The NFC North weekend mailbag returns!

Thanks to everyone who responded to the mailbag request this week. Keep in mind that the best mailbag questions, at least in the mind of the person choosing said questions for publication, have cross-division appeal and usually range in scope beyond simple fact-finding. (Boooring!) Remember, we also tend to have impromptu Q&As on Twitter (@espn_nfcnblog) and on our ranging Facebook page (Kevin Seifert Espn), complete with an awesomely new cover photograph.


In his usual diplomatic style, Ben of Denver notes our post on the Minnesota Vikings' plans for the No. 3 overall pick and writes: So I just want to be sure, you would rather have Christian Ponder over Robert Griffin III? (Andrew Luck is going to Indy). The guy who was the best pick in the draft simply because he was a QB taken in the first round, that's the guy you would rather have? Your blind love and endless defense of Ponder since that absurd proclamation entered your mind has been truly funny over the past nearly a full year now, but it has to end. Please.

Kevin Seifert: Shortly after the 2011 draft, I did in fact nominate Ponder as the best pick an NFC North team made. I thought at the time that the Vikings had no choice but to begin the process of finding their next quarterback, and I didn't agree with the idea that they should have waited for a future draft to take a higher-rated prospect. When you're talking about the quarterback position, you throw out conventional draft wisdom if you think you can get someone who can be a consistent starter.

I still think the Vikings made the right decision, but I also have written that Ponder's rookie season was the most disappointing in the division. He'll have an entire offseason to get himself straight and demonstrate why the Vikings went the route they did.

Whether I would pick Griffin this season wasn't the point of the post Ben referred to. All I've said so far is that the Vikings have offered no real indication that they'll consider Griffin, assuming Luck goes No. 1 overall. I haven't made my mind up on whether it would be wise for the Vikings to double up on quarterbacks at this moment. But I promise you, we'll get to that topic over the next few months.

Mike of Atlanta writes: Here's a scenario I haven't really heard anyone talk about: Devin Hester is starting to get up there in years (30 this November). It seems to me that speed is one of those things that drops off faster for players than other attributes that make a player successful in the NFL. The Bears tied up Dave Toub for at least the immediate future, virtually guaranteeing a competitive special teams corps. Wouldn't now be the best time for the Bears to leverage Hester -- who has always underperformed at receiver, which is a position they need to grow at -- to a team that needs a return man, in return for a tight end or a draft pick that could bolster other positions, and use one of their mid-to-late round picks to pick up another speedster?

Kevin Seifert: You're right, Mike. No one has really mentioned that. I have to say I double-checked Hester's birthday to make sure that he will in fact turn 30 during the season. He will. His career has moved quickly.

I think what football people would tell you is that speed is only part of Hester's success. His open-field running skills, his instincts and his innate knowledge of how to set up blocks have all contributed. That's why it's reasonable to believe he'll be really effective for years to come, even if he loses the top end of his speed.

Brian Mitchell, whose return records Hester has broken, was never a speedster. He played until he was 35 years old.

Robin of Chanhassen, Minn., writes: Any possibility the Green Bay Packers surprise us all and go after Cliff Avril?

Kevin Seifert: Any discussion on Avril presumes the Lions decide against using their franchise tag on him and aren't able to get him signed to a long-term deal before free agency opens March 13. And anything connecting the Packers to another team's veteran free agent suggests a reversal of general manager Ted Thompson's recent player acquisition habits.

With those two major caveats, Avril is an intriguing prospect because his size (260 pounds) and athletic ability suggest he could make a successful transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. It probably makes more sense to consider him a linebacker in the Packers' scheme than thinking he might bulk up to become a true 3-4 defensive end.

NFL teams rarely allow bona fide pass rushers to reach the open market, and if Avril is available, perhaps that would be enough for Thompson to get involved. The Packers have limited salary cap space this offseason, and they already have significant money tied up in linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk, not to mention the looming extension they'll need to give Clay Matthews in the next year or two.

But Thompson would be well advised to give it careful thought, if nothing else, if he has the opportunity to team Matthews with a pass-rusher of Avril's accomplishments and weaken a division rival at the same time.

John of San Diego writes: Avril: "A lot of teams don't think the Lions will let me hit free agency. But a few teams have called." Did the new CBA do away with tampering?

Kevin Seifert: John accurately pulled that quote from a Detroit Free Press story. Tampering is still against NFL rules. I guess the best way to put it is that we would all be naïve to think it doesn't occur at some level. And usually, what goes around comes around. Avril later clarified his comments to the Free Press, saying other players have heard their coaches say they would like to have a player like him.

Dave of Ithaca, New York, writes: How much cap room do you think the Lions can realistically make in order to try and keep Avril and Stephen Tulloch around? Can they keep them both? Do you foresee any surprise cuts for guys like Corey Williams or Stephen Peterman in order to make it happen?

Kevin Seifert: At last check, the Lions were pretty close to the NFL's projected limit of $120 million for 2012. I have to admit that I don't see how the math works for them to re-sign both Avril and Stephen Tulloch, even if they are able to extend the contract of receiver Calvin Johnson and reduce his cap number for 2012. There will also have to be some combination of roster cuts/restructuring and salary cap tricks, including borrowing from future years.

Williams' name surfaces often as a possible cap casualty, mostly because he's scheduled to earn $5 million in 2012 but also because the Lions drafted a defensive tackle (Nick Fairley) in the first round last year. Williams seems a more likely candidate than Peterman.