NFC North Free Agent Grades and Draft Needs
Free Agency: I’m not afraid to say it: biggest trade ever. More accomplished QBs have been traded, Joe Montana for example, but never has the league seen a Pro Bowl calibre 25 year old switch teams. When the deal went down I thought a 2009 first, 2009 third, 2010 first and Kyle Orton was an expensive price to play for Cutler, he did of course amass his monster numbers in a year when Denver was often playing from behind and had 7 running backs on IR, but if he brings a face to this franchise for the next decade and a Super Bowl or two along the way then Bears fans will feel he’s worth it. With John St. Clair leaking 10 sacks last year and John Tait retired, both tackle spots needed to be addressed. Enter Orlando Pace who will play left for at least another year – think of him as a short term solution to ease Cutler into his first year – whilst second year Vanderbilt talent Chris Williams moves to the right, with the newly acquired Kevin Shaffer providing depth. Bookend tackles, a phenomenal run game and a Pro Bowl QB. How many sides can boast that line-up? Having said that, it’s been 38 years since the Bears had a Pro Bowl receiver – Devin Hester attended as a returns specialist – and Chicago need to address that hole in free agency. Tory Holt and Plaxico Burress are obvious contenders, but through age, injury and suspension neither makes for a reliable number one.
Draft Needs: With just 28 sacks all year Chicago desperately needed to upgrade its pass rush, improve its secondary after Nathan Vasher and FS Mike Brown’s play fell away, and give their new QB targets to throw at. Round 2 and a third round compensatory is all they have at the top of the draft, and I think they take best available out of those four positions. That makes safety Louis Delmas, the last of the top tier receiver talent Hakeem Nicks or outside linebacker Clint Sintim all possibilities.
Free Agency: Putting tepid optimism aside, Detroit are still a horrible team. Not 0-16 bad, but no more than 4 wins good. Leigh Bodden is gifted but was a bad fit in Detroit, so after his release corner needed an upgrade. They did considerably well to sign up a resurgent Philip Buchanon, steal Anthony Henry (whose age may force him to slide to safety) from Dallas for a 5th rounder plus Jon Kitna and find a decent nickel guy in former Titan Eric King. They added depth at receiver with Ronald Curry, the mercurial Bryant Johnson and highly regarded Will Franklin, who at 23 and lightning fast drew the attention of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Indianapolis after being cut by the Chiefs. Line these guys up behind Calvin Johnson and Shaun MacDonald and you have some dangerous spread offense sets. Maurice Morris also makes for a solid number two behind Kevin Smith at running back. Considering that under Matt Millen the Lions were known for boneheaded shambolic moves, it’s a total surprise that new GM Matt Mayhew (who was under Millen’s tutelage) has managed to rip Dallas off twice (Henry and Roy Williams) and steal Julian Peterson from Seattle (line him up opposite Ernie Sims and that isn’t a terrible linebacker core, shame about the undersized Jordan Dizon in the middle though).
Grade: B – Productive and smart
Draft Needs: This is where the Lions will be making their biggest moves. The first selection of the draft, the 20th pick and 33rd selection means Detroit can vastly improve inside of 5 hours. I think QB Matt Stafford is a lock at 1; top tackles will still be there at 20 but QBs won’t, so in my eyes it’s Stafford-Beatty in the same QB-LT combo Atlanta employed last year. In the second, James Laurinaitis could replace the bustalicious undersized Jordan Dizon at middle linebacker, but DT Peria Jerry is a lock should he escape the first round.
Green Bay Packers
Free Agency: Green Bay are always ultra conservative in free agency, so Albert Haynesworth was never a consideration. The switch to a 3-4 was the biggest move they made, and they need to start putting the pieces for that together. Julius Peppers wants to play for a playoff team in the NFC as a 3-4 DE/OLB and the Packers fill all of those criteria, but again, Ted Thompson is too conservative to rock the boat like that.
Grade: D – It’s the Packers being the Packers; they’d rather build through the draft
Draft Needs: With Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher in their early 30s and playing injured, youth at offensive tackle is their biggest need. But since I doubt Eugene Monroe makes it past Cincinnati, they’ll likely focus on building that 3-4 in the first round. BJ Raji is who they desperately covet, but if he’s gone the Pack won’t mind ‘settling’ for the explosive Everette Brown. Second round will be best tackle available, unless there is a corner too good to pass on. Trading back is a Ted Thompson favourite, but they’re in a tough position. At least Denver and San Francisco will be vying for Mark Sanchez and will jump ahead of Green Bay to get him, but at the same time Green Bay can’t let Denver win the race. If the Packers switch with the Broncos/Jets/Tampa they’ll be behind San Francisco, and if the 49ers can’t have Sanchez they’ll grab Everette Brown from under Ted Thompson’s nose. Tricky.
Free Agency: A fourth round trade for Sage Rosenfels has been met with a surprisingly warm reception. Having been more than a backup but less than a starter for the last few seasons, he’ll get his shot as a number one in the NFL. In other words: he’s been Matt Schaub’s Matt Schaub in Houston, but can he step up and be 2009’s Matt Schaub for the Vikings? Confusing but it makes sense.
Grade: C – A solid pass, with scope to improve
Draft Needs: I think that QB troubles are allayed for now. What they feel like if Rosenfels slips up and Tim Tebow is sitting there in the 2010 draft is a different matter. Matt Birk was cut because age finally caught up to him, making Max Unger an option in the second. As for the first, it’ll be corner or tackle; Vontae Davis vs. Eben Britton the likely contest.