The NFC North was turned on its head as it fell out of step with the NFL 2022 preseason betting online markets. The defending champions Green Bay Packers fell off their pedestal; the Chicago Bears nosedived to the bottom of the pile with nary a whimper; the Detroit Lions launched a surprising playoff bid down the stretch; and the Minnesota Vikings, capitalizing on all of their rivals’ woes and inconsistency, claimed the NFC North title along with the No.2 seed in the NFC standings for the playoffs.
Where does the NFC North go from here? With the NFL Free Agency approaching, we survey all four teams in the NFC North. Who are the free agents contained within this division that could potentially be hitting the offseason catwalk in search of greener pastures? At the same time, we will identify the needs of every team that are likely to shape its free agency moves.
Let’s check the latest NFL news, stats, injury reports, and NFL picks for you to consider.
NFL Free Agency NFC North Lookahead
- Wide receiver
- Offensive tackle
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
- Quarterback (?)
Arguably, the Bears’ only (or one of few) redeeming features is quarterback Justin Fields, but there is genuine doubt about whether Chicago’s front office will build around the third-year quarterback next season. According to the gossip mill, a total reset at the quarterback position is not off the table now that Chicago has the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Todd McShay believes the Bears should trade Justin Fields and draft Bryce Young.
He’s not wrong. At a 5-20 career record and though we saw improvement from year 1 to 2, we know who Justin Fields is. Young shows much more upside as passer. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/pv8oNUq9AB
— Off The Deck Sports (@OTDSports_) February 18, 2023
Short of a crystal ball, we won’t know what course of action general manager Ryan Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus and their staffs will take in the offseason. But it would be grossly unfair to lay all of the blame for what was an unmemorable 2022 campaign solely at the quarterback’s feet.
Fields’ apologists will point to the fact that he had nothing to work with in the form of weapons, let alone adequate protection around him, arguing that in his two seasons under two different regimes, he didn’t have a fair chance to showcase his wares. His critics will point to his 6-21 record in the NFL as ample evidence of his potential and limitations at the same time.
Addressing the shortage of weapons and skilled position players on the offensive side of the ball must be one of GM Poles’ top priorities. Fields lacked a true No. 1 wide receiver to throw to last season and while the former Ohio State product is a dual-threat quarterback, the importance of a multi-dimensional offense can’t be overstated.
If Fields is to develop into the franchise quarterback that Chicago needs and wants him to be, the Bears will need to provide him with a true, game-changing talent at the receiver position. Speaking about quarterback production, shoring up the protection around the quarterback is going to have to be another top priority. That means prioritizing the offensive line in the open market and during the draft talent grab.
On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago left much to be desired. The pass rush was a disappointment and the defensive line overall (along the interior and edge) was a big weakness. In particular, the Bears were left exposed after trading defensive superstar Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers ahead of the 2022 season. Finding a true disrupter that will fill the big shoes the outside linebacker left is another pressing need.
- Unrestricted Free Agents (25): WR Byron Pringle, LB Nicholas Morrow, RT Riley Reiff, IDL Angelo Blackson, WR N’Keal Harry, TE Ryan Griffin, S DeAndre Houston-Carson, LS Patrick Scales, LB Matthew Adams, S Dane Cruikshank, LB Joe Thomas, IDL Mike Pennel, RG Michael Schofield, LG Dakota Dozier, QB Tim Boyle, QB Nathan Peterman, LB Elijah Lee, WR Dante Pettis, RB David Montgomery, FB Khari Blasingame, RB Darrynton Evans, IDL Andrew Brown, TE Trevon Wesco,, IDL Armon Watts, EDGE Andre Anthony
- Restricted Free Agents (3): LB Javin White, CB Breon Borders, C Sam Mustipher,
- Restricted/ Exclusive Free-Rights Agents (2): CB Josh Blackwell, LG Dieter Eiselen
- Defensive Tackle
- Wide Receiver
The Lions’ 2022 campaign was a tale of halves. The first, not so good behind a 1-6 start. The second, outstanding behind an 8-2 run. General manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell will be looking to build on that promising second half, and one of the areas that is likely to be a focal point is the defense, which ranked 32nd in the league. At one point, to Campbell’s obvious frustration, the defense was so bad that it couldn’t stop running water from a tap.
Detroit’s defense is largely made up of young and emergent talent. Admittedly, the Lions have reaped the rewards of Jeff Okudah’s development and maturation. The rest of the cornerback group failed to impress and left Detroit exposed without a genuine No. 2 cornerback to support Okudah. Shoring up the cornerback position is going to be key.
The Lions landed one of the most coveted defensive prospects in Aiden Hutchinson last season in the draft. Finding support for him in the pass rush will help this defense take the next step, not to mention counter any losses in free agency. Speaking of free agency, the linebacker position could become a focal point if the front office can’t agree to terms with Chris Board and/or Josh Woods.
The Lions’ offense was electric when it found its pulse and Jared Goff’s ability to put up the points saw him finish fifth among quarterbacks in the league’s rankings. And yet, there are those that would push for an upgrade at this position, a consideration borne out of the direction many offenses are taking in today’s NFL, building around dual-threat signal callers.
Whether a quarterback upgrade is a pressing need ahead of next season is debatable, especially when the secondary could use improvement along with the run game. What’s more, depending on how free agency unfolds, the Lions could be in the market for a wide receiver if they don’t agree to terms with wide receiver D.J. Clark.
- Unrestricted Free Agents (16): ILB Alex Anzalone, LB Chris Board, G Evan Brown, DE Austin Bryant, DE Isaiah Buggs, WR DJ Chark, DE John Cominsky, LB Jarrad Davis, S Deshon Elliott, S Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, RB Justin Jackson, CB Amani Oruwariye, QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Jamaal Williams, LB Josh Woods,
- Restricted Free Agents (4): WR Trinity Benson, OT Matt Nelson, OT Dan Skipper, S Bobby Price (RFA)
- Restricted/ Exclusive Free-Rights Agents (6): TE Brock Wright, LS Scott Daly, DT Benito Jones, WR Tom Kennedy, LB Anthony Pittman, G Tommy Kraemer, RB Craig Reynolds
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
- Offensive Linebacker
- Defensive Tackle
Everything hinges on Aaron Rodgers, whether he returns to Green Bay or parts ways with the only team he’s known during his professional playing career. It’s no secret that Rodgers and Green Bay are at a crossroads, and how this existential dilemma unfolds will influence the decisions ahead of 2023.
Interesting tidbit from @TomPelissero on Aaron Rodgers, ‘because he basically has veto power over any destination’ (contract & retirement threat) he could say ‘I’m only going’ to insert team which could dramatically affect the trade price 👀 🎥 @RichEisenShow #Jets @richeisen pic.twitter.com/J4egAEN5Uv
— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) February 22, 2023
The passing game (or lack thereof) has been a bane of Green Bay’s recent seasons. That means, regardless of the quarterback – be it Rodgers, heir apparent Jordan Love or another signal caller that might be acquired through free agency, trade or the 2023 NFL Draft – it is the one facet of the game that is in desperate need of rejuvenating.
General manager Brian Gutekunst and Green Bay’s front office have been strangely reluctant to provide Rodgers with elite weapons at the receiver and tight end position. Rodgers was able to mask some of these offensive shortcomings — until last season. A fact that was helped along by the departure of All-Pro wideout Davante Adams in the offseason without any appropriate replacement in place that would fill the gaping hole he left on the offense.
Christian Watson proved to be a late-season revelation at the wideout position, but he’s going to need help if or when Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb enter the open market next month. Adding to these potential vacancies in the wide receiver group is a possible void at the tight end position, with unrestricted free agent Robert Tonyan Jr. likely to head to the exit door as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers could be looking at a few holes in key positions. This includes the safety and defensive tackle positions as Adrian Amos is an unrestricted free agent that is expected to test the open market along with defensive tackle Jarian Reed. Whereas pass rusher Rashan Gary is coming off an ACL injury and adding help to this D-unit is going to be another focal point.
- Unrestricted Free Agents (14): FS Adrian Amos, WR Randall Cobb, K Mason Crosby, S Johnathan Ford, DE Justin Hollins, WR Allen Lazard, S Dallin Leavitt, TE Marcedes Lewis, DE Dean Lowry, OT Yosh Nijman, CB Keisean Nixon, DE Jarran Reed, TE Robert Tonyan Jr., OLB Eric Wilson
- Restricted/ Exclusive Free-Rights Agents (0): Not applicable
- Restricted Free Agents (2): LB Krys Barnes, TE Tyler Davis (RFA)
- Defensive End
- Wide Receiver
The Vikings were one of the most confounding teams, boasting a potent offense and a porous defense in tandem. These juxtaposing units often worked against each other, but it all came to a head in the postseason where Minnesota was a one-and-done team.
That said, there were plenty of positive takeaways for first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell to build on. The only question is whether or not general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah can magic some savvy moves, all while working within a constricting budget, tight cap space, and a limited number of draft picks.
The offense flourished under O’Connell’s guidance and with a few tweaks, it could become a force. Justin Jefferson is an exceptional talent and leader on the receiving corps, but he could do with some help to give Kirk Cousins more deep-threat options. It wouldn’t hurt to explore the tight end position as well with Adam Thielen turning 33 before the start of next season.
Arguably, Minnesota’s defense is going to command the front office’s attention. Cornerbacks Kris Boyd, Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelly, and Chandon Sullivan are heading toward the open market unless deals are made. The passing defense let Minnesota down in 2022 and it will need shoring up. Acquiring a presence in the middle of the defensive line, such as an impact inside linebacker would help the pass and run defense.
- Unrestricted Free Agents (13): CB Kris Boyd, C Garrett Bradbury, DE Jonathan Bullard, LS Andrew DePaola, WR Olabisi Johnson, K Greg Joseph, RB Alexander Mattison, QB Nick Mullens, CB Patrick Peterson, G Austin Schlottmann, TE Irv Smith Jr., CB Chandon Sullivan, OT Oli Udoh, DL Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Duke Shelley
- Restricted/ Exclusive Free-Rights Agents (2): OT Blake Brandel, DT Khyiris Tonga
- Restricted Free Agents (1):TE Ben Ellefson, Edge Kenny Willekes