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The NFC North’s poaching of veteran Packers has not often been reciprocated

The offseason has already been filled with several members of the 2021 Packers finding new homes in the division. But it’s not a new trend, nor one Green Bay has often participated in.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

On Thursday night, it was reported that cornerback Chandon Sullivan was taking a visit to Minnesota. For the Vikings, this move makes sense with the team looking to upgrade its secondary quite a bit this offseason. However, on the Green Bay Packers’ end, the Vikings’ interest in Sullivan represents just another attempt by an NFC North rival to poach one of the team’s free agents.

Prior to Sullivan, the most recent example of a former Packer moving to a divisional opponent was just this past Tuesday. Za’Darius Smith also inked with the Vikings, pairing the sack artist with Danielle Hunter to give Minnesota what it hopes is an elite pass-rushing tandem. In the past two weeks, Green Bay also watched Lucas Patrick and Equanimeous St. Brown sign with Chicago, while inside linebacker Joe Thomas (a Packer from 2015 to 2017) also signed with the Bears earlier this March.

The inter-division movement has not been restricted to players. Offensively, Green Bay lost assistant coach Luke Getsy to a promotion with the Bears, while outside linebackers coach Mike Smith joined a defensive staff in Minnesota that, as of this offseason, features two former Packers defensive coordinators in Mike Pettine and Ed Donatell. Green Bay has lost many members of its roster and personnel within the NFC North, but the Packers have not returned the favor very much themselves.

The Green & Gold have not completely neglected available individuals from their Midwest rivals. During the 2020 offseason, the Packers brought in Jerry Gray from Minnesota as their defensive backs coach, and the team has signed former Detroit long snapper Steven Wirtel and punter Pat O’Donnell from Chicago in the past six months. But before that, it is hard to name many players acquired by Green Bay from inside of the division besides a few noteworthy free agents like Adrian Amos, Julius Peppers, Letroy Guion, and Martellus Bennett — most of whom were Bears prior to coming to Green Bay. The next closest players might be Kyle Fuller, who signed an offer sheet with the Packers in 2018 that was matched by Chicago, and Cedric Benson who signed with Green Bay five years after playing for the Bears. Yes, the Packers rarely signed free agents of any kind in the final several years of Ted Thompson, but they have also rarely made deals for retreaded talent from within the division, especially from Detroit and Minnesota.

The same cannot be said for the rest of the division. Below is a breakdown of some of the more significant stealing of former Packers over the past 15 years.

Detroit Lions

  • RB Jamaal Williams (2021)
  • QB Tim Boyle (2021)
  • OLB Reggie Gilbert (2021)
  • DL Brian Price (2021)
  • WR Geronimo Allison (2020)
  • DL Mike Daniels (2019)
  • WR Jeremy Ross (2013)

Minnesota Vikings

  • OLB Za’Darius Smith (2022)
  • CB Bashaud Breeland (2021)
  • CB Parry Nickerson (2021)
  • TE Brandon Bostick (2015)
  • RB DuJuan Harris (2015)
  • WR Charles Johnson (2014)
  • WR Greg Jennings (2013)
  • ILB Desmond Bishop (2013)
  • QB Brett Favre (2009)
  • K Ryan Longwell (2006)
  • S Darren Sharper (2005)
  • DL Aaron Kampman (signed restricted free agent offer sheet in 2005)

Chicago Bears

  • WR Equanimeous St. Brown (2022)
  • OL Lucas Patrick (2022)
  • TE Jimmy Graham (2020)
  • WR Trevor Davis (2020)
  • S HaHa Clinton-Dix (2019)
  • TE Justin Perillo (2017)
  • OL Josh Sitton (2016)

With any level of success in sports comes some level of poaching. The Packers have been an extremely formidable opponent over the better part of 30 years and it should be expected for many of their players to be in high demand across the NFL. Still, particularly in the case of Minnesota, it seems as if the twice-a-year matchup familiarity of the division has strongly influenced the free agency tendencies of the Packers’ rivals. Fortunately, Green Bay has chosen wisely in allowing many of those players to hit the market, as most have failed to have illustrious careers outside Titletown. Those same teams’ lack of consistent success and roster-building struggles might also play into the Packers’ infrequent reciprocation of the same trend.

If Sullivan should indeed sign with the Vikings in the coming days, history has shown it will not necessarily result in success. But on the heels of the other intra-division signings of the past week, a lifelong Packers fan has to feel somewhat annoyed by yet another poaching of a former Packer.