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How has the rest of the NFC North fared in free agency?

After winning the NFC North in 2015, the Minnesota Vikings won just two of six games in the division last season.

All four teams entered the offseason expected to be buyers, with good amounts of cap room and plenty of needs. So let’s have a look at how the Packers, Lions and Bears have faired so far in free agency:

Green Bay Packers

The Packers are getting very poor reviews from analysts because of their lack of improvement on defense. Last season, Green Bay gave up the most Yards Per Attempt of any team in the NFL and allowed the seventh best QB rating against, yet they only move they have made is signing corner Devon House. But they lost solid corner Micah Hyde to Buffalo. While Aaron Rodgers’ weapons improved with a terrific tight end, his protection got worse by losing TJ Lang.

Key additions: TE – Martellus Bennett, TE – Lance Kendricks, CB – Devon House

Key losses: RG – TJ Lang, RB – Eddie Lacy, CB – Micah Hyde, DE – Julius Peppers

What’s left to do: Find more defensive backs

It’s rather stunning that the Packers weren’t named in connection with every top corner and safety after their performance in the playoffs. They were manhandled by the Atlanta Falcons and nearly allowed the Dallas Cowboys to have a miraculous comeback – both because of a very poor secondary. Usually cornerbacks take a few years to mature, so drafting one to start is no sure thing. The market still has a few solid players left in the secondary, with Nickell Robey-Coleman, Ladarius Webb and Brandon Flowers still remaining.

Detroit Lions

Detroit’s ability to protect Matthew Stafford was much better last season than it was in 2015, but the Lions upgraded even more by signing Rick Wagner and TJ Lang. While Riley Reiff had been a solid left tackle, he wasn’t as adept at right tackle and the Lions had no plans to move him back after a good rookie debut from Taylor Decker. At right tackle, Warford had shown signs of being an above average guard, but didn’t quite have Lang’s resume of strong play. Like the Packers, it’s astounding that the Lions haven’t worked to improve their pass defense. They were dead last in QB rating allowed last season.

Key additions: RT – Rick Wagner, RG – TJ Lang, CB – DJ Hayden

Key losses: RT/LT Riley Reiff, RG Larry Warford 

What’s left to do: Sign/draft defensive linemen

Free agency had a number of good defensive linemen available and the Lions didn’t seem to actively chase any of them. Players like Chris Baker, Dontari Poe, Brandon Williams, Calias Campbell, Lorenzo Alexander, Nick Perry, Chandler Jones and so on were all on the market, it seemed inevitable Detroit would sign one of them after ranking second to last in sacks and giving up the ninth most Yards Per Carry. Now the market is mostly bare, so unless they find some underrated gems, the Lions will have to rely on the draft to improve defensively.

Chicago Bears

Chicago didn’t go crazy on the free agent market, bringing in mostly low-risk, high reward players, including quarterback Mike Glennon. As much as the deal became a punchline for some, he’s more or less on a one-year tryout as the Bears look for Jay Cutler’s replacement. Kendall Wright has the potential to be an excellent receiver if he’s healthy, but he’s not Alshon Jeffery, who left to sign with the Eagles. As far as rebuilding teams go, the Bears took a pretty smart approach by not throwing money at aging players.

Key additions: QB – Mike Glennon, WR – Markus Wheaton, WR – Kendall Wright

Key losses: WR – Alshon Jeffery

What’s left to do: Draft a quarterback

Sure, it’s possible Glennon is the next Vinny Testaverde, but pretty unlikely. They should be considered favorites for DeShaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky. If there isn’t a quarterback in this draft that the Bears are high on, they should draft a defensive player and aim for the bottom again next year to draft a QB at the top in 2017.

What it means to the Vikings:

Fans of the Packers, Lions and Bears all had big dreams when free agency opened, but all three have left some to be desired, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, Sam Bradford faced the worst defenses by QB rating of any of the top 15 quarterbacks in the league and it’s very possible that he might again if the other three teams in the division don’t make more moves. Still, life got a littler harder on the Vikings’ defense against the Lions and Packers. Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith will have their hands full with Martellus Bennett twice next season and Matthew Stafford will be better protected and possibly have a competent running game. The bottom line is: None of these teams has gotten so much better than last year through free agency that they should be runaway favorites over Minnesota in projected standings.

  • Andre Esters

    Of course, even though all teams in the NFC North made moves that are considered minor and anti-splashy… GB is favored with QB Rodgers as usual.
    Since free agency provided a few starters for everyone, the draft will be even more interesting. Vikes got some major decisions to make with that lone 2nd round pick… wonder if Spielman will get ballsy with extra 3’s and 4’s… maybe find a 1st rounder??

    • Andrew Stead

      I’m not scared of a TE who is so good that he’s now on his 5th team. Cook is a lesser overall player, but the stuff he did well (speed, getting open) was a bigger plus for the Packers than someone slower but a better all around player.

      Well-run franchises draft well and give their product players 2nd Ks. Detroit and Chicago aren’t doing that. I can’t wait for Rodgers to retire.

    • linus

      According to the draft pick value chart (admittedly not the be-all, end-all, but it’s really the only guide available), the Vikings could move into the end of round one by packaging their second and a third. It’s obviously going to depend on who is available, but we’ve seen Spielman do it a couple times, partly because he really likes having that fifth-year option.

      • Andre Esters

        I believe Minnesota has extra 4th round picks as well… finding a way back into the 1st round could be mighty pricey, even on the back end. Depending on who’s valued on their board, maybe they could sneak into the very beginning of the 2nd round instead of banking hard on late 1st rounder. All that I ask is no more C.Patterson raw projects that cost multiple picks… new coaches or not, this team can’t afford any overly cute maneuvers in 2017.


    The Packers didn’t just lose Micah Hyde and TJ Lang. They also lost Julius Peppers (who still contributed to their defense last year), Eddie Lacy, Datone Jones, JC Tretter (who was at times their starting center, and at others was their top backup all along the line, and combined with Josh Sitton leaving last year, brings to 3 of the Packers top 6 O linemen to leave in a year’s time). Also, while they signed Bennett, they lost Cook. Bennett may be better than Cook, but it’s not a significant upgrade. For a team with aging leaders, that many free agent defections will hurt.

    The Lions may have improved their line, but it depends on Lang staying healthy. He’ll be 30 this year, and he has been injured more and more lately. I think with the Lions, one also needs to consider that the players that Lang and Wagner are replacing were decent players.

    • Andre Esters

      GB has Rodgers, no doubting that major advantage… but looking at what kind of speed and tenacity defenses like the Vikings and Bears are building, it’s about to be a rough outing for the Packers QB in 2017. Makes even more sense why they scooped up someone like TE Bennett…

  • Mr.Ripper

    Vikes will be the divisional winners this year, and possibly bring home the trophy as the first home team to make it in its own Super Bowl. Vikings were plagued by injury leaving a really bad O-line last year leaving the offense looking bad. They will still have their #3 or better defense this year, with an improved O-line. I think you would be crazy not to think the Vikes won’t give it a run. GB has Rodgers but as you saw last year it will depend if Rodgers wants to show up and get off his period…


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