Free agency is dying down, and the 2018 NFL Draft is drawing near. Teams across the league made changes to their rosters to try and compete for a Super Bowl opportunity, while others found themselves losing several key players. The Chicago Bears fall into the former category.
In one of their most active free agency periods to date, the Bears managed to surround their young quarterback with weapons in hopes of seeing a huge step up in his second season. They also managed to retain their two starting cornerbacks and added depth at the edge rusher position.
Will their moves in free agency help them compete in the stacked NFC, though? Let’s take a look at where the Bears stand among the rest of their conference.
The Eagles lost a couple of contributors to free agency, but the core of their Super Bowl-winning roster is all still on board.
Running back LeGarrette Blount, cornerback Patrick Robinson and tight end Trey Burton will all be missed, but none of the three were star players by any means. The Eagles still have a ton of very good running backs, a handful of promising, young cornerbacks, and Zach Ertz, to whom Burton was a complementary piece.
Philadelphia added wide receiver Mike Wallace to an already-talented group of weapons for quarterback Carson Wentz. Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata also joined one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Where Michael Bennett falls in the equation is unknown, as he has been indicted for injuring the elderly. The defensive lineman, who was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks just a few weeks ago, is one of the best at his position in the league, but, depending on how the case plays out, he may not play in 2018. Even if he doesn’t see the field, though, the Eagles will still have a stacked group up front.
The Eagles still have an elite quarterback, several good running backs, great weapons in the passing game, a very good offensive line, a scary front seven and a talented secondary. Anything can happen between now and the end of the regular season, but the defending Super Bowl champions seem to be in a good position to dominate the NFC again.
A No. 2 ranking isn’t quite fair to the Vikings. They’re more of a 1B to Philadelphia’s 1A.
Minnesota was so close to being the first team to play in a Super Bowl hosted in their own city. Unfortunately for them, though, they got absolutely shellacked in the NFC Championship by the Eagles. However, the Vikings made a major upgrade at a major position that makes them a presumable top choice to return to the NFC Championship to try and exact revenge.
New quarterback Kirk Cousins is an above-average quarterback in the NFL, which, given the rest of Minnesota’s roster, should be more than enough to get them over the hump. They have fantastic weapons in the passing game - Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs form one of the league’s best wide receiver duos in the league - a reliable offensive line, an elite defensive line made even better with the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, great linebackers and a top-tier secondary. They’ll also get rookie running back Dalvin Cook back, who missed most of the 2017 season due to a torn ACL. If he can return to the way he played before his injury, then he could easily top 1,000 rushing yards in 2018.
Simply put, the Vikings are a well-rounded team who seemingly have no glaring weaknesses at the moment. Don’t be surprised if they do even better this year than they did last year.
This offseason, the Rams lost Sammy Watkins, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree and Trumaine Johnson. While those four players will surely be missed, Los Angeles has still been quite active in revamping their roster.
The big additions this year are cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, both of whom are among the best at their position in the NFL, and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Adding those three to a defense which already features defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers and safeties LaMarcus Joyner and John Johnson creates a Rams defense with talent up front and in the secondary. They will need to add a pass rusher or two in the draft, but they have the pieces in place to be a very good defensive unit. Los Angeles also has a well-rounded offense, with Jared Goff leading a unit with weapons like running back Todd Gurley, wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. With reports that Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could potentially join the team in a trade, their group could potentially become even better. Their offensive line, which took a huge step forward in 2017 with the additions of Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, looks to be one of the better groups in the league this season.
The Rams did lose a couple of key contributors, but they also added a handful of talented players. They have the young pieces in place to be a playoff contender for years to come.
For years, the Saints were the team with the dominant offense and the terrible defense. Now that they have a solid unit on both sides of the ball, they look like a legitimate playoff threat.
Drew Brees has shown little to no signs of slowing down, even at 39 years old. He’s surrounded by a true No. 1 receiver in Michael Thomas, as well as the best running back duo in the NFL in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints have a very good offensive line that only allowed 20 sacks last season, as well. Their defense has a handful of reliable pieces, like edge rusher Cameron Jordan, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and safety Marcus Williams. They also added cornerback Patrick Robinson, who was one of the league’s best nickelbacks last season. While their defense isn’t a finished product quite yet, it’s miles ahead of where it used to be.
New Orleans drafted incredibly well in 2017, which helped them improve from 7-9 to 11-5. If they manage to successfully fill some more holes on their roster in this year’s draft, then they could be a force to be reckoned with deep in the playoffs.
The Falcons managed to make it into the playoffs for the second year in a row, despite a drop off from their historic 2016 offensive ways. Although they fell in the Divisional Playoffs to the Eagles, they proved that they have the talent in place to compete for a playoff spot for a handful of years.
Matt Ryan failed to live up to his 2016 MVP campaign, but he still had a solid season. Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the league, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman form a dangerous duo. Mohamed Sanu provides a reliable No. 2 receiver, and, although Taylor Gabriel will surely be missed, Atlanta’s offense will be able to function without him. Their offensive line is reliable, as well, although another guard could be added in the draft. They have two talented pass rushers in Vic Beasley Jr. and Takkarist McKinley, but they have a gaping hole in their interior defensive line with the departure of Dontari Poe. The loss of Adrian Clayborn could also affect their defensive line, as well. The Falcons also have key building blocks like Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant and Keanu Neal on their defense.
Atlanta has the unfortunate task of having to play the Saints and the Panthers twice a year, but they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to remain in the playoff hunt in 2018.
The Panthers aren’t a complete team by any means, but they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to look like a playoff contender heading into the 2018 NFL Draft.
Cam Newton isn’t the MVP-caliber player he was in 2015, but he’s still a solid quarterback. He’s surrounded by weapons like Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey, Torrey Smith and Devin Funchess in the passing game. Although the Panthers lack a No. 1 wide receiver as of now, they have some decent options. Longtime running back Jonathan Stewart is no longer on the team, so McCaffrey will likely be forced to take on a heavier load in the ground game in 2018. Their offensive line has a couple of talented players, like Trai Turner and Ryan Kalil, but their left guard and right tackle spots could use improvement. Their defense, on paper, is one of the NFL’s better units, with players like Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short, Mario Addison, Dontari Poe and the ageless Julius Peppers in the front seven. Their secondary still isn’t all that impressive, though.
Carolina has enough talent on offense and defense to compete for a Wild Card position in the NFC. With a great draft, they could become more of a threat to win the NFC South.
Their management realizes it: the Packers’ window for competing is closing.
Aaron Rodgers, as great as he is, is coming off of a collarbone injury and will be 35 years old next year. The rest of the offense doesn’t have much in the way of long-term starters, although Davante Adams has shown promise over the past two seasons. Jordy Nelson is gone, Randall Cobb is past his prime, and none of their running backs seem to have game-changing potential. Their offensive line has one of the best left tackles in the game in David Bakhtiari, although most of the rest of the group either has injury concerns or isn’t all that great. Green Bay’s defense has a handful of holes, as well, as edge rusher, cornerback and inside linebacker all need improvement. Mike Daniels, Nick Perry and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are promising building blocks, though. New general manager Brian Gutekunst made two splashes in free agency - tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson - something that his predecessor, Ted Thompson, rarely ever did.
Overall, the Packers are a team with a handful of holes and don’t have a promising future ahead of them at the moment. However, Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and they have just enough in the way of a supporting cast to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.
Matthew Stafford has yet to win a playoff game in his career. While the Lions have talent on both sides of the ball, that might not change this year in the ferocious NFC.
Wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. form a reliable tandem for Stafford to throw to. LeGarrette Blount is an intriguing addition to Detroit’s running back group, but they still lack a true starting-caliber player. Their offensive line, if it stays healthy, could be one of the league’s better units, as players like T.J. Lang, Taylor Decker and Ricky Wagner are all reliable players. The Lions lack impressive talent on the interior defensive line and in their linebacker group, but edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah and defensive backs Darius Slay and Glover Quin are top-tier talents.
The Lions could find their way in the Wild Card hunt for much of the season with their passing attack and their secondary. However, they may lack the well-rounded roster to make it to the playoffs.
The 49ers are expected by many to be the young team that enters the playoff hunt, but the Bears may actually be in just as good of a position to do so.
Mitchell Trubisky had a decent rookie season with a lack of starting-caliber weapons around him, so one could assume that he will improve in his second season as he continues to develop with the help of a new-look offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Cameron Meredith, the last of whom having not played a single game with the Bears last season due to injury, will all be welcome additions to Chicago’s offense. The running back tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen looks to build off of their impressive 2017 campaign behind a solid offensive line, although a glaring hole at left guard still remains.
The Bears have a handful of talented pieces on defense, as well. Akiem Hicks was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league in 2017, and fellow front-seven pieces like Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd have proven to be factors when healthy. Chicago’s secondary also has young, promising pieces like Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos. Their pass rushing unit, though, leaves a lot to be desired. Outside of Floyd, who himself hasn't lived up to the lofty standards of being a top-10 pick quite yet, the Bears’ edge rushers consist of rotational pieces at best. The lack of a reliable pass-rushing attack could hold them back in the long run.
Chicago has talent on both sides of the ball, and, for the first time in years, they finally have a sense of direction. If they draft well, then that direction could lead them to playoff contention. However, in the stacked NFC North, that could be a major issue.
Through the first half of the 2017 season, it seemed as if the 49ers would undergo yet another disappointing season. By the end of the season, though, they had found their franchise quarterback and, in doing so, they found a reason to be excited for the future.
Jimmy Garoppolo looked like a stud in the five games he started, despite not having much in the way of weapons. Although they still don’t have great talent at the wide receiver position, Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin are two solid options in the passing game. Running back Carlos Hyde left to join the Cleveland Browns, but free agent signing Jerick McKinnon should provide versatility on the ground and through the air. San Francisco’s offensive line has its pieces - like mainstay left tackle Joe Staley - but it still needs work. Cornerback Richard Sherman gives the 49ers a proven star on defense to go alongside young pieces like Reuben Foster, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. They could still use another linebacker and cornerback, but their defense seems to be in good shape going into 2018.
The 49ers have a young quarterbacks and a solid defense, but they lack the offensive weapons to be a true threat right away. Overall, though, the future seems to be bright in San Francisco.
11. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys could very well make me look foolish for ranking them this low. However, they didn’t do enough in free agency to keep up with the rest of their aspiring playoff contenders.
Quarterback Dak Prescott had a rough Year 2 after having a very good rookie year. Thankfully for him, though, running back Ezekiel Elliott will be returning after missing a chunk of the 2017 season due to a suspension. Wide receiver Dez Bryant isn’t what he used to be, but he’s still a very good weapon. Their offensive line is full of talent, although they have a huge need at left guard. Outside of breakout star DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys lack a whole lot of talent on their defensive line. Sean Lee is their only truly reliable linebacker, too. Their secondary is full of young talent, as their oldest starter, Byron Jones, is just 25 years old. Both of their cornerbacks are still fairly unproven, though.
With Elliott back for (presumably) a full season, Dallas’ offense could make some noise. However, they may lack the defensive talent to be a true threat in the playoff race.
Out with Kirk Cousins, in with Alex Smith.
Cousins and Smith are essentially on similar levels of talent, but the latter is four years older than the former. That said, the Redskins’ offense shouldn’t see much change right away. They still lack a starting-caliber running back, which may change in the draft. Paul Richardson is a great addition to a solid group of weapons, including tight end Jordan Reed. Washington’s offensive line is solid, but their interior offensive line, outside of Brandon Scherff, isn’t all that great. Their defense has its pieces, like cornerback Josh Norman and edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan, and they have two of 2017’s top 10 tacklers in the league in Zach Brown and Preston Brown. Their safeties and interior defensive line could use some work, though.
The Redskins have a decent amount of talent on both sides of the ball, but they lack a lot of huge difference makers. They should be in the hunt for a playoff spot for a while, but don’t expect anything above an average season from them.
13. Seattle Seahawks
For much of the 2010’s, the Seahawks were a powerhouse who were almost a lock to make it to the playoffs every year.
Those days are over.
Richard Sherman is now on the 49ers. Michael Bennett is gone. Cliff Avril may never play again. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas won’t be around for too long. The departures of Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham give the Seahawks a lack of offensive talent outside of Doug Baldwin, too. Their running back situations continues to be in limbo after Marshawn Lynch left in 2016. And, not surprisingly, their offensive line is still bad. Having left tackle Duane Brown for a full season will help, and center Justin Britt has been solid, but the rest of the line is not up to NFL standards. The defense still has standouts like Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Shaquill Griffin, and Thomas and Chancellor are both still reliable safeties. Still, the unit isn’t up to par to its “Legion of Boom” days.
Russell Wilson is a fantastic quarterback, but, as we’ve seen in the past, he can only do so much. A lack of offensive firepower and an aging defense, plus the rise both the Rams and the 49ers, could make it tough for the Seahawks to compete in the NFC West.
As we enter Jameis Winston’s fourth NFL season, we’re still waiting for him to take that step into becoming a legitimate franchise quarterback.
The former Heisman winner has been decent in the NFL, but he hasn’t been anything special, despite being surrounded by solid weapons. Mike Evans is an elite wide receiver, and they have solid depth behind him. Plus, the tight end tandem of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard is enticing. Their offensive line is incredibly average, though, and they don’t have a starting running back for this year yet. Tampa Bay’s defensive line, which was arguably their biggest need heading into the 2018 offseason, has been improved with the additions of Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. With those three and Gerald McCoy in tact, plus a well-rounded group of linebackers, their front-seven looks a lot better than it was last season. Their secondary, however, could use some help, as they need help at both safety and cornerback.
The Buccaneers have a handful of promising pieces on both sides of the ball, and, with a good draft, could surprise a lot of people. If Winston doesn’t show some notable improvement, though, then the Bucs could be trapped in the NFC South cellar.
Let’s face it: 2018 likely won’t be a kind one for the Cardinals.
Quarterback Carson Palmer retired, and, to replace him, Arizona will be relying on mediocre veterans Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. They have running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but those two are the extent of their offensive weapons. Their offensive line as a whole could use a rehauling, although guard Justin Pugh was a solid free agent signing. The Cardinals have a handful of talented players on defense, such as Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson, so their unit shouldn’t be all that bad, even though the loss of Tyrann Mathieu could sting. Look for second-year players Budda Baker and Haason Reddick to step up in 2018.
All in all, the Cardinals lack the quarterback talent and offensive weapons to compete in the NFC West. While their defense isn’t terrible, they lack the youth and building blocks to be a long-term threat.
16. New York Giants
To put it lightly, the Giants aren’t in a position to compete in 2018. Or beyond, for that matter.
Eli Manning doesn’t have much time left before he retires. The Giants don’t have a great running back yet, although Jonathan Stewart could be a decent addition. Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the league’s best wide receivers, but he may not even be on the team to start the season. Young weapons Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram are promising, though. New York’s offensive line is still a mess, even with the addition of left tackle Nate Solder. Jason Pierre-Paul will be missed on their defensive line, but Olivier Vernon is still a talented pass rusher. Linebacker Alec Ogletree fills a big need, but their other linebacker spots need work. The Giants also have some pieces in the secondary, but they could use another cornerback.
Just one year after being considered a Super Bowl contender, the Giants find themselves in a predicament. Their roster has more holes than Louis Sachar’s children’s novel, and they likely won’t be in the playoff hunt for a while.