Alexander Mattison

NFC North Notes: Lions, Cook, Bears

Having dealt with back trouble for two years, Matthew Stafford missed half of this season with fractures in his back. He will not undergo surgery and expects to be back in time for the start of the Lions‘ offseason program in April. Last season, Stafford played through a transverse process fracture in his back. This will be OC Darrell Bevell‘s second year in Detroit, so Stafford’s participation in the upcoming offseason program will not be as critical as last season’s attendance. Still, Detroit’s soon-to-be 32-year-old passer appears on the way back.

Oh yeah, I’ll be good to go,” Stafford said, via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News. “I feel really good, which is good. I’ve had quite a bit of rest, obviously. I think I’ll be feeling really, really good pretty darn soon, to tell you the truth.”

Shifting first to one of the division’s teams still playing, here is the latest out of the NFC North:

  • The Vikings‘ plan to sit Dalvin Cook (shoulder, chest) for the final two regular-season games looks to have paid off. Minnesota’s Pro Bowl back took part in a full practice Wednesday, putting him in line to suit up for the Vikings’ first-round game against the Saints. Alexander Mattison (ankle) was also a full participant, giving Minnesota a good chance of having the best version of its backfield in action Sunday in New Orleans.
  • The Bears quickly identified their next offensive line coach. A day after firing previous O-line instructor Harry Hiestand, Chicago will hire Juan Castillo to replace him, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). Castillo’s most recent role was with Buffalo, where he served as the Bills’ O-line coach from 2017-18, but he was on the Eagles’ staff for each of Andy Reid’s 14 years in Philadelphia. Nagy broke into coaching during those years, spending time on Reid’s final five Philly staffs. The Bears ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric, with their offensive front frequently struggling to open running lanes.
  • Back to the Lions, they have starting guard Graham Glasgow set for free agency. The team moved Glasgow back to guard after he’d started at center in 2018, but this season’s Lions featured a three-guard rotation. That may or may not impact Glasgow’s offseason decision; he was non-committal about a desire to stay in Detroit. “It’s been a long year and I’d like to feel like — I’d like to kind of feel like I’m wanted, sort of,” Glasgow said, via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett. “So, yeah. It’s been — it’s just been a long year. And ideally, I’d like to — we kind of need to talk about it.” Glasgow started 58 games with the Lions from 2016-19 and graded well, in the view of Pro Football Focus, this past season. With the guard market gravitating toward sellers in recent years, Glasgow could be in for a nice payday in March.

Latest On Dalvin Cook’s Status

Dalvin Cook‘s shoulder injury will likely shelve him for the biggest game of the Vikings’ regular season. The third-year running back is unlikely to play against the Packers on Monday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes.

The Vikings have now confirmed Cook will miss Week 16, and Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com adds the team is considering shelving its Pro Bowl back for the rest of the regular season in order to have him healthier for the playoffs. Minnesota can clinch a playoff spot with a Monday win, but with the Vikings holding a two-game lead on the Rams for the NFC’s No. 6 seed, Football Outsiders gives them a 98.2% chance to qualify.

Mike Zimmer said Cook was “doing good,” and the Vikings’ 1,000-yard rusher indicated he would play if sufficiently healthy (Twitter links via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press). Cook has not missed a game this season but certainly has an injury history of note. An ACL tear ended Cook’s rookie season, and multiple hamstring setbacks limited him to 11 games last year. Cook initially injured his shoulder in Week 11.

Neither Cook nor backup Alexander Mattison practiced Wednesday. The latter missed Week 15 with an ankle injury, leaving second-year UDFA Mike Boone in command of the backfield. The Vikings gave Mattison a questionable designation for Monday’s game.

Prior to Sunday’s win, Boone had previously logged just eight carries this season. He rushed for two touchdowns against the Chargers. The Vikings also have Ameer Abdullah (13 carries this season) and C.J. Ham (five) as potential ball-carrying options.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Bears, Vikings, Flowers

The Bears have made some splashy trades since Ryan Pace replaced Phil Emery as GM in 2015. Deals that brought Khalil Mack and Mitch Trubisky to Chicago required major assets to complete. Fourth-year starter Cody Whitehair and second-round tight end Adam Shaheen also forced the Bears to surrender multiple mid-round picks. In a detailed piece by The Athletic’s Adam Jahns (subscription required), Pace summarized his aggressiveness on these fronts.

I think if you sit on your hands and you say, ‘Oh, this player is definitely going to get to us,’ and he goes right before you and you had conviction on him — not just you but the scouts and the coaches – and you wait on it, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Pace said. “If you have a guy or a group of guys, be aggressive and make it happen.

I don’t want to undervalue any of these mid-round picks. We’ve shown a lot examples of us hitting on those players. But I know if we’re ever in a situation where, ‘Hey, we’re doing a little too much here,’ we can police ourselves on that. But as long as it’s a fair deal and we’re getting a player that we all have conviction on, then we’ll do it.”

As teams break for camp, here is more from the NFC North:

  • A knee injury Ha Ha Clinton-Dix suffered during Chicago’s offseason program resulted in the recently signed safety beginning his first Bears camp on the active/PUP list. The former Packers and Redskins defender has not missed a game since the 2014 season.
  • However, the Bears received good news on Trey Burton. The team’s second-year tight end starter has been cleared for camp work. The “Philly Special” quarterback underwent sports hernia surgery this offseason.
  • Although Alexander Mattison is the assumed next man up if Dalvin Cook again goes down with an injury, Mike Zimmer cautioned about anointing the third-round pick too soon. The sixth-year Vikings coach (via the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling) singled out third-year UDFA C.J. Ham as a player who stands to play more on passing downs, in front of Mattison, due to pass-protection skills. Backs often begin their NFL careers limited at this skill, so the 26-year-old Ham (31 touches in two seasons, when Latavius Murray played behind Cook) may function as a stopgap while Mattison is groomed.
  • The Lions‘ top offseason expense, Trey Flowers will not begin camp with the bulk of his teammates. The four-year Patriots pass rusher will start his first Lions camp on their active/PUP list. Flowers underwent shoulder surgery before signing with the Lions, but Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes the $18MM-per-year defensive end is expected to be ready by Week 1.

Vikings Sign Five Draft Picks

The Vikings made more selections (12) than any other team in the 2019 NFL draft, but they’re nearly done signing their entire rookie class. Only first-round center Garrett Bradbury and seventh-round long-snapper Austin Cutting remain unsigned after Minnesota recently announced the following first-year players have inked their rookie deals:

Mattison was considered something of an over-draft at the end of the third round, but he could see a path to playing time during his rookie campaign, as he’ll compete with Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah, and Roc Thomas for work behind starting running back Dalvin Cook. Mattison, who stands 5’11” and 211 pounds, surpasses 1,000 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, scoring a combined 29 touchdowns on the ground during that time. His four-year contract should be worth $3.342MM and come with a signing bonus of ~$822K.

Samia was one of four Oklahoma offensive lineman selected in last month’s draft. The four-year starter was named the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2018, and also earned first-team All-Big 12 and second-team All-American nods. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com calls Samia a “very able zone blocker,” which could help him adjust to the NFL as the Vikings implement some form of new offensive consultant Gary Kubiak‘s zone-based scheme. Samia probably isn’t in line for starting work immediately, as Pat Elflein, Bradbury, and Josh Kline will handle Minnesota’s interior, but he’s likely penciled as the club’s top guard/center reserve.

First-round contracts often take a bit longer to work out, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Bradbury is still unsigned. But Cutting’s situations is tied to his status as an alum of the Air Force Academy. He hasn’t signed his rookie deal as he waits for the Air Force to decide if he’ll first need to fulfill his service requirement before playing in the NFL. President Trump is reportedly considering a waiver to allow service academy prospects to immediately play professional sports and delay their military obligations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.