As free agency enters its second full week, the question being asked around the NFC North is "what's going on?" While other teams are loading up on players, both of star quality and those who can merely provide depth, only the Detroit Lions have made any moves to really improve their team in free agency's first 10 days.
All four teams in the division have money to spend under the salary cap, but the inactivity throughout the division has been a real head-scratcher. With no team in the division having a clear-cut advantage over the other three, to date there has been no splash made by anybody except the 0-16 Lions. Here is what has been done so far since the shopping spree (or lack of it) began a week ago Friday.
MINNESOTA – The Vikings have added just one outside player, trading a fourth-round pick in next month's draft to the Houston Texans for Sage Rosenfels. The only other signings have been in-house – re-upping tight end Jim Kleinsasser and backup linebacker/special teamer Heath Farwell. In the meantime, the team has lost Matt Birk, shown no interest in bringing back Darren Sharper and released RB Maurice Hicks and LB Vinny Ciurciu. That has been the extent of their free agent activity.
CHICAGO – The Bears had the 30th-ranked pass defense this year, but the only action on the defensive side has been to release safety Mike Brown and announce that CB Charles Tillman had shoulder surgery and will miss a good portion of the team's spring workout program. On the offensive side of the ball, the team released Marty Booker – its only proven veteran wide receiver – and lost right tackle John Tait to retirement. The only signings have been Frank Omiyale, a backup tackle for the Panthers who was mired on the depth chart behind starters Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah, and re-signing backup running back Kevin Jones to a two-year deal. The team has made no effort to bring in a quarterback to challenge Kyle Orton and, as it stands now, the only other QB under contract is Caleb Hanie – not a serious challenger.
GREEN BAY – The Packers have made a total of one free agent move to this point, picking up safety Anthony Smith – who was listed as the fourth cornerback on the Steelers' roster. Other than that, the Packers have done nothing. Their only free-agent loss to date has been defensive lineman Colin Cole. While on the surface that might not appear to be a bad thing for the Packers' state of inactivity, the larger problem is that Green Bay is planning to move to a 3-4 defense, which will require a significant change in personnel in the front seven to acquire players that are better suited for the new scheme. As of today, they have acquired none – even though the Ravens 3-4 defense has been picked clean by other teams during the free-agent period.
DETROIT – Who would have thought the Lions would be the team making all the moves in free agency? The spending part isn't surprising. The finding so many players willing to come on board with the worst team in the league is about as surprising as Terrell Owens turning down other teams (if he really had any other interest) to go to Buffalo. The Lions have set the stage to select Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft by trading Jon Kitna and making no effort to re-sign Dan Orlovsky (who signed with the Texans after the Rosenfels trade went down). However, the Lions have made the biggest impact in free agency elsewhere. The team signed Seattle RB Maurice Morris to a three-year, $7 million contract as backup insurance to Kevin Smith. They signed WR Bryant Johnson of the 49ers to a three-year, $9 million deal to be the No. 2 guy opposite Calvin Johnson. They released veteran guard Edwin Mulitalo, but backed that up by re-signing guards Stephen Peterman and Damion Cook and signing Tennessee backup offensive lineman Daniel Loper.
On the defensive side, the Lions signed defensive tackle Grady Jackson of Atlanta to a three-year, $8 million deal and have gone all out to improve the secondary – trading for Dallas CB Anthony Henry, signing Buccaneers CB Phillip Buchanon to a three-year, $8.5 million deal and signing Tennessee backup CB Eric King to a two-year deal. The only loss on the defense thus far has been the release of former Viking Dwight Smith, which many believe is addition by subtraction.
Although some Vikings fans have been frustrated by the lack aggressiveness compared to previous free-agent periods, that same angst in shared by fans of the Packers and Bears as well. None of the three teams has used free agency to improve its standing within the NFC North. The only team that has is the one that couldn't win a game last year. With the improvements Detroit has made, their stock is rising – even if coming from a Ground Zero sort of place. The other three teams have stood pat or taken a step backward in free agency, which may go a long way to leveling the playing field in the NFC North.
Most of NFC North relatively idle
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