The NFC North was a confusing division to follow during the 2016 season. The Minnesota Vikings started 5-0, the Green Bay Packers did not look like they would make the playoffs until well over halfway through the regular season, and the Detroit Lions nearly won the division. What are each team’s next moves? Let’s discover more about each team in greater detail.
NFC North Needs
Top Free Agents: Alshon Jeffery (WR), C.J. Wilson (DL), Brian Hoyer (QB)
Team needs: QB, DL, CB
According to Draftsite.com, the Chicago Bears have seven selections in the 2017 draft. After a disappointing season in 2016, the Bears are in year two of their rebuild. What moves can they make to speed this process up?
Trading Jay Cutler seems to be an intriguing option. Teams that have young, inexperienced quarterbacks may look to use Cutler for one to two more years while their youth develops. Cutler only played in five games last season and it appeared that the city of Chicago is ready to move on. By trading Cutler to a team like the 49ers or Jets, Chicago receives additional draft picks in an extremely stacked draft. After trading Cutler, the Bears could re-sign Hoyer and draft a quarterback such as Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson. This allows the young quarterback time to develop, while Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer take the majority of your snaps in the 2017 season. Another positive outcome of trading Cutler is the possibility of the Bears finding a franchise quarterback. Aside from the quarterback position, the Bears need to add depth to the defensive line and cornerback positions. Their linebackers (Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman) are both pro bowl caliber linebackers and are set for years to come. If the Bears do not draft a quarterback with the third overall selection, look for them to draft Jonathan Allen, Solomon Thomas, or perhaps Jamal Adams. Each of these players would help impact their defense immediately. The Chicago Bears have $58.78 MM in cap space this offseason. Look for that number to grow if they trade Jay Cutler.
Top Free Agents: Terrance Newman (CB), Adam Thielen (WR), Captain Munnerlyn (CB)
Team needs: OL, RB, WR
If I said the Minnesota Vikings would finish the 2016 season 8-8, what would their record be through the first five games? Unless you already knew, most would never guess they started the season 5-0. Experts compared the collapse to the 2015-2016 Atlanta Falcons season, where they too started 5-0 and finished 8-8. After cutting Adrian Peterson yesterday, the Vikings have $40.69 MM in cap space available this offseason. It would be in their best interest to re-sign Adam Thielen and Captain Munnerlyn. While these signings may take a chunk out of the Vikings cap room, these players have shown they are important cogs of this team. Additionally, look for the Vikings to pursue offensive lineman in free agency as they had one of the worst offensive lines this season. With this draft being loaded at the defensive back position, Newman is getting too old to re-sign to a multiple-year deal. The Vikings currently have eight draft selections (two 3rd rounders; two 4th rounders), but none are in the first round. Look for the Vikings to add a running back in the draft as well. If ownership can get past his record, Joe Mixon would be an incredible talent addition to this team. He may be the extra juice they need to take the next step in winning football games.
Top Free Agents: Larry Warford (OL), Rafael Bush (S), Anquan Boldin (WR)
Team needs: DL, TE, OL
No team shocked me more than the Detroit Lions did this season. In September, no one thought they would win more than 5-6 games, especially with Calvin Johnson retiring. Who would fill his shoes? Nobody. But it did force the Lions to diversify their offense. Jim Bob Cooter (no, I did not make his name up), the offensive coordinator for the Lions, deserves more recognition than he received. With that being said, look for the Lions to bolster both offensive and defensive fronts this offseason. Lions fans may not like this as every fan base wants flash and swag, but the reality is the Detroit Lions finished 31st in quarterback hurries a season ago. Names to watch during the draft are Taco Charlton, Charles Harris, and Derek Barnett. Adding one of these players would have an immediate impact along the team’s defensive front. Also, look for the Lions to add depth to the offensive line position. Every coach wants his quarterback protected. Giving Matthew Stafford extra time in the pocket will lead to winning more football games; it is that simple. Additionally, look for the Lions to add tight end, wide receiver, and cornerback depth this draft. Good news! This class is designed perfectly to get those players later in the draft. The Lions have $37.42 MM in cap space this offseason.
Green Bay Packers
Top Free Agents: T.J. Lang (OL), J.C. Tretter (OL), Nick Perry (Edge), Eddie Lacy (RB), Micah Hyde (CB), Julius Peppers (Edge), Jared Cook (TE)
Team needs: RB, LB, S
After putting together one of the most impressive runs the NFL has ever seen, the Green Bay Packers have a lot of work to do this offseason. The players mentioned above each have an important role on this team. Unfortunately for the Packers, there is no way to keep them all. Which players will they bring back, and which players will be let go?
The Green Bay Packers have nearly $43 MM in cap space this offseason. Look for them to re-sign offensive lineman T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter. Both players played exceptionally well this past season and familiarity is an important aspect of a successful offensive line. The Packers want to retain Nick Pery, Jared Cook, and Micah Hyde, but they may command bigger contracts than the Packers are willing to spend. Additionally, look for the Packers to let Eddie Lacy and Julius Peppers walk. Peppers age is the biggest concern while the longevity of Eddie Lacy’s health has yet to be consistent. In free agency, look for the Packers to make a run at Tony Jefferson and Kevin Minter. Both are young, athletic, and extremely talented. The would add a much-needed boost to this deprived Packer defense. In the draft, look for the Packers to take Jarrad Davis or Zach Cunningham. As an alternative, I would not be surprised to see them grab a running back in the first round either. The Packers could target names like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara with the 29th overall pick (assuming they are still available).
All grades per Pro Football Focus.