View from the North: How NFL Free Agency Impacted Draft Plans

Packer Central’s Bill Huber and his colleagues who cover the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings discuss the state of their teams with the NFL Draft approaching.
Josh Jacobs against the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2019.
Josh Jacobs against the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2019. / Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal S,


GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFC North should be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL this season.

The Detroit Lions almost reached the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers are on the rise behind Jordan Love and the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings appear poised to take use first-round draft picks on franchise quarterbacks.

Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest, John Maakaron of All Lions and Will Ragatz of Inside the Vikings join Packer Central’s Bill Huber to discuss the state of their teams.


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.


Detroit Lions

The Lions entered free agency with a plan to address needs on defense.

Mission accomplished. 

Trading for cornerback Carlton Davis and signing Amik Robertson upgraded a secondary that ranked 23rd in the NFL in opponent passer rating and 30th in yards per passing attempt. While he is coming off a down season, Davis gives defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn a cornerback capable of playing man-to-man coverage against quality wideouts.

The additions of Davis and Robertson are especially important following veteran Cam Sutton getting himself into legal trouble, which could force general manager Brad Holmes to target another defensive back or two in the draft.

DJ Reader and Marcus Davenport are intriguing additions to the defensive line, though they come with a certain level of risk. Reader missed 23 games the last four seasons and Davenport played in only 67 of a possible 99 games in six seasons.

Former University of Wisconsin standout Kevin Zeitler is a veteran guard that helps the offensive line deal with the sting of losing Jonah Jackson to the Rams in free agency. 

Heading into the draft, Holmes will feel comfortable deploying his usual strategy of targeting the best player available at pick No. 29. At this point, Detroit could do anything when it’s on the clock. 



Minnesota Vikings

After six rollercoaster years, the Vikings let Kirk Cousins walk in free agency last month, choosing not to match the offer he got from the Falcons. They signed Sam Darnold to be a bridge option, but Cousins' departure essentially locks Minnesota into drafting a quarterback in the first round. 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 former Packers star running back Aaron Jones and cornerback 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, a former Wisconsin standout, 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 until Day 3.


Chicago Bears

Considering all the salary cap space the Bears had for free agency, they disappointed for a second consecutive year by not meeting their biggest need while focusing on lesser needs or depth.

It's true they needed a starter and depth at safety and addressed this adequately by signing veteran Kevin Byard and former Packers starter 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 traded for prolific veteran receiver Keenan Allen to give expected rookie QB Caleb Williams another experienced target alongside D.J. Moore.

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

The first need coach 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 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. However, they have only four picks – two in the first round, one in the third and one in the fourth.

Lions Favored To Win NFC North

At FanDuel Sportsbook, the Lions are a heavy favorite to repeat as NFC North champions at +130. The Packers, who won at Detroit on Thanksgiving, are +210. They are followed by the Bears at +370 and the Vikings at +750. The odds for Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago shortened in response to Cousins signing with the Falcons – who are the NFC North favorites after six consecutive losing seasons.

Related Story: What's Next Step at Safety for Packers?

Xavier McKinney
Xavier McKinney / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are solid veteran options available for the Packers. Will they sign one?

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Bill Huber