When the lockout is over, it could be a mad dash for talent all over the NFL. With that in mind, we examine the most important things each team must accomplish with a division-by-division breakdown. This is a look at the NFC North.
Sign a big-time receiver:Jay Cutler was sacked 52 times last year, or once every nine pass attempts. Pass protection will help this issue, but so will a No. 1 receiver. The Bears' receivers had solid production, but Cutler's 23 touchdown passes ranked 13th in the NFL. A tall receiver who could force rolled coverage his way, would slow down the blitzing and give Cutler lots of looks at similar coverages. Sidney Rice would be a good addition. Santonio Holmes or even Braylon Edwards would change coverages and Cutler might push the 30-touchdown mark by the end of the season.
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Sign a top-end right guard: This is a good year to go after a guard and the Bears could use one. The Atlanta Falcons' Harvey Dahl is a very physical player, only gave up two sacks last year and just 5.5 in 48 career games, plus he will upgrade the run blocking and give the line an identity. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Davin Joseph only gave up 1.5 sacks last year and would also enhance the run game.
Re-sign Adams and get a linebacker: I talked with Brian Urlacher recently and he couldn't say enough about playing behind Anthony Adams. It's a classic example of a guy worth more to his own team than on the open market. Adams makes the inside of the Bears' defense work and he needs to be back. But the linebacker group needs a new face to the mix. Pisa Tinoisamoa should be a backup if he's re-signed. The Bears need to get a reliable veteran to complement Urlacher and Lance Briggs; a Sam linebacker that can play over the tight end and contain the strong-side run game. The Buccaneers' Quincy Black or the Carolina Panthers' James Anderson would be interesting guys to consider. Manny Lawson played outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 base defense, but might be a solid choice if Chicago can't get a top linebacker.
Sign two linebackers: The Lions need to be very aggressive in order to bolster the position. They can't go into this season thinking Doug Hogue and Zack Follett are the starters. The front four is on its way to being very good and deep. I believe the Lions will take a look at Stephen Tulloch, who Jim Schwartz coached while with the Tennessee Titans. Tulloch brings attitude and production -- he was in on 160 tackles (an average of 10 tackles a game) last season. A second 'backer would also work, especially a young player like Tampa Bay's Quincy Black, who plays in a similar scheme to Detroit's.
Upgrade the corner position: To win the NFC North, the Lions have to stop the passing games of Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers) and Chicago (Jay Cutler). Between the two quarterbacks, they are 9-1 vs. Detroit and have 23 touchdowns to five interceptions. The Lions' secondary doesn't measure up and changes must be made. No one seems to think they can sign the Oakland Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, but they must try. The Cincinnati Bengals' Johnathan Joseph and New York JetsAntonio Cromartie are also corners to pursue.
Sign one experienced safety:Louis Delmas is a solid, young safety but he needs a partner. The Lions were sixth in the NFL in sacks (44), so pressure wasn't a problem. However, they were only 28th in passes defended (76). Erik Coleman was signed before the lockout and might beat out Amari Spievey for the strong safety job, but the Lions need another veteran. The Buffalo Bills' Donte Whitner led all safeties in tackles last year and the Houston Texans' Bernard Pollard was second, plus he had four forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and five passes defended.
Green Bay Packers
Re-sign Jenkins: The Packers were a better defense when Cullen Jenkins was on the field. Johnny Jolly is as good as gone, and Justin Harrell never really lived up to the first-round expectations. Jenkins could be a big-money item, but it is worth it. While the Packers are selective about handing out major deals, Ryan Pickett is getting long in the tooth and Jenkins' athletic ability lets defensive coordinator Dom Capers come up with some great schemes.
Sign a guard:Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback, and he hides a number of problems on the offensive line with his decision-making and feet. Still, Rodgers has also been sacked 128 times in the last three years and that has to stop. There is a need at guard and as I said before, there are some terrific options in free agency. Caleb Schlauderaff, a 2011 sixth-round pick, or T.J. Lang can't really be the starter if they want to protect Rodgers and repeat as champs. Take your pick: The Falcons' Harvey Dahl, Buccaneers' Davin Joseph, Ravens' Marshal Yanda and Falcons' Justin Blalock are all upgrades, especially if the Packers don't re-sign Daryn Colledge.
Bring back Kuhn: It might not seem like a big deal, but John Kuhn is a role player who contributes in many ways. Whether it's special teams, a key block in the run game, a hard-fought run or a reception when no one figures the ball is going his way, Kuhn delivers. In some cases, you don't know how valuable a guy is until he's gone and the Packers don't need to find out the hard way about Kuhn's value to the team.
Acquire a veteran quarterback:Christian Ponder might be more ready than most rookie quarterbacks, but that doesn't mean he's ready to win 10 games with a veteran team like Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is in the prime of his career, and the Vikings don't want to waste the good years he has left training Ponder. A veteran passer like Matt Hasselbeck or Kyle Orton could put the Vikes back in the NFC North race.
Re-sign Rice:Sidney Rice is a difference-maker, and complements Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian so well. When Rice is on the field, there is a classic conflict for the defense between defending Peterson or the passing game. Rice will score touchdowns, too. In case 2009 left your memory, Rice caught 83 passes at 15.8 yards per reception with eight touchdowns. The Vikings need Rice and probably should have at least transition tagged him, but that's water under the bridge. It would be bad for the Vikings if Rice went ahead and signed with a division rival such as the Bears.
Find a safety to replace Williams: Madieu Williams has never been the same since his neck injury, and it's time the Vikings find a replacement. Williams is scheduled to make $5.4 million next season and could be a cap casualty. He had one interception and two passes defended in 2010, and he struggles to tackle. The San Francisco 49ers' Dashon Goldson, New Orleans Saints' Roman Harper and Oakland Raiders' Michael Huff would be interesting options.