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Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC North

Free agency opened in the NFL with the legal tampering period and the deals came in furiously. Most teams had a pretty clear idea of who they wanted and at what price. Of course, not all activity is created equal. Some of the teams did very well on paper. Others, however, were not so fortunate.

So who’s who? Well, that is the fun part. Adding talent isn’t a shoo-in way to a passing mark. Some teams would have been better off embracing the chance to rebuild and others passed on the chance at that one difference-maker. Others still seemed to be operating in a different world.

Last time, we went over the AFC North. This time we shift our focus to their NFC counterpart…

Best and Worst From the NFC North Free Agency

Chicago Bears

Best Move: Finding Another Pass Rusher

After quarterback, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has had one other glaring weakness in putting together this roster. That is finding a proper compliment to stud pass-rusher Khalil Mack. Enter Robert Quinn; owner of the highest Pass Rush Win Rate over the past two years. After recording 11.5 sacks opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, he could have a big year in Chicago.

Quinn’s predecessor in Chicago, Leonard Floyd, never developed as a pass rusher and often found himself unable to finish. That isn’t an issue with Quinn, though his deficiencies defending the run could be. Perhaps with Akiem Hicks back healthy next to Eddie Goldman, opposing offenses will be forced to run sideline-to-sideline for the Bears speedy linebackers to clean up.

Worst Move: Bidding Against Themselves

A theme of Pace’s tenure has been the Bears seemingly overpaying for players, be it in free agency or the draft. Trading up for Mitchell Trubisky is the most notable move and he may have just repeated himself trading for Nick Foles. The journeyman cost a (valuable) mid-round pick and $15 million. Pace could have waited for Foles to be released like Cam Newton was.

A logical argument can be made for overpaying for a quarterback, but what about an aging tight end? That’s the scenario with Jimmy Graham who the Bears signed to a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million in guarantees. Graham hasn’t been useful between the 20s for several years, but he even saw a dip in his red-zone usage last season with the Green Bay Packers.

Next Move: Unearth More Gems

This is, of course, pending any trade that moves Mitchell Trubisky. If that happens, their next move should be to try finding their quarterback of the future. That’ll be tough with no pick until the second round without a passer falling. Outside of that, they’ll need to do what Pace and company have been best know for, discovering talent in the later rounds.

Free agency isn’t over, but the Bears are pretty cash strapped. That means holes at right guard and strong safety need to be addressed via the draft. Alex Bars will have his shot on the line, but Chicago needs offensive line depth across the board. And what about Deon Bush at safety? They at least have thrown bodies at their second cornerback spot.

Detroit Lions

Best Move: Moving On

When the Detroit Lions signed Desmond Trufant, it helped pave the way for their moving on from Rashaan Melvin. The late-bloomer went undrafted in 2013 and didn’t start until his second season and even then still only had two starts before 2016. He turned a couple of good years with the Indianapolis Colts into a pair of one-year pacts with the Oakland Raiders and the Lions.

Trufant arrives in Detroit on a two-year deal. Melvin’s play tailed off last season as he allowed 63 percent completion and a 104.1 passer rating; up from 54.8 percent and a 96.2 rating in 2018. Trufant spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Atlanta Falcons. He missed much of 2019, but in 2018 he allowed 59.2 percent completion and an 87.6 passer rating.

Worst Move: Moving On

A little double talk here as the Lions basically stayed in place. They upgraded from Melvin, but they also traded Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles. Slay has been Detroit’s best corner since his arrival in 2013. His play dipped compared to 2018, but he still only allowed 55.9 percent completion and 81.6 passer rating. In a down year!

The fact of the matter is, Trufant was really brought in to replace Slay. But the only reason a replacement is needed is because of friction between Slay and Lions head coach, Matt Patricia. Per Slay, Patricia made offensive remarks in regards to a picture of an opposing wide receiver Slay posted on social media. If true, the Lions are in more trouble than needing a cornerback.

Next Move: Win or Go Home

Patricia has done his best to recreate what he experienced with the New England Patriots. He’s even gone so far as to try and take on the persona of his mentor, Bill Belichick, with the media. He’s even chastised press members for being late; an infraction he himself is guilty of. Unfortunately, for Patricia, he isn’t Belichick so his antics aren’t being overlooked.

What’s more, if he is indeed bumping heads with players over such things his tenure in Detroit might not last the entire 2020 season. This isn’t to say an organization is always wrong for choosing the coach over a player (though they usually are). But it is suggesting that Patricia hasn’t done enough (nor does he have a leash long enough) to be running off players.

Green Bay Packers

Best Move: Free Agency Restraint

2019 saw a very different gameplan from the Packers in the offseason. General manager Brian Gutekunst used his second go to further distance his image from that of predecessor Ted Thompson. Green Bay addressed its leaky defense both in free agency and the draft, signing Adrian Amos and pass rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and drafting Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage.

2020 has been a return to normalcy. Green Bay has added inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, offensive tackle Ricky Wagner, and wide receiver Devin Funchess from the outside. And those deals all pale in comparison to what was spent last year. Fans might have been disappointed by the overall lack of aggressiveness. But they needed much less this time around.

Worst Move: Questions at WR2

Davante Adams has worked his way into becoming Aaron Rodgers’ favorite weapon. He entered last season fresh off of his first 1000-yard season in 2018 but injuries limited him to 12 games. He still managed to accumulate 997 yards, tying his second-highest single-season mark, and grab five touchdowns. Adams’ 83 grabs by far led the team.

The second-leading receiver was Allen Lazard with his 35/477/3 stat line. He was bested by running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams as well as tight end Jimmy Graham. The only addition so far, Funchess, missed all but one game last year. With so much youth at the position already, another rookie doesn’t make sense so it’s a bit surprising they didn’t do more.

Next Move: Draft Rodgers Heir Apparent

Green Bay only has one pick this season and it’s not exactly a premium one. They’re currently slated to pick 30th in the first round of the April 23rd NFL Draft. That spot can be used for a myriad of things from simply taking the best player available to trading down to gain more draft capital to fill more holes.

While the Packers could certainly use the pick on a receiver (see above) but a savvier move might be to select a quarterback should one slide. No, they don’t have an immediate need for one, but that shouldn’t stop them from taking one should the opportunity arise. After all, Brett Favre was 36 when the Packers took Rodgers (also 36) in 2005.

Minnesota Vikings

Best Move: Blowing Up the Secondary

This is a bit of an exaggeration. What the Minnesota Vikings actually did was start over at cornerback. Xavier Rhodes (Colts), Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander (both Cincinnati Bengals) will all suit up elsewhere as the Vikings revamp their 15th-ranked pass defense.

Rhodes’ release is the biggest reason this is a good move. His completion percentage allowed ballooned from a mediocre 61.3 percent last season to a whopping 81.5 percent. He had to go. It remains to be seen if Minnesota rolls with Kris Boyd and Mike Hughes plus a rookie. But they will need to draft at least one corner. How early and often are the only real questions.

Worst Move: Losing Diggs and Griffen

Hey, a twofer! Both Stefon Diggs and Everson Griffen will find themselves in different uniforms in 2020 for very different reasons. Diggs’ frustration has often been visible on the sidelines and social media; though he has often denied the latter were ever anything serious. Minnesota traded him for a draft haul to the Buffalo Bills. Adam Thielen could struggle without Diggs taking the top off.

Griffen’s departure is a little more sentimental, and not just because he was longer tenured. Griffen went through some mental health issues that cost him five games in 2018. The Vikings stood by him through that and he came back in 2019 with eight sacks opposite Danielle Hunter. They’ll need Ifeadi Odenigbo to take a major leap.

Next Move: Win or Go Home

Vikings brass finds themselves in a similar situation to the Lions. They have put together a team they’ve felt were contenders for the past couple of years only to fall short. Their saving grace has been making the playoffs three of the last six seasons. But how long can just getting there be enough? Especially when the peak was reaching the NFC Championship game back in 2017.

This shows worst on two individuals in the Vikings organization. Head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins. Zimmer is in his sixth season and obviously owns the successes and failures of this group. Cousins has failed to elevate them above the heights they reached with Case Keenum, but he just got an extension. It looks like the powers that be in Minnesota have picked a side.