How the Bears Rate Against NFC North Through Free Agency

A look at changes made by NFC North teams and how they stack up against what the Bears have done in free agency to get ready for the draft.
Tremaine Edmunds pressures Jordan Love of Green Bay on a blitz.
Tremaine Edmunds pressures Jordan Love of Green Bay on a blitz. / Mark Hoffman / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Just over 26 months after Ryan Poles proclaimed the Bears planned to "take the North and not give it back," they remain tied for last place in the division.

At least they tied the Vikings for it, but lost the tiebreaker.

If they're going to reach the level Poles promised, it's apparent it will need to be done through the draft.

Free agency supplies patches but the draft provides the concrete base for any organization.

The Bears have built a solid base through two drafts and filled in during free agency to varying degrees of success.

Nothing exists in a vacuum and while Poles has used free agency to try and cover most areas except possibly one, the rest of the NFC North has been at work.

The Bears and Vikings had the most ground to make up in free agency and tried by changing the most important position. The changes made were comparable, as the Bears have gone from a runner who passes in Justin Fields to most likely a passer who can run if necessary with Caleb Williams. The Vikings have gone from seasoned veteran Kirk Cousins to a rookie or Sam Darnold.

They've both got more work to do to catch up to the Lions and Packers.

Here's how the division came out of 2024 free agency to set themselves up for the draft, according to the publishes of FanNation's NFC North websites.

Minnesota Vikings

After six rollercoaster years, the Vikings let Cousins walk in free agency last month, choosing not to match the offer he got from the Falcons. They signed Darnold to be a bridge option, but Cousins' departure essentially locks Minnesota into drafting a quarterback in the first round this year.

They've since made a deal with the Texans to acquire a second first-round pick, which they could perhaps package in a trade up into the top five for one of the big four QBs.

Outside of Cousins, the Vikings replaced Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, and Jordan Hicks with Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Blake Cashman. They also added Aaron Jones and Shaquill Griffin to fill holes in the starting lineup. At the moment, defensive tackle and cornerback are their most obvious non-quarterback needs. If the Vikings don't trade up, they could stay put at 11 and 23 and address one of those spots along with taking Michael Penix Jr. or Bo Nix. Edge rusher is also a possibility, although the additions of Greenard and Van Ginkel mean that isn't a necessity.

The most likely outcome feels like an aggressive move up the board for Drake Maye or J.J. McCarthy, even though that would mean waiting to make defensive additions on Day 3.

-Will Ragatz, Inside the Vikings

Detroit Lions

The Lions entered free agency with a plan to address needs on defense, as evidenced by targeting two defensive linemen and two defensive backs.

Trading for cornerback Carlton Davis and signing Amik Robertson upgraded a secondary that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in pass coverage.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has a player in Davis that can play man-to-man coverage and competes well against quality wideouts.

Unfortunately, veteran Cam Sutton getting himself into legal troubles could force Detroit's front office to target another defensive back or two in this year's draft.

DJ Reader and Marcus Davenport are intriguing additions to the defensive line, but come with a certain level or risk due to both veterans battling significant injuries last season.

Heading into the draft, general manager Brad Holmes and the front office feel comfortable they are still able to deploy their strategy of targeting the best player available at pick No. 29.

At this point, Detroit could literally do anything when it is there turn to hand in their draft card.
Luckily, Holmes has built up enough credibility that whoever the selection is will be cheered by supporters in Motown.

-John Maakaron, All Lions

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay made two big splashes in free agency by signing safety Xavier McKinney and running back Josh Jacobs. Really, though, that didn’t change anything about the draft.

The Packers still need a safety to start alongside McKinney. And they still need to add a young back to a tandem that had been Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon but is now Jacobs and Dillon.

Along with safety, the biggest free-agent impacts on the draft are offensive line and linebacker.
At offensive tackle, the Packers finally parted ways with former All-Pro David Bakhtiari, who missed most of last season following the fourth and fifth surgeries on a knee injury sustained on Dec. 31, 2020. Plus, they lost valuable swingman Yosh Nijman in free agency. They at least need a talented backup behind left tackle Rasheed Walker and standout right tackle Zach Tom. At guard, Jon Runyan left in free agency, leaving only one backup for the new interior trio.

At linebacker, the Packers are transitioning to a 4-3 scheme and released former All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell. There was a large group of veterans available. Instead of signing one, they’ll be looking for a third starter alongside Quay Walker and Isaiah McDuffie or a second every-down player to pair with Walker.

-Bill Huber, Packer Central

Chicago Bears

Considering all the salary cap space the Bears had for free agency, they disappointed by not meeting their biggest need while focusing on lesser needs or depth. It's the second straight year they did this. They need to address those big needs in the draft, but when they do it might take time for them to realize dividends from the investment.

It's true they needed another safety and depth there, and addressed this adequately by signing veteran Kevin Byard and former Packers safety Jonathan Owens. Byard has a record for never missing games and replaces Eddie Jackson, who missed 13 the last three years. They needed another running back after deciding D'Onta Foreman wasn't in their future, so signing D'Andre Swift gives them a versatile starting option. They didn't sign Keenan Allen but traded for him, and made sure they had an experienced second receiver to help expected rookie QB Caleb Williams.

It's debatable whether either center candidate they signed, Ryan Bates or Coleman Shelton, are the answer at a weak spot.

The first need Matt Eberflus talked about starting the offseason was an edge to divert pressure from Montez Sweat. They go into the draft still without one, after signing only journeyman Jake Martin.

Starting 3-technique Justin Jones left and the immediate DT replacement plan is unproven Gervon Dexter.

For the second straight offseason, it would appear defensive line has been neglected and must come in the draft.

-Gene Chamberlain , BearDigest


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Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN