FA Recap: NFC North

The fiirst wave of free agency is done and it's time to take stock of the pieces added and lost. Matt Claassen looks at what the NFC North teams have ...

| 2 years ago

FA Recap: NFC North

As free agency starts to slow down, it’s time to take inventory of last week’s craziness. The moves were fast and furious (and perhaps a bit premature), as a few teams were extremely aggressive in pursuit of turning around their fortunes while others took to free agency with constraint. Here’s a look at where we stand after a week of free agency:

Chicago Bears

FA-Recap-mcpheeKey Losses:
WR Brandon Marshall
DI Stephen Paea
LB Lance Briggs
CB Charles Tillman
LB D.J. Williams
C Brian De la Puente

Key Re-Signings:
QB Jimmy Clausen
TE Dante Rosario

Key Additions:
ED Pernell McPhee
S Antrel Rolle
WR Eddie Royal
G Vladimir Ducasse

With new general manager Ryan Pace now in control, the Bears have started to make some significant changes. They went out of their way to trade away Brandon Marshall to the Jets for a late-round draft pick. Even though he earned a +0.0 pass grade last year, it’s tough to tell how much of that was attributed to being hurt, and he is just one season removed from a +15.3 pass grade that ranked fifth among wide receivers. They are also moving on from other veterans Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and D.J. Williams, who combined to miss 51 games over the last two seasons.

Stephen Paea might be the biggest loss on defense at this point. He proved himself as a pass rusher last season, with his 8.7 Pass Rushing Productivity ranking fourth among interior defensive linemen. With schematic changes taking place with the arrival of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, it’s likely they did not see him as a fit in the system.

Pernell McPhee is the most impactful signing among their incoming free agent group. He played well in limited playing time during the first couple years of his career before really blossoming last season. Despite playing only 540 snaps, McPhee ranked behind only Justin Houston among 3-4 OLBs with a +26.0 overall grade. What makes him so special is his versatility. He has found success as a pass rusher regardless of his alignment and is capable of lining up anywhere from the defensive line between the tackles to a two-point stance anywhere in the box.

As for their other signings, Eddie Royal gives Chicago a vet in the slot while the Bears hope Antrel Rolle can help shore up the defense. However, Rolle is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro, highlighted by his 17 missed tackles which were more than either Chris Conte or Major Wright in 2013.

The defense still has a lot of holes, but the addition of McPhee is a good start that will give Chicago some versatility in terms of personnel and alignments with their defensive fronts.

Detroit Lions

FA-Recap-ngataKey Losses:
DI Ndamukong Suh
DI Nick Fairley
HB Reggie Bush
DI C.J. Mosley
G Rob Sims
C Dominic Raiola

Key Re-Signings:
CB Rashean Mathis
S Isa Abdul-Quddus
ED George Johnson
LB Josh Bynes
K Matt Prater

Key Additions:
DI Haloti Ngata
DI Tyrunn Walker

Detroit lost more in free agency than any other NFC North team, specifically in the interior of its defensive line. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley heading elsewhere, defensive tackle went from arguably its biggest strength on defense to a large question mark.

The Lions were able to somewhat mitigate the loss of Suh and Fairley by trading for Haloti Ngata, who is coming off one of his best seasons in recent years with the Ravens. Ngata’s +18.4 overall grade ranked ninth among 3-4 defensive ends last year and every player ahead of him played at least 25% more snaps. The Lions also brought in Tyrunn Walker from New Orleans. Walker has played just 425 snaps over his three seasons, but he did earn positive grades as a pass rusher and in run defense last year.

Letting Reggie Bush go should not be much of a concern as Joique Bell and Theo Riddick have proven capable enough of handling the load for Detroit, if not even looking more impressive than Bush at times. The Lions will need to finally replace center Dominic Raiola. While Raiola was among the best at his position in 2013, his play took a significant dive last season at age 35.

The Lions were able to re-sign Rashean Mathis who remains a very good cover corner despite being the oldest cornerback currently on a roster. He had the 11th-highest coverage grade out of 108 cornerbacks last year and his 0.86 yards allowed per snap in coverage ranked seventh.

Green Bay Packers

FA-Recap-cobbKey Losses:
CB Tramon Williams
CB Davon House
LB A.J. Hawk
LB Brad Jones
DI Letroy Guion
WR Jarrett Boykin
HB DuJuan Harris
QB Matt Flynn

Key Re-Signings:
WR Randall Cobb
OT Bryan Bulaga
S Sean Richardson
OT Don Barclay
QB Scott Tolzien

Key Additions:

Green Bay’s strong belief in a draft-and-develop strategy and relative aversion to free agency can make for a slow March for Packers’ fans. Even though one barely needs two hands to count Ted Thompson’s outside signings during his tenure as general manager, this is a time where the Packers tend to take care of their own at a reasonable price. This year has been no different as Green Bay was able to re-sign Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga when both players reportedly turned down more money elsewhere. Cobb led all receivers with 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns when lined up in the slot and Bulaga finished with the fourth-highest overall grade among right tackles.

Cornerback as been one of the deepest positions for the Packers in recent years, but that depth has taken a significant hit with Tramon Williams and Davon House having signed with the Browns and Jaguars, respectively. Williams hasn’t quite been at the same level he was a few years ago, which could be why the Packers chose not to even offer him a contract, but he was still playing better than two-thirds of the cornerbacks in the league. They probably would have preferred to keep House, but he hasn’t shown anything special enough to demand the type of money that he signed for in Jacksonville.

The Packers cut both A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones after the season which leaves a significant void at inside linebacker. But both have struggled over the last few years and choice to move on is more of an ‘addition by subtraction’ decision.

With their lack of activity so far in free agency, they will likely have to address needs during May’s draft, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Minnesota Vikings

FA-Recap-wallaceKey Losses:
WR Greg Jennings
LB Jasper Brinkley
FB Jerome Felton
QB Matt Cassel
G Vladimir Ducasse
G Charles Johnson

Key Re-Signings:
DI Tom Johnson
G Joe Berger
OT Michael Harris
HB Matt Asiata
LS Cullen Loeffler

Key Additions:
WR Mike Wallace
HB DuJuan Harris
QB Shaun Hill

Just two years after signing Greg Jennings to a five-year contract, the Vikings parted ways and instead traded with the Dolphins for the younger, speedy Mike Wallace. Jennings did not perform up to the expectations set by the money in his contract, but the inconsistency at quarterback in 2013 and the first couple weeks of last year definitely did not help. The addition of Wallace gives the offense a wide receiver who can better stretch the field. However, his speed hasn’t necessarily translated into success on deep passes as he has just 12 receptions over the last two years on 60 targets 20-plus yards downfield.

The Vikings have not lost too much else in free agency. They essentially swapped out Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder for Shaun Hill as a backup quarterback. Jasper Brinkley helped in run defense but his limitations in coverage mostly kept him in a two-down role. Fullbacks are a dying breed in the league, but it will be interesting to see how the Vikings’ running backs do without Jerome Felton, who has been one of the better lead blockers the last three years.

Defensive tackle Tom Johnson is a good re-signing after he continued to play well last season as the Vikings expanded his role a bit. Joe Berger gives them depth along the offensive line but they are still in the market for a starting guard after finally moving on from Charlie Johnson. The re-signing of long snapper Cullen Loeffler is the most puzzling one as he had the lowest long snap accuracy in the league in 2014.

The Vikings still have some spots that could use some help, but they have been trying to build more through the draft anyways in recent years.


Follow Matt on Twitter: @PFF_Matt


| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • Birdman

    So Justin Durant’s been off Detroit’s roster for a while. Believe he was in Dallas last year. George Johnson’s been tendered, not yet signed.

  • techvet

    I don’t believe the Packers have given on Letroy Guion yet, but he has to get things legally right before they can think about bringing him back.

    • Kevin

      The legal side of that problem is over but now they’re probably waiting to find out what kind of punishment he will receive. I’d imagine it is in the 4 game range which could possibly be reduced a game or two.

      I fully expect GB to bring him back in time for a far lower price than they would of had to pay him if it weren’t for the arrest.

  • APVike4life

    Nauh uh – da’ pukers are overrated! SKOL!

    • PackerPat

      Wait were the Vikings in the playoffs last year? Fuck no! The vikings got destroyed by the packers last year and this upcoming year bum also win a super bowl then talk trash.

      • Kevin

        Don’t feed them. Very disappointed this garbage has now came to PFF. This is usually a place to have quality conversations with fans of other NFL teams. I’m surprised this guy can even comprehend half the stuff that is posted on this site(He probably can’t so he shouldn’t last long).

        • ANonnaMoose

          Yes, because the contribution of the other Packer fan in the conversation was incredibly enlightening and stimulating.

          • Carl

            You sound like a disgruntled GO Vikings GO type of but-hurt fan-girl. Go wash the dishes and make the Lions, Bears, and Packers sandwiches.

          • ANonnaMoose

            Are you dumb? You sound dumb.

          • Carl

            You sound sad for vikings being the worst team in the division. Fetch them food I suppose.

      • Jordan

        Hey ignorant packers fan, the Vikings had a new coach, offensive coordinator and a rookie qb. And they didn’t have their best player all season. And teddy still took it to GB in their second game and almost won. I’d like to see Green Bay do more in that situation (oh right Aaron Rodgers missed a bunch of 2013 and the packers became a pretty easy team to beat)
        -bears fan

        • PackerPat

          Hey bear fan stop being our bitch every season bum also the bears are disgraced to this division. Btw I hope you’re ready to be smacked by the packers, vikings, and the Lions this upcoming season. Also the vikings having AP would not of guaranteed success against the lions or the packers.

          • ANonnaMoose

            Stick to cheering for injuries to Minnesota players like most Green Bay fans do and let the adults discuss the actual football, please.

          • PackerPat

            And Like adults Shut the Fuck Up when Grown Folks are talking Minnesota Vikqueer bitches. WIN A SUPER BOWL hell WIN THE DIVISION THEN TALK.

          • ANonnaMoose

            Is this even English?

          • PackerPat

            Yes it is.

        • shweetdeel

          Yet they still won the division… Probly not something to brag about. Besides that, the Vikings sucked long before the coaching changes, during the coaching change and will not be number one in the division a year after the coaching change. Best bet for them is they pass the Bears as the number three team.

          • ANonnaMoose

            Saying that the Vikings “sucked” this past season is the mark of an ignoramus that doesn’t know anything about football beyond “Go Pack Go.” Approximately 99% of all Green Bay fans fall into that category.

          • shweetdeel

            Well maybe you have a different definition of “sucked” but, to me, a team that is never even considered a contender to win the NFC North, much less a playoff birth or chance at a Super Bowl run, is a team that can be labeled with the title of “suck”.

          • ANonnaMoose

            Well, your definition of “sucked,” as expected, appears to be completely idiotic.

            When it comes to Minnesota Vikings’ football, the thoughts of Packer fans are just about as worthless as a piece of Packer “stock.” Unless they have something smart to say on the subject, they should probably just keep it to themselves.

  • Kevin

    This is what you guys have been asking for. Hayward now has an easy path to a full time role and should be able to easily win the outside spot, IMO. Hyde definitely isn’t going to be GB’s 2nd CB(he is best close to the ball/LOS etc. so I don’t feel it helps moving him further away) so that basically leaves Hayward. Hayward is a fantastic slot coverage CB and should be able to transition to the outside with good results.Unlike Hyde, Hayward is best in coverage with the opportunity to make a play on the ball in the air.

    I’m curious how you guys at PFF feel he could transition to the outside. I’d really enjoy a small write up on this.

  • Brian Dugan

    I feel like there should just be a “losses” category. Placing Jarrett Boykin, DuJuan Harris, A.J. Hawk, and especially Brad Jones as “key losses” along Tramon and Davon House is silly.

  • Kevin P

    Packers reportedly offered Williams a two year deal worth $4m-$5m per year which he turned down. http://es.pn/1APePo5