NFC North weekend mailbag

Given how fluid this time of year is, I once again mined the mailbag for questions and topics that didn't figure to be impacted by breaking news over the weekend. You can get in touch with me via the mailbag, Twitter or our nearly full Facebook page.


Mark of San Diego writes: I've seen several columnists comment on the high amount of drops Brandon Marshall has had in his career, but they all mention in almost the same breath how many targets he gets. Is there a chart someplace (like maybe a future blog post) that shows drops as a percent of targets?

Kevin Seifert: That's a good and fair question, Mark. Statistics are always more valuable when viewed in context, and it stands to reason that the more passes a player is thrown, the more likely he'll have a higher number of drops.

The raw number, according to ESPN Stats & Information, is that Marshall has dropped 26 passes since 2008, the third-highest total in the NFL over that stretch. I don't have his total targets over that stretch, but I can give you a glimpse into his drop percentage over the past two seasons and how that fits into the league rankings.

In 2010, Marshall had a drop percentage of 8.5, which ranked 60th in the NFL that season. That means 59 receivers caught a higher percentage of the catchable passes thrown their way.

In 2011, Marshall's drop percentage was 6.9, ranking him No. 52 in the league.

In this case, the percentage confirms what the raw numbers suggest. Marshall's drops weren't only a function of his high involvement in the Miami Dolphins offense. He missed more catchable passes than dozens of other NFL receivers.

To be clear, that shouldn't take away from Marshall's accomplishments as one of the league's most productive receivers over that period. The percentages merely give us a broader view of his performance.

Matt of Appleton, Wis., is curious about the long-term salary cap implications of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson's new contract.

Kevin Seifert: Johnson signed what is technically an eight-year, $132 million deal. Deals that long often get restructured before the end, but usually teams at least leave the first three years intact before going back at it.

To that end, former agent Joel Corry provided a three-year cap breakdown for the National Football Post. The deal will count $11.5 million against the cap in 2012, $12.2 million in 2013 and $12.2 million in 2014, according to Corry.

It's never ideal to have a player count more than $10 million against the cap, especially in the case of the Lions, who have three players -- Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- who will always have high cap numbers because they were top draft picks under the previous NFL system for rookie contracts.

But remember, Johnson was going to count $22 million this season against the cap, and if he received the franchise tag, $26.4 million in 2013 and $31 million in 2014. Considered that way, his new cap charges seem quite reasonable.

Eric of Fariview Heights, Ill., isn't satisfied with our explanation for why the Minnesota Vikings didn't participate more actively in the opening days of free agency. Carl Nicks is 26 and probably if not absolutely is the best guard in the league. A five year deal helps Ponder and Peterson, neither of which are getting protected. Talks with an aged, twice injured TE is more important than a top WR signing? Explain! So we want Percy Harvin, John Carlson, and Kyle Rudolph clogging up the middle? Where is our deep threat? How can you write an article defending not going after Nicks, a top receiver, OR one of the top cornerbacks? I mean seeing how we've been HORRIBLE in the secondary... It's a joke. Let's hear the true talk on this inactivity please!?

Kevin Seifert: That's fair. First I'll give you a rundown of what I would guess the Vikings were thinking, and then I'll offer my own comments.

Six years ago, the Vikings signed Steve Hutchinson to the biggest contract for a guard in NFL history. Historically, however, NFL teams don't like to devote cap space to the guard position. There are too many instances of success when inserting younger, cheaper players into those jobs while spending your money on left tackle and center. Hutchinson, the Vikings thought then and now, was a once-in-a-generation player.

Rather than devoting $47.5 million to Nicks over the next five years, the Vikings figure they can move Charlie Johnson to left guard. Johnson signed a three-year, $10 million contract last summer. He might not perform to Nicks' level, but is the difference between Nicks and Johnson worth, say, twice or three times the salary cap space? The Vikings didn't think so.

The same goes for cornerback. The Vikings will get the promising Chris Cook back on the field in 2012, which is an automatic upgrade from what they finished with. I can only assume that they didn't think any of the cornerbacks available on the market, most notably Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan, were worth the $10 million annual salaries they eventually received.

As for Carlson, none of us can pretend to understand whether he is a risk for injury moving forward. Beyond that, the Vikings saw him as a polished 27-year-old pass-catcher who could make their offensive more dynamic. Does he solve all of their problems, including the deep threat issue? No. But that doesn't mean he can't help.

General manager Rick Spielman said last week that the team wasn't "one player away" from contending for the Super Bowl. That's one of the reasons the Vikings weren't more aggressive. A fair counterargument, of course, is this: What if they are? What if quarterback Christian Ponder develops quickly, and tailback Adrian Peterson returns to form and the offensive line improves with the presumed drafting of Matt Kalil?

In that case, the Vikings would be vulnerable in their otherwise unaddressed secondary, and a chance to have a better-than-expected season could be quashed. I'm fine with the Vikings sitting out the crazy receiver market. I do question if they're going to be able to field a competitive defensive secondary, but we'll withhold final judgment until the full players acquisition period is complete.

Grayson of Roseville, Calif., writes: Why wouldn't the Packers have made a play for Mario Williams? I know they don't often do anything in free agency but Williams seems too good to pass up, like Reggie White and Charles Woodson were. It makes so much sense!

Kevin Seifert: It makes sense from the standpoint of the Packers needing a pass rusher (or two) and Williams is the best pass rusher on the market. Williams has more experience as a 4-3 end rather than a 3-4 outside linebacker, but perhaps the idea of playing opposite Clay Matthews -- and the presumably favorable matchups that would go with it -- might have been enough to lure him to the Packers.

But as we noted during the week, the Packers aren't really in position to start handing out $100 million contracts to free agents -- at least, not if they plan to re-sign a trio of players who are in line for extensions. Matthews, receiver Greg Jennings and quarterback Aaron Rodgers could have their deals addressed in the next calendar year. I'm guessing the Packers prioritized them over any free agent.

With that said, it doesn't mean the Packers couldn't afford to investigate other free agent pass rushers. I wouldn't be opposed to them pursuing Kamerion Wimbley, whom the Oakland Raiders released Friday.