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NFL free-agency grades for the NFC North after the first weekend

The NFC North has seen more talent leave than arrive so far this offseason, a trend that benefits the Packers, the division’s defending champions.

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers walks across the field in the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With the 2021 NFL offseason now in full swing, the majority of big-name free agents have found homes for the upcoming season. While more signings, trades, draft picks, and potential holdouts appear in the offing, teams have provided the first solid indications of what they expect to look like in 2021.

To gauge where each team is so far this offseason, we’ll take you through each division to see how each team has done in its quest for a championship.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

Free agents added/retained

RB Aaron Jones
EDGE Preston Smith
TE Robert Tonyan
CB Kevin King

Free agents lost

C Corey Linsley
RB Jamaal Williams
QB Tim Boyle

As of yet, the Green Bay Packers haven’t acquired a single player from another organization this offseason. However, that doesn’t fully encapsulate the Packers’ activity over the past few weeks. In addition to reworking numerous veteran contracts, the front office somewhat surprisingly managed to sign Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones to a four-year, $48 million deal with a team-friendly structure. Jones’ return should help appease quarterback Aaron Rodgers who publicly fretted about the uncertain future of his top teammates during the end of the 2020 season.

Of course, the Packers still saw some talent walk out the door. Corey Linsley, an All-Pro center in 2020, left to sign a lucrative five-year contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. Green Bay might not have possessed enough cap space to match the deal, but the departure still represents a blow to one of the league’s premier offensive lines.

The Packers still have major holes to address. Corner remains a worry despite Kevin King signing a one-year contract, and the team needs to give Kenny Clark some help along the defensive line. Even so, Green Bay continues to look well-positioned for another title run in the upcoming season.

Grade: C+

Minnesota Vikings

Free agents added/retained

DL Dalvin Tomlinson
CB Patrick Peterson
EDGE Stephen Weatherly
RT Rashod Hill
LB Nick Vigil

Free agents lost

S Anthony Harris
LT Reilly Reiff
TE Kyle Rudolph

From an age standpoint, the Minnesota Vikings’ offense and defense have moved in different directions. The team slashed left tackle Reilly Reiff as part of a necessary cap-cutting exercise and could move one of its young offensive linemen — perhaps Brian O’Neill or Ezra Cleveland — to the blindside. The interior of the group will probably get younger too come the draft. The Vikings also parted ways with longtime starting tight end Kyle Rudolph, signaling an even greater youth movement on the horizon.

The defense tells a different story. The Vikings invested in veteran starters along the defensive line (Dalvin Tomlinson and Stephen Weatherly) and potentially at linebacker as well (Nick Vigil). Those moves suggest that head coach Mike Zimmer believes the unit can remain effective with spare parts rather than a more significant overhaul.

All of which makes the Vikings’ offseason planning fascinating. The two different approaches don’t often work well in tandem, but Minnesota has compelling reasons for taking the more targeted approach. At a minimum, the team’s decisions look far from the strangest in the division.

Grade: C+

Chicago Bears

Free agents added/retained

WR Allen Robinson
QB Andy Dalton
DL Mario Edwards Jr.
RG Germain Ifedi

Free agents lost

QB Mitchell Trubisky
DL Roy Robertson-Harris
CB Kyle Fuller (cut)

The inability to land Russell Wilson and settle for Andy Dalton has come to define the Chicago Bears’ offseason in the public’s perception, but the team made far more perplexing decisions. After allowing star wideout Allen Robinson to reach the end of his contract, the Bears slapped him with the franchise tag and preceded to bring in Kenny Golladay for a look. Robinson has since signed his tag, but it seems the Pro Bowl receiver will leave after one more season in Chicago.

The Bears have also prioritized strangely as it pertains to which veteran players to retain and which to cut in order to get under the salary cap. The team ultimately settled on releasing All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller while keeping over-the-hill tight end Jimmy Graham. Fuller saved Chicago more cap space ($11 million) than moving on from Graham would have ($7 million), but a more prudent front office wouldn’t have sacrificed arguably the second-best defender on the roster for a tight end with a limited role.

Grade: D

Detroit Lions

Free agents added/retained

QB Jared Goff (trade)
WR Tyrell Williams
RB Jamaal Williams
DL Michael Brockers (trade)
DE Romeo Okwara

Free agents lost

QB Matthew Stafford (trade)
WR Kenny Golladay
WR Marvin Jones

Following the first wave of free agency, the Detroit Lions have almost inarguably the least talent of any team in the NFC North. Matthew Stafford has departed the Motor City after more than a decade with the Lions and top wide receiver Kenny Golladay has since left for a multiyear deal with the New York Giants. For a franchise that finished 2020 at the bottom of the division, these moves do not suggest a bounceback campaign in the near future.

However, the Lions could not have continued on their previous path and expected quality results. The Matt Patricia-Bob Quinn era made competing for a title during Stafford’s remaining years appear unlikely, and the new regime managed to acquire multiple first-round picks by trading the veteran quarterback. Additionally, the team managed to keep ascending defensive end Romeo Okwara on a reasonable four-year deal and could, with the right choices, have a Miami Dolphins-esque rebuild.

Grade: B+