Free agency grades for every NFC North team
Analyst Nathan Jahnke assigns a free agency grade to the Packers, Bears, Vikings, and Lions.
Free agency grades for every NFC North team
With the initial fury of NFL free agency beginning to quiet down, the PFF staff is taking a look at how each team fared through the first few weeks. Signings, re-signings, players lost to other franchises, and the dollar amounts for each of these transactions have been taken into account when assigning a grade (“A” through “F”).
PFF will be rolling out grades for every team by division throughout this entire week, with the NFC North and AFC North debuting today.
Key additions: ILB Jerrell Freeman, ILB Danny Trevathan, DE Akiem Hicks, RT Bobby Massie
Key retentions: WR Alshon Jeffery, TE Zach Miller, WR Marc Mariani, CB Tracy Porter
Key losses: HB Matt Forte, TE Martellus Bennett, DE Jarvis Jenkins, ILB Shea McClellin
The Bears went through five different players who started at some point during the season at inside linebacker, and all were graded below-average or worse. They addressed this in a big way by adding the best two linebackers in free agency in Freeman (90.6 overall grade in 2015) and Trevathan (87.5). They also let their lowest-graded defender, Jarvis Jenkins, leave, and replaced him with Akiem Hicks. Over the last four weeks of the season, Hicks had a 12.0 pass-rushing productivity, which was fifth-best among defensive tackles. Their front seven should be significantly better due to these changes.
They had two losses whom they have yet to replace in Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. Bennett had a down year (72.0), and if Zach Miller (81.0) can continue to play like he did in 2015, the Bears won’t miss him. On the other hand, Matt Forte (81.9) graded better than any running back since he returned to the lineup in Week 12. It wouldn’t be surprising if Chicago adds a RB in the draft or free agency still, but they need to compliment Jeremy Langford (67.8). Langford’s 1.8 yards after contact per carry was the lowest for a back with at least 100 carries. His pass-blocking efficiency of 84.3 was also third-worst among backs.
Key additions: WR Marvin Jones, S Tavon Wilson, S Rafael Bush, DT Stefan Charles, CB Johnson Bademosi
Key retentions: LB Tahir Whitehead, DI Haloti Ngata
Key losses: WR Calvin Johnson, CB Rashean Mathis, S Isa Abdul-Quddus
Plenty of teams lost a key player to retirement this off-season, but the Lions lost two. Even if he wasn’t 100 percent, Calvin Johnson (89.4) was still a top-10 receiver and the heart of the Detroit offense. At cornerback, Rashean Mathis (70.6) had a slow start to the year, but as recently as 2014 he was a top-10 cornerback, allowing a low 10.3 yards per catch. While Darius Slay (87.7) has taken over the No. 1 cornerback spot, he would have made a fine starter at the opposite spot, and they don’t have a clear replacement.
To help make up for their veteran losses, the Lions brought in some players who have the potential to be key contributors. Marvin Jones will take Calvin Johnson’s place in the lineup. While he can’t fill Johnson’s shoes, Jones forced 27 missed tackles over the last two seasons. At safety, Tavon Wilson (72.7) was buried under a very talented depth chart in New England, but over his 820 career defensive snaps, he has graded well. He has five interceptions and five passes defended on his career on 69 targets. Jones and Wilson won’t completely fill the void of Detroit’s losses, but they have the potential to help this team for a few seasons.
Green Bay Packers
Key additions: None
Key retentions: OLB Nick Perry, DE Letroy Guion, K Mason Crosby, RB James Starks
Key losses: CB Casey Hayward, DT B.J. Raji, QB Scott Tolzien
The Packers have had offseasons like this before. After re-signing defensive tackle Mike Daniels in December, there was no clear free agent they needed back. They were also able to bring back Nick Perry, Letroy Guion, James Starks, Lane Taylor, and Mason Crosby.
By far their most talented loss was cornerback Casey Hayward (82.7), PFF’s 16th-highest-graded cornerback in 2015. His 22 stops in the passing game was tied for second-most among CBs. It’s a loss the Packers can afford after drafting Damarious Randall (68.9) and Quinten Rollins (82.1) in back-to-back round last year to go along with Sam Shields (81.0). Defensive tackle B.J. Raji (64.1) had a run-stop percentage of 3.1 percent, which was tied for the lowest among defensive tackles, so his presence won’t be missed. With nothing gained and not too much lost, the Packers earn an average grade.
Key additions: G Alex Boone, OT Andre Smith, S Michael Griffin, LB Emmanuel Lamur
Key retentions: G Michael Harris, CB Terence Newman, TE/FB Rhett Ellison, S Andrew Sendejo
Key losses: WR Mike Wallace, S Robert Blanton, CB Josh Robinson
The Vikings’ offensive line seemed to be in good shape heading into 2016, with Joe Berger and Michael Harris grading well in 2015, and John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt returning from injury. Now with the additions of guard Alex Boone (65.0) and right tackle Andre Smith (39.6), Minnesota should have more depth heading into the 2016 season. Both players have been on the decline, but at their best, they were among the top two at their respective positions. Griffin and Lamur haven’t graded well in recent seasons, but ideally won’t have a big role in the defense.
In terms of their losses, all three players graded below replacement level in 2015. The only one who saw a significant role was Mike Wallace (55.4). His 473 receiving yards were the fewest for wide receivers with at least 450 routes run. The Vikings will need to address the receiver position in the draft or stick with the players currently on the roster, but worst case scenario, their position group won’t be downgraded much from last year.
More free-agency grades by division:
– AFC East
– NFC East
– AFC West
– NFC West