While some divisions are in an arms race with lots of major news, the NFC North played things a bit more conservatively today. All four teams of the division made some noise throughout the day, but overall not many earth shattering signings or big name free agents brought into the fold. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each NFC North team did for day 1 of free agency:
The Chicago Bears
The Bears probably had the most positive day of the teams. The Bears kicked off the day by agreeing to terms with tight end artellus Bennett and then followed that up by signing offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod. Both of these moves represent a big splash for the Bears…partially because of the upgrades these players represent, but even more due to the fact that it may represent "the largest paradigm shift in the team’s history."
Bennett, previously with the New York Giants, is a 6’6", 265 lbs tight end. He should be an upgrade for the Bears at the position and offers Jay Cutler a reliable target to attack the middle of the field. More important though may be the fact that Bennett could offer the Bears a reliable target other than Brandon Marshall.
Bushrod comes to the Bears after playing with the New Orleans Saints for six years. He has been part of a well respected line and been to the Pro Bowl twice. However, some (for example Walter Football and PFF) question how much of an upgrade this will be from current left tackle J’Marcus Webb. At the very least though shouldn’t this upgrade the right tackle position?
Finally on the Bears front it’s worth noting that for the first time in his career Brian Urlacher is a free agent. It’s doubtful that he would end up anywhere but Chicago, but stranger things have happened. As much as Urlacher is not the same player as a few years ago, he is still a player I am concerned about when the Packers face him twice a year.
The Detroit Lions
The Lions did not make any big signings on Tuesday, but they did schedule some visits. Reggie Bush is in town for the Lions, and it would be a bit of a disappointment if he leaves Detroit without a deal in place. LaRon Landry is also scheduled to visit the Lions. Both of these players could be desperately needed upgrades for the Lions.
The Lions were also able to re-sign Kassim Osgood and Amari Spievey. The Spievey deal is interesting due to his history of concussions; the deal is probably less for what he would have received had the Lions tendered him through the restricted free agency process.
The Lions also lost starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus to the Colts. Currently it looks as though the Lions will fill this need from within via Jason Fox, former first round pick Rely Reiff, or the recently re-signed Corey Hillard.
No other team in the division took as many body blows as the Vikings. The Vikings lost a dynamic playmaker in Percy Harvin and then followed that up by cutting Antoine Winfield. The Winfield move is a bit unexpected but not completely unreasonable. Winfield is getting long in the tooth and was set to receive $7.5 million dollars. It’s a big loss to the Vikings, but they should be able to find some sort of answer to their now questionable cornerback unit due to the glut of veteran corners available.
The good news for the Vikings is that they were able to re-sign many key players who were hitting the free agent market. The Vikings were able to fend off the Bears and get a deal done with tackle Phil Loadholt. Loadholt is one of the best run blocking guards in the league, but is also struggles with penalties and pass blocking. It’s a key signing for the Vikings given their offense, but I don’t know if he’s worth the money they have ended up paying him (Loadholt is now the second highest paid RT in the league).
Similarly the Vikings re-signed fullback Jerome Felton. This deal also makes sense due to Felton’s ability to run block. The deal looks pretty affordable and should help keep Adrian Peterson happy. The Vikings also re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings resigned linebacker Erin Henderson and safety Jamarca Sanford. Henderson is a solid two down linebacker who has shown an ability to play on the outside and the inside of the Vikings 4-3 defense. Sanford regained his starting safety position after losing it at the beginning of the 2012 season. He should be a competent starter for the Vikings.