NGSC Sports

Free Agency in the NFC North

If there is one thing NFL free agency has taught us this year it’s this : The NFC North loves to recycle it’s own mediocrity.

Is mediocre too harsh?  Maybe, but consider how this division is perceived.  It’s not as strong as the NFC’s or AFC’s West divisions – and it definitely isn’t as horrific as the NFC East and AFC South – it’s just somewhere lumped in between.   Detroit had the best division record at 4-2 yet finished third in the NFC North, while Green Bay came away with the NFC North crown much do to a “tie” in their final record.  It was Detroit’s division to lose – then it became Chicago’s – and in the last week of the season, as just mentioned, it was Green Bay’s at the end of it all.  All the while, the Minnesota Vikings just couldn’t get things right and although losing 10 games, about 5 or 6 of those losses could’ve gone either way.

So here comes the NFL’s Free Agency period to the rescue, right?  Eh.

Remember my recycling comment earlier?  Check this out:

Former Bear Julius Peppers signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Former Bear Corey Wooten signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

Former Lion Willie Young signed with the Chicago Bears.

Former Lion (who prior to this was a Bear) Israel Idonije signed with the Bears.

Former Packer M.D. Jennings signed with the Bears.

Some of these moves are probably a location thing, players not wanting to move far from a home they already built in their previous city. Other times, these moves are made out of spite.

The Green Bay Packers have the signing that most see as a spiteful one in Julius Peppers.  The Bears made it clear that they did not want a part of Peppers’ contract (and declining play) any longer and cut him, which led to his prompt signing with the Green Bay Packers.  Peppers is a shell of what he used to be, but if he gives Green Bay at least 10 good games, they should consider it a good signing.  The Packers were able to come to terms with two of their own in defensive tackle B.J. Raji and cornerback Sam Shields.  The Shields signing was a big one, considering this is a division that has receivers such as Brandon Marshall, Coradelle Patterson and “Megatron” to deal with – and Shields is a young corner who just came off his best season.  Adding Peppers to the defensive line with Raji is a move that you can say “at least they’re veterans.”  They have both struggled with health though and are removed from their prime.

The Minnesota Vikings decided to re-sign Matt Cassell who proved to be the better option over Christian Ponder last season.  They haven’t added much to their offense in Free Agency but with enough offensive talent in the draft, I’m guessing they’ll roll the dice there for some “O.” Defensively they signed a player I’ve always been a fan of, cornerback Captain Munnerlin.  The former South Carolina Gamecock has enough versatility to play the nickel and be a number two, which helps out their obvious number one corner, Xavier Rhodes.  A “low risk / high reward” signing was another cornerback – Derek Cox.  While Cox was in Jacksonville he showed flashes of being worth the $20 million contract the Chargers gave him last season.  Obviously the Chargers weren’t too impressed with his performance and released him, making him a bargain barrel signing for the Vikings.  If Cox can get back to how he played in Jacksonville, the Vikings may have a pretty formidable group of corners.  On the defensive line, the Vikings had to make a decision and they made the right one.  With both Jared Allen and Everson Griffen free agents, they re-signed  the 26 year old Griffen to a 5 year deal worth $42.5 million, leaving the fan favorite and team leader Jared Allen to roam free in the valley of free agency.  The Vikings also cut a deal with one of the top defensive tackle free agents in former NY Giant, Linval Joseph to a five year, $31.5 million dollar deal. For a market that is not too popular for free agents, the Vikings have made some interesting moves early in this off-season which should be noted within the NFC North.

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The Detroit Lions signed free agent wide receiver Golden Tate to a five year $31 million dollar contract which raised some eyebrows.  Did the Detroit Lions need to get a number two to compliment Calvin Johnson?  Indeed.  Is that guy Golden Tate?  Doubtful. Tate has been in the league since 2010 and has never gone over 1000 yards receiving.  He called the offer Seattle laid out for him as “laughable” but the real comedy is that Detroit would fork over that much cash for a guy who might be just as good as a receiver they could have gotten in the 1st or 2nd round of this year’s draft.  Other than that, the Lions really haven’t made any serious waves in free agency.  One would’ve thought Detroit would’ve tried to get some help in their secondary, but it seems for now they are content with trying to wreck enough havoc up front to make up for the lack of talent in their secondary.

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The Chicago Bears had one focus in this off-season.  Defensive Overhaul.  A big time pass rusher was their main objective and after failing to lure defensive end Michael Bennett away from Seattle, the Bears were able to lock down former Oakland Raider, Lamaar Houston.  Signing Willie Young was another one of those “under the radar” signings the Bears made as Young came into his own last season in Detroit and brings the old school energy and work ethic that is the back bone of a traditional Chicago Bears defense.  The Bears’ defense last year looked less “Monsters of the Midway” and more “Puppies Playing in Traffic” – losing Henry Melton to the Cowboys was a bit of a shock (Houston and Melton are “BFF’s”) but getting fan favorite Idonije back into the fold was a solid signing as well as the re-signing of Jay Ratliff.  As a Bears fan I thanked the football gods for Charles Tillman re-signing by burning my Julius Peppers jersey  (I kid.) Although the safety position is one of big concern for the Bears they were not in the running for any of the top safeties available and might have to try their luck in the draft as there are three who are projected to go in the first two rounds this year.  Josh McCown not re-signing with the Bears hurt their off-season because at least with McCown you knew you had a back up who understood the offense just as well as Jay Cutler.

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Some fans expect way too much from free agency.  Look at teams in the past who have been the “winners” in free agency: Miami, Buffalo, Philadelphia. . . It never translates to immediate success or in some cases any success at all.  It’s all about finding guys to occupy spaces you need filled and at the same time fit your team dynamic.  Detroit is the only team in this division who hasn’t done much in free agency, and maybe they’re fine with that.  On the flip side, I think Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota have all made nice additions to their rosters, but with the NFL Draft on the way, it’s all far from over.

 

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

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