GREEN BAY, Wis. – The easiest path to winning the Super Bowl starts with winning the division. Are the Green Bay Packers in a better position or worse position following the start of free agency? Here’s a look at the key moves in the NFC North.
There’s no doubt Chicago has taken the biggest step forward, having obtained Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles for a fourth round pick and signing Robert Quinn to serve as the sidekick to Khalil Mack. Of course, these aren’t slam-dunk transactions. After signing Foles to a big contract last offseason, the Jaguars went 0-4 with him and 6-6 without him. Regardless, he’s an upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky. Quinn had a total of 24 sacks the previous four seasons before a blast-from-the-past season with 11.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits in 2019 for Dallas. For that, the Bears gave him $70 million over five years. That’s a lot of money, though not so oddly spent as the $16 million over two years for antiquated tight end Jimmy Graham. If the acquisitions of Foles and Quinn pay dividends, the Bears figure to be right back in the mix after winning the North in 2018. Turning to the draft, Chicago does not have picks in the first or third rounds but does have two in the second.
Detroit has been one of the more active teams, headlined by sending premier cornerback Darius Slay to Philadelphia for third- and fifth-round draft picks and replacing him with Desmond Trufant, a cap casualty in Atlanta. The Lions also added do-it-all linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive lineman Danny Shelton, right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and quarterback Chase Daniel. Shelton replaces run-stuffer extraordinaire Damon Harrison, Vaitai replaces Rick Wagner and Daniel provides a competent backup plan after the Lions disintegrated following Matthew Stafford’s season-ending injury last yaer. Vaitai inked a five-year deal worth $50 million, a curious investment for a guy who has started 20 games over four seasons and had more holding penalties (four) than starts (three) last year for the Eagles. Following the Slay trade, the Lions have seven of the top 166 picks and the third pick in each of the first six rounds.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers may or may not be any better with Christian Kirksey replacing Blake Martinez at linebacker. Kirksey has missed most of the last two seasons with injuries. To state the obvious, it will be difficult to replace Martinez’s 201 tackles (coaches’ count) if Kirksey is on the injury report. When healthy, he brings some of the athleticism the Packers have been sorely lacking at the position. They clearly are not better at right tackle with Wagner replacing Bryan Bulaga. Without much cap space available, general manager Brian Gutekunst might be content with some low-budget re-signings, such as what he did with tight end Marcedes Lewis on Wednesday night, and hoping he can knock it out of the park in the draft to fill holes at receiver, linebacker and offensive and defensive lines. Green Bay has 10 draft picks – though five of those are in the final two rounds. The challenge with counting on the draft is the COVID-19 pandemic, which might rob this year’s rookie class of the entire offseason program.
In a blockbuster trade, Minnesota sent premier receiver Stefon Diggs and a seventh-round pick to Buffalo for first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2020 and a fourth-round selection in 2021. Now, the Vikings have the 22nd and 25th picks of the first round, the 58th of the second round, the 89th and 105th of the third round, and seven of the top 155 overall. They’ll need every one of those picks to restock what had once been a powerhouse roster. The Vikings have been a defense-dominated team under coach Mike Zimmer. Can that continue after the exodus at cornerback? Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander signed with Cincinnati and Xavier Rhodes was released by the team. The Vikings signed one big defensive tackle, Michael Pierce, and let another, Linval Joseph, go to the Chargers. As is the case with Green Bay, Minnesota will use its draft capital to take advantage of what looks like a great draft class of receivers.
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