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Monday, 11 March 2013

Filling The Holes: NFC North

On to the NFC we go! As teams continue to make moves and clear cap room and the clock keeps ticking down it's time to delve into the NFC North and see what the Packer, Vikings, Bears and Lions need from this off-season.

Green Bay Packers

Notable Free Agents: Cedric Benson (RB), Greg Jennings (WR), Charles Woodson (S)

Holes: Running Back, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Defensive Back

While the Packers have Aaron Rodgers anything is possible, but it's much easier for him if they can keep him upright. Rodgers took a league and career high 51 sacks last season, some of that comes with his mobility and habit of hanging onto the ball rather than throwing it away, but a lot is due to shoddy pass protection and a non-existent running game. That running game can be greatly improved on with a good back.

The defense also needs work. Clay Matthews needs help from the interior defensive line if he's to continue to terrorize Quarterbacks and better coverage if he's to have time to get there. the success of Casey Heyward in the nickel was a great boon, but Sam Shields and Tramon Williams struggled greatly all year and now that Charles Woodson has left town the Packers lack a quality in the box safety as well.

They'll always compete with Rodgers, but if they want to get over the 49ers/Giants hump then they'll need to improve their ball control and defense. With as much cap space as they have they could pursue a quality cornerback, but that's not really the Packers style. It's much more likely that they'll bring in younger free agents who have their peak ahead of them rather than overpaying veterans and then look to the draft for their starters.

Minnesota Vikings

Notable Free Agents: Jerome Simpson (WR), Phil Loadholt (RT), EJ Henderson (LB)

Holes: Wide Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back

The Vikings surprised a lot of people by going to the play-offs last season. But they can't rely on historic performances from Adrian Peterson every year. More receivers are needed besides Percy Harvin, but he's pushing for a trade or more money and is willing to hold out about it. If they end up trading him then the hole becomes a chasm and the chances of Christian Ponder ever developing into a consistent asset is greatly diminished.

The majority of Minneosta's needs lie on their defense, specifically in replacing the 4 linebackers, lead by Henderson, that are leaving as well as finding quality to go alongside Antoine Winfield and the impressive Harrison Smith. Picking at 23 will leave the Vikings in a position to take whoever falls to them. Perhaps that's an Alex Ogletree at linebacker or Xavier Rhodes, the cornerback from Florida State.

The Vikings defense ranked 24th against the pass on Football Outsiders in 2012, which isn't going to get them too far against 3 divisional rivals who can get very pass happy, so someone like Rhodes ought to be the priority, but don't be too surprised if they end up taking a receiver like Cal's Keenan Allen.

Chicago Bears

Notable Free Agents: Lance Louis (RG), Israel Idonije (DE), Brian Urlacher (LB)

Franchise Tag: Henry Melton (DT)

Holes: Offensive Line, Tight End, Linebacker

Once again the Bears are trying to fix an offensive line so bad they couldn't block a pee wee team. That challenge isn't aided by Lance Louis, arguably their best player on the line, hitting free agency or that they managed to pick the only Wisconsin bust in years in Gabe Carimi. If the Bears can clear some cap space by coming to a long-term deal with Melton then they should be able to go after one of the top level tackles on the market. Picking at 20 this year, the Bears will be hoping that one of the premiere interior linemen, much in the way that David DeCastro fell into the Steelers lap last year.

Elsewhere, replacing Brian Urlacher is a monumental task that won't be easily done. There's still a chance that he might return to Soldier Field, but he'll be 35 by the time the season starts and has been slowed by a slew of injuries. There are options out there, but none that can play like Urlacher did.

The next place to go would be undoing the terrible decision to trade Greg Olsen. The Bears are currently stuck with Kellen "stone hands" Davis as their best tight end, which is no option at all. Bringing in another pass catcher besides Brandon Marshall is greatly needed, even if Jay Cutler might just ignore him.

Detroit Lions

Notable Free Agents: Gosder Cherilus (RT), Stephen Peterman (RG), Cliff Avril (DE), Justin Durant (LB), Chris Houston (CB), Louis Delmas (S)

Holes: Offensive Line, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Defensive End, Defensive Back

Thanks to being crap at the wrong time (ie before the rookie wage scale came in) the Lions are locked into 3 massive contracts with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. Their cap space is very tight despite the raft of players that have come off their books into free agency. They're losing 2 players from their offensive line who have missed just 1 game in the last 2 years between them. In Cliff Avril they will see their best pass rusher leave town and Louis Delmas was their only quality (or even good) defensive back. While the Lions have tabled offers to Delmas and Houston both are expected to test the open market while Avril is already firmly gone.

Replacing all of these is an enormous task. They do have last year's 1st round pick Riley Reiff to come in and play right tackle, but they do need to replace 35 year old left tackle Jeff Backus very soon as well. In a perfect world Dee Milliner would fall to the Lions at 5th overall to help patch up their defensive backfield, but if not they could also look at Eric Fisher and Chance Warmack to patch up their O-Line or a pass rusher like Bjoern Werner.

With such a small amount of cap space the Lions are going to have to go bargain hunting to fill the rest of the spots though. Giving contracts to those coming off injury would be a good idea. Someone like Brent Grimes is highly talented, but with a lot of good corners on the market and coming off an achilles injury his price could be fairly low.

The Lions need to strike gold in the lower rounds of the draft if they are to get back to the play-offs, particularly in finding a viable WR2 to play next to Calvin Johnson and a reliable running back.

- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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