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NFC North Free Agency Preview

NFL Free Agency Preview

NFL Free Agency PreviewThe following is a 2019 NFL Free Agency breakdown written by Anthony Cervino. Throughout this NFL Free Agency preview, Anthony tries to identify team needs from each and every NFL franchise. He also takes a stab at trying to accurately predict logical landing spots for impending free agents and connect the dots for some surprising moves that we may not see coming.

NFC North Free Agency Preview

Minnesota Vikings

Salary Cap Space: $6,940,015

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • RB Ameer Abdullah (25)
  • LB Anthony Barr (27)
  • G Nick Easton (26)
  • S George Iloka (29)
  • DT Tom Johnson (34)
  •  RB Latavius Murray (29)
  • C Brett Jones (27)
  • QB Trevor Siemian (27)
  • WR Aldrick Robinson (30)
  • K Dan Bailey (31)
  • DT Sheldon Richardson (28)
  • FB C.J. Ham (26) — re-signed to a one-year deal
  • S Anthony Harris (27) — RFA
  • OT Rashod Hill (27) — RFA
Team Needs:

Wide Receiver — While the Vikings are set with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, there is a significant lack of quality depth behind them. Not only did they miss on former first-round bust Laquon Treadwell, but they are also going to lose Aldrick Robinson in free agency. While tending to the need in the draft is always an option, the Vikings may opt for the quick fix with a veteran addition in free agency. Since the Vikings hired former Broncos HC Gary Kubiak as their offensive advisor, a tenured vet on the back end of his career like Demaryius Thomas could make a lot of sense in a reduced role behind the starters, especially if he could be had at a value rate due to his age, ineffective and injury-plagued 2018 campaign and the fact that he’s already had a few off the field issues this offseason. Other Broncos defects like Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler, who both played under Kubiak in Denver as well, are also free agents, but I think the Vikings would just be spinning their wheels if they signed one of them.

Offensive Line — Part of the reason why Minnesota’s offense couldn’t get out of their own way last season is because of their ineffective play across their offensive line, a group that has given the Vikings nothing but problems for years now. In fact, while they only allowed Kirk Cousins to be sacked 40 times last season, which was the 17th most in the NFL, Pro Football Focus ranked their front five as the fourth worst in the league. It could have been a lot worse. With one of the worst interior O-lines in football last season — free agent LG Tom Compton, RG Mike Remmers and C Pat Elflein surrendered a combined 18 sacks in 2018 — the Vikings could very well blow up most of the unit for 2019. But with very little cap space to play with, they might have to suck it up and hope they hit in the draft. With the rumors suggesting that big money LT Riley Reiff could be moved into the interior, the Vikings could be in the market for a new left tackle, a position they can target with the 18th overall pick in April’s draft.

Defensive Line — Since DT Tom Johnson and DT Sheldon Richardson are impending free agents, not to mention the fact that DE Everson Griffen could be released, the Vikings must make sure that the first level of their fourth-ranked defense is refueled and ready to go for a strong 2019 run. Sprinkle in the fact that the Vikings are also poised to lose OLB Anthony Barr in free agency and the needs across Minnesota’s front seven are magnified. With cap space clearly an issue, the Vikings are another one of those teams that must hope that they draft well, hit on their picks and find value on the open market. Veterans on the wrong side of 30 that include Bruce Irvin, Haloti Ngata, and Andre Branch could also work if the Vikings can’t find a way to expand their cap space. Irvin, Ngata and Branch all have experience in a 4-3 base system, similar to what the Vikings run under George Edwards.

Notable Additions:
  • P Matt Wile — re-signed to a one-year deal

Green Bay Packers

Salary Cap Space: $35,266,760

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • WR Randall Cobb (28)
  • OLB Clay Matthews (33)
  • LB Jake Ryan (27)
  • CB Bashaud Breeland (27)
  • RG Byron Bell (30)
  • LB Antonio Morrison (24) — waived
  • TE Lance Kendricks (31)
  • CB Davon House (29)
  • DT Muhammad Wilkerson (29)
  • WR Geronimo Allison (25)
  • G Justin McCray (26) — re-signed to a one-year deal
  •  S Kentrell Brice (25)
  •  S Ibraheim Campbell (26)
Team Needs:

Randall CobbWide Receiver — Although the Packers selected three wideouts in last year’s draft –– Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown — only Valdes-Scantling flashed during their rookie campaigns. And while the Packers are set at the WR1 spot with Davante Adams, the fact that Randall Cobb is on his way out the door creates a hole for a reliable secondary option at receiver. Should the Raiders decide to move on from Jordy Nelson, I’d love to see him finish out his career in Green Bay. Pairing him back up with Aaron Rodgers would give the elite signal caller his top red zone threat back. However, since that is likely a pipe dream, veteran free agent options that include Dez Bryant and Michael Crabtree could fill that need as well. If the Packers want to add a slot receiver without spending up for Golden Tate, lower cost players like Jamison Crowder and Cole Beasley would also fit the bill.

Linebacker — With OLB Clay Matthews and ILB Jake Ryan hitting the open market, the Packers have needs both inside and outside linebacker. Moreover, even if the Packers retain Matthews, he is entering his age-33 season and it could be time to search for his successor anyway. And let’s not forget the fact that both Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez are going to be free agents in 2020. Needless to say, the Packers will be addressing the linebacker position and I expect them to do so in both free agency and the draft. If the Ravens indeed let Terrell Suggs walk in free agency, the 16-year veteran could be a short-term stopgap option for the Packers at outside linebacker. Suggs played under DC Mike Pettine when they were together earlier his career with the Ravens from 2005-2008. But if the Packers want to spend up in free agency, the recently released Jamie Collins could make a lot of sense too. While Collins played in a base 4-3 system in recent years, he is one of the top OLBs in the NFL and could likely make a seamless transition.

Offensive Line — Although PFF ranked Green Bay’s front five as the seventh best in the business, they still managed to surrender the third-most sacks (53). And while LT David Bakhtiari and RT Bryan Bulaga are amongst two of the top tackles in the NFL, their interior offensive line struggled mightily. Since Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger and has been banged up in the past couple of years, it would be in Green Bay’s best interest to make significant upgrades at guard. Packers HC Matt LaFleur was the Rams’ offensive coordinator back in 2017 and knows Rodger Saffold well. My top available free agent guard this offseason who will be highly coveted, it wouldn’t shock me at all of they heavily pursue Saffold when the free agent signing period begins on March 13. Saffold’s addition would solidify a front five and could make them a top-five unit in the league.


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Chicago Bears

Salary Cap Space: $7,320,409

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • S Adrian Amos (25)
  • K Cody Parkey (27) – released
  • CB Bryce Callahan (27)
  • LB Sam Acho (31) — released
  • C Eric Kush (29)
  • OLB Aaron Lynch (26)
  • OT Bobby Massie (29) — re-signed (4-year, $32M deal)
  • RB Benny Cunningham (28)
  • WR Josh Bellamy (29)
  • WR Kevin White (26)
  • TE Dion Sims (28) — released
  • TE Ben Braunecker (25) — RFA
Team Needs:

Secondary — Since Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos are free agents, the Bears could lose two of their best back end defenses. Not only is Callahan one of the up and coming slot corners, but Amos has been terrific in his own right at safety. With two key players seemingly on their way out, the Bears will have to find a way to replace them. However, with minimal cap space, the Bears will have to maximize every dollar when spending on the open market. What could work to their advantage is the fact that the safety market is beginning to get flooded with top-end talent which could ultimately drive the position’s asking price down. Longtime NFL slot corner Orlando Scandrick could make for a solid stopgap option while the Bears develop one in the draft. Meanwhile, if the Bears brought in a player like 31-year-old journeyman safety Mike Mitchell as a one-year bandaid, his experience could help soften the blow of Amos’ impending loss.

Running Back — With Jordan Howard reportedly on the trading block ever since the Bears hired Matt Nagy, it is no secret that they could use an upgrade at running back to pair with an emerging Tarik Cohen. However, even if the Bears end up retaining Howard, there will be a need for depth at the position with Benny Cunningham headed to free agency. While whether or not the Bears can find a suitor for Howard is neither here nor there, I’d love to see Spencer Ware migrate over to the NFC and reunite with Nagy from their time together in Kansas City. Since Ware is an injury risk and hasn’t exactly looked the part in over two seasons, he could likely be had at a value, which is exactly what the Bears are looking for. And in the event that the Bears indeed part ways with Howard, Ware has shown that he can handle an expanded workload in the past. What’s more, Ware could a better fit for what Nagy is looking for in an early down back as he has showcased superior pass-catching skills compared to Howard throughout his career.

Wide Receiver — While Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller held down the wide receiver position in 2018, the Bears still only managed to finish the campaign ranked 21st in passing yards (3,564), which is going to cut it should their defense regress and they find themselves playing from behind more often. And since Robinson was brought in to be the WR1 and Miller appears to be emerging as a legit weapon in the slot, the one spot that can use an upgrade is currently held by Gabriel. Although Gabriel was off to a fine start, he only managed to find the end zone two times in 2018 with both scores coming in a Week 4 blowout win over Tampa Bay. And while he did finish the year with a 67/688/2 stat line on 93 targets, the Bears could use an uptick in scoring production from their complementary wideout. With impending free agent disappointments Kevin White and Josh Bellamy unlikely to return, look for the Bears to bring in wideouts to develop via the NFL Draft. Potential lower-level acquisitions like Chris Conley, who was with Nagy with the Chiefs or a Terrance Williams could also work, but they’d only be bodies behind the starters and wouldn’t really bring much sizzle to the offense.

Detriot Lions

Salary Cap Space: $31,689,735

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • RB LeGarrette Blount (32)
  • CB Deshawn Shead (29)
  • WR Bruce Ellington (27)
  • LT T.J. Lang (31) — released
  • DE Ezekiel Ansah (29)
  • DT Ricky Jean-Francois (32)
  • TE Levine Toilolo (27)
  •  RB Zach Zenner (27)
  • TE Luke Willson (29)
  • DE Romeo Okwara (23) — re-signed to a two-year deal
  • DT Kerry Hyder (27) — RFA
Team Needs:

Matthew Stafford FantasyPass Catcher — I don’t know what the hell happened with Matthew Stafford and the Detriot offense last season, but it never seemed to get going before or after the team traded Golden Tate to the Eagles. And while the Lions’ offense was at least respectable prior to the Tate trade, their deficiencies were magnified after it. However, Tate’s loss wasn’t the only issue. Injuries to Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson didn’t help their cause and the lack of a playmaking presence at tight end also helped derail the offense. Since the Lions clearly lack depth, they must add weapons to Stafford’s arsenal if he is going to succeed in new OC Darrell Bevell’s system. Although many have balked at the notion, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lions brought Golden Tate back to Detriot. While he is reportedly commanding $10-to-$14 million per year on his next deal, there is a chance he returns to Detroit if he doesn’t get what he is looking for on the open market. And it actually makes sense if you consider the fact that Bevell was the Seahawks OC for seven seasons including in the 2011 campaign in which the Seahawks drafted Tate out of college. Another option that could help inject some life into the Lions’ offense is finally bringing in a dependable pass-catching tight end. While they moved on from Eric Ebron last season and brought in Luke Wilson, the latter was an epic fail. And since the Buccaneers could be looking to clear up some cap room, they could shop a player like Cameron Brate. A legit red zone threat, Brate could flourish in the Detriot TE1 spot as he’d no longer be cast in O.J. Howard’s shadow.

Pass Rusher — With all of the reports suggesting that Ziggy Ansah is on his way out of Detriot — shocking I know — his absence would create a need for a terrorizing outside pass-rushing presence in Matt Patricia’s system that accumulated 43 sacks in 2018, good for the 11th most in the NFL. Given his connection with the New England Patriots, there is a good chance we see the Lions heavily pursue players that include OLB Jamie Collins, DE Trey Flowers, and DL Danny Shelton and DL Malcolm Brown on the open market. Reuniting Patricia with some of his former players could put the Lions’ front seven over the top in 2019.
Secondary — While the Lions could certainly use a pass- rusher to replace Ansah, they also have some needs in their secondary. And although Darius Slay is a legit player in a secondary that was a top-10 unit last season, yielding the eighth-fewest yards passing (3,599), the Lions could use an upgrade to provide more stability around Slay. Perhaps the obvious answer to the Lions’ need is once again trying to pick-pocket Matt Patricia’s former team, the Patriots. New England has three defensive backs headed into free agency and I expect at least one of them to be donning Lions blue in 2019. While Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty are unrestricted free agents, Jonathan Jones is restricted and would cost Lions draft compensation if they want to acquire the youngest player of the bunch.
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