As the Bears embark on their first NFC North title defense since 2011, their division rivals are on the offensive.
The Green Bay Packers committed $57 million guaranteed on four new starters — DE Za’Darius Smith, EDGE Preston Smith, S Adrian Amos and OG Billy Turner — before the free-agent bell sounded.
The Minnesota Vikings, like the Bears navigating a very tight salary cap, re-signed Pro Bowl LB Anthony Barr but made only a couple notable additions, veteran OG Josh Kline and DT Shamar Stephen.
The Detroit Lions, apparently hoping the “Patriot Way” can be purchased, promised more than $78 million to DE Trey Flowers, CB Justin Coleman and WR Danny Amendola.
Plenty of activity, but few pundits are predicting a changing of the NFC North guard— at least not prior to the draft. So let’s analyze how free agency altered the draft priorities elsewhere in the North and offer a few educated guesses on how the division’s three teams with first-round picks could attack Round 1.
GM Brian Gutekunst spent his first two picks last year on CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, but safety has received minimal attention beside Amos. With a golden opportunity to add a rare two-way TE prospect who can double as a slot solution, Jimmy Graham’s return shouldn’t dissuade them. Although they’ll plug and play Turner, protecting Rodgers is paramount and it’s RT Brian Bulaga’s contract year. The Packers have two first-rounders (Nos. 12 and 30) and four picks in the top 75, and after expertly maneuvering Round 1 and still landing Alexander, more movement won’t surprise — especially with needs that coincide with the draft’s best depth.
Eric Ebron’s Pro Bowl campaign in Indy coming on the heels of his outright release in Detroit magnifies the pressure on GM Bob Quinn to fix the TE position, perhaps with the eighth overall pick. Detroit could also use a physical between-the-numbers playmaker at wideout, where Kenny Golladay looks like a star but Marvin Jones and Amendola are nearly maxed out. The Lions landed arguably free agency’s best EDGE rusher in Flowers, so we’ll lean slightly to corner, where it remains to be seen whether Coleman can live outside. Few teams have been included in more trade-down rumblings than Detroit.
After failing to maximize their Kirk Cousins investment in Year 1 behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, the Vikings, at No. 18 overall, seek multiple starters: Ideally a left tackle who can kick Riley Reiff inside or to right tackle and a guard to pair with Kline. Minnesota’s DB depth was already compromised with 2018 first-round CB Mike Hughes coming off ACL surgery when promising UDFA Holton Hill was slapped with a four-game PED suspension. Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander enter contract years, and Minnesota declined starting SS Andrew Sendejo’s option.