Peterson’s future with Vikings big question in NFC North
With free agency starting March 9, USA TODAY Sports is looking at all eight NFL divisions and what could be in store for teams this offseason, as well as the moves they should make. Today, the NFC North.
Prominent free agents: OLB Sam Acho, QB Matt Barkley, K Connor Barth, WR Josh Bellamy, QB Brian Hoyer, WR Alshon Jeffery, OL Ted Larsen, TE Logan Paulsen, S Chris Prosinski, WR Deonte Thompson, WR Marquess Wilson. Cap situation: $52.4 million in cap space, according to Overthe cap.com. Primary issues for 2017: The Bears finished last in the division in 2016 by a wide margin. The offense and defense ranked in the middle of the pack leaguewide. But Chicago’s 31 turnovers were the most in the NFC, and its 11 takeaways the fewest in the NFL — which explains why the team struggled to score yet surrendered so many cheap points. Part of the problem was a revolving door at quarterback, where Jay Cutler and Hoyer were waylaid by injuries.
Our advice: The Bears are trying to trade Cutler, according to news reports, and that’s probably an overdue course of action. Whether they use free agency or take his replacement with the third pick of the draft or in subsequent rounds, it makes sense to re-sign Hoyer or Barkley as a bridge. Given Jeffery’s 2016 suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation and his injury history, he’s not worth a second franchise tag at $17.5 million and probably not a long-term investment at anything other than some kind of hometown discount given the emergence of Cameron Meredith. Chicago has the resources to pursue a young cornerback such as A.J. Bouye, Logan Ryan or Trumaine Johnson and/ or blocking help, and would be wise to do so.
Prominent free agents: RB Joique Bell, WR Anquan Boldin, S Rafael Bush, LB Josh Bynes, QB Dan Orlovsky, OT Riley Reiff, WR Andre Roberts, DE Devin Taylor, DT Tyrunn Walker, G Larry Warford. Cap situation: $32.8 million in cap space, according to Overthe cap.com. Primary issues for 2017: The postseason trip was a pleasant surprise, courtesy of QB Matthew Stafford’s frequent heroics in his first year without WR Calvin Johnson. Still, this club has holes. Detroit allowed opposing quarterbacks a collective 106.5 passer rating, worst in the NFL. Offensively, the Lions didn’t have anyone rush for more than 357 yards. And they are set to take hits on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Our advice: There are short- and long-term considerations. Stafford’s contract expires after the 2017 season, and given his importance and continued development, it makes more sense to extend him now rather than grant added leverage in 2018. Losing Reiff and Warford, who manned the right side of the offensive line, would be a blow, but it’s probably not worth a huge expenditure for either given other issues. The best way to help the defense would be bolstering the pass rush, so making a run at a player such as DE Jason Pierre-Paul is worth considering. Barring that, general manager Bob Quinn might be best served to pay Stafford, then go bargain shopping for line depth, a linebacker and perhaps a veteran running back after the first wave of free agency has passed.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Prominent free agents: TE Jared Cook, DB Micah Hyde, DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy, G T.J. Lang, RB Christine Michael, OLB Julius Peppers, OLB Nick Perry, CB Sam Shields, RB James Starks, C J.C. Tretter.
Cap situation: $41 million in cap space, according to Overthe cap.com. Primary issues for 2017: Green Bay was ineffective running the ball and stopping the pass — issues that were apparent even during the Packers’ second-half surge and three playoff games. With a full offseason to adjust — and maybe with a sidekick added via the draft — converted WR Ty Montgomery seems capable of steadying the ground game, but the defense remains a worry.
Our advice: GM Ted Thompson is notorious for eschewing outside free agents despite the contributions of players such as Cook, Peppers and S Charles Woodson over the years when Thompson has loosened the purse strings. QB Aaron Rodgers has made a public endorsement of Cook, whose return to the lineup coincided with the team’s late-season hot streak. Thompson does tend to reinvest in his own, so it seems likely that Hyde and, more important, Perry will receive offers. As important as Lang has been to protecting Rodgers, he might have to take a team-friendly deal to remain given his age (29) and injuries. But considering Rodgers turns 34, Thompson also should strongly consider a splashy signing that could put this team over the top. New England Patriots ILB Dont’a Hightower and/or Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore are the type of made-to-order performers who are young yet perfectly address some of Green Bay’s glaring deficiencies.
Prominent free agents: RB Matt Asiata, TE Rhett Ellison, G Brandon Fusco, LB Chad Greenway, QB Shaun Hill, OT Matt Kalil, P Jeff Locke, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Terence Newman, KR-WR Cordarrelle Patterson, OT Andre Smith. Cap situation: $21.4 million in cap space, according to Overthe cap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: A team that cratered to 8-8 after a 5-0 start faces major decisions. GM Rick Spielman has the least amount of cap room in the division and no first-round pick after his deal with the Philadelphia Eagles last September for QB Sam Bradford. No team had fewer rushing yards in 2016 than Minnesota, which was devastated by injuries to RB Adrian Peterson and the offensive line. A healthy Peterson could go a long way toward revitalizing the offense ... but not for the $18 million he’s currently owed for 2017 given he’s about to turn 32.
Our advice: First on Spielman’s to-do list must be solving the Peterson dilemma. It seems like Peterson wants to stay (at the right price), and he can probably still be effective — especially if he cedes enough of the load to Jerick McKinnon. Regardless, Spielman needs the financial giveback because free agency is Minnesota’s best hope of putting a functioning line in front of Peterson and Bradford, who dinked and dunked his way through the season to avoid constant pressure. Coach Mike Zimmer’s previous job was on the Cincinnati Bengals staff, so this might be a good time for him to recruit a blocker such as Andrew Whitworth or Kevin Zeitler. And with Hill now 37, Minnesota also must take a serious look at a more durable backup for Bradford given there is no guarantee Teddy Bridgewater will play in 2017.