NFC North Team Needs: Offseason Analysis
With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. For the NFC North, we see a division that had the Packers and Bears making the playoffs. The Vikings flirted with the postseason before ultimately succumbing to their defensive inconsistencies. The Lions continued their trend of division bottom dwellers and it ultimately cost Matt Patricia his job.
The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers enter the off-season after having earned the NFC’s best record and home field throughout the playoffs. That was not enough for them to overcome a Buccaneers team that would ultimately go on to winning the championship. The resulting fallout from the loss sees the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and omnipresent questions on if Rodgers has enough support after an MVP season.
Team needs: IDL, LB, OT, DB, RB
Draft capital: 1:29, 2:62, 3:93, 4:137, 4:144, 5:175, 5:179, 6:215, 6:221, 7:219
Pending FA’s: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Corey Linsley, Kevin King
Salary Cap space: (9.6 million)
For a team coming off the best record in the NFC, the Packers should return a fairly complete team. There are a few areas where they will want to upgrade the roster, particularly along the defensive side. They will need to get creative with their cap situation, currently over by 21.8 million, by restructuring/resigning some current players (Davonte Adams) and releasing some veterans (Preston Smith would save $12 million).
With a full slate of draft picks, look for them to be active in the draft and fill most of their needs there. Brace yourselves Packer fans, they will most likely go defense again in the 1st round (Levi Onwuzurike, Christian Barmore, Zaven Collins, and Nick Bolton) as finding a plug-and-play DT or LB should be a priority. Look for them to be fairly quiet in FA, only looking to fill out the end of the roster.
Chicago appears to be a team in flux as they enter the off-season. They look set to move on from former 1st round pick Mitchell Trubisky and currently do not appear to have an acceptable replacement after the failed Nick Foles experiment. The Bears benefited from an expanded playoff format and secured the 7th seed on the last day of the regular season. Even with the playoff appearance, head coach Matt Nagy could find himself on the hot seat this year after failing to develop Trubisky. Such is often the penalty when spending a high draft pick on the QB position and it failing.
Team needs: QB, IOL, OT, IDL, WR
Draft capital: 1:20, 2:52, 3:84, 5:166, 6:205, 6:222, 6:229, 7:233
Pending FA’s: Mitch Trubisky, Allen Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Germain Ifedi, Barkevious Mingo, Brent Urban, Mario Edwards, Roy Robertson-Harris, Artie Burns, Tashaun Gipson
Salary Cap space: (17.5 million)
The Bears off-season needs will begin and end with the QB position. They are rumored to be in on a potential trade for Carson Wentz as GM Ryan Pace has been well documented as coveting him. The reported asking price from Philly is similar to the Matt Stafford return, two 1st’s and possibly a player. This is the most likely course of action for Chicago as it locks them into Wentz through the 2024 season. Doing this deal leaves Chicago short on both cap space (they will need to restructure some current deals) and draft picks to fill out the other holes.
By cutting Jimmy Graham and Buster Skrine (Skrine has been released), Chicago would save roughly $12 million in cap space. Chicago also applied the franchise tag to Allen Robinson for the second year in a row, they will look to work out a long term deal or package him for draft compensation. Look for Pace to get creative and trade down in the draft to help fill the other needs.
The Vikings enter the off-season after a disappointing 2020 where they were predicted to compete for the NFC North crown. A few critical injuries and covid opt-outs, along with a relatively young secondary, helped to downgrade a once-formidable defense. Offensively the team yet again will introduce a new offensive coordinator in Klint Kubiak, making it the sixth straight year with fluidity at the position. The weapons are in place on offense for continued continuity though, as the team ranked in the top 10 for many statistics.
Team needs: IOL, EDGE, IDL, WR, S
Draft capital: 1:14, 3:79, 3:91, 4:121, 4:127, 4:136, 4:145, 5:159, 5:173, 6:200, 6:224, 7:243
Pending FA’s: Dakota Dozier, Jaleel Johnson, Eric Wilson, Anthony Harris
Salary Cap space: 8.7 million
Minnesota is well-positioned to return to the postseason if they continue to add to their talented young core. The return of Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael Peirce should help shore up last year’s porous defense, but there will still be more additions needed on the defense for them to remain competitive. The team will need to restructure or cut some players (already cut Dan Bailey and Kyle Rudolph) to free up cap space, Shamar Stephen might be the most likely next cut. The Vikings surprisingly cut Riley Reiff after failing to come to an agreement in regards to an extension. This paves the way for last years second round pick Ezra Cleveland to step into his natural position of left tackle.
They should be able to get to a point where they can add at a high position of need in free agency, IOL/IDL (Jon Feliciano, Forrest Lamp, Solomon Thomas) being the most pressing. Whichever area the team addresses in free agency, look for them to be aggressive in addressing the other in the draft (Kwity Paye, Christian Baramore, Wyatt Davis).
Detroit has already made one major move this off-season in trading franchise QB Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff. They also usher in a new power structure as they have added new faces to all levels of their front office and coaching staff. The most important addition has to be John Dorsey who is largely credited with turning both the Chiefs and Browns rosters around with an influx of talent. Newly minted head coach Dan Campbell will need to navigate a roster with numerous holes.
Team needs: WR, EDGE, LB, DB, OT
Draft capital: 1:7, 2:41, 3:72, 3:89, 4:114, 5:155
Pending FA’s: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Adrian Peterson, Oday Aboushi, Everson Griffen, Romeo Okwara, Reggie Ragland, Jarrad Davis, Darryl Roberts, Duron Harmon
Salary Cap space: (1.6 million)
The Lions are well-positioned to continue adding young talent to their roster, the coaching and development of that talent will be needed for long-term success. They carry a 19 million dollar dead cap hit due to the Stafford trade, which will limit how much they can spend in free agency. Most of their receiving core is hitting unrestricted free agency and they should look to resign, draft, and bring in WR’s via free agency.
Cutting Desmond Trufant (Trufant was cut just before publishing), Jesse James, and Danny Shelton will save the Lions just over $15 million in cap space. If WR isn’t prioritized with their 1st round pick, look for them to target an EDGE player (Gregory Rousseau, Kwity Paye, Azeez Ojulari). They should be able to come away with a few solid starters in the draft and via free agency, already getting a start by taking a flyer on Tyrell Williams.