What have the teams in the NFC North not named the Green Bay Packers been up to this offseason? Read on and find out.
Players Released: G Steve Hutchinson, G Anthony Herrera, CB Cedric Griffin, NT Remi Ayodele, TE Jim Kleinsasser (retired)
Free Agents Signed: TE John Carlson, FB Jerome Felton, RB Lex Hilliard, OL Geoff Schwartz, CB Zack Bowman
Re-Signings: DT Fred Evans, QB Sage Rosenfels, DL Letroy Guion, WR Devin Aromashodu
Holes on Roster: CB, S, LT, LG and WR
The Vikings ditched the Triangle of Authority and named Rick Spielman sole general manager not long after their 2011 season (mercifully) ended. Naturally, many Vikings fans expected Spielman to start signing free agents as soon as possible, anything to erase the memories of a 3-13 season that saw the Vikings take several steps backward while the Packers, Lions and Bears got better.
Those marquee free-agent signings never came. Instead, Spielman appears to be doing his best Ted Thompson impersonation by signing no-name free agents and talking about building through the draft. The one exception was signing TE John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million deal.
The Vikings are in a weird spot. They have a young QB that may or may not be a long-term solution. Their best offensive player tore his ACL at the end of last season. Their coach has no personality and is unproven. And their defense keeps getting older.
They’re not only rebuilding, they’re in the infant stages of rebuilding.
On top of all that, owner Zygi Wilf is in the fight of his life trying to get taxpayer funding to build a new stadium. I suppose there is a chance that 2012 may be the last season the Packers play the Vikings, the Minnesota Vikings, anyway. If had to take an educated guess, though, I’d say that Wilf eventually gets his stadium and the Vikings will blow their horns in Minnesota for many years to come.
But a new stadium might be the only good news for Vikings fans in the near future. This team is rebuilding, and it’s going to take a while before they contend in the NFC North again.
Players Released: DT Anthony Adams, OL Frank Omiyale, RB Marion Barber (retired)
Free Agents Signed: KR-PR Eric Weems, RB Michael Bush, OB Jason Campbell, LB Blake Costanzo, QB Josh McCown,
Re-Signings: DL Israel Idonije, CB Tim Jennings, TE Kellen Davis, S Craig Steltz
Trades: Traded a 3rd round pick in 2012 and 2013 for WR Brandon Marshall
Holes on Roster: G (both), C, S (both)
Lost in all the talk about how Brandon Marshall’s off-field problems could impact the Bears this season is the fact that Marshall’s on-field performance wasn’t all that special in 2011. He’s a definite upgrade, but let’s not confuse the Bears bringing in Marshall with the Patriots bringing in Randy Moss in 2007. Re-uniting Marshall with Jay Cutler helps the Bears, but it doesn’t address the main problem areas on this team.
For example, the Bears offensive line remains a mess. Nobody on the line stands out, and the guards are especially bad. Tackle Gabe Carimi, last year’s first-round pick out of Wisconsin, coming back from injury should help.
Good luck trying to stop Green Bay and Detroit with Major Wright, Craig Steltz and Winston Venable as your safeties. I suppose the draft could help in this area, but by most accounts, this draft is weak on safeties.
And to top it off, Matt Forte, one of the best running backs in football, is upset about the Bears signing Michael Bush.
The Bears have made a lot of noise this offseason. They do every offseason. If trophies were awarded for winning the offseason, the Bears would be annual favorites. But just like Marshall’s off-field issues overshadow his on-field play, all the offseason noise made by the Bears overshadows the fact that Chicago should be in the thick of things in the NFC North.
Just like they always seem to be.
Players released: TE Will Heller
Free Agents Signed: FB James Bryant, CB Jacob Lacey
Re-Signings: WR Calvin Johnson, RB Kevin Smith, LB Stephen Tulloch, P Ben Graham, DT Andre Fluellen, T Jeff Backus, DB Erik Coleman, LS Don Muhlbach
Holes on Roster: CB, S. RG
The Lions have the core of stars to be successful for a long time. Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Nkomukong Suh, Cliff Avril — I’d take that group. Now we’ll find out if they can develop other talent and depth to actually make it happen.
A good place to start would be the secondary. If the Lions want to slow down Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and Jay Cutler with his new weapons in Chicago, they’ll need better corners and safeties. Salary cap issues prevent the Lions from fixing the secondary through free agency so look for Detroit to make it a draft priority (perhaps Janoris Jenkins).
Upgrades are needed on the offensive line, too. Stephen Peterman is replaceable at right guard and Gosder Cherilus is inconsistent at right tackle.
But with 21 of 22 starters from last season’s 10-6 team under contract and returning, the Lions don’t need a major overhaul in any one area, just a little fine tuning and continued improvement from within.
As long as Stafford stays healthy, this team will bother the Packers for the foreseeable future. You win in the NFL with stars, and the Lions have a bunch of them. Now we’ll see if they can develop the other pieces to complement that star power.
Here’s how I would rank the NFC North right now:
We’ll check back and see if that’s changed after the draft.
Quick update: Yes, I have the Bears over the Lions…for now. The reason for this is head coaching. I think Lovie Smith is great. Calm, cool and collected. Lions coach Jim Schwartz might be insane. Sometimes insane is a good thing, but not always.——————