Chicago Bears: Tyrell Johnson

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

NFC North breakdown: Vikings

July, 6, 2010
Brett FavreJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAs usual, Brett Favre's decision on his future controls the Vikings' offseason headlines.
Intel on the Chicago Bears opponents creeps its way onto the blog today, which marks the beginning of a four-day look at the NFC North.

Talking to reporters who regularly cover Chicago’s divisional opponents, we asked each of them to thoroughly break down the teams they cover, providing both strengths and weaknesses.

We kick off the series with the Minnesota Vikings by asking Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for five concerns his team faces this season, in addition to five issues the team shouldn’t have to worry about:

Five things the Vikings need to worry about

1. Brett Favre: We all think it’s 99 percent certain he’s coming back. But until he is officially back, that’s got to be No. 1 on the list. As it is, he’s not gonna be there at the start of camp.

[+] EnlargePeterson
Matt Stamey/US PresswireAdrian Peterson's fumbling problems are a concern for the Vikings.
2. Adrian Peterson:It’s been well documented that he’s had problems holding on to the football, and that’s a killer. He skipped mandatory minicamp to be at “Adrian Peterson Day”, and didn’t take part in offseason activities with the team. That’s not a huge deal, but somewhere along the line he needs to address this issue and the fumbling. Teams are targeting the football when he carries it.

3. Finding Chester Taylor’s replacement: Taylor wasn’t a starter, but he is a huge loss. The fact they lost him in the division hurts even more. He played a ton on third down, and took a load off Peterson. Peterson still isn’t great at pass protection. So on third downs in two-minute situations Chester [Taylor] was used a lot. That security blanket is now gone, and it’s definitely a concern.

4. Safeties Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson: Williams, who they paid a lot in free agency, and Johnson, who was in his first year as a starter last season, didn’t exactly perform up to par. They need to take a step up, or the Vikings need to give serious consideration to a guy like Jamarca Sanford. The safeties lacked aggressiveness at times. The game in Chicago, when the Vikings played the Bears, Jay Cutler bowled over Williams, which was definitely embarrassing. The safeties need to take a step forward.

5. Cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield: Griffin tore an ACL in overtime of the NFC Championship game, and Winfield missed six games, and was severely hampered by a broken foot last season. The Vikings signed Lito Sheppard, and my assessment is Griffin might not be ready to start the season. So health of the cornerbacks is a concern. They need at least one of those guys to be ready this season.

Five things not to worry about

[+] EnlargeJare Allen
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireJared Allen has 29 sacks in two seasons with the Vikings.
1. Jared Allen: He had 14 sacks last season, which was his second season with the Vikings. He’s had 29 sacks over the past two seasons. Statistically, he’s an elite pass-rushing right end. That’s been huge because the Vikings haven’t had that for so many years. He plays so many snaps and rarely comes out, it's really a luxury to have him because they don’t really have to worry about that position.

2. The availability of DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams: That [Star Caps] case has been tied up for so long, it looks like there’s no way this thing gets to court again until after the season. There shouldn’t be a lot of concern about them missing time. The Vikings don’t have a lot of concern about those two guys being suspended.

3. Sidney Rice: It’s a little bit of a wildcard, but physically, he looked like he made huge strides last season. He had 83 receptions and eight touchdowns. Even if Favre doesn’t return, Rice has pretty much established himself as potentially an elite receiver. Sure, the Vikings have Bernard Berrian. But Rice looks like the team’s top receiver now.

4. Ryan Longwell: This isn’t a sexy one, but Longwell has more than proven himself as far as placekicking goes. He’s just incredibly consistent. He made 26 of 28 field goals and 54 of 55 extra points. The Vikings have the luxury of not having to worry about a field-goal kicker, and that’s a nice thing to have. It’s worth mentioning that Longwell is entering the final season of his contract. It’s unclear whether he will be back after this season.

5. Linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber: They are about as steady as it gets. Both have been consistent at their positions, and both are entering what looks to be the last year of their contracts. Greenway has gotten nothing but better as he has progressed. There’s some question about when middle linebacker E.J. Henderson will return from his broken left femur. So the stability of at least having so much consistency on the outside is important.