Free agency grades for every NFC North team

Analyst Nathan Jahnke assigns a free agency grade to the Packers, Bears, Vikings, and Lions.

| 7 months ago
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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.

Chicago Bears

Grade: A-

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.

Detroit Lions

Grade: C-

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

Grade: C

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.

Minnesota Vikings

Grade: B-

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 North

AFC South

NFC South

AFC West

NFC West

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • SkolBro

    The vikings deserve an A+ and the Packers did nothing, so they should have an F-
    NFC North, more like Vikings and Jobbers! SKOL!!!

    • dlund6cutler

      The packers never do anything in free agency.

    • Chuck

      Why do Vikes deserve an A+? Based on PFF grades, both OL signings are guys on the decline after producing just average production this past season at best. Vikes didn’t upgrade @ Safety… I’m confused. How is that “A+”?

      • cka2nd

        B- seems about right to me, especially for signing Griffin instead of Reggie Nelson, inking Andrew Sendejo to an expensive long-term deal and low-balling Michael Harris. Boone and Smith are both still under 30, though, and Boone, especially, is a legit bounce-back candidate.

        • CDinCalgary

          Sendejo’s extension pays him $4M/year with little guaranteed. So I wouldn’t say it’s an expensive deal. Unless you’re talking about all the negative plays Sendejo will make, and thus, how his $4M/per could’ve been rolled into a contract for a legitimate safety. His extension will cost the team more on the field, than it does in salary cap implications.

    • Adam Fogarty

      I can see most of the viking signings flopping though

    • Adam Fogarty

      The Packers team was already good they didn’t need to make big signings, the only position they are generally weak at is middle linebacker

    • CDinCalgary

      Come on, bro. A+ ? I’m a Vikes fan, and I support this reasoning for a B-. Boone was a solid pick-up, the rest are simply there to push starters and compete for depth spots (which is okay). The best moves Spielman made may very well have been dumping: Wallace, Blanton and Robinson. In that same vein, I think they should have washed their hands of Matt Kalil (I can’t remember if there is any dead money on his contract, or what happened with his extension, but he’s still a turn-style).

  • Mike

    1 ring in the 7-year Aaron Rodgers era means TT is failing to better his team enough to get more rings. You can’t just ignore free agency and hope your draft prospects will all work out year after year. Rodgers career is being hampered by TT. Period.

    • Cant FixStupid

      Especially in this era of football where the coaches off-season access of players is so extremely limited. Drafting and developing for coaches is becoming much tougher. But don’t tell the stubborn ass Ted Thompson that.

      • Mike

        Very true. I hadn’t thought of that, actually. I’m a Raiders fan and we have had a TT protege, Reggie McKenzie, leading our team for a few yrs now. Yes, we have grown by leaps and bounds, which makes me VERY happy. McKenzie is also adding a handful of high quality free agents into the mix to supplement the (mostly) solid drafts we’ve had. Yes, we’ve missed on some FA’s and draft picks, but that’s not the point. Once you build a great nucleus of players, you have to take that next leap and go for it…..go for the jugular and destroy your division opponents. Rookies and 2nd year players are cheaper and have the youthful exuberance, but they don’t have the experience to read offenses and defenses like a veteran. They don’t have the passion and the drive of a 7th year player who’s only playing so he can get that SB ring before he’s run out of the league. Thompson is really doing a disservice to his HOF QB and his fans by being cheap and hoping for the best with his draft picks……..sorry….

        • GBPFan12

          Don’t the raiders have like a 100 mil. in cap room thou?
          Try “Going for the Jugular” when Carr is rocking a 30 mil per year contract in 2018.

    • Vic Hedges

      Well said. I can’t believe there isn’t anybody outside of their own free agents that the Packers think would improve their team.

    • GBPFan12

      The Saints are doing what you’re suggesting TT do… how is that working out for them?

      Maybe if the injury bug would quit plaguing TT’s teams, they’d win some more superbowls. Tough to do much w/ a dozen starters on IR every year.

  • Eriknewman34

    I agree Mike. I’m a bears fan but I know what a good QB looks like (the opposite of what Chicago has had since. ..forever)

    • Adam Fogarty

      I know the franchise isn’t a total failure, they’ve had their ups and downs but I know a few bears fans and it seems like y’all are generally excited about the Bobby Massie signing I personally think he should be a backup but what are your thoughts as a bears fan. …….on another note the trevathan signing was awesome but I’m not sold on freeman but I’m not very high on one year wonders which is why I didn’t like the Kevin white pick in the draft

  • Adam Fogarty

    I’m not sold on freeman to the bears not a big fan of one year wonders especially in a contract year, but love the trevathan signing……as for the lions I love the Wilson signing, I like that they picked up Jones I just think they overpaid a little. …… for the Packers they only have one real weakness and that’s at middle linebacker so I’m fine with ted Thompson sitting on his hands this year. …… for Minnesota I personally think the griffin, Smith and lamur signing are going to be busts but I got high hopes for Boone

  • MN

    pretty tough to comment w/out premium statistics to reference. thanks for ripping that away from the fans btw

  • Alonzo

    Not ripping on the Packers but how the hell do they earn a “C” in free agency and they didn’t sign anyone to upgrade what they already have?