The Vikings have yet to stick their toe in the big-money waters of free agency, but considering the mind-boggling numbers and impromptu trades that baffle rational explanation, being on the sidelines hasn’t been such a bad tactic.
For the other three teams in the division, it’s pretty much situation normal – the Lions overreact, the Bears make big moves and Green Bay protects its status at the top of the mountain by keeping guys capable of kicking snow down on climbing parties trying to crash their party.
Vikings fans have been following other teams’ moves because, for now anyway, the Vikings haven’t rippled the water with a big move. So how is the rest of the division faring? Judge for yourself.
ChicagoThe Bears came into the offseason with a lot of free agents and a lot of aging players, especially on defense. They’ve had some clear upgrades and downgrades at key positions. On the positive side for Chicago fans, the Bears made their biggest splash with the signing of linebacker Pernell McPhee, having lost mainstays Brian Urlacher and likely Lance Briggs over the last two seasons. They also added Antrell Rolle, but, as a 10-year veteran, he isn’t getting any younger any time soon – in its own way continuing the trend of applying critical defensive roles to players nearing the end of their run.
On the downside for the Bears, they have lost two players who were consistently solid despite the ups and downs of the franchise over the past three seasons. Brandon Marshall was traded away for a pair of mid-round picks, completing the ascent of Alshon Jeffery to official “go-to receiver” status, but it should be pointed out that there were several defensive coordinators (and defensive-minded head coaches) who feared Marshall more than Jeffery. The loss of defensive tackle Stephen Paea shouldn’t be underestimated. Like Marshall, he has consistently grading out well, even in games where the Bears defense stunk out the joint.
At this point, the losses don’t outweigh the arrivals. If the Bears can parlay the draft picks received in the Marshall trade to sweeten a deal to move up and grab a player they covet in the first or second round, the playing field may get much more level. But, for now, you can say they’ve improved at positions of need, but they’ve weakened themselves at previous positions of strength.
DetroitAs usual, the Lions are going to make some noise before the dust settles on Round 1 of free agency, but, as things currently stand, Detroit has taken a step backward.
As Miami taught us Wednesday, defensive players like Ndamukong Suh can be paid elite quarterback money on the open market. If any other franchise had Suh, they had to know he was leaving. They couldn’t afford to keep him thanks to the old CBA and Suh restructuring to make it impossible. He was gone. Detroit signed former Raven Haloti Ngata and his enormous salary-cap number. But if one knows his history, Ozzie Newsome knows just about the perfect time to let a highly-paid star that was a glove fit in the Ravens system seek his fortune elsewhere – typically with diminishing returns, often significantly diminishing returns.
Complicating matters is that the Lions are likely going to be without some key players from the last couple of years, including Nick Fairley, Reggie Bush, Rashean Mathis and C.J. Mosley. While none of them are essential moving forward, all of them took up significant playing time in 2014 and beyond. Replacing them won’t be easy without the potential for a dropoff in production and may force Detroit’s hand on draft weekend. All things considered, there isn’t much to be thankful for as the Suh jerseys get burned or put in mothballs.
Green BayThere’s a reason the Packers have held sway over the NFC North for the entirety of a decade nearing its midpoint. They don’t overspend and they sign their own. Coming into free agency, the Packers had two hot-button players that, if lost, would result in a significant decline for franchise bread-and-double-butter Aaron Rodgers. Those players were fourth-year vet Randall Cobb and fifth-year pro Bryan Bulaga. The Packers signed their explosive slot receiver and their offensive tackle, respectively.
Losing A.J. Hawk was a self-fulfilling prophecy considering he was cut. CB Davon House signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Potentially losing defensive standouts B.J. Raji and Tramon Williams could be painful, but none of them have signed up with someone else just yet. So, you’re saying there’s a chance?
We’re only three days into the NFL calendar year and, to date, the Vikings have yet to produce a cannonball in the pool. But, considering that the two teams they’re competing with to knock the Packers off the top of heap, the Vikings haven’t taken a step backwards. You can argue that both the Bears and Lions have taken a couple of haymakers to the head and are still standing, but wobbled. The Packers are doing fine by re-signing their own … perhaps a tactic the Vikings are considering given the big second contracts looming on the horizon.
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