Free Agency Diary

NFC North Free Agency Preview

on

To the surprise of many, the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North, snapping the four year streak of dominance of the Green Bay Packers. However, Aaron Rodgers and company still managed to make the playoffs for the seventh-consecutive season.

Nonetheless, both of these teams have major holes to fill this off-season alongside the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

Without further ado, let’s see what direction each team could go this spring.

Chicago Bears 

Team needs: Offensive line, Linebacker, Wide receiver, Cornerback, Defensive tackle

Despite telling long-time Bear Matt Forte that he has no intentions of re-signing him, general manager Ryan Pace doesn’t believe in cashing in on one guy. 

“I don’t like to put all our eggs in one basket in free agency,” Pace stressed. “I don’t think you’re going to see us make one splash free-agent signing. I think it’s going to be kind of spread-out-your-resources a little bit.”

With that being said, Chicago has dire needs at key positions.

Stats wise, you’d think the Bears secondary was one of the best in the league, but this is a case where stats do indeed lie.

Chicago’s secondary was prone to giving up the big play. Their lack of a pass rush played in a role in that as well, as they ranked 22nd in sacks.

Also, it’s still unclear whether or not Chicago will use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery, who just turned 26.

Top target that would make sense: Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City

As mentioned before, Chicago’s secondary could use a significant boost. which is why they should target Sean Smith.

Kansas City has a plethora of decisions to make in free agency. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Smith go elsewhere.

The 6-foot-3 cornerback would provide John Fox’s team with instant toughness and awareness on the back end.

A few other targets: Damon Harrison, DT, Jets; Eric Weddle, S, Chargers; Janoris Jenkins, CB, Rams; Rishard Matthews, WR, Dolphins

Acquiring Damon Harrison would be huge both literally and figuratively. He would play a major role in stopping the run.

Eric Weddle may be expensive, but it’s probably worth it for a team in dire need as Chicago, while Janoris Jenkins would be another solid pickup in the secondary.

With so much uncertainty surrounding Jefferey, Chicago will be in the market for a receiver, which is where Rishard Matthews comes into play.

Detroit Lions

Team needs: Left Tackle, Defensive line, Wide receiver, Running back, Cornerback

From now to March 1st, teams can use their franchise tags on players. One team that probably won’t be needing there’s is Detroit.

Detroit’s top free agents are 32-year-old Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker (returning from a major leg injury) and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.

As you truly dissect Detroit’s roster, they could use help all across the board. Some positions are just more of a priority than others.

Top target that would make sense: Russell Okung, OT, Seattle

Out of all the needs in the ‘Motor City’, offensive line is probably the most important one.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 44 times this past season, sixth-most of any signal caller.

To add salt to the wound, Detroit finished with a league-worst 83.4 rushing yards per game.

Considering the Seahawks haven’t used the franchise tag in six years, there’s growing belief that former Pro Bowl tackle Russell Okung may become available.

This potential addition would go a long way in protecting Stafford going forward.

A few other targets: Cordy Glenn, LT, Bills; Marvin Jones, WR, Bengals; Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs; Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins.

If Detroit strikes out on Okung, Cordy Glenn wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize and with Calvin Johnson retiring, expect for Detroit to look at wide receiver. Cincinnati’s Marvin Jones is one of the best available pass catchers this off-season.

Tamba Hali wouldn’t break the bank to gain some pass rushing help opposite Ziggy Ansah, while Lamar Miller would provide much needed help to their run game, but he won’t be cheap.

Minnesota Vikings

Team needs: Offensive line, Strong safety, Cornerback, Wide receiver, Backup quarterback

Led behind Adrian Peterson and their defense, Minnesota found themselves winning the NFC North for the first time since 2009 and it was their first playoff berth in four years.

Now, as the Vikings look to take the next step, their primary concerns come on the offensive side of the ball. To be more specific, offensive line and wide receiver.

Quarterback Teddy Bridewater didn’t have much time to pass in the pocket, as he was sacked 44 times, tying him for sixth most alongside Matthew Stafford.

Whenever Bridgewater did have time, he received little to no help from his receivers.

Minnesota’s leading receiver was Stefon Diggs and he only caught 52 passes.

However, this is not to say the Vikings don’t need some help defensively, especially in the secondary.

Harrison Smith has the free safety position on lock, but they need an upgrade over strong safety Andrew Sendejo, who struggled in 2015.

Top target that would make sense: George Iloka, S, Bengals

This move makes sense for numerous reasons.

First of all, Iloka is only 25-years-old, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

Secondly and more importantly, he’s already familiar with Mike Zimmer’s scheme from their time together in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have multiple free agents to re-sign, so there’s a real possibility Iloka ends up shaking town.

A few other targets: Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers; Evan Mathis, OG, Broncos; Adam Jones, CB, Bengals; Colt McCoy, QB, Redskins.

Everyone knows Boldin isn’t the player he used to be. However, he would be a great veteran piece for Bridgewater to have around.

As mentioned before, Minnesota’s offensive line has to get addressed and picking up Evan Mathis wouldn’t be a bad investment.

Adam Jones?

He’s also familiar with Zimmer’s system, so I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility.

Also, Shaun Hill is one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the NFL, which is why it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Minnesota go after Colt McCoy.

Green Bay Packers

Team needs: Inside linebacker, Running back, Tight end, Defensive tackle

This was an unusual year for Packers fans.

Yes, they made the playoffs, but it just didn’t feel the same. Maybe it was because Jordy Nelson was out for the season or maybe the offensive line or how about the regression of Eddie Lacy?

Odds are it was a mixture of all of three.

Where do they go from here?

Well, the inside linebacker position has been a hole in Green Bay forever now it seems. Also, they could use more of a pass rush from their front line.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson rarely dips his feet into the free agency pool, but pressure from head coach Mike McCarthy might change that a bit this spring.

Top target that would make sense: Danny Trevathan, ILB, Panthers

Before the Super Bowl, the casual fan probably didn’t know Danny Trevathan even existed. Now, he’s one of the most coveted players at this position.

This past season, Trevathan finished with 109 tackles and two interceptions.

Trevathan would fit well alongside Clay Matthews in the middle of the Green Bay defense.

A few other targets: Derrick Johnson, ILB, Chiefs; Matt Forte, RB, Bears; Dwayne Allen, TE, Colts; Haloti Ngata, DT, Lions.

If Green Bay can’t get Trevathan, Derrick Johnson isn’t a bad secondary option. He’ll bring great instincts and a nose for the football.

Will Matt Forte pull a Julius Peppers?

It’s possible and he’ll be perfect fit for Green Bay’s spread attack.

Another good fit would be tight end Dwyane Allen. Sure, he had a rough 2015 campaign, but it’s hard when you don’t have Andrew Luck for majority of the season.

Another guy who may join rival Green Bay is Haloti Ngata and while he isn’t the same player he once was, he’s still a big presence to put in the middle of the defensive line, especially with B.J. Raji getting ready to test free agency.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.