Posted February 11, 2014

Free Agency Primer: NFC North

Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, NFC North, NFL Free Agency Primer
Charles Tillman, Brandon Pettigrew, B.J. Raji, and Jared Allen could all be on the move in 2014. (Getty Images (4))

Charles Tillman, Brandon Pettigrew, B.J. Raji, and Jared Allen could all be on the move in 2014. (Getty Images. Tillman: George Gojkovich/Pettigrew: David Banks/Raji: Mark Cunningham/Allen: Wesley Hitt)

Perhaps no NFL division managed to be more competitive without actually impressing anyone than the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers were the only team to post a winning record, and they did so at 8-7-1. The Chicago Bears saw injuries affect their promise, and the Detroit Lions imploded after a 6-3 start. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings paid for years of waning drafts and free agency classes with a bottom-of-the-barrel, 5-10-1 season.

There could be significant changes in the offing for every team here before Week 1 of 2014 arrives. Here’s a look at what free agency may hold for the NFC North:

Chicago Bears

• Key free agents: QB Josh McCown, WR/KR Devin Hester, OT Eben Britton, C Roberto Garza, DE Corey Wootton, DT Henry Melton, CB Zack Bowman, CB Charles Tillman, S Major Wright

• Players Chicago needs back: McCown, Hester, Garza, Britton

McCown did a wonderful job while replacing an injured Jay Cutler, keeping the Bears right in the race until the end. The veteran is not a spectacular player, but he has an implicit understanding of head coach Marc Trestman’s offense. Hester is still an explosive return man and intriguing ‘tweener player under the right contractual circumstances. Garza is the kind of underpowered but savvy veteran every offensive line needs — especially one like Chicago’s, which is still very much under construction, and Britton has potential.

• Players Chicago should let walk: Tillman, Wootton, Melton, Bowman, Wright

Chicago’s defense has a couple of problems: The old players are getting older, and the new kids aren’t always moving up as quickly as the franchise needs. Losing Tillman will be a hit from a leadership perspective, but the clock is ticking on his great career, and there seems to be a waiting and willing home in Tampa Bay with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. Emery put Melton on notice after his arrest for assault and public intoxication and implied that more was needed on the field. Wootton played a lot of snaps in 2013, but not terribly effectively. Bowman and Wright are role-players who can be upgraded.

• Outlook: The Bears come into the 2014 league year at a bit over $120 million in cap, and they’ve got over $40 million of that invested in two players — quarterback Jay Cutler ($22,500,000) and defensive end Julius Peppers ($18,183,333). For general manager Phil Emery to make the moves he needs to make to vault the Bears into the league’s upper echelon, one of those numbers will have to go, and it won’t be Cutler’s. Emery has said that Peppers had an “8-8 season,” and injuries along Chicago’s line made this defense atypically leaky in 2013.

Detroit Lions

• Key free agents: QB Shaun Hill, TE Brandon Pettigrew, DE Israel Idonije, DE Willie Young, CB Rashean Mathis, LB Rocky McIntosh, K David Akers

• Players Detroit needs back: Hill, Idonije, Young, Mathis

Matthew Stafford took all but two snaps for the Lions last season, and Hill is the perfect emergency quarterback in this situation — reliable and low-cost. However, it will be interesting to see if new head coach Jim Caldwell decides to take a different tack at this position. Idonije is a veteran rotational player with positional versatility. Young has interesting talent, but he — like a lot of Lions defenders — needs to channel his aggression. He was actually benched by ex-head coach Jim Schwartz last season after a personal foul. Mathis is that rare entity — a Lions cornerback who plays a lot of snaps and doesn’t get torched all the time. Detroit’s secondary is a weak spot that must be addressed, and retaining Mathis would help a lot.

• Players Detroit should let walk: Pettigrew, McIntosh, Akers

Pettigrew is known as an exceptional blocker, but he’s been one of the least productive tight ends in the league on a per-catch basis over the last few years. If the Lions are to retain him, they’d best be careful on the money side. McIntosh is pretty replaceable, and Akers was given far too many votes of confidence in 2013.

• Outlook: The Lions have 22,412,500 reasons to extend defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh even though he still has two years left on his current contract. That’s Suh’s 2014 cap number, the highest in the league. Suh is one reason Detroit currently weighs in with a $131,561,629 cap overall, so adjustments will have to be made. Stafford is taking up $15.8 million in space, and Calvin Johnson has a $13 million cap hit in the new league year.

18 comments
Huschlej
Huschlej

If I understand Ponder's remaining contract, it is guaranteed and the full amount counts against this years cap. It is the last year of his rookie deal. If that is true, he is a sunk (and perhaps suck) cost. He costs the same whether he is our starter, our backup or on the street. They not going to cut him, regardless of what fans may want.

Some people are arguing that they should push to bring back Cassel. He would have to come cheap. He is arguably better than Ponder, but that isn't the question. Let's say he cost $4 million, a slight raise over the deal he just rejected. Is he alone better than Ponder plus a $4 million upgrade elsewhere, say at left guard or cornerback? I would vote pass on Cassel in the situation. He isn't that much of an upgrade.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

The Packers have something like 16 players on the move....guys like Kuhn, Finley, and Raji. The Packers will be HEAVY on defense this draft unless Thompson can figure out where the "trigger" is, and pull it during free agency. BUT we all know that won't happen. NOBODY is safe from getting the door as the Packers under achieved this past year. Blame some of that on 2 years and running on average draft years by one Teddy T.

sandbun
sandbun

Charlie Johnson was easily the worst of the Vikes o-line, and is also easily replaceable. In fact they probably already have the guy on the roster in Baca. If they bring him in as a swing backup that's fine, but he's hardly a must sign. It certainly would be nice to resign Gerhart, but solid backup RBs are a dime a dozen. And with AP our backups see less time than most.


On the other hand, Cassel is probably the best of the vet QB options for the Vikes, and should be a priority to resign, something he has indicated he is interested in doing. He's obviously not the long term answer, but they're going to need someone, and Ponder isn't it.

JohnnyNacho
JohnnyNacho

I would like to see if the Bears could extend Peppers for a couple years and spread that money out.  See if he wants to retire in Chicago.  He's still very productive just not at nearly $20 million.  Plus Wooton is a glue guy, need him back b/c he'll play any position along the D-Line and be effective.  Yeah....Hester's contract better be very friendly and incentive laden if he wants to return to the Bears.  If he goes down to Florida he'll be done, too hard for him to lock in and concentrate.  He'll be living in Miami with this boys and drive up to Tampa when needed.  

fabio.fantone
fabio.fantone

Packers should definitely re-sign Raji. They won't find anyone to replace him at DT.

kls6000
kls6000

Way to discredit the Packers' finish after injuries obviously decimated their team this year.  Obviously Rodgers is the first name that comes to mind, but Cobb, Finley, Matthews, Bulaga, Jones were all bigger names that lost significant time.  This guy makes it sound like the Bears were the only team affected by injuries in his opening paragraph. 

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

Suh's cap hit, as mentioned above in the article for 2014 at $22,412,500, is NOT the highest in the league next season like it was stated in this article.


I didn't take the time to look up who will be the highest, but just above Suh's info was info stating that Cutler will make $22,500,000 in 2014.


I do know that what a player makes is not always their cap hit so I looked up Cutler's cap hit in light of his new contract.


His entire $22,500,000 is the cap hit for the Bears in 2014 so that right there mean's Suh's cap hit can't be the highest in the league and I have no idea if others are higher as I didn't take the time to look this up.

ianlinross
ianlinross

@Wisconsin Death Trip  I agree. This past season really exposed the weaknesses on this team. When Rodgers got hurt did the D force turnovers to shorten the field for any of the backup QBs? 

I'd be surprised - nay shocked - if Thompson chooses NOT to deviate from his D & D pattern.

ianlinross
ianlinross

@fabio.fantone  If Jolly is healthy, I think he can be signed for a decent price. I've got the feeling Raji's price will be totally delusional and GB will let him walk. I say this not knowing what's available in free agency or the draft at his position.

ianlinross
ianlinross

@kls6000  It's a rite of fall that's nobody notices anymore. One-quarter of the Packers roster is on IR and the other parts are doubtful, questionable and probable. First place.


Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@kls6000  Ahhh, sniffle, sniffle... He likes his Bears more than my Packers!!! That's not fair!!!

WilliamCross
WilliamCross

Haha! The packers need defending, and dammit! SOMEBODY WILL DEFEND THEM!

brucem
brucem

@kls6000  I also suffered an injury in is opening paragraph.


Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@Sportsfan18  So, you just dropped 4 paragraphs to point out that Suh isn't the biggest cap hit by... $86,500. Who cares?

JohnnyNacho
JohnnyNacho

@Sportsfan18 regardless of Suh's cap I think we both agree he will be in Detroit next year.  Will be interesting however to see if he "buys" in to the new coaches system.  Apparently in years past Suh was constantly making the brass aware of who he really thought was in charge of things.  Over/under on many games before the team suspends him for a game next year?

CraigGregozeski
CraigGregozeski

Haha! Lets see what you Whine about over on your blog. Stay off ours.  Did you win anything this year, With Kaep leaving the pocket early nearly every play, and your two wideout west coast system that takes us all the way back to 1944 and that Pro Bowl laden D that fails in the clutch EVERY year.  I haven't seen a team with more bro bowlers (like 38) underacheive so often since the....1998-2012 Vikings.