The state of the NFC North is in flux entering 2021. Aaron Rodgers is reportedly a bit unhappy with the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford away for a few picks and Jared Goff, the Chicago Bears also have a quarterback situation to figure out and then the Minnesota Vikings have work to do on defense and along the offensive line. Could we see another surprising move this offseason that impacts the division in a major way?
The Packers have made the NFC Championship Game two years in a row now, but the Bears and Vikings may not be too far behind in the division. What those teams accomplish this offseason could bring them closer to what Matt LaFleur is building in Green Bay. The Lions may be entering a rebuild, but never count out a new head coach that discusses biting kneecaps in his introductory press conference.
All four of these teams have first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, so they will have a chance to bring in at least one player who could make an immediate impact. Below, we will break down what all four NFC North teams need to focus on in free agency and in the 2021 NFL Draft. We will look at position needs, their reported cap space and also give you the prospects who our NFL Draft writers have each team selecting with their first pick.
Needs: QB, OT, WR, DL
Figuring out the quarterback situation is clearly the most important objective for the Bears this offseason. Will they give Mitchell Trubisky a prove-it deal? Will they trade for someone like Carson Wentz or Marcus Mariota? Or will they use their first-round pick on a quarterback -- maybe even trade up for a top prospect like they have done before. Apart from quarterback, the Bears would be smart to attempt to upgrade at the offensive tackle spots and at wide receiver. Some of the top tackles in free agency are Trent Williams, Russell Okung, Alejandro Villanueva and Ty Nsekhe, but upgrading through the draft is probably the smart play here. On paper, this wide receiving corps looks pretty good with Anthony Miller and then the new speedster in Darnell Mooney, but Allen Robinson's situation is a worrisome one. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports that the Bears and Robinson have not spoken about a long-term contract extension since September, and a franchise tag could potentially be coming. If Chicago does let Robinson go, finding a new No. 1 becomes a big priority. But even if they do retain Robinson, they could stand to add another prospective home-run hitter in the draft that could help take this receiving corps to the next level for whoever is playing quarterback.
The Bears have some work to do along the defensive line, as Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins, Daniel McCullers, Brent Urban and Mario Edwards are looking for new deals. It's hard to imagine all of them will get re-signed, so the Bears will have some holes to fill there. You also have to wonder if Akiem Hicks will end up being a cap casualty.
Draft position: No. 20 overall. CBS NFL Draft writers Ryan Wilson, Chris Trapasso and Josh Edwards have the Bears using the No. 20 overall pick on the offensive line. Wilson has the Bears selecting the athletic Christian Darrisaw out of Virginia Tech, who could end up moving inside to guard, and Trapasso has Chicago selecting Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC. Edwards tabs former Michigan offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield as someone who could immediately play tackle at the next level.
Needs: WR, LB, DL, CB
When it comes to the Lions, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Mohamed Sanu and Danny Amendola are all looking for new contracts, so it's possible Detroit could be looking for a new No. 1 wideout this offseason. The front office should prioritize keeping Jones or Golladay, but could they both be looking for a change of scenery? Luring a top free agent like JuJu Smith-Schuster or Curtis Samuel to replace them seems unlikely with the Lions' lack of cap space and their current rebuilding status, so the draft may be the perfect place to snag a new playmaker.
The Lions could stand to upgrade virtually everywhere on the defensive side of the ball. This unit ranked dead last with 419.8 yards of offense allowed per game and also in points allowed per game with 32.4. The pass rushers struggled to get to the quarterback, as the Lions were tied for 26th in the NFL with just 24 sacks, and the linebackers were slow and could not help in pass coverage. As for the corners, don't give up on Jeff Okudah just yet, but the Lions do need to add at the position.
Draft position: No. 7 overall. CBS NFL Draft writers Chris Trapasso and Josh Edwards have the Lions taking dynamic playmakers with their top pick, as Trapasso has Detroit selecting former Alabama wideout and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith at No. 7 overall, while Edwards has Detroit taking LSU's Ja'Marr Chase. As for CBS NFL Draft writer Ryan Wilson, he has the Lions going defense and taking former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $6,268,628 (No. 17 in the NFL)
Green Bay Packers
Needs: CB, WR, OL, LB
The Packers want to get over the hump and get back to the Super Bowl -- and they want this offseason to be a big one. I have a feeling the Packers are going to be aggressive, but their cap situation could make that difficult. That means we have to look at potential cap casualties, such as pass-rusher Preston Smith or linebacker Christian Kirksey. Rashan Gary should get a chance to replace Smith, but the Packers would need to look at free agency or in the draft to get a new inside linebacker. Sticking with the defense, the Packers need to upgrade at cornerback. Kevin King is a free agent and after his performance in the NFC Championship Game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who knows if he will be back. Maybe someone like Richard Sherman would be interested in heading to Green Bay.
As for the offense, Rodgers wants a receiver, and this is the time to go out and get one. The Packers were reportedly interested in Will Fuller previously, and now have a chance at him in free agency. The offensive line also needs a look. All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari tore his ACL in late December, so he's going to miss some time. Additionally, who knows what the future holds for center Corey Linsley? He becomes a free agent after an incredible season, and could potentially be playing for a new team in 2021. Upgrading along the offensive line is always a smart thing, and it's something Green Bay should consider in the coming months.
Draft position: No. 29 overall. CBS NFL Draft writers Josh Edwards and Ryan Wilson have the Packers making up for their mistake last year by taking Florida wideout Kadarius Toney with their first-round pick. Chris Trapasso has Green Bay taking linebacker Nick Bolton out of Missouri.
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): -$19,890,681 (No. 26 in the NFL)
Needs: OL, DL, EDGE, S
The Vikings have plenty of holes to fill this offseason, but my focus immediately goes to the defense. Minnesota had a ridiculous amount of adversity to deal with on the defensive line this past season, as Everson Griffen opted out of his deal before the year, Danielle Hunter went down with a season-ending injury and Michael Pierce took advantage of the COVID-19 opt out. Jaleel Johnson, who was more of a reserve player heading into 2020, started in all 16 games and recorded 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks and is now a free agent. Additionally, Shamar Stephen could be a cap casualty, so the Vikings have some work to do on the defensive line when it comes to their starters, reserves and rotation. A few defensive linemen potentially looking for new homes are Ryan Kerrigan, Solomon Thomas and then Kawann Short, who was just released by the Carolina Panthers this week. As for the cornerbacks, I do like the young duo of Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney. They just need more time to develop, but adding to this position group wouldn't be a bad idea either. The Vikings will likely be looking for a new starter at safety, however, as franchise tagging Anthony Harris last offseason didn't work out very well.
It's interesting that the Vikings' offense was still able to find success with a lesser line, but that doesn't mean the front office should just ignore the offensive front this offseason. This unit was hard to watch at times this past year. What happens with Riley Reiff? Does Ezra Cleveland move to permanent tackle? The Vikings also have to sign a legitimate starter that can hold down the interior at guard.
Draft position: No. 14 overall. CBS NFL Draft writers Josh Edwards and Chris Trapasso have the Vikings taking Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye with the No. 14 overall pick. Ryan Wilson has Minnesota taking USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker -- who has the versatility to play on the inside or outside.
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): -$8,649,781 (No. 24 in the NFL)