The Detroit Lions are going to make a ton of moves this offseason, all with the expressed goal of winning the Super Bowl. While all of those moves will get tons of coverage here at Pride of Detroit, they are not taking place in a vacuum. The moves that their three big rivals in the NFC North make could be just as impactful upon their Super Bowl hopes this season.
Today, we will look at what the other three teams in the NFC North are facing heading into the spring, how they may end up looking in 2020, and what it means for the Lions.
An interesting offseason approaches for the Green Bay Packers. They are coming off of the 13-3 season that saw them win the NFC North and get all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Usually, a team coming off of a season like that would be looking to just bring back the same team, maybe shore up one position, but mostly try again with the same group.
The Packers are different than the usual 13-3 team, though. Longtime quarterback Aaron Rodgers seems like he is on the last legs of his career and is clearly not the player he once was. Their offensive line is getting older, and it is hard to sustain wins due to a run-based offense across multiple years. Their dominant defense had a few horrible stretches last year and Blake Martinez, their rock at middle linebacker, may walk in free agency after a dismal end to the season.
Their 13-3 record feels like fool’s gold, and they might have some real needs to fill this offseason. Rodgers will be the starter in Green Bay until the day he retires, but they may need to add a top-level backup quarterback in case Rodgers is struck by the injury bug once again. They also need to add an actual NFL caliber receiver to play across Davante Adams, as the group of undrafted free agents and late-round picks they currently have are not cutting it.
Green Bay is the team that may regress the most in the NFC, and unless they make some significant changes, they could find themselves at the fringes of the playoff picture. Making substantial changes may be hard to do, though, as the main problem on their offense—the quarterback—seems set in stone.
The Minnesota Vikings find themselves in the same situation as the Packers. They are coming off of an impressive 10-6 season which culminated in a huge playoff upset over the NFC favorite New Orleans Saints. Usually, a team coming off of that type of year would be hoping to take the next step to compete for the Super Bowl, but the Vikings may use this offseason as a chance to potentially begin their rebuild.
Minnesota enters the offseason with -$12 million (negative, that is not a typo) in cap space with a potential need at cornerback opening up as Trae Waynes hits free agency. They will most likely need to clear another $8 million for the draft. That means the Vikings will need to find a way to clear off $20 million in cap space to even get to zero.
Defensive end Everson Griffen could recoup them $12 million if he chooses to void the final three years of his contract, but that would prove to be a huge hit to Minnesota’s devastating pass rush. Other than Griffen, though, there are not many potential cap saving moves the team can make. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, tackle Riley Reiff and safety Harrison Smith could all save the team millions if they are cut for cap space, but it would also leave huge holes in the roster.
The biggest decision will be at quarterback. 2020 will be the final year of Kirk Cousins’ three-year, $84 million deal he signed in 2018. While they save no money releasing him, they could always extend him. An extension could reduce the quarterback’s $31 million cap hit in 2020 and give the Vikings more freedom in the short term. It would also force them to make a long-term commitment to their quarterback. If the Vikings think they can compete in 2020 (and in the years after), then extending Cousins and using the money saved to shore up a few gaps on the roster seems like an obvious decision.
If they plan on entering the rebuilding phase, though, they could go another way. They could release Smith, Rhodes and Reiff. Replace them with younger, cheaper players and call 2020 a wash. Cousins could hit the market once again in 2021 and suddenly the Vikings would find themselves at square one with a ton of cap space, a potential top draft pick and an opening at quarterback.
What the Vikings do this offseason will affect years down the line. The franchise is at a crossroads, and they have to decide whether or not they think a group that led the team to a successful second half of the 2010s should be brought into the 2020s.
The Chicago Bears might be stuck in purgatory. 2018 feels like a lifetime ago, as their defense regressed in 2019 and somehow an already bad offense got even worse. A change at quarterback seemed to be on the way, but general manager Ryan Pace has already expressed his commitment to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in 2020, so expect the 2017 first-round pick to be under center in the Windy City next season.
That makes it hard to really speculate what the Bears will do this offseason. Cornerback Prince Amukamara seems like an obvious cap casualty as they will probably like to revamp their cornerback room.
But what else?
The offensive line is fine, their receivers are serviceable, the running back duo of David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen looks great. Their front seven remains elite, and the biggest loss they will suffer this offseason will be Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who they can afford to re-sign if they want. Outside of adding new cornerbacks, the only change this team can make to suddenly change their fate going forward is at quarterback. Unless they do that, expect them to be a slightly above average fringe playoff team once again this year.
What this means for the Lions
Both the Vikings and Packers could be much worse teams in 2020 then they were in 2019. While the Bears ceiling will be limited by Trubisky, their floor is kept high by their defense. The division may shape up in favor of the Lions this offseason and he NFC North looks like it may be for the taking, but they will need to make sure they do not squander this opportunity by making ill-advised decisions of their own.