Free Agency 2011 – Two Views on the NFC North

| July 20, 2011

Another day, another division comes under our free agency microscope. We start in on the NFC with the home of the Super Bowl Champions.
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The Champion Packers face the prospect of losing some of their talented roster, and they’re not alone, with the Vikings also struggling to keep hold of several of their star players. Chicago is looking to build on a season that saw them fall one hurdle short of the Super Bowl (and still has Brian Urlacher claiming they’re the better team), and the Lions look to come one step closer to contending.
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Our Sam Monson and Khaled Elsayed compare notes on the direction they think each of these teams should go once the free agency period begins.

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Chicago Bears
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: It took them years of moving him around to work it out, but in 2010 the Bears finally found the niche that Danieal Manning excels in. Manning has always been a tremendous athlete, and he was able to really show well as a deep safety, using his range for the Bears last year. Why let him go now you’ve finally discovered how to use him?

Khaled: It’s hard to disagree with the Monsoon. So I won’t.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: Just in case it wasn’t clear last year I’ll say it here – the Bears’ O-line was awful! They need to fix it, and fast.

Khaled: Yeah it’s the offensive line. None of the guys who finished the year starting were much good. They could stand to upgrade at every position.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: They’ll hope they went some way towards that in the draft, but it’s not enough. They could easily upgrade at any of the five starting spots, meaning guys like Jared Gaither, Marshal Yanda, Evan Mathis, Willie Colon, Harvey Dahl are all in play. I’d try and secure two of them, see if they can bring in a pair of guys like Yanda and Mathis without breaking the bank.

Khaled: Spend lots of money on it. Even if Gabe Carimi is a star from day one, they still have four areas they could do with upgrading on. Pick any of those guys mentioned by Sam and add names like Justin Blalock and Doug Free to it. If they have the money, Free could be a very sound investment.
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Detroit Lions
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: Fortunately, Cliff Avril will be a restricted free agent, so they don’t have any pressing concerns. Given the lack of depth at cornerback, Chris Houston could do with seeing another season as a stop gap if nothing else.

Sam: Chris Houston may not be a great player, but he’s not bad either, and he gets better if they add help around him. I agree that it’s the only sensible place to put their money.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: They need better play from their cornerbacks. The fact that resigning Chris Houston to a deal is important to them should let them know that. They have as good a defensive line as any team in the league, but they make it easy for quarterbacks with guys who struggle in coverage.

Sam: The entire secondary needs help. Delmas has potential, but struggled last season, and they just can’t have guys like Alphonso Smith starting games for them going forward if they want to contend.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: Josh Wilson. He’s a smart guy who proved he could adapt quickly when he was traded to Baltimore last year. You can line him up in a number of ways, and he has experience covering the slot from his Seahawk days. Investing him will represent excellent value for money.

Sam: Assuming they’re out of the Asomugha sweepstakes (which I think they are), I was going to say Jonathan Joseph makes a lot of sense for them, but now Khaled has said it, Josh Wilson might make even more sense. Either of those two players would represent a significant upgrade without breaking the bank for Asomugha.
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Green Bay Packers
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: Cullen Jenkins is the big name they’re losing to free agency, but I don’t think they intend (or can afford) to bring him back, and they have young players on the line they want to break in. I think they need to bring back one of their free agent backs, Brandon Jackson or John Kuhn.

Khaled: The Packers are a pretty deep team and could cope with losing any of those, so they don’t need to resign anybody, but Jenkins is pretty useful in their sub package. He’s not worth the money he’ll get to them, and looking elsewhere may prove ideal.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: Hardly surprising given they’re the Super Bowl Champions, but it’s a team without a huge number of holes to fill. There are a few areas that need some depth added, and more than anything they need some young players to step up and prove they can take over positions. I’d like to see a legitimate threat on the other side of Clay Matthews at OLB.

Khaled: With Jenkins looking a goner, and Mike Neal coming off IR, they could use some depth at the defensive end spot. It’s a concern they’re losing a prominent part of their sub package defense, and they could really use some bodies they can rely on there.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: Pickings aren’t great in the bargain end of this market. Travis LaBoy was able to do well in a specialist role for the 49ers last year and may be an option in the short term while they blood in some of their young players at the position.

Khaled: Stephen Bowen would be a cheaper replacement for Jenkins, but I can’t see the Packers paying him if they won’t pay Jenkins. Shaun Ellis can replace Jenkins (he’s not at the same level), and given the Jets cap situation it could be possible. Either him or Trevor Pryce would be nifty additions to their nickel defense if nothing else.
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Minnesota Vikings
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: They really don’t want to lose Sidney Rice. I firmly believe their woes last year started with him not being healthy, so Brett Favre didn’t have someone to chuck it up to and watch come down with it.

Sam: They’ve been prepared to say goodbye to Ray Edwards for years, but Rice showed in ’09 how dominant a weapon he is while healthy, and a new rookie quarterback will need all the weapons he can get.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: How long has it been since they got good play from their safeties? Answer. Too long. Husain Abdullah was a pleasant surprise, but he’s limited, and the less about Madieu Williams the better.

Sam: They can survive without great safety play – they have thus far – but they need to improve a failing offensive line, because it affects what their star players can do on offense, and is the current limiting factor for Adrian Peterson’s rushing.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: The Vikings aren’t built to win now, so they need to bring in someone who can contribute in the short term and long term. Quintin Mikell may be my top safety, but Eric Weddle is younger and outside of Mikell, the most consistent safety available over the past three years.

Sam: Another team that could stand the upgrade at any of the five o-line positions. Anthony Herrera is coming off an ACL injury and was far from irreplaceable before it, so Marshal Yanda would be a big boon to that side of the line.
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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled, and for Sam, it’s: @SamMonson … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • tsalex19

    Here is what Minnesota needs to do.
    Resign Abdullah, Rice. Henderson, Longwell
    Move Winfield to Safety
    Sign Even Mathis, Tyson Clabo , Matt Roth, and Chris Carr or Danny Manning
    Sign C F A Jerard Tarrant , Jeff Maehl, Ian Williams, Mark Herzilch, Da Norris Searcy
    Cut Trade Jeff Dugan , Kenny Onatolu, Madieu Wiliams, Bernard Berrian