Rumbling through these now as we stop off to look at the teams of the NFC North.
Green Bay Packers
A new head coach on the way in and a good few veteran players seemingly on the way. It was confirmed earlier in the week that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb will be allowed to hit free agency. As well as those two, Muhammad Wilkerson (defensive tackle), Geronimo Allison (receiver) and tight ends Lance Kendricks & Mercedes Lewis are all set to walk. This could be part of a move to build a younger, more dynamic team around star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Top of the bill for the Packers will be a legit pass rush. There’s not been a threat in this department since Clay Matthews was in his pomp circa 3-4 years ago. The Packers traded out of their original draft position last year to allow the Saints to get Marcus Davenport, I don’t expect them to do the same this year in the draft where good pass rushers will be available – Montez Sweat could be a player to keep an eye on. The backfield is good after a restock int he draft last year though a replacement for HaHa Clinton-Dix may be needed. Some more help at inside linebacker might also be required, could they look to their NFC North rivals to snatch Anthony Barr?
On offence, they need to ensure that Rodgers has targets to pass to. Devonte Adams continues to be WR1 but outside of him the options are limited. There’s not many free agent options but Golden Tate could be a useful addition. Jimmy Graham’s production has fallen off a cliff in recent years but the Packers could look to the draft to find a pass catching tight end like Irv Smith out of Alabama.
This is a team with a lot of talent on it which really should have made the playoffs in 2018. Apart from Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson, there’s not many players heading to free agency so if they can get it together they’ve got a good opportunity in 2019 as well.
Sheldon Richardson and Anthony Barr are two key players who could be heading out the door. I’m surprised there hasn’t been any buzz about Barr being kept on – either with a new contract or a franchise tag which wouldn’t be that high for an inside linebacker. Richardson started off the year in Minnesota well but tailed off very quickly so replacing him with a younger, cheaper alternative to ensure there’s depth on the line would be good.
On offence, the Vikings still have a litany of talent for overpaid quarterback, Kirk Cousins to pass to. What he really needs is to be protected and given more time in the pocket to find one of his stellar receivers. Therefore focussing on the O-Line during the first rounds of the draft should be a must. Players like Jawaan Taylor out of Florida, Jonah Williams from Alabama or Cody Ford from Oklahoma could all be in play when the Vikings make their first pick of the draft.
Now here’s a roster with ……… not a lot on it. With the expected resurgence of the Packers and Vikings and the Bears hoping to continue their strong start under Nagy, the NFC North could be tough going for the Lions.
On offence, they need to get more weapons for Stafford to throw to – be that receivers, a good tight end or a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Kerryon Johnson showed that he could be the answer in terms of his running threat, but whether he can catch the ball with regularity is still in question. Who knew Eric Ebron would be so good away from Detroit? A replacement for the now pro-bowl tight end needs to be found. Kenny Golliday shows bags of talent but now without Golden Tate, there’s a hole for a good second receiver.
It looks as though Ziggy Ansah’s Lions career is coming to an end. He played on the franchise tag last year and realistically did not perform at a level that warrants giving him a big new deal. Never fear though as there’s pass rushers aplenty in the draft that the Lions could get to replace him. Further reinforcements may be needed along the line in order to try and get to Rodgers, Trubisky or Cousins throughout the season. I could in fact see the Lions spending a lot of draft capital on their defence in order for it to be moulded into a unit that head coach (and former defensive coordinator) Matt Patricia can be proud of. Reinforcements at all levels may be needed but particularly looking at the free safety spot where veteran Glover Quin will be vacating.
The Bears will be looking to repeat the good form they showed in 2018 and hope to go a few steps further with an extra offseason under the belt under the tutelage of Matt Nagy. The good news is that most of the key players will be returning in 2019. Aaron Lynch is the only notable player expected to hit free agency. Kevin White is another name that people will recognise but not for the form he’s shown on the field since the Bears selected him the first round of the 2015 draft.
The biggest need for the Bears is probably in bringing in a reliable kicker. Cody Parker was released during the week after a very up and down season with maybe more downs then ups. Rumours are that the Bears would be interested in bringing Robbie Gould back from San Francisco but now he has a franchise tag on him that could be quite an expensive acquisition. The wide receiver corps was better in 2018 than it was in 2017 but could still use some reinforcements behind Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller who showed flashes in his rookie season. The restructure on Kyle Long’s deal allows them to keep a veteran piece on the O-Line along with right tackle Bobby Massie who signed a $30m four year extension earlier in the offseason.
The defensive side of the ball is equally well stacked with Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Kahlil Mack all capable of getting to the opposing quarterback. Roquan Smith will benefit from a full offseason after his contract hold out last year. The biggest acquisition to this defence has already been made with the replacement for Vic Fangio, Chuck Pagano coming in as defensive coordinator. Anything else they add to the roster may just be a luxury.Embed from Getty Images