NFC North: Jared Cook
Cap Status: The Bears have a modest amount of cap space after using $8.45 million for the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton. Over the weekend, they were projected to have between $6 million and $10 million available to them.
Strategy: Conventional wisdom suggests the Bears will seek improvement at offensive line and tight end this offseason, and free agency offers the first avenue. At the moment, the Bears' best offensive lineman is right guard Lance Louis, who is still recovering from ACL surgery and is a pending free agent himself. You wonder if the Bears have enough firepower to sign left tackle Jake Long, but New York Jets guard Brandon Moore could be a reasonably priced option. At tight end, everyone loves the Tennessee Titans' Jared Cook, but he will be costly. Incumbent Kellen Davis is signed for 2013 but had a disappointing season last year as a pass-catcher.
Cap Status: The Lions won't have much cap space to work with unless they can renegotiate/extend one of the two huge contracts on their books: quarterback Matthew Stafford ($20.8 million cap figure) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($18.2 million). According to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions are projected to have $6 million in space at the moment.
Strategy: There are plenty of needs to squeeze into that small amount of cap space. The Lions would love to find a speedy tailback to fill the role once envisioned for Jahvid Best, a profile that seems to fit veteran Reggie Bush. But with only two of their 23 projected free agents now under contract, the Lions could have needs for two safeties, two defensive ends, two cornerbacks and one outside linebacker. That's because defensive ends Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are all pending free agents. The same goes for cornerbacks Chris Houston and Jacob Lacey and safeties Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey. A weekend flooding of the cornerback/safety markets could drive down prices.
Cap Status: The Packers are projected to have about $20 million in space, a number that could increase depending on whether they renegotiate the contract of tight end Jermichael Finley.
Strategy: Thompson signaled at least some participation in free agency by hosting a visit for defensive lineman Chris Canty last week; Canty had been released by the New York Giants. The Packers know they need to improve their defensive line, whether it is with veterans, drafted players or a combination of both. There is also plenty of fan support for the Packers to pursue running back Steven Jackson, who has said he would take a role as a "counterpuncher" on a passing offense if necessary. But to this point, there has been no indication the Packers are interested. Much of their cap space is likely to be devoted, one day, to contract extensions for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Cap Status: They will have a moderate amount of cap space, about $15 million, if nothing changes between now and Tuesday.
Strategy: There is no doubt the Vikings need to improve their receiving corps, but to this point there has been no indication they are interested in the pre-eminent receiver on the market: Mike Wallace. Multiple reports suggest Wallace is most likely to end up with the Miami Dolphins. Monday's trade of Percy Harvin means the Vikings could get into the Wallace mix or perhaps Greg Jennings or Brandon Gibson. Meanwhile, it's quite possible the Vikings could seek a safety on the free-agent market, and they'll have to decide what to do at strongside linebacker and middle linebacker. The incumbent starters, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, are both free agents.
Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?
Chicago Bears: It's unclear how much interest the Bears would have, but a tight end like Jared Cook would make sense. General manager Phil Emery is on record saying that he wants better production in the passing game from the tight-end position, and Cook is a smooth receiver. He would be a big upgrade from Kellen Davis in that regard, and new coach Marc Trestman could find plenty of different ways to line Cook up and move him around.
Detroit Lions: I'm all for the Lions pursuing running back Reggie Bush, who would provide a speedy alternative to Mikel Leshoure and also re-open a level of the passing game that has been missing without Jahvid Best. But the Lions' lack of reliable depth at safety is no less important, especially when you remember that general manager Martin Mayhew wants more playmakers in the back end. The Lions might not have the salary-cap space to sign Dashon Goldson, but fellow free agents William Moore and Glover Quin would help matters.
Green Bay Packers: Running back Steven Jackson has plenty of wear on his 29-year-old body -- nearly 2,800 touches. But a move to Green Bay would set up a satisfying conclusion to his career. The Packers will never move too far away from their pass-first philosophy, but part of that approach is the result of never having a big running back like Jackson. He could capitalize on defenses focused on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game and provide a new level of physicality to this offense.
Minnesota Vikings: There is plenty of clamor for the Vikings to make a run at speedster Mike Wallace. That's one option. From a bigger-picture perspective, a more inclusive approach would have the Vikings targeting a second-tier free agent -- such as Brandon Gibson -- re-signing Percy Harvin to a multi-year contract and focusing on a top-end speedster in the draft. Gibson has outside skills and wouldn't threaten the Vikings' salary-cap structure at the position.
The Chicago Bears have bid farewell to their former nickelback, D.J. Moore, whom they apparently won't re-sign as a free agent. Now, the player who took over that position last season is expected to test his value in free agency before making a decision on his 2013 team.
Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com reports the Bears want to re-sign cornerback Kelvin Hayden, a pending free agent. But Hayden, Dickerson reports, "is expected to explore other options in free agency before coming to any final decision, according to a league source."
If Hayden signs elsewhere, the Bears would have to acquire a nickelback during the offseason. Cornerback Zack Bowman is also a pending free agent.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- A new contract for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler should be low on the team's priority list, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
- From Tuesday: The Bears could be interested in Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook, a pending free agent. More from Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Punter Blake Clingan, whom the Detroit Lions signed Tuesday, paid his own way to a workout with the team. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press explains.
- Justin Rogers of Mlive.com takes a look at free-agent linebackers from the Lions' perspective.
- Pending free-agent running back Steven Jackson got Green Bay Packers fans excited Tuesday by announcing he would be in town, but as Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the promotional visit was canceled and was not related to free agency anyway.
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "The question is not if, but when the Green Bay Packers will give quarterback Aaron Rodgers a lucrative new contract."
- After releasing receiver Michael Jenkins this week, the Minnesota Vikings have only three receivers with NFL experience on their roster, notes the Associated Press.
What it means: The Lions fell to 1-2 amid game-long chaos and an injury to quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions became the first NFL team to score two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation to force overtime, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They were also the first team in history to give up five touchdowns of at least 60 yards in one game. And in the end, neither of those facts impacted what happened in overtime to give the Titans victory.
StaffordWatch: Stafford departed because of a strained leg muscle suffered as the Titans' Alterraun Verner returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown with one minute, 32 seconds remaining in regulation. He told reporters afterward that he wasn't sure if the injury was to his hamstring or glut muscle. Regardless, he couldn't finish the game and his status is uncertain.
Long scores: In addition to Verner's return, the Titans also scored on a trick-play 65-yard punt return by Tommie Campbell, a 105-yard kickoff return by Darius Reynaud and touchdown passes of 71 and 61 yards by Jake Locker to Nate Washington and Jared Cook, respectively.
HillWatch: Backup Shaun Hill proved how valuable he is, completing 10 of 14 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns from that point. His 46-yard Hail Mary pass that landed in receiver Titus Young's hands sent the game to overtime.
"A miscommunication": That's what Lions coach Jim Schwartz called the final play, one in which Hill surprisingly tried a quarterback sneak at fourth-and-1 from the Titans' 7-yard line. A chip field goal would have tied the game and extended overtime. Schwartz said the Lions were trying to draw the Titans offside and were planning to kick if the Titans stayed onside. Apparently, center Dominic Raiola didn't get the message and snapped the ball. To me, it was a foolish decision. With the game literally on the line, don't get cute. Make the kick and continue playing.
Leshoure debuts: Tailback Mikel Leshoure gained 100 yards on 26 carries in his NFL debut. The Lions clearly wanted to focus on him in the first half to help open things up in the second. Leshoure had 17 carries and receiver Calvin Johnson had only one catch at halftime.
Injury report: In addition to Stafford, the Lions also lost punter Ben Graham, who suffered a calf injury on Campbell's punt return. Place-kicker Jason Hanson punted three times for a 36-yard average.
What's next: The Lions will host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday at Ford Field.