Less than 24 hours into free agency, while the focus of most Minnesota Vikings’ fans is centered on what the purple and gold have done (and not done) in free agency, the landscape of the NFC North as a whole has taken a dramatic step toward change in the makeup of the division.
Perhaps no team has seen more change already than the Chicago Bears. Having already lost backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal to be the incumbent de facto starter in San Francisco, the Bears made a pair of bold moves at quarterback. They signed relatively unproven Tampa Bay backup Mike Glennon to a three-year deal that will pay him nearly $15 million a season and subsequently released longtime starter Jay Cutler, who had become one of the least popular players in the league with his home fan base.
Cutler wasn’t the only veteran to leave town. Former All-Pro wide receiver Alshon Jeffery apparently reportedly was in some sort of negotiation with the Vikings before opting to sign a one-year, $14 million deal with Philadelphia. The Bears also lost defensive end Cornelius Washington to division rival Detroit and veteran tight end Logan Paulsen to San Francisco to join Hoyer with the new-look 49ers.
Aside from adding Glennon, the Bears made an early free-agent splash, bringing in wide receiver Markus Wheaton from the Steelers, tight end Dion Sims from Miami and safety Quintin Demps from the Texans.
The Lions lost just one player on the opening day of free agency and Vikings fans know who that was – offensive tackle Riley Reiff. But Reiff became expendable when Detroit opened up the corporate checkbook to sign Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner to the biggest contract ever given to a right tackle.
Detroit also sent the message that they intend to bolster a defense that has been its weakness over the last few seasons. They addressed defensive line and linebacker early, signing Tampa Bay defensive tackle Akeem Spence, Bears defensive end Cornelius Washington and Atlanta linebacker Paul Worrilow.
If there was a theme to Detroit’s free-agent policy, it was to sign young players. All four of their signings were fourth-year players who concluded their rookie contracts and found the Lions willing to pay them for their second professional contracts.
The Packers made the promise to get more active in free agency, but on opening day of free agency, they didn’t make a big splash. The biggest signing was to re-sign linebacker Nick Perry to a five-year deal before he hit the open market. Along the way, Green Bay saw a pair of veterans sign with other teams – center J.C. Tretter going to Cleveland and cornerback Micah Hyde heading off to Buffalo.
For the Vikings, the opening day of free agency wasn’t overly eventful, as they replaced one offensive tackle with another and lost a pair of players they didn’t make any tangible effort to re-sign. But the Lions and the Bears made a pretty big splash, putting the Vikings and Packers on notice that they’re not going to wait around for prices to drop. Both hit the ground running and made some big moves, while also seeing some division mainstays hit the road to re-start their NFL careers.