Around the NFC North: Free Agency Review

We're midway through the meat of the offseason and each of the three inferior NFC North teams has made significant changes to its roster through free agency. The Packers don't have the cap space to improve their team in the same way, but how many of the moves the other NFC North teams made will play out well? Let's review. 

Detroit Lions

The Lions came into the offseason with an easy blueprint: beef up the defense at every level. The offense was already top 5 last year, and even though it will probably regress a little, the defense clearly needs real NFL players at almost every level. While they didn't exactly do that, they certainly made significant moves in the secondary, signing C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Cam Sutton, and Emmanuel Moseley, all plus players. 

Sutton and Moseley will join (possibly) Jeff Okudah to create potentially the best cornerback trio in the division and Gardner-Johnson and Kerby Joseph are likely the division's best safety duo. For a defense that wants to play press-man coverage and generate pass rush with four, the signings were perfect. The secondary is a weak link system and just having average to above-average players at every spot is a giant leap forward for the defense. The team didn't do much to improve the other levels of the defense, however. 

They re-signed perennial JAG Alex Anzalone at linebacker and the biggest splash on the d-line was signing John Cominsky. I get that fixing an entire side of the ball can't happen in one off-season (and maybe the Lions aren't done just yet) but you'd think they'd prioritize those spots over signing a 57-year-old Marvin Jones or a slow running back on an already good offense.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings were in the bad spot of having, arguably, just as many holes as the Lions, but almost no cap space. So, of course, they spent $13 million on Marcus Davenport and his 21.5 career stats. Of course, that wasn't it, they also signed the Packers' worst d-lineman, a 5'11: corner, and a blocking-only tight end. 

I am, admittedly, using a little hyperbole to describe the moves. Byron Murphy is a good corner, Marcus Davenport has had a lot of potential spoiled by injury, Dean Lowry had a good year once, and Josh Oliver will help diversify the offense and improve the run game. But none of these moves are really going to fix a defense that was the worst in the league last season or help an offense that started to worsen as teams figured out how to double Justin Jefferson last season. The Vikings will regress next season, the question is whether they'd regress to the point of worst team in the division? 

Chicago Bears

The Bears had the most money to spend in the league and they spent a lot of it. They signed Tremaine Edmunds to one of the richest linebacker contracts in the league and added former Badger T.J. Edwards to start alongside him. DeMarcus Walker and Andrew Billings are added d-line depth. PJ Walker, D'Onta Foreman, Robert Tonyan, and Nate Davis were added to the offense. The Bears spent a lot, but I can't shake the feeling that they still held back. 

Legitimate stars like Javon Hargrave, Jessie Bates, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson were on the board and they passed. There's an argument to be made that it isn't worth signing high-priced free agents on a team destined to be bad, but there's a fine line between not signing progress-stoppers and not trying to fill the roster with good NFL players. 

Good roster building takes time and it makes sense to not spend willy-nilly, but you also need to teach good habits and how to win. Rebuilds need to have incremental success to build upon and make sure impressionable young players don't start to build bad habits. Investing in a pair of linebackers and depth is nice if you want top tank for a new QB next year, but not if you want to build confidence in your current one.        

Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan who recently moved form Utah to Stoughton (a Madison suberb). You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.

2 points

Comments (17)

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BirdDogUni's picture

April 03, 2023 at 04:23 pm

"We're midway through the meat of the offseason and each of the three inferior NFC North teams has made significant changes to its roster through free agency." Per Mike Price...

Best sentence I've read since the end of the season.

Hear, hear, Mike Price.

5 points
Spawny's picture

April 03, 2023 at 04:41 pm

An actual real article about the NFC North. Thank you.
Only one question? Who are the three inferior teams?

0 points
HarryHodag's picture

April 03, 2023 at 05:09 pm

Only a homer would refer to the other NFC North teams as 'inferior'. Lest Mr. Price forgot, the Lions beat the Packers twice, including one time while at Lambeau when the Packers had a chance to get into the playoffs. They split games with the Vikings who won the division and beat the Bears. All of that WITH Aaron Rodgers.

So what I see are three teams that are as good or better than last season. The Lions and Bears certainly stepped forward. Green Bay has made a couple of signings but is largely the same team from a year ago likely WITHOUT Aaron Rodgers.

The best analysis would see the Lions and Bears moving up. The Vikings are holding pat, much like the Packers.

The Packers won't have the QB advantage this next season with Jordan Love having the least experience of any of the starters. If Joe Barry can emerge from his own kind of self-imposed darkness and get the defense playing better the Packers have a shot, but a shoo-in to the division title is anything but a shoo-in.

4 points
PatrickGB's picture

April 03, 2023 at 07:10 pm

Whomever looses the least, wins the division.

3 points
wildbill's picture

April 03, 2023 at 11:35 pm

So you’re saying the team that sucks the least will win the division? Can’t argue with that…

1 points
HarryHodag's picture

April 04, 2023 at 06:35 am

Loose refers to something that is not tied down.

Lose refers to winning or not.


1 points
PatrickGB's picture

April 04, 2023 at 09:13 am

You are quite right. I loose again. And nobody has tied down first place in our division. 😉

0 points
Leatherhead's picture

April 04, 2023 at 05:19 pm

HH....over the last 30 years, we've won the division 15 times. That's as much as Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit combined. Last year was a down year for us and the Lions squeaked out two close wins in games where we got very poor play from our QB. So feed me donuts and call me Homer, but we're the team that they're all chasing....because we're superior to them.

The Vikings had a lot of things go right last season. That's unlikely to happen two years in a row, and I would project they'll have a worse record than last year, but they could still win 9 games. Why 9? Because since the turn of the century, they haven't managed double digit win seasons.

The Bears could be really exciting if they can keep Fields on the field. A guy who plays like that is gonna take some hard hits and it only takes one. They had the #1 pick, which is something that you only get maybe once in your lifetime (Paul Hornung, 1957) unless you're a fan of Detroit or Cleveland, and they've traded it down, and if they use those picks to put some weaponry around Fields....or even just improve the blocking....they could be formidable. They will definitely win more than 3 games next season.

Detroit is an illusion, as always. In 25 years, they are 0-3 in the playoffs. They have not won the division since 1993. They have 5 winning seasons since then. They finish in last place in the division about half the time. They finished with 9 wins last year and haven't had back-to-back 9+ wins since 1995.

They were the best team in the league last year at protecting the ball, finishing #1 in turnovers, and had a big advantage in turnover differential, and still were barely .500. They lost every game that they had a turnover except their 15-9 win over us. I'll be very, very surprised if this turns into a 12 win team this year.


Did we have a QB advantage over Detroit last year? No. Over Minnesota? No. And we wouldn't have had this year, either, if we hadn't cut Rodgers loose.

-1 points
StarrtoRodgers's picture

April 04, 2023 at 05:49 pm

5 Dropped passes by the Packers in the final Lions game did not help.

42 Drops in 2022 vs. only 15 Drops in 2021 - Credit Packer Management for that.

Fumble by one of the Packers best - Aaron Jones - near the end of the first half with the Packers about to go up by 2 scores also did not help.

And now, if the IGNORANT, EMOTION DRIVEN bonehead Packer trade goes through it is unlikely the Packers will touch the playoffs more than once in the next 4 years while Rodgers finishes his 4 year contract with the Jets in 2026-27 and retires leaving Jets no dead cap and having led the Jets to the playoffs 4 years.

And Jets fans will be overjoyed with even having made the playoffs.

And spoiled young 40 and under Packer fans who have known nothing but Favre and Rodgers and complain that the Packers "only" won 1 Super Bowl during Rodgers 15 years as starter - which is as many as any other NFC QB over those 15 years - will be long gone from watching Packer games, having departed as the fair weather fans they are.

And Brian and Mark will be gone then too, to leave the mess they created for who knows who.

Maybe by that time some Parasite Billionaire will have purchased the Packers and join the other 31 Parasites and Lambeau Field will be renamed Amazon Park or something like that if Bezos fails in his pursuit of the Commanders.

And maybe Lafleur will leave like Lombardi did for stock in the Redskins - though probably not given the outcome that awaits him with College Football's 2019-2020 Interception leader that Brian drafted to replace the now 18 year longest tenured Packer who in 2018 had set an ALL TIME NFL RECORD with the fewest interceptions - just 2 - of any quarterback in NFL history who had thrown 500 passes in a season.

And the next year - 2019 - the same Packer QB threw 4 interceptions, placing him 2nd in the NFL Record books all time for fewest interceptions in a season for QBs that had over 500 pass attempts.

But now in 2023 the Packers will get to fully test out Brian's choice to replace these amazing feats by the all time longest tenured Packer with a Packer that over 4 years has started just 1 game - in which he was game planned for and terrible - with 2019-20 all of College Football, large and small, leader in most interceptions thrown, Jordan Love.

And we Packer die hards will be always cheering Jordan nonetheless because we are TRUE PACKER FANS, not Packer Management's boys.

1 points
Leatherhead's picture

April 05, 2023 at 01:23 pm

The Jets should draft you. You protect Rodgers better than Bakhtiari does.

0 points
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

April 04, 2023 at 03:00 am

Chicago passing on Gardner-Johnson was the correct thing to do. A GM can't build a team by signing guys who only want a one-year deal. He probably should have gotten a little more, but he misjudged his market. Don't waste your time on guys like that.

0 points
StarrtoRodgers's picture

April 04, 2023 at 04:51 am

Packer Management, one year removed from 13-3, 13-3, and 13-4 seasons - and 3-1 last year when their QB broke his thumb so bad that he could not take snaps behind center and had to use the shot gun and then followed by a flurry of injuries, including the team's sack leader - it seems has alienated its young players like Lazard and Tonyan and Barnes - and other vets like Jarran Reed - through their hard balling of Davante and now treatment of the longest tenured Packer in Packer history. Their cap hits with the Jets, Bears, Cardinals and Seahawks were well within the Packer space as would be the space needed to sign Cobb and Lewis.

The Packer 2022 13-4 was a young team and there was no need to let young talented players and reliable vets go.

The Rodgers 5 yr contract (4 remaining years through 2026-27 season) is no "ticking time bomb" as it is being portrayed nor are the Packers short of cap space.

Here is a comparison with other top QB's salary cap numbers and none of these QBs was at the top of all 32 starting QBs in passer rating 2 of the last 3 years or won the MVP 2 of the last 3 years:

Rodgers' if he plays for the Packers is $31.6 (13.9% of Packers adj salary cap of $226.8) in 2023 and $40.6 (16.2% of proj $247.2 2024 salary cap) in 2024 - reasonable relative to any star QB.

For 2023 the cap hits for other QBs are:

Mahomes $39.6 which is 18.1% of Chiefs $220.2 adj salary cap,

Tannehill $36.6 which is 15.85% of Titans $230.8 adj salary cap,

Lamar Jackson's $32.4 franchise tag amount is 14.5% of the Ravens $223.6 adjust salary cap,

Goff $30.9 is 13.6% of the Lions $ 227.2 adjusted salary cap,

etc. etc. etc. - The Giants w Daniel Jones, with 36 more starts than Jordan Love, did not exercise their 5th yr option on Jones but did just sign Jones to a $160 M 4 yr contract with $80 dead cap/guaranteed $.

"Adjusted" salary cap space is the new 2023 cap space number of $224.8 with an addition for rollover of free/unused cap space from the previous year.

Rodgers contract was purposely structured with the projected cap for future years in mind.

With the NFL now sharing in gambling revenues - which the NFL owners are promoting and growing like a weed - in addition to television, merchandising, licensing of NFL shield and team logos to thousands of corporations, the expectation is that NFL revenues in future years are going to be increasing more than 10% per year and that means the salary cap is going to be increasing by more than 10% each year.

2024 Projected salary cap $224.8 * 1.10 = $247.28
2025 Projected salary cap $247.28 * 1.10 = $272
2026 Projected salary cap $272 * 1.10 = $299.2

Here are the historical NFL salary cap numbers each year since the salary cap was instituted in 1994 - 7.97% this year, 2023:

If Rodgers retires his cap hit - with his % of total Packer salary cap - is the following year by year:

After June 1, 2023 $15.9 in 2023 ($15.9/$226.8) = , $24.5 in 2024 ($24.5/$247.28 = 9.9%)
After June 1, 2024 $22.7 in 2024 ($22.7/$272 = 9.2%) , $45.5 in 2025 ($45.5/$272 = 14.1%)
After June 1, 2025 $38.4 in 2025 ($38.4/$272 = 14.1%), $38.4 in 2026 ($38.4/$299.2 = 12.8%)
After June 1, 2026 $38.4 in 2026 ($38.4/$299.2 = 12.8%), $0 in 2027
After June 1, 2027 $0 in 2027

These are ordinary cap hits and cap %'s for any top NFL QB.

The Packers currently have $22.6 M in free salary cap space (1st 51 players, $13.7 M counting all players).
There are many teams with less cap space than the Packers, including the Jets!

The Jets currently have less than half as much free salary cap space as the Packers $22.6 with the Jets at $9.8 (1st 51 players, $1.3 M counting all players).

The Chiefs currently have $5.5 million in cap space when counting their top 51 players and negative -$2.3 million when counting all their players. Titans $8.0 and $2,0, Ravens $6.9 and $1.4.

Next year:

a) the Packers dead cap of $16.9 M for such void year hits for players as Amos, Lowry, Reed (who should have been extended & resigned) Tonyan (who should have been extended & resigned), Cobb (who should have been resigned & extended), Lewis (who should have been resigned & extended) and others will be gone

b) the current $224.8 M salary cap will increase as it usually does by about 10% of $22.5 M to $247.2

That dead cap going away + the annual salary increase by themselves will provide the Packers with about an incremental $40 M + the current $22.6 M for a total of $62.6 M in Cap space for 2024 to deal with:

1) Aaron's $9 M cap hit increase

2) other veteran extensions

3) 2nd contracts for rookies coming off their first 4 or 5 years (1st rounders if 5th yr option was exercised in lieu of new contract),

should Aaron not renegotiate his $47 M option payment for 2024 - as he had alluded to doing in different interviews - or other players not convert their salaries to signing bonuses or simply take salary cuts like many do - Aaron Jones this year, Randall Cobb last year, etc..

3 points
Tundraboy's picture

April 07, 2023 at 12:00 am

That's some impressive work!!!

0 points
Lphill's picture

April 04, 2023 at 05:50 am

The big disadvantage for the Packers is Joe Barry .

1 points
Charvid's picture

April 04, 2023 at 09:50 am

I really, truly , believe the Packers will be better with Love than Rodgers this year. He missed so many open receivers and his tunnel vision cost us a lot of drives.

We will actually be a better offense with JL at the helm than we were with AR.

1 points
Packerpasty's picture

April 04, 2023 at 12:39 pm

Lions win this division...way too many question marks with Packers..starting with Love and MLF.....always good to hope I suppose...

0 points
StarrtoRodgers's picture

April 04, 2023 at 01:02 pm

And the holes were unnecessary, Packer Management is unnecessarily creating the holes. And the biggest hole of all at QB.

1 points