All four teams in the NFC North are lacking in cap space. While the Packers and the Bears can afford to borrow from future years as they try to win a championship now. I think the Lions and Viking are much better suited beginning to build for the long-term.
Estimated Cap Space: ($4M)
Draft Picks: 20 (Rd 1), 52 (Rd 2), 84 (Rd 3), 148 (Rd 5), 180 (Rd 6), 196 (Rd 7)
Needs: QB, IOL, WR, OT
Chicago is really a team that has been constructed to win now. Their four largest contracts are all on defense —DE Khalil Mack (played 83.47% of snaps in 2020), S Eddie Jackson (98.88%), CB Kyle Fuller (98.97%) and DE Robert Quinn (51.17%) — with those four due over $190 million the next four seasons. I think they really missed an opportunity to keep Leonard Floyd. They had him under contract with a $13 million fifth-year option before he was released and signed with the Rams. Instead, they signed an older, slower and more expensive replacement in Robert Quinn to a $70 million contract. My only guess as to why they made this move is that coaches sometimes get sick of players they perceive to be underachieving. When that is the case, even though Floyd was a first-round pick, it is very hard for a coach to rebuild trust in a guy. Last season, Floyd registered 10.5 sacks, while Quinn had only 2.0 sacks. I think another important aspect to look at with their defensive is them getting a new defensive coordinator with Chuck Pagano retiring. A lot of people overlook this, but just because you have the talent, that does not ensure team performance. This could go either way, and they could get even better, but just looking at when Vic Fangio left, that was a huge loss for them at first.
Once you flip to the other side of the ball, that is where the real questions for Chicago begin. After declining Mitchell Trubisky’s fifth-year option (53.22%), Nick Foles (46.31%) remains their only current quarterback. He is due $16 million over the next two seasons and currently carries a $10.33 million dead cap. I have a soft spot for Nick because I did draft him and he did win a Super Bowl, but I do not believe he is the guy to elevate an offense, especially with an aging offensive line. I really do not know what options they have left at the position. That leads me to believe that Trubisky will be back. Under their circumstances right now, I think that is their best short-term option. Trubisky is one of those players that has actually been portrayed much worse than he is because of where he was drafted and who was drafted after him. That is not a total endorsement, but I think he is better than he has been perceived. This obviously would not stop me from trying to acquire Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, if either possibilities becomes real.
The last question with Chicago is some of their other holes on offense, beginning with WR Allen Robinson (85.06%). I just do not see how they can tag him under the circumstances they are in. They have some younger receivers, and their focus needs to be re-building their offensive line and finding a quarterback. With the offensive line, if they are looking for an upgrade, Sources are reporting that LG Kyle Long is coming out of retirement. That would fill a hole with a cheap veteran that knows the system. Overall, their quarterback and offensive line problem is more drastic than retaining Robinson, even though I would hate to see him go.
Fifth-Year Option: Roquan Smith (94.86%)
There is no doubt in my mind that he will be there as long as they can afford him. He most likely receives the option, and I suspect they will try to do something long-term. There are some question marks with him, mostly off the field, but I do think he is a really good player, even if that means he did not live up to the hype he received coming out of college.
Estimated Cap Space: ($3.8M)
Draft Picks: 7 (Rd 1), 41 (Rd 2), 72 (Rd 3), 89 (Rd 3), 103 (Rd 4), 137 (Rd 5)
Needs: WR, QB, DT, DE
Detroit is interesting because they made the move to trade Matt Stafford (92.35%). That really says they are being objective and understand it will take them 2-3 years to be competitive. Then, they go out and give Tyrell Williams, who was just cut by Vegas, over $6 million for one season. I get frustrated when teams make decisions like this. They can pick whatever direction they want to go, but do not keep going back and forth with your philosophies and direction. From trading Stafford, to cutting CB Desmond Trufant (28.83%), everything says they are committing themselves to getting younger and being contenders in 2-3 years. If they are doing this rebuild right, they are going to wish they had that $6 million back in two years.
Overall, I think they have done a good, honest job of evaluating their team and determining their priorities, so I do not want this one move to supersede that. But it certainly goes against the right philosophy that I think they have been utilizing. Just looking at the offensive line; they locked in LT Taylor Decker (100%) for the foreseeable future and they brought in a versatile offensive lineman in Halapoulivaati Vaitai (42.93%). They also have a lot of guys along the offensive line on rookie contracts: Jonah Jackson (third round, 95.98%), Logan Stenberg (fourth round, did not play), and Tyrell Crosby (fifth round, 62.72%). Along with C Frank Ragnow (88.72%), who they drafted in the first round in 2018, that is a good recipe for building a strong line.
On defense, I also agree with their philosophy. They decided to pay big money to bring over both DE Jaimie Collins (73.75%) and DE Trey Flowers (27.49%) from New England. They also drafted CB Jeff Okudah (40.93%) with a top three pick last year. We will see soon if these players end up being successful, but these are the positions teams need to fill to complete a turnaround.
Looking over the past year, outside of Williams, I have really been impressed with some of the decisions Detroit has made. I do not agree with everything, but the philosophy they have adopted is in the right mindset. They are finally doing some of things they need to do to start winning for a starving fan base. I remain intrigued with the Williams signing because I am hoping it does not represent a wavering in their philosophy. If they do not expect to tag WR Kenny Golladay (21.41%) and also expect to lose Marvin Jones (89.77%) and Danny Amendola (43.98%) and really be devoid at the position, I can understand bringing in a few cheap veterans.
Fifth-Year Option: C Frank Ragnow (88.72%)
He has been a three-year starter for them at multiple positions since being drafted. These are the type of foundational pieces that good teams are able to maintain and even sign long-term before they hit their peak.
Green Bay Packers
Estimated Cap Space: ($8.4M)
Draft Picks: 29 (Rd 1), 62 (Rd 2), 93 (Rd 3), 126 (Rd 4), 157 (Rd 5), 190 (Rd 6), 221 (Rd 7)
Needs: OT, LB, IOL, RB, WR
Aaron Rodgers (97.88%) is under contract for three more seasons and is still due $73 million. Being a 37-year-old quarterback, I understand the Packers’ decision to draft Jordan Love last offseason. We have seen so many teams lose a great quarterback and then really take a long time to find the next one. Since Love was the 26th pick, he is relatively cheap for the next few seasons, so I had no problems with their philosophical decision to draft a first-round quarterback. I think they did the right thing, even if I am still unsure about the player.
Moving to receiver, I do not think that room is as bad as people make it out to be. There are very few teams that consistently win while paying two wide receivers big money. I actually think they instilled the right philosophy here of having one dominant receiver in Davante Adams (74.49%) while building out the rest of that room with guys that are solid. It is really a mistake to invest too much at this position, or you are inevitably going to be weak somewhere else. There are still a few questions on offense, including LT David Bakhtiari (72.95%), who is coming off a season-ending injury. Green Bay also has C Corey Linsley (70.64%) and G Lane Taylor (6.06%) as free agents along the offensive line and recently cut RT Rick Wagner (58.71%). They also have running backs Aaron Jones (51.88%) and Jamaal Williams (40.23%) entering free agency. TE Robert Tonyan (61.41%) is a restricted free agent, and I suspect they bring him back. Assuming Adams gets an extension soon, these are players they most likely would not be able to bring back if they were paying another receiver big money.
Over the past couple seasons, they have done a really good job of building up their defense to help compete with their offense. They obviously have an older quarterback that is capable of winning a Super Bowl, so they are in a situation in which I would not be afraid to borrow money from the future in order to try to get another championship to close out the Rodgers era. I think they have enough firepower on offense, even if they do not bring back Jones or Williams, so I think their spending needs to be defensively focused, specifically the defensive line, while also rebuilding their offensive line. The final thing is that they are another team with a defensive coordinator change, so it will be interesting to see if that leads to any sort of overall regression.
Fifth-Year Option: Jaire Alexander (87.63%)
I think he is really starting to emerge as a top corner in the NFL. Like Davante Adams, now would be an opportune time to sign both players long-term to help lower 2021’s cap. CB Kevin King (64.65%) is also a free agent. He started his career really strong, but I think Alexander has certainly passed him as a more dynamic player.
Estimated Cap Space: ($0.6M)
Draft Picks: 14 (Rd 1), 79 (Rd 3), 91 (Rd 3), 110 (Rd 4), 116 (Rd 4), 125 (Rd 4), 141 (Rd 5), 155 (Rd 5), 175 (Rd 6), 206 (Rd 7)
Needs: OL, DL, TE
I think Mike Zimmer really needs to let someone else run the offense. The Vikings had Kevin Stefanski sitting there for 14 years, and it was 13 years before they made him offensive coordinator. They had a young, aggressive coach in their meetings for 14 seasons, and no one realized the quality of offensive coordinator he could become. Then, a year later, he is a playoff-winning head coach. I think they would have had a real shot at a Super Bowl had he been their coordinator the last five years. This is a real knock on them in my opinion.
Now, if you are looking at their window, it certainly appears to be starting to close. They moved on from a bunch of defensive veterans last offseason and began this offseason by moving on from TE Kyle Rudolph (52.95%). They are in a really tough spot, because they are still paying QB Kirk Cousins (99.82%) $56 million the next two seasons, but the rest of the roster is really starting to deteriorate.
They have been trying to win with a bad-to-mediocre offensive line for the past 4-5 years while prioritizing weapons. That is why I think they are in such a tough position. They paid big money to keep WR Adam Thielen (85.42%) and RB Dalvin Cook (61.72%) while also drafting WR Justin Jefferson (81.73%) in the first round last year. This is why I view them almost in purgatory. They will be able to win some games from that offensive production, but they will not be able to beat the best teams in big games. In my opinion, they do not have a good enough defensive line for the top offensive lines, and do not have a good enough offensive line for the best d-lines. It is hard to win this way.
On defense, I have huge respect for Zimmer as a defensive coordinator, so I do think they are capable of getting that back on track to some extent. They have good, not great, talent, but also have a few decisions to make on the back end. S Anthony Harris (100%) is entering free agency, while Harrison Smith (95.90%) only has one year left. I do not know what they think about the players, but Zimmer really puts a lot of emphasis on safeties. I think HSmith is the more consistent player, so I would not be surprised if they extended Smith, while letting Harris test the open market.
Fifth-Year Option: Mike Hughes (16.11%)
Since he came into the league, Hughes just has not been able to stay healthy. Since they also drafted CBs Jeff Gladney (89.20%) and Cameron Dantzler (55.96%) last year, I would be surprised if they commit big money to Hughes.