Chug-a-chug. Chug-a-chug. Can you hear it? That's the sound of our NFC North train gaining steam as we approach the 2010 NFL draft. We're at T-minus 19 days. The intensity of our discussions will continue ramping up until April 22 arrives.
Christopher of Minneapolis writes: Kevin, I gotta ask why you think players have been turning down coming to play for the Vikings. Last offseason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh decided to go to a Seattle team that was obviously in a much worse place than the Vikings at the time in their division. Then this year already two free agents have chosen other teams over us: LaDainian Tomlinson and Tye Hill (not sure how good of an addition he would actually have been). So I'm asking what do you think it is about playing here? We have a an owner that wants to win, a very good team with a good chance at making a deep playoff run. I just don't get why free agents would pass up the opportunity to play here.
Kevin Seifert: Christopher, I think you're looking at only half of a trend. There's no doubt some high-profile free agents/trade candidates have turned down offers from the Vikings in recent years, but there are plenty of others who did not. The list includes quarterback Brett Favre, defensive end Jared Allen, receiver Bernard Berrian and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. It's not as if no one will come to the Vikings. It's more like some.
If there is a trend, we should look for a common denominator. In the cases you mention, I don't see one. Houshmandzadeh went to Seattle in part because he thought the Seahawks' quarterback position was stronger. Favre was still months away from signing. Tomlinson, meanwhile, is going to play a lot more with the New York Jets than he would have in Minnesota. That's just a fact of life with Adrian Peterson on the roster.
As for Hill, you're right: His decision was a relatively minor one. At best, he would have competed for the nickel job with Benny Sapp. The timing of his decision to sign with Tennessee -- hours after visiting the Vikings -- suggested the visit might have been intended all along to increase leverage with the Titans.
I know there are some issues that might make the Vikings less than attractive to some free agents, from the aging practice facility to their uncertain future in the Metrodome. But I don't see any common thread in the instances you've mentioned.
Via Facebook, Ben of Fort Smith, Ark., writes: I just read that Jared Gaither could possibly be available for a second-round pick. He played very well last year and still has plenty of room to improve. I believe the Ravens use a different blocking scheme than Green Bay does, but do you think it would be worthwhile for the Packers to make a move for him and get the jump on one of the top corners or OLBs in the draft, rather than settle for possibly the fifth-best tackle prospect and then whichever corners or OLBs are left later on?
Kevin Seifert: I've gotten more than a few questions on Gaither, not only from Packers fans but also from those who follow Detroit.
To review: Gaither is Baltimore's 24-year-old left tackle, a player many in Baltimore figured would be a fixture for the next 10 years. The Ravens hedged their commitment, however, by placing only a first-round tender on him as a restricted free agent. That means a team signing Gaither to an offer sheet would only have to give up a first-round pick, and perhaps less if they work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Ravens.
If you're the Packers, you would gladly give up the No. 23 overall pick for a long-term answer at left tackle. The same would probably go for the Lions, who have the second pick (No. 34 overall) of the second round.
But here's the question: Is Gaither a lock to be that kind of franchise player? It's only fair to wonder when the Ravens, who know him best, seem prepared to listen to offers. You could point out that Baltimore has Michael Oher on board and ready to move to left tackle. But if the Ravens trust Gaither's future, it's doubtful they would give up on him regardless. They seem to have some doubts.
It's easy to think that another team's disappointment could be your club's success story. Ultimately, that could be the case with Gaither. But if he's really available, it's fair to wonder why the Ravens don't want to keep him.
Rob of Milwaukee writes: If the rumors are true about the Packers interest in Brian Westbrook, could this mean the end of Ahman Green in Green Bay?
Kevin Seifert: First, I don't have any confirmation that the Packers are in fact interested in Westbrook. General manager Ted Thompson doesn't often have interest in aging veteran free agents, no matter what position or talent level. And as we discussed Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy believes backup tailback Brandon Jackson made significant strides last season.
If the Packers decide they need a veteran in the backfield, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Green -- not Westbrook -- is the choice. Here's what McCarthy said on that topic at last month's owners meeting: "...I like what Ahman Green gave us there at the end of the year. I thought once he got reacquainted with some of the things we do that are different from when he was here earlier, and frankly he did some nice things on special teams once he got comfortable. I mean, he's definitely an option that's potentially out there."
Bryan of St. Marys, Ga., writes: I was wondering if you had heard anything about a possible trade between the Lions and Redskins switching first round picks?
Kevin Seifert: It's certainly being rumored, but like most draft-related intrigue, it's based mostly on circumstantial evidence.
St. Louis seems likely to draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford at No. 1 overall. The next-best quarterback is Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who seems to be drawing interest from Washington (No. 4) and Cleveland (No. 7), among other teams.
So if you're Detroit and you want to trade out of the No. 2 pick, you have to hope that multiple teams emerge with a strong desire to draft Clausen. That team could take a chance and deal with Tampa Bay at No. 3, but the only way to ensure Clausen will be available is to trade into the Lions' spot.
To be clear, there is no evidence that we've reached this point yet. But that's what would need to happen for the Lions and Redskins to swap places in the draft.
Chris of San Diego writes: I read that Lance Louis of the Chicago Bears is subject to the NFL conduct policy for a crime he committed prior to being drafted because he pleaded guilty to it a year after he was drafted. Can you explain why he is retroactively subject to NFL rules?
Kevin Seifert: The original incident -- a fight with a former San Diego State teammate -- occurred in November 2008. But from what I understand, the league considers the incident part of its personal conduct policy because the charges were filed after Louis signed with the Bears last summer. That's the distinction, however arbitrary it might be.
With all that said, Louis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, making it unlikely he'll face an NFL suspension. A fine could be in order, however.