Posted by: mdegeorge | August 10, 2011

NFL Free Agency Diagnosis: NFC North

The 2011 NFL season has come courtesy of an unprecedented time in the league’s history. Essentially two offseasons worth of transactions have been jammed into around two weeks to completely reshape the entire league in the blink of an offseason eye. Most of what you thought you knew about a team can be thrown out, with some teams having close to 40 percent of their rosters overhauled instantly.

Let’s try and bring some order to this mess, since the pressure is going to ratchet up starting Thursday when the first round of preseason games kicks off and the hot stove might cool a bit. Below are the lists of departures and arrivals for each of the 32 NFL teams and just what they mean for teams.

We’ll be going division by division, moving onto the NFC North.

Mason Crosby, still kicking for the defending Super Bowl champs. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Chicago Bears

Signed: DT Anthony Adams, RB Marion Barber, TE Desmond Clark, CB Corey Graham, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Sam Hurd, LB Brian Iwuh, DT Amobi Okoye, P Adam Podlesh, LB Nick Roach, TE Matt Spaeth, C Chris Spencer, WR Roy Williams

Lost: WR Devin Aromashodu, WR Rashied Davis, DT Tommie Harris, C Olin Kreutz, S Danieal Manning, P Brad Maynard

Diagnosis: The Bears’ offensive line should improve as part of what was the 29th best scoring offense in the league last year. Spencer (70 starts in five seasons) is an upgrade over Kreutz, while first-rounder Gabe Carimi is a typical Midwestern grass-fed giant at tackle. They exchange an old punter for a younger one, get some insurance for a Matt Forte holdout in Barber, and see the departure of Harris, long a mainstay of a stout defensive front who’d fallen out of favor. Most importantly, they surround the beleaguered Jay Cutler with a big target in Williams in addition to Hurd. The hope is that the offense will take enough small steps forward to pace a normally solid defense to the playoffs.

Detroit Lions

Signed: LB Bobby Carpenter, WR Rashied Davis, LB Justin Durant, FB Jerome Felton, C Dylan Gandy, CB Maurice Leggett, CB Brandon McDonald, K Dave Rayner, QB Drew Stanton, WR Maurice Stovall, LB Stephen Tullock, S John Wendling, CB Eric Wright, DE Keyunta Dawson, DT Montavious Stanley

Lost: DE Turk McBride

Diagnosis: The Lions believe they have a core that is solid and young enough to make only small changes. They give quarterback Matt Stafford, who they hope can remains healthy for more than five straight weeks, a couple new weapons in Stovall and Davis. Defensively, they were able to add veteran pieces to a great young core. Dawson adds depth to the line, Tullock is the middle linebacker who can captain the defense and strengthen the 24th-best rush defense in the league and they add depth at corner. If the Lions can stay healthy, they might be able to navigate a tough division for a surprise playoff bid.

Green Bay Packers

Signed: K Mason Crosby, WR James Jones, FB John Kuhn, WR Brett Swain, TE Spencer Hayner

Lost: LB Nick Barnett, G Daryn Colledge, FB Korey Hall, RB Brandon Jackson, DE Cullen Jenkins, TE Donald Lee, LB Brady Poppinga, G Jason Spitz, DT Justin Harrell

Diagnosis: The defending Super Bowl champs obviously felt they didn’t need to change much. With all the injuries they suffered through a season ago on the road to the Lombardi Trophy, they’re probably right. Having Ryan Grant healthy is like an acquisition on its own. They retain Jones and Swain, two of the many depth-providing wideouts, while Crosby is a key player to retain. The oft-injured Barnett and Poppinga aren’t big losses for a deep linebacker corps. Colledge and Jenkins were significant contributors, but the drafting of Derek Sherrod for the offensive line and the depth at linebacker in a 3-4 defense minimizes their impact. They managed a Super Bowl win with the league’s 24th-best rushing attack; with all their big contributors back, they’ll be fine even without many changes.

Minnesota Vikings

Signed: WR Devin Aromashodu, DT Remi Ayodele, OT Ryan Cook, DT Fred Evans, S Eric Frampton, LB Erin Henderson, WR Michael Jenkins, OT Charlie Johnson, K Ryan Longwell, QB Donovan McNabb

Lost: S Husain Abdullah, DE Ray Edwards, QB Tarvaris Jackson, WR Sidney Rice, CB Frank Walker, S Madieu Williams, OT Bryant McKinnie, DT Jimmy Kennedy

Diagnosis: The quarterbacking torch has been passed in Minnesota but not necessarily to whom most thought would receive it. Jackson is gone, while McNabb has blown into town to mentor/bridge to the Christian Ponder era. He finds the cast of offensive characters more limited, with Rice being replaced with Jenkins, a slight downgrade, and Aromashodu as a depth guy. The tackle position is changing hands, with the Vikes taking a chance on Johnson after he flopped in Indianapolis. Defensively, they lose two big safeties in Williams and Abdullah, eight-sack man Edwards and depth corner Williams. Ayodele is a nice addition to replace what Kennedy was unable to give them last year due to injury. The might not be as bad as last season, but the Vikings haven’t exactly been bullish in making changes.

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