The 2018 NFC North race was supposed to be a two-team duel between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Instead, the Chicago Bears ran away with the division crown, thanks to a 12-4 record. NFL free agency will provide the rest of the NFC North with a chance to add to their squads, in hopes of supplanting Matt Nagy’s bunch this season.
Free Agents: The Chicago Bears are in terrific shape to make another postseason run, considering their biggest potential free agents are TE Dion Sims and WR Kevin White. White was supposed to be a number one when he was picked seventh overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. But a slew of injuries have essentially rendered him useless in the Bears offense. He’s likely to test the open market after putting up only 25 receptions and no TDs in his short career. It would make sense for the team to bring back LB Aaron Lynch on a short-term deal.
Possible Targets: With no first or second-round pick in April’s upcoming draft, the Bears need to address team needs via free agency. Luckily, this squad does not have a ton of needs. If they want to add a receiving option for QB Mitchell Trubisky, a TE like Tyler Eifert or Jesse James could be approached. K Cody Parkey will not be back with the Bears, so Chicago will look elsewhere for kicking options. And, unfortunately, Bears legend Robbie Gould won’t be returning to the Windy City.
Free Agents: Minnesota’s last offseason gamble of $84 million guaranteed to Kirk Cousins has not panned out… yet. But there has to be a bigger sense of urgency during year two of the three-year deal. Ideally, Minnesota will want all three of their top free agents back, including Sheldon Richardson, Latavius Murray and Anthony Barr. Both Richardson and Murray are expendable though, when considering possible price tag and age, respectively. Murray has been a great plug-in starter when Dalvin Cook has dealt with injuries. The backup RB has rushed for 1,420 yards and 14 TDs in the past two seasons with the Vikes.
Possible Targets: Assuming Richardson leaves, Mike Zimmer will need to find an adequate replacement in his 4-3 defense. There are two big name DTs that are set to hit the market, and both have tons of experience. The first is Ndamukong Suh, who could be looking for another big payday. The other is Haloti Ngata, who is nearing the end of the road, but could still prove valuable on a short-term deal with the team.
Green Bay Packers
Free Agents: The Packers have a paired of long tenured players preparing to hit the open market. The first is wideout Randall Cobb, who could bid farewell to Green Bay after catching 470 passes and finding the end zone 41 times. On the defensive side, LB Clay Matthews may have to find another NFL home. While many around the league may see Matthews as a tad overrated, he is definitely beloved by Packer fans. At 32 years old, his best days are behind him, but another productive season would actually put him inside the top-50 all-time sack list. His presence on and off the field will be felt if he is sent packing.
Possible Targets: Green Bay has been consistently linked to disgruntled Steelers WR Antonio Brown. Possibly shipping away a high draft pick for a big name wideout does not seem like a very Green Bay-thing to do, but management needs to give Aaron Rodgers as many weapons as possible before his time is done. If they miss out on Brown, it’s possible Green Bay could give two wideouts a chance to return to the NFC North: Golden Tate and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Free Agents: Detroit has a big decision to make this offseason regarding DE Ziggy Ansah. They could choose to re-sign the player or let him play out this season on the franchise tag. On the plus side, he has been a productive player for a very long time, but he’s also 29 years old with a huge cap hit of over $17 million (2018’s cap hit). Both T.J. Jones and LeGarrette Blount had decent seasons, and the team will likely move on from Glover Quin.
Possible Targets: If Ansah and management can’t come to terms on a long-term deal, the Lions could look elsewhere for help with their pass rush. A name to look out for here is Trey Flowers, the New England Patriot who had a breakout campaign last year. He was a force coming off the edge, recording a career-high 7.5 sacks. Plus, Flowers is also familiar with the Lions’ coaching staff, having played under Matt Patricia’s guidance for three seasons.
Check back for more division previews as free agency approaches!