COMMENTARY | Every year, each NFL team goes through a myriad of change on its roster. Players are cut or aren't re-signed, rookies are drafted, and undrafted rookies often crack final 53-man rosters.
With the NFC North having been so competitive last season, each team underwent lots of change to attempt to put their teams over the hump. For some (Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings), it was about remaining in the playoffs; another (Chicago Bears) trying to get over the hump and break in after barely missing out last year; and a final one (Detroit Lions) hoping to resurrect its successes from years prior.
Here are the top offseason moves for each NFC North team, listed alphabetically:
The Bears acted quickly this offseason when free agency began, locking up Bushrod on the day free agency started to a five-year deal worth up to $35 million ($17 million guaranteed) in hopes that he would shore up their offensive line problems from the last few years. Under former head coach Lovie Smith, the Bears tried out numerous guys at left tackle, from Chris Williams to Gabe Carimi to J'Marcus Webb, who has now shifted to right tackle. None of them worked, and it was apparent that in order for the Bears' offense to reach its maximum potential, they would need to do a better job of protecting QB Jay Cutler's blindside.
Cutler enters the final year of his contract, and the hope is that he and new head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman will develop a beautiful relationship. The key, though, will be keeping Cutler healthy and upright. That all starts with Bushrod's ability to contain each opponents best pass rusher.
Much has been made of QB Matthew Stafford's big, powerful arm, the unbelievable abilities of WR Calvin Johnson, and the aerial attack that the Lions have bolstered in the past. From 2010-2012, the Lions have finished third, first, and first in passing attempts in the NFL, including Stafford's single-season record of 727 set last season. Opponents know that the Lions love to air it out, so they gear up to stop the pass.
This was the Lions' downfall last season on offense, but bringing in Bush this season should help shore up their running game. Bush has often been criticized as not being a between-the-tackles or capable goal-line runner, but he will offer a nice change of pace to Mikel Leshoure, a player marred by injury since he entered the league. The key for Bush and the Lions is whether or not they'll commit to running the ball 25+ times/game; if they do that, more balance on offense should lead to more victories in the win column.
Green Bay Packers: Drafting RBs Eddie Lacy (2nd round), Johnathan Franklin (4th round)
For all that has been made about the Lions' passing attack, few would argue that the most potent in this division belongs to Packers, led by QB Aaron Rodgers. For years under the guidance of head coach Mike McCarthy, they have been able to get away with spreading the field out, spreading the ball around to their plethora of talented receivers, and only running when they have to.
It finally caught up to them last season when the San Francisco 49ers ran the ball and controlled the clock in the NFC divisional playoff matchup, one that Green Bay lost 45-31. The Packers have longed for a running game that can take the pressure off of Rodgers, and hope that the pair of rookies with vastly different styles can aid in that department. Lacy, listed at 5 feel 11 inches and 230 pounds, will be the bruiser and short-yardage back the Packers have so desperately needed (although Jon Kuhn did perform adequately in that role last season). Franklin, at 5-10 and 205 pounds, will be the speed back and more than likely the workhorse who gets the majority of the carries. It will be interesting to see over the course of the season how this back-by-committee tandem works and if one or the other will be able to become the lead back.
Minnesota Vikings: Drafting DT Shariff Floyd (23rd overall)
The Vikings badly needed an infusion of youth and found able replacements for departed veterans Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin. Floyd, drafted out of Florida, was projected by many to be a top 5 pick on draft night. He slid all the way down to 23, and the Vikings traded into the first round to acquire him.
Already set at the DE position with Jared Allen, they view Floyd as a pass-rushing DT alongside veteran Kevin Williams. Being able to get pressure with the front 4 D-linemen is key in this division, and the hope is that this will alleviate some of the double teams Allen constantly faces. If Floyd is able to develop quickly, the Vikings' D-line could continue to be one of the top units in football. Look for this move to help improve a passing defense that finished 23rd in the league in passing yards allowed (3,908) last season.
Billy Grayson is a Chicago native and die-hard Chicago sports follower. He currently attends the University of Missouri in Columbia where he is studying Broadcast Journalism.
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