2021 NFL Free Agency Grades: NFC North

The NFC North had one of the most interesting free agency periods in football. While the division remains the second-best in the NFC, I do not believe that the teams did very well collectively during this COVID free agency period.

Here are the grades for the four NFC North teams:

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers: F

Key Additions
None

Key Departures
C Corey Linsley
LB Christian Kirksey
DL Montravius Adams
RB Jamaal Williams

The Packers, for me, have had the very worst offseason, besides the Houston Texans. However, since I do not consider the Texans a legitimate franchise anymore, I award the worst free agency of any real NFL team to the Packers.

The Packers gave Aaron Jones a ridiculous 4-year $48 million contract that caused the team to be unable to re-sign either Linsley or Kirksey. The biggest issue with this move is that the Packers just spent a 2nd round pick on running back AJ Dillon and could have re-signed Jamaal Williams for pennies. Now, both the passing and running game will suffer from the loss of the best center in football, Corey Linsley.

Meanwhile, the defense has yet to improve where it needs to the most, linebacker and pass rush. Yes, the team retained Kevin King, which I think was a good move. However, losing Kirksey will hurt, and the team has not replaced him with anything yet. On top of this, both Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith looked to be shells of their former selves last season. I would argue that the team needs another solid DE or OLB player to really take this defense to the next level.

The team also did not add anything to Aaron Rodgers’ wide receiving core, something that is just ridiculous at this point. Rodgers could be the best weapon in the NFL, up there with Patrick Mahomes, but the team refuses to supply him with talent to pass the ball to. Instead, they took away the best center in the league to retain the most replaceable position in football, running back.

Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears: D+

Key Additions
QB Andy Dalton (1yr / 10M)
OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (2yr / 5.5M)
DE Angelo Blackson (2yr / 5.5M)

Key Departures
OT Bobby Massie (Cut)
QB Mitch Trubisky
DT Roy Robertson-Harris
Kyle Fuller (Cut)

The Chicago Bears have done nothing but shoot themselves in the foot this offseason. First, they have not brought back vital parts of the defense like Kyle Fuller. Then, they really have not added much in the way of anything to the team. I love the Attaochu contract, but it is not going to push this team over the edge.

It should be noted that the team franchise-tagged Allen Robinson for $17 million. However, now the team will be paying $10 million this year to Andy Dalton, former Cowboys backup, to throw him the ball, which means that $17 million will not get as much use as you would like out of it.

The issue with the Bears’ free agency period is that they did not get better. They have not moved up in the draft, did not navigate the cap space, and did not add offensive line or QB talent, all of which would really help this team. Meanwhile, they are still paying Nick Foles a stupid amount of money just to compete with Andy Dalton.

At best, this team went sideways, and at worst, it hurt itself on both sides of the ball. While the team still has the draft and okay capital in that draft, I do not believe that it can make the moves that it needs to really get better with just that capital alone.

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings: C+

Key Additions
DT Dalvin Tomlinson (2yr / $22M)
CB Patrick Peterson (1yr / $10M)
FS Xavier Woods (1 yr / $2.25M)
CB Mackensie Alexander (1 yr / $1M)
DE Stephen Weatherly (1yr / $2.5M)

Key Departures
LT Riley Reiff (Cut)
S Anthony Harris
DE Ifeadi Odenigbo
TE Kyle Rudolph (Cut)

Trade
+Mason Cole IOL
-2021 Draft Pick 223 (6th Round)

The Vikings did decently well in free agency; however, I would argue that they went overboard with the defense and ignored the needs of the offense—first, the good. Dalvin Tomlinson, Xavier Woods, Mackenzie Alexander, and Stephen Weatherly, all coming in on cheap contracts, was magnificent work. Dalvin Tomlinson is a big run-stuffing DT that can pair with Michael Pierce and allow the Vikings to run a 4-2-5 base package. Meanwhile, Alexander will sure up the slot-CB spot, and Woods will replace Anthony Harris. Lastly, Weatherly adds some much-needed DE depth.

When you pair all of these additions with the return of Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter, and Michael Pierce, who were all missing due to opt-out or injury last season, the defense can easily jump from bottom-5 to top-5 with Zimmer’s coaching.

However, the key mistake here was then adding Patrick Peterson on top of all of this. After cutting Riley Reiff, the offensive line has one legitimate starter in Brian O’Neil. Garrett Bradberry and Ezra Cleveland will also start, but you need two other studs to make up for their poor performance and inexperience. The Vikings got nothing.

What is so confusing about this is the fact that Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes, and Cameron Dantzler are all young cornerbacks that the Vikings used massive draft capital on. Why bring in Peterson for 5% of your cap if you have Zimmer, who is a “CB Whisperer” on top of the fact that you also got Mackenzie Alexander back, another top-2 round pick by the Vikings. The offensive line as it stands is by far the worst in football and needs an upgrade. That $8 million spent on Peterson should have gone to a tackle or guard in free agency.

Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions: B+

Key Additions
WR Tyrell Williams (1yr / $3M)
WR Breshad Perriman (1yr / $3M
WR Kalif Raymond (1yr / $1M)
LB Alex Anzalon (1yr / $1.75M)
RB Jamaal Williams (2yr / $6M)

Key Departures
LB Jarrad Davis
WR Marvin Jones Jr.
WR Kenny Golladay
WR/KR Jamal Agnew
K Matt Prater
LB Reggie Ragland

Trade
+QB Jared Goff
+2021 Draft Picks: 101 (Third Round)
+2022 Draft Picks: 1st Round
+2023 Draft Picks: 1st Round
-QB Matthew Stafford

Trade
+DT Michael Brockers
– 2023 Draft Picks: 7th Round

In reality, the Lions took the farthest step back out of any NFC North team, but the team is committing to a rebuild, and that has to be acknowledged when grading out the free agency period. While the team has lost all of its receiving weapons and a good linebacker in Jarrad Davis, the real story for the Lions was the massive Stafford trade.

The team traded away franchise QB Matthew Stafford for two firsts, a third, and Jared Goff. I consider this a win-win for each team involved, as the Rams really go for a Super Bowl, and the Lions really commit to the rebuild. This was a great haul for Stafford, as the team secures a good QB, who still has upside and massive draft capital to build the team out through 2023.

More importantly, if Goff does not work out, then the team has the capital to move up in future drafts and grab a QB, which they could still even do this year. The team has really done the best it could to set itself up for the future.

This kind of rebuild of massive draft capital and tons of free agency space worked out for the Miami Dolphins, and I believe that the Lions have the opportunity to do the same. This would mean a quick 1-2 year turnaround following 2021.

  
Matthew Amato is a UC Berkeley Economics and Philosophy graduate. Matthew follows and writes about the NFL, Fantasy sports, MLB, European soccer, Professional Lacrosse, and e-sports. He has managed his own tournament baseball team and coached high school lacrosse. In his free time, Matthew used to compete competitively in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.

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