Analysis

NFC North roster reset: While Packers stay quiet, Bears, Lions and Vikings in flux

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Grant Gordon examines the current makeup of the NFC North below.

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
2020 record: 8-8

BIGGEST ADDITION: Andy Dalton, quarterback

Old team: Dallas Cowboys


Chicago moved on from the much-maligned Mitchell Trubisky, came up empty on a would-be swap for Russell Wilson and brought in Dalton, the former longtime Bengals starter who filled in for Dak Prescott in Dallas last season. While Wilson was the first choice, Bears brass still believes the offense will be better with Dalton. But let's not forget that, as scrutinized as Trubisky was, Chicago still made the playoffs two of the last three seasons with him (or despite him, in the eyes of many a disgruntled Chi-Town rooter). Dalton, meanwhile, hasn't been to the postseason since 2015 and was unable to lead Dallas to the top of a dreary NFC East last year, even with a supporting cast of skill players that was far better than what he's inheriting in Chicago. How the Bears' shot on the Red Rifle turns out could well tell the story of their 2021 season.


BIGGEST LOSS: Kyle Fuller, cornerback

New team: Denver Broncos


The most pivotal departure of a former Bears first-round pick this offseason was a cap casualty. Though Fuller (picked 14th overall in 2014) had stumbled from his 2018 form, it's still a significant loss of an excellent cover corner.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Quarterback


Even if Dalton exceeds the seemingly low expectations of Bears fans, he's clearly a bridge to whomever Chicago mines as its next hopeful future franchise quarterback. With apologies to Jim McMahon and Jay Cutler, the team's search for a bona fide franchise QB dates back more than 70 years, to the days of Hall of Famer Sid Luckman. Sitting at No. 20 overall, the Bears are set to draft in the first round for the first time since taking Roquan Smith in 2018. If they stay put, there's a good chance the pickings will be slim as far as first-round QB talent is concerned. Maybe that's a good thing, as the club's last three first-round QB selections -- Trubisky (taken second overall in 2017), Rex Grossman (No. 22 in 2003) and Cade McNown (No. 12 in 1999) -- certainly didn't pan out. Whether or not it happens on Day 1, though, it's imperative Chicago brings new hope to the QB room.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


  • This is a hugely important draft for general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, whose seats are not just hot but scorching, coming off back-to-back 8-8 campaigns. They need to win now. It could be interesting if Chicago has the chance to draft a quarterback but passes to select a player at a position that could provide an instant impact.
  • The theme of Allen Robinson's career has been producing with subpar quarterback play. But his numbers are all the more impressive considering Chicago has also failed to develop a certified No. 2 receiver to complement him. With Cordarrelle Patterson still a free agent and unlikely to re-sign, the Bears' need for playmakers looms large. Even with running back Tarik Cohen presumably returning healthy after losing the 2020 season to a torn ACL, Chicago must find some fresh legs to stretch the field.
  • It wasn't just the offense that proved problematic for the Bears. There were raised eyebrows aplenty when they signed Robert Quinn to a five-year, $70 million deal last offseason, and the veteran fell flat with a career-low two sacks in 15 games. With the Bears incurring $23.9 million in dead money if they cut Quinn, the defensive end remains, but ensuring the presence of a pass-rushing option opposite Khalil Mack is a pressing defensive need.
  • This has been an unconventional offseason, due to the salary cap shrinking, but it's still noteworthy that the majority of Chicago's offseason deals were for one year (see: Dalton, Desmond Trufant, Elijah Wilkinson, Damien Williams, etc.). Just 22 players on the roster are currently under contract through 2022. Add in the fact that Robinson will likely play out the season on the franchise tag, plus the indeterminate futures of the head coach and GM, and this is shaping up to be a seminal season for the Bears. If Chicago isn't successful, it's quite likely that we'll see a full-blown roster reboot by this time next year.


Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions
2020 record: 5-11

BIGGEST ADDITION: Jared Goff, quarterback

Old team: Los Angeles Rams


Though critics point out Matthew Stafford tallied only four winning seasons during his 12 years in Detroit, let's not forget the Lions suffered through eight consecutive losing campaigns prior to Stafford's arrival in 2009. Just like Stafford before him, Goff was drafted No. 1 overall by a team coming off a long stretch of futility (the Rams recorded nine straight losing years before selecting Goff in 2016). So this won't be a wholly unfamiliar setting for Goff. Though it is presumed by many he'll be a bridge to the new regime's hand-picked QB of the future, the 26-year-old Goff still has a résumé that offers promising bullet points, including a Super Bowl start, two Pro Bowl nods and a 42-27 career record.


BIGGEST LOSS: Matthew Stafford, quarterback

New team: Los Angeles Rams


Stafford is the franchise leader in passing yards (45,109) and passing touchdowns (282) by gigantic margins, and his exit marks the end of a huge chapter in team history. The club did plenty of revamping over Stafford's Detroit tenure, but for the first time since 2008, the Lions are starting anew without him as their QB.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Wide receiver


Needs are plentiful across the new-look roster, but with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones gone, plucking a wideout from a receiver-rich draft is a priority. Vets Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, both added on one-year pacts, bring temporary name recognition, but picking seventh overall, the Lions should have a chance to add an exciting new target for Goff.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


  • With all the talk of biting kneecaps and whatnot, Dan Campbell's introduction as the leader of yet another new era in Detroit assuredly drew doubters, if not eye rolls. But it's been entertaining and different, and he's assembled perhaps the most athletic group of assistant coaches ever. It should be fascinating to see what Campbell and new GM Brad Holmes do with their first class of draft picks.
  • While wide receiver is the most prominent offensive need, bolstering the offensive line -- particularly at guard -- and bringing in a QB to develop behind Goff is likely on the agenda.
  • The previous regime's revamped defense struggled mightily, no matter how many high-priced free agents came on board (many of them ex-Patriots). With the defensive front -- keyed by former Pats Trey Flowers and Jamie Collins, along with the re-signed Romeo Okwara and former Ram Michael Brockers -- being the most promising unit on paper, middle linebacker and the defensive backfield are screaming for an upgrade.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
2020 record: 13-3

BIGGEST ADDITION: To be determined


In terms of new additions, it's been a noiseless offseason, which has been otherwise highlighted by running back Aaron Jones' re-signing -- and marked by the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers. Anyone wanting to learn who Green Bay's first notable fresh face of 2021 will be will have their eyes on the draft stage in Cleveland.


BIGGEST LOSS: Corey Linsley, center

New team: Los Angeles Chargers


A starter for seven seasons in Green Bay, Linsley left for sunny Southern California and a deal that made him the highest-paid center in the game. Linsley was the top-rated center in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, and his departure shouldn't be understated. It leaves a mammoth hole in talent and continuity smack dab in the middle of the Packers' offensive line. Green Bay went 3-0 when Linsley was injured last year, but the stretch came against sub-.500 competition, and the Packers allowed seven sacks in that span.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Wide receiver


Davante Adams is an otherworldly talent, but he needs some help, and Rodgers needs another top-end target he can count on. This is nothing new for the Packers ahead of the draft, a storyline that seems to carry on every year, making the failure to expand Rodgers' arsenal all the more puzzling. For a second year in a row, the draft is heavy with talented wideouts, so maybe this time around, Rodgers will finally get that first-round receiver.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


  • Jaire Alexander's established himself as a premier corner, but help is called for. One of the most haunting 2020 images for the Packers is Bucs wideout Scotty Miller speeding past Kevin King for a touchdown in the NFC title game -- a play that signaled the end of Green Bay's season. Though King's been re-signed, that replay is enough of an argument for CB reinforcements.
  • Joe Barry's taking over the reins as defensive coordinator following the end of Mike Pettine's run as DC, which was mired by huge defensive letdowns in each of the last two NFC title tilts. Shoring up the run defense is paramount, particularly at the inside 'backer spots, and by adding some defensive-line depth around Kenny Clark.
  • The silence of the Packers' offseason has been deafening, with the team transaction wire offering nothing but a smattering of re-signings and restructures. Last offseason, Green Bay made a stunning trade up to take QB Jordan Love in the first round, and he ended up with zero snaps, heading a nine-player crop of rookie Packers that included just one multi-game starter (linebacker Kamal Martin). The question of Rodgers' future has been a cloud hanging over the offseason, but it's also somewhat diverted the focus from Green Bay having done little to improve its roster and, consequently, making the draft extremely important.
Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings
2020 record: 7-9

BIGGEST ADDITION: Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive tackle

Old team: New York Giants


Setting aside the Vikings' apparent happiness with cornering the market on Dalvins in the NFL, the former Big Blue starter brings a huge and consistent presence to the defensive line. After four seasons in New York in which he started 64 straight games to begin his career, the 27-year-old is an experienced player who is also still in his prime years as he joins Mike Zimmer's defensive front.


BIGGEST LOSS: Riley Reiff, offensive tackle

New team: Cincinnati Bengals


The Vikings released Reiff after four seasons as the team's starting left tackle, saving $11.75 million in cap space -- but creating a 6-foot-6, 305-pound hole at one of the most important positions.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Offensive tackle


Kirk Cousins was sacked 39 times a season ago playing behind Pro Football Focus' 28th-rated pass-blocking line. While the interior was the most problematic part of the line in 2020 and still should be addressed, Reiff's departure leaves the most glaring and important 2021 need.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


  • A usually stalwart Vikings defense was dreadful in 2020, ranking 29th in points allowed per game (29.7). GM Rick Spielman most certainly looked to remedy that ill in free agency and, in doing so, he has rejuvenated Zimmer, which could well be the finest development for the franchise. That said, a return -- rather than an addition -- might bode best for the Vikings' defensive improvement; two-time Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter is expected back after missing all of 2020 with a neck injury. It warrants reminding that Hunter racked up 29 combined sacks in 2018 and '19.
  • Another notable departure was that of safety Anthony Harris, who signed with the Eagles. Harris tied for the NFL interception lead in 2019 and was the second-highest-rated safety that year, per PFF. However, the 29-year-old free-fell to 38th among safeties in 2020. Harris' replacement, former Cowboys starter Xavier Woods, is younger (25) and has the potential to develop under Zimmer's tutelage.
  • Like Woods, Patrick Peterson heads to Minnesota on a one-year deal. It's hard to fathom Peterson, 30, reclaiming the form of seasons ago, but there are worse things than taking a one-season chance on an eight-time Pro Bowler.
  • With Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson -- who's coming off one of the greatest rookie campaigns ever for a wideout -- Adam Thielen and Irv Smith, Cousins has a stellar corps of skill-position talent. And for as much as he's maligned, Cousins has put up good numbers for the Vikings. Offensive line and just about every level of the defense should be draft priorities, but it wouldn't be shocking to see Minnesota select a QB on the draft's second or third day.

Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter.

Related Content

Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.