This year’s NFL free agency period has been a crazy one. Not just for the Chicago Bears — who are absolutely making headlines across the country — but the entire NFC North will be dramatically different headed into the 2018 regular season. So much so, that it’s not an unrealistic expectation for the NFC North to be the most competitive division in the entire league for this upcoming season.
After conducting a successful reconnaissance mission via google, here is a breakdown on each of the rivals’ signings. And, how they stack up headed into the future.
Notable additions: QB Kirk Cousins; DL Sheldon Richardson
Notable departures: Jerick McKinnon; Case Keenum; Teddy Bridgewater
Analysis - The signing of Cousins absolutely makes the Vikings a Super Bowl contender for the 2018 regular season, possibly the 2019 season as well. Their addition of Richardson into their front seven is just icing on that cake crafted by head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman. With Cousins, he adds the missing piece at QB on an offense that has a bounty of talent at virtually every position. Oh, and their defense is among the league’s best, too. With that said, their additions do not come without consequences.
The addition of Cousins; particularly his contract, creates a significant problem for the Vikes. He is owed a fully guaranteed $28 million per year, for the next three years. They have several key players that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents by 2020, including Anthony Barr; Trae Waynes; Kyle Rudolph; Brian Robison; Eric Kendricks; Latavius Murray; and Mackensie Alexander.
That’s a lot of big names who all could receive considerable interest in future free agency markets. And it’s likely they won’t have the cap space to retain all of their players, if any at all. It is paramount for Spielman to knock these two drafts out of the park. Otherwise, if the Kirk Cousins signing falls short of expectations, Spielman and his entire staff could be shown the door.
Notable additions: LB Devon Kennard; LB Christian Jones; RB LeGarrette Blount
Notable departures: TE Eric Ebron; DL Haloti Ngata; TE Darren Fells; LB Tahir Whitehead
Analysis - Out of the entire division, the Lions were relatively quiet in terms of making national headlines. Still, it’s not like they didn’t make any moves, either. With a defense in transition under the guidance of first-year head coach Matt Patricia, they’ve moved to bolster their linebacker corps.
Kennard is an underrated signing, particularly since they’re likely planning on specializing his role as a pass rusher at outside linebacker. If franchise-tagged Ezekiel Ansah can make the transition into an outside linebacker within their base 3-4 alignment or nickel packages, that’ll create problems for offensive coordinators to deal with in passing situations. Collectively the Lions didn’t get considerably worse on paper; but they didn’t get much better, either.
Blount is still a name to respect at running back, yet they still don’t have a true long-term answer for that position on their current roster. Cutting a disappointing player in Ebron was predicted long ago, yet losing Fells in addition to Ebron presents a major step backwards for their tight end position. To make matters worse, neither free agency nor the upcoming draft present much in terms of adding upgrades at tight end.
These two problems combined will likely create real challenges for offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter moving forward. Luckily for them, where the depth at TE is pretty shallow in the overall market, RB is a relatively deep position in this year’s draft class. It remains to be seen if they will adjust their philosophies in establishing a consistent running game.
Notable additions: TE Jimmy Graham; DL Muhammad Wilkerson; QB DeShone Kizer
Notable departures: WR Jordy Nelson; CB Damarious Randall
Analysis - Boy, am I glad that I’m not recently appointed GM Brian Gutekunst.
After Ted Thompson’s “re-assignment” earlier this offseason, Gutekunst vowed to be more aggressive in free agency. And he’s certainly lived up to his end of the bargain, as the Packers reeled in a pair of players who hypothetically boost their respective sides of the ball. Graham is a match-up nightmare as a jumbo receiver in the passing game. Meanwhile, Wilkerson re-unites with a defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine who saw first-hand on how dominant the former All-Pro D-Lineman can be. That is, if Wilkerson actually wants to play football.
Outside of those two additions, comes several egregious mistakes. First off, I still do not understand why a quality starting CB in Randall was traded for a back-up QB in Kizer. When you factor that in with their botched chances of landing Trumaine Johnson and Kyle Fuller — thanks, btw — their corner position became extremely weak. This, in combination with possibly losing another starter in Morgan Burnett to free agency, has made for a soft secondary.
That whole scenario isn’t even their biggest problem. No, their biggest problem, is that the Packers’ organization has potentially pissed Aaron Rodgers off. This speculation comes shortly after discussions were posted about a re-negotiation of his deal taking place. Rodgers was angered over the firing of his former positional coach in Alex Van Pelt. He also appears to not be fan of the Jimmy Graham signing, and was saddened by the departure of his long-time target in Jordy Nelson.
Stay tuned for more potential fireworks from Green Bay...
The Vikings, and the Lions, both stand to be difficult teams to contend with headed into the near future. The Packers, on the other hand, could be witnessing the beginning of a fall from grace. Considering the Bears’ potentially meteoric rise with all of their recently announced signings and re-signings, this division should certainly be a fun one to watch this coming season. Plenty of explosive offenses, and some solid defenses, could produce as many as three playoff teams from this group alone.