Where Lions, division foes stand as draft nears
More than a month into free agency, the Lions have a pretty good sense of what their competition around the NFC North will look like.
The Bears were among the most active teams in free agency, working hard to upgrade a defense that struggled at times with the transition to a 3-4 last season.
The Vikings targeted the offensive line in free agency, adding a starter-level tackle and guard with hopes of creating more running lanes for running back Adrian Peterson and keeping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater clean.
As usual, the Packers were fairly quiet in free agency, signing just one player from another team who’d be considered a marquee addition.
And, of course, the Lions made some moves, but new general manager Bob Quinn tried to avoid overspending, instead looking to improve the depth at a few positions.
With the NFL draft now less than two weeks away, here’s a breakdown of how the NFC North looks right now:
Key acquisitions: WR Marvin Jones, WR Jeremy Kerley, S Rafael Bush, CB Johnson Bademosi.
Top re-signings: DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead, DT Tyrunn Walker.
Top loss: S Isa Abdul-Quddus (signed with Dolphins).
Team needs: Offensive tackle, defensive end, safety.
Analysis: Besides signing Jones, which was a necessity of sorts after Calvin Johnson retired, the Lions tried to find bargains in free agency. It seems the hope from the Lions is that the return of linebacker DeAndre Levy will improve the defense significantly, and that quarterback Matthew Stafford can carry his strong play from the second half of 2015 into next season. There’s still work to be done, of course, but the Lions are in a position to look for help at several positions early in the draft as there are several starting jobs up for grabs.
Key acquisitions: OT Andre Smith, G Alex Boone, S Michael Griffin, LB Emmanuel Lamur.
Top re-signings: S Andrew Sendejo, CB Terence Newman, LB Chad Greenway.
Top loss: CB Josh Robinson.
Team needs: Wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker.
Analysis: Last year’s division champions saw the offensive line as a weakness and tried to fix it as Smith will play right tackle and Boone will go to left guard. Griffin might not be a huge upgrade, but the Vikings hope the 31-year-old has something to offer next to Harrison Smith. The Vikings have a young defensive core that they could continue to improve in the draft, but wide receiver will remain a popular first-round option in mock drafts as Stefon Diggs is the only true threat in the passing game.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Key acquisitions: TE Jared Cook.
Top re-signings: LB Nick Perry, RB James Starks.
Top losses: DT B.J. Raji (retired), CB Casey Heyward (signed with Chargers).
Team needs: Defensive tackle, running back, inside linebacker.
Analysis: General manager Ted Thompson rarely makes a splash in free agency, and even the one-year, $2.75 million deal for Cook was a surprise. But the Packers have lacked a top-tier tight end for years, and Cook and Richard Rodgers could be a solid duo at the position. Without major moves, it looks like the Packers are confident they already have enough talent to contend. The return of wide receiver Jordy Nelson is more important than any other move they make this year, but hitting on a defensive tackle would be huge after Raji retired.
Key acquisitions: LB Danny Trevathan, OT Bobby Massie, LB Jerrell Freeman, DT Akiem Hicks.
Top re-signings: WR Alshon Jeffery (franchise tag), TE Zach Miller, CB Tracy Porter.
Top losses: RB Matt Forte, LB Shea McClellin, TE Martellus Bennett (traded to Patriots).
Team needs: Cornerback, safety, wide receiver.
Analysis: The Bears were among the top spenders in the league, giving Trevathan a four-year, $28 million deal and Massie a three-year, $18 million deal. Chicago hopes that adding Massie will improve two positons – right tackle, where he’ll play, and right guard, where Kyle Long will play again after an experimental year at tackle in 2015. The Bears defense sorely lacked speed last year, but the new linebackers should help. They could still use more talent in the secondary and another weapon in the passing game, though last year’s first-round pick Kevin White could be a legitimate threat.
When: First round at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 28; rounds 2-3 at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 29; rounds 4-7 at noon on Saturday, April 30.
Where: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago.
TV: ESPN and NFL Network.
Lions: If they make no trades the Lions will have 10 picks – one in the first round (No. 16 overall), one in the second (46), one in the third (95), one in the fourth (111), two in the fifth (151 and 169), three in the sixth (191, 202, 210) and one in the seventh (236).