NFC North free agency preview: Packers, Lions, Vikings face dilemmas
A snapshot of each team's roster and considerations heading into free agency, which officially begins March 10 at 4 p.m. ET:
Prominent free agents: OLB Lance Briggs, OL Eben Britton, S Chris Conte, C Brian De La Puente, K Jay Feely, S Danny McCray, WR Josh Morgan, FB Montell Owens, DT Stephen Paea, TE Dante Rosario, DE Trevor Scott, ST/LB Darryl Sharpton, CB Charles Tillman, LB D.J. Williams
Issues: A new coaching staff with foreign philosophies, especially on defense, has cast doubt upon the future of several pricey veterans, including DE Jared Allen. Head man John Fox and new GM Ryan Pace also remain mum on the future of embattled QB Jay Cutler. Like Allen, longtime mainstays Briggs and Tillman don't seem to fit coordinator Vic Fangio's defensive style.
Our advice: Though much consternation focuses on polarizing Cutler and the offense, the Bears would be wise to first address a defense that has been as bad as any in the franchise's near century-long existence. Trading WR Brandon Marshall and his salary to the New York Jets should create more options. Pace might be better off pursuing edge rushers like Brian Orakpo or Pernell McPhee and parting with Allen, 33 next season, rather than ask him to play linebacker for the first time in his career. Safety help is also a must, so entering the Devin McCourty market is logical. Fangio can probably use Paea, who's worth keeping. Given the talent that remains on offense (even minus Marshall) and guaranteed money headed Cutler's way, may as well give him the chance to bond with coordinator Adam Gase and QB coach Dowell Loggains.
Prominent free agents: S Isa Abdul-Quddus, RB Reggie Bush (released), FB Jed Collins, TE Kellen Davis, DT Nick Fairley, T Corey Hilliard, CB Rashean Mathis, DT C.J. Mosley, LB Ashlee Palmer, C Dominic Raiola, T Garrett Reynolds, G Rob Sims, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Cassius Vaughn
Issues: Suh, by far the Lions' best defender, is on his way to Miami. Detroit could become perilously thin at defensive tackle and in need of help at cornerback and tailback. Underrated LB DeAndre Levy could use an extension, too. K Matt Prater re-signed for three more years.
Our advice: GM Martin Mayhew didn't have enough cap space to put the franchise tag on Suh and is now forced to face the consequences. Mayhew can and probably should make a strong bid to re-sign Fairley while scouring the market for alternatives next to him. Shane Vereen is the kind of third-down back who isn't costly and could supplant Bush while keeping the load manageable for starter Joique Bell. A veteran interior O-lineman would help, too.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Prominent free agents: T Bryan Bulaga, ST/CB Jarrett Bush, B Matt Flynn, DL Letroy Guion, RB DuJuan Harris, ILB A.J. Hawk (released), CB Davon House, FB John Kuhn, ILB Jamari Lattimore, DL B.J. Raji, CB Tramon Williams
Issues: GM Ted Thompson rarely makes headline-making forays into free agency but does usually keep his core players, hence the agreement he's struck with WR Randall Cobb on the heels of his breakout season. Bulaga is now the priority, but dilemmas also exist at corner and D-line.
Our advice: It's all about supporting MVP Aaron Rodgers. Given Bulaga's ability to man either side of the line, it's wise to keep him as a bodyguard. Raji missed 2014 with a biceps tear but might be a safer bet than Guion, who was arrested for felony possession of drugs and a firearm in February. House will be 26 this season while Williams will be 32, which may guide Thompson's checkbook.
Prominent free agents: OL Joe Berger, LB Jasper Brinkley, G Vladimir Ducasse, FB Jerome Felton, G Charlie Johnson (released), DT Tom Johnson, QB Christian Ponder, DT Corey Wootton
Issues: So much of the Vikings' plans are dependent on RB Adrian Peterson's status with the league and his comfort level with the franchise. That situation aside, GM Rick Spielman can pad his cap space by reducing contracts for aging veterans like WR Greg Jennings and LB Chad Greenway. Ascending S Harrison Smith could be extended before he hits free agency in 2016. The trade of Matt Cassel creates the need for a backup to second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater.
Our advice: This team is quietly on the rise, though its radar signature will increase markedly if Peterson returns. Jennings hasn't brought the desired return on investment but a solid route runner like Jeremy Maclin could be made to order for Bridgewater. Even if the Vikes sign a receiver, they still may need to draft one. Linebacker help should also be prioritized along with blocking depth.
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