NFC North changes around patient Packers
Detroit swapped one Pro Bowl defensive tackle with another.
Chicago traded a Marshall, signed a Royal.
Minnesota – well, the Vikings are still unsure what to do with Adrian Peterson.
It's been a busy month in the NFC North, complete with signature trades and free agency transactions. At least for three teams not named the Green Bay Packers.
General manager Ted Thompson has been productive, re-signing receiver Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. The Packers also remain the same team – if not slightly regressed – as last season. In a division where everyone else seems to be taking steps back, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Sitting on almost $22 million in cap space, Green Bay is the only NFL team that hasn't acquired an outside player this month. The Packers re-signed two of their own players (Cobb and Bulaga) while watching three depart (cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House and running back DuJuan Harris).
In other words, welcome to another spring under the ever-patient Thompson.
Around Green Bay, the NFC North landscape has shifted dramatically. Changes haven't necessarily led to improvements.
Most notably, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is no longer the cornerstone for an ascending Lions team that made the playoffs last season. Suh, a three-time All-Pro, signed a reported six-year, $114 million contract with Miami. The deal, which included $60 million guaranteed, set the market for a star defensive player. It also left Detroit with an impossible void to fill.
Detroit did its best. Minutes before the new league year started last week, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew traded a fourth- and fifth-round pick for Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell was previously offensive coordinator in Baltimore, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was the secondary coach for three seasons with the Ravens before arriving in Detroit. So Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, will have plenty of familiarity with the Lions.
"When you lose a guy as talented as Ndamukong Suh," Mayhew said last week, "to have the ability to replace him with a guy like Haloti Ngata really alleviates a lot of concern about the defensive tackle position. So we've very, very thrilled to have him."
Suh's departure wasn't the only change in Detroit. The Lions also lost fellow Pro Bowl defensive tackle Nick Fairley to the St. Louis Rams and running back Reggie Bush to the San Francisco 49ers. After finishing one game behind the Packers in the NFC North standings last fall, the Lions will look much different when next season begins.
The gap between Detroit and Green Bay may have widened with Suh's departure, but the Lions likely remain the Packers' stiffest challenge potentially blocking a fifth straight division title. While Detroit lost arguably the NFL's best defensive tackle, they replaced Suh with another Pro Bowler.
Not every NFC North opponent was as fortunate.
In Chicago, the Bears traded five-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and a seventh-round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for a fifth-round pick. A few days later, Chicago signed free agent slot receiver Eddie Royal.
Among other notable transactions, the Bears also added safety Antrel Rolle from the New York Giants and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee from Baltimore. Rolle will replace safety Chris Conte, who departed to Tampa Bay. The Bears also lost defensive tackle Stephen Paea to Washington.
Receiver will be the most intriguing position in Chicago, especially with the Bears committed to Jay Cutler as starting quarterback. Royal is productive in the slot, where he lined up on 86 percent of snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com. His 46 slot receptions ranked sixth in the league last season, and his 584 receiving yards from the slot were seventh.
But Royal is a significant drop from Marshall, a game changer who can challenge defenses on the perimeter.
The Bears could use their seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft to select a top-flight receiver. They're not the only NFC North team that may target a pass-catcher early. With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater coming off a successful rookie season, the Minnesota Vikings could also go that route when they use their 11th overall pick.
The Vikings have already started focusing on their receiver position. In a trade with Miami, Minnesota acquired speedy receiver Mike Wallace and a seventh-round pick in exchange for a fifth-round pick. It also cut former Packers receiver Greg Jennings, who had three years and $27 million left on a five-year, $45 million contract he signed with the Vikings two years ago.
"Obviously, they have Teddy," Wallace told the Vikings' team website, "a guy who's going up in the right direction in the football game. So I'm excited to play with him."
Unsettled business remains in Minnesota.
After missing all but one game last season because of a suspension, Peterson, a former MVP tailback, is reportedly "uneasy" about his future with the Vikings. Dallas and Arizona are two teams that have been mentioned as potential trading partners. He could also return to Minnesota.
Whatever the case, the offseason upheaval may be far from over for the Vikings. They are a stark contrast to the Packers, the model of consistency in a division of moving parts.
Staying steady isn't necessarily the best offseason approach, especially when chief NFC competitor Seattle added star tight end Jimmy Graham in a trade. Thompson's patience could be exactly what Green Bay needs to continue its stronghold on the North division.
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood
- Feb. 17 – TE Brandon Bostick, WR Kevin Dorsey released
- Feb. 20 – LB Brad Jones released
- Feb. 25 – LB A.J. Hawk released
- March 5 – LB Josh Francis signed
- March 9 – WR Randall Cobb and QB Scott Tolzien re-signed
- March 11 – RT Bryan Bulaga re-signed
- March 11 – CB Davon House signs with Jaguars
- March 16 – CB Tramon Williams signs with Browns
- Feb. 4 – CB Al Louis-Jean signed two-year extension
- Feb. 25 – CB Demontre Hurst signed two-year extension
- Feb. 27 – TE Zach Miller signed 1-year extension
- March 6 – QB Jimmy Clausen signed 1-year extension
- March 10 – WR Brandon Marshall traded to New York Jets
- March 11 – LB Pernell McPhee signed
- March 11 – S Antrel Rolle signed
- March 11 – WR Eddie Royal signed
- March 16 – G Vladimir Ducasse signed
- March 18 – LS Thomas Gafford re-signed
- Feb. 3 – TE Ifeanyi Momah released
- Feb. 6 – C Darren Keyton signed
- Feb. 25 – RB Reggie Bush released
- Feb. 27 –DE Phillip Hunt signed
- Feb. 27 – LS Don Muhlbach re-signed
- March 2 – DL Darryl Tapp re-signed
- March 2 – QB Dan Orlovsky re-signed
- March 6 – QB Kellen Moore re-signed
- March 6 – K Matt Prater re-signed
- March 10 – LB Josh Bynes re-signed
- March 11 – DT Ndamukong Suh signs with Dolphins
- March 11 – DT Haloti Ngata acquired through trade with Ravens
- March 11 – S Isa Abdul-Quddus re-signed
- March 12 – FB Jed Collins signs with Cowboys
- March 13 – DT Nick Fairley signs with Rams
- March 13 – DT Tyrunn Walker signed
- March 19 – CB Rashean Mathis re-signed
- Feb. 18 – TE Brandon Bostick claimed off waivers from Green Bay
- Feb. 23 – LB Brian Peters signed
- Feb. 27 – G Charlie Johnson released
- March 10 – RB Matt Asiata re-signed
- March 10 – QB Matt Cassel traded to Bills
- March 11 – DT Tom Johnson re-signed
- March 11 – QB Shaun Hill signed
- March 13 – WR Mike Wallace acquired through trade with Dolphins
- March 14 – WR Greg Jennings released
- March 17 – OL Mike Harris signed
- March 19 – RB DuJuan Harris signed