NFC North free agency needs: Can Bears afford new tight end?


With free agency set to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, Elliot Harrison identifies needs for all 32 teams over eight divisional primers. You'll find the outlook for each NFC North team below, but click here to examine other divisions.

Send your own thoughts on free agency to Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

Chicago Bears

Top priority in free agency: Tight end.
Chicago has to acquire a tight end via free agency or the 2013 NFL Draft. The guys due to hit the open market on March 12: Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, Delanie Walker, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, Anthony Fasano and Brandon Myers. (Yes, Tony Gonzalez is "available," too. Forget it.) The question here is whether the Bears will have the money to sign anyone. Right now, Chicago has very little cap room and decisions to make about linebacker Brian Urlacher and offensive guard Lance Louis. Those aren't the only players, either -- defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Nick Roach are all pending free agents who have contributed on the defensive side of the ball for the Bears. Taking care of their own might be the theme over the next few weeks in the Windy City.
Other areas of interest: Offensive tackle, linebacker, offensive guard.

Detroit Lions

Top priority in free agency: Defensive end.
You hear all sorts of rumors about what the Lions are going to do with the fifth overall pick in April. Defensive end and cornerback are the two positions that come up the most. Charles Davis has Detroit taking Alabama corner Dee Milliner in his latest mock draft. Of course, draft strategies depend on what happens in free agency over the next couple of months. No matter what, Detroit must address the D-line, specifically both defensive end slots. Right now, the penciled-in starters are restricted free agent Willie Young and second-year man Ronnell Lewis. That's not gonna produce 10 wins and a wild-card berth, folks. You would think the Lionshave to re-sign Cliff Avril, but the club's most productive pass rusher will demand top coin. The good news: Detroit restructured the contracts of Nate Burleson and Dominic Raiola to free up some space. That's important, especially if they want to re-up Chris Houston and/or Louis Delmas.
Other areas of interest: Cornerback, running back, safety.

Green Bay Packers

Top priority in free agency: Cornerback.
Green Bay could go in several directions in the draft, but they won't do much in free agency -- that's just not Ted Thompson's M.O. Interestingly enough, his biggest free-agent acquisition ever (Charles Woodson) is no longer a Packer and probably won't be playing in Green Bay again. He's 36 and looking at ending a great career in another NFL city. Sam Shields is a restricted free agent. Meanwhile, all those Packers fans who defended Tramon Williams after a tough 2011 season were treated to more mediocre football in 2012. Their issues in the secondary aside, the Packers generally make sparing use of free agency. Last year's "marquee" signing was Jeff Saturday -- a "splash" that culminated in the veteran center getting benched. The Packers build through the draft, but they could add a cost-efficient safety or boost their defensive-line depth through the free-agent marketplace.
Other areas of interest: Safety, linebacker, defensive line.

Minnesota Vikings

Top priority in free agency: Wide receiver.
Contrary to what many people think, Percy Harvin is not a free agent. Call him disgruntled. Call him a distraction. Call him "under contract." OK, but he's not happy with said contract, that much is certain. So that gives the Vikes a guy who wants to be traded at one receiver spot, with Greg Childs and Jarius Wright at the others. Wideout isn't the only issue the organization must deal with. Three Vikings linebackers are set to become free agents: Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson and Marvin Mitchell. It will be interesting to see what the team does with Henderson, who is a decent OLB in the 4-3 but can be a real liability in coverage.
Other areas of interest: Safety, middle linebacker, defensive line.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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