New faces in the North

While the Vikings didn't make any big free-agent moves (yet), the Bears and Lions will have a new looks to their rosters. The question is: Will be if the changes there will be enough to challenge Minnesota?

In 2008, the Vikings made the biggest offseason splash in the NFC North, trading for Jared Allen and signing wide receiver Bernard Berrian and safety Madieu Williams to, within the span of a little over a month, address three of their most pressing need areas. As Vikings fans await whether or not Brett Favre will join the team, this offseason has been ominously quiet.

To date, the only significant addition has been Sage Rosenfels, who would be pushed back into a reserve capacity if Favre does sign with the Vikings. At the same time, the team lost former Pro Bowlers in center Matt Birk and safety Darren Sharper. As it currently stands, it would seem the Vikings have taken a step back – losing a pair of veteran leaders without replacing them with veteran talent.

So how does that compare with the rest of the division? While the Vikings have remained quiet in terms of player acquisition, the other teams in the NFC North have been considerably more active. A look around the division shows that there have been plenty of moves made and, unlike the Vikings, there will be a lot of new faces in new spots around the NFC North.

Chicago BearsThere's a lot of turnover, especially at quarterback, where the Bears gambled on greatness in a trade with Denver to acquire Jay Cutler. Change is prevalent on the outgoing side of the ledger as well. QBs Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman are gone, as are offensive tackles John St. Clair and John Tait, WR Marty Booker and safety Mike Brown. They have been replaced by future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace and G/T Frank Omiyale, who are likely going to line up next to each other on the left side of the revamped Bears O-line. The changes have been overshadowed by the Cutler trade, but the Bears will have a very different offense this time around than what their fans have been used to recently – and that goes beyond having a new franchise QB.

Green Bay Packers – Like the Vikings, the Packers were extremely inactive during free agency. Their only veteran signings in the offseason were safety Anthony Smith and offensive lineman Duke Preston. Barring injury, neither of them likely will be a starter. On the loss side of the balance sheet, the only full-time starter gone is injured tackle Mark Tauscher. The Packers probably will head into 2009 with an almost identical roster to the 2008 squad that lost 10 games. Clearly, the Packers believe their fall in 2008 was a fluke because, despite converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, very little in the way of change was made on the defensive side of the ball.

Detroit Lions – Few teams have undergone as much change in the offseason as the 0-16 Lions. The team has added a ton of players, including RB Maurice Morris, WRs Dennis Northcutt, Bryant Johnson and Ronald Curry on the offensive side of the ball and DL Grady Jackson, LB Julian Peterson and CBs Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry on the defensive side of the ball. The only big defensive loss was Cory Redding, who was traded to Seattle, and almost all of the offensive changeover was expected. The Lions are going to be a very different team in 2009.

The question being asked by football fans, especially those of the Vikings, is whether the lack of a big splash in free agency will hurt them. In 2008, both the Bears and Packers essentially stood pat, while the Vikings made a bunch of moves and added difference-makers at a lot of different positions. The Packers fell flat, the Bears were a .500 team most of the season and the Vikings won the division title. Will their inactivity come back to haunt them? Only if Cutler lives up to the growing hype being heaped his way by the Bears media and their fans. Then again, a Favre signing would likely transform the Vikings offseason grade from incomplete to proof that the team is making a legitimate Super Bowl run this season.


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