stopgap player for the 49ers and would probably cost less than Aubrayo Franklin in terms of guaranteed money. He also fits perfectly in as a NT in a 3-4 defense. 

The other player that would see to interest San Francisco is Corey Williams. He did play in the 3-4 at Cleveland, but isn't necessarily a 3-4 NT. He could switch between end and tackle depending on the situation. Additionally, Williams has been an extremely solid player against the run and does get in the offensive backfield on occasion.