Bears Must Improve Fields' Protection
NFL Offseason - In these editions of Four Downs, we'll review the biggest hole on each team in the division and then give a short look at each team's major free agents for 2022.
Biggest Need: Offensive Line
Chicago is due for renovations along the offensive line. Forty-year-old left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Germaine Ifedi are both free agents this offseason, and neither of them should be re-signed as starters. Teven Jenkins, a 2021 second-round pick, will replace one of them, leaving new shoes to be filled at the other spot. Guard James Daniels is an unrestricted free agent as well. The Bears should fight much harder to keep him in town than either of the tackles, but there is always the possibility Daniels is allowed to walk. An upgrade over a returning starter is a possibility as well. Center Sam Mustipher, though a fine run-blocker, was a mess in pass protection last season and the Bears would be wise to pair young quarterback Justin Fields with a more legitimate center.
Major Free Agents: Allen Robinson, WR; James Daniels, OL; Akiem Hicks, DL; Marquise Goodwin, WR; Alec Ogletree, LB; Bilal Nichols, DL; Andy Dalton, QB; Jason Peters, OT; Germain Ifedi, OL; Tashaun Gipson, S; Jimmy Graham, TE; Damien Williams, RB
The Bears are hemorrhaging talent. Some of these guys, such as Peters and Graham, are older players who needed to be phased out anyway, but others are set to be tougher losses, including Daniels, Robinson, and Hicks. While keeping Daniels (and, to a lesser degree, Hicks) should be a top priority, the Bears should let Robinson go. Robinson showed some decline as an individual, but the real issue is that his connection with Fields never blossomed at any point. It may be best for both parties to get a fresh start.
Biggest Need: Wide Receiver
The Lions were billed as the worst wide receiving group in the NFL heading into last season. They barely outplayed that expectation thanks to a surprise rookie year out of Amon-Ra St. Brown and decent production from free agent Josh Reynolds. St. Brown will stick around as a good possession option, but Reynolds is set to hit the market again, along with speedster Kalif Raymond. That leaves the Lions with Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, and Javon McKinley at receiver beyond St. Brown. Detroit will need to throw two or three draft picks and signings at the position to get to respectability. Ideally, the Lions would swing on a receiver with one of their draft picks in the low 30s while using the free-agent market to pick up a role player.
Major Free Agents: Tracy Walker, S; Alex Anzalone, LB; Josh Reynolds, WR; Kalif Raymond, WR; Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB; Charles Harris, DE; Dean Marlowe, DB, Nicholas Williams, DL
The silver lining about being a bad team is that it hurts less to lose players in the offseason. None of Detroit's impending free agents are necessities to keep around, though it would be nice to hang on to a few for familiarity's sake. To that end, Reynolds can likely stay in town for cheap, given his connection with Jared Goff. Walker may also be a good candidate to re-sign. He has been a nice piece for Detroit's secondary for a few years now and probably will not cost much to retain. Detroit may also think about bringing back one of their free-agent linebackers to keep some continuity.
Green Bay Packers
Biggest Need: Linebacker
An NFL team should never be in danger of going into a season with Krys Barnes and Isaiah McDuffie as the only linebackers on the roster. As things stand now, that is where the Packers are at. One-year free-agent signing De'Vondre Campbell is set to hit the market again after his unexpected Pro Bowl season. Campbell was the best linebacker the Packers have seen in years, but with the team already well into a cap deficit and potentially having to deal with contracts for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, it's tough to find the money to re-sign him. Though mostly a nickel linebacker and special-teamer, 2018 third-rounder Oren Burks is also up for a new contract. The Packers are not typically a team to spend premium picks at linebacker, but given their cap situation, the draft may be the easiest way to address the position.
Major Free Agents: Davante Adams, WR; De'Vondre Campbell, LB; Robert Tonyan Jr., TE; Kevin King, CB; Rasul Douglas, CB; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR; Lucas Patrick, OL
Aaron Rodgers or not, Adams likely sticks around in Green Bay on the franchise tag this year. Allowing the best receiver in the league to simply walk in free agency is not something that happens very often. What Green Bay does with their free agents beyond Adams is where it gets tricky. The Packers are already $28 million in the hole, according to Spotrac, so bringing everyone back will not be an option. Campbell could be a candidate to walk considering Green Bay never invests much at linebacker, while one of King or Douglas (likely King) will surely be sent out the door in favor of younger talent at the position.
Biggest Need: Cornerback
The Vikings need all sorts of cornerback talent. Young or old, starter or backup, the Vikings could use them all. Veterans Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander are both set to hit the open market. The Vikings will need to either re-sign or replace both players. Alexander, who signed back with the Vikings for the 2021 season after a one-year stint in Cincinnati, may be willing to stick around for cheap again, but that alone does not solve the team's issues. The depth beyond Peterson, Alexander, and Cameron Dantzler last season was poor. The team used Bashaud Breeland for parts of the season before releasing him, while 2019 draft pick Kris Boyd got picked apart in limited action again. Former head coach Mike Zimmer's departure also brings about necessity for cornerback talent, both because the defense will be taking on a new identity and because Zimmer was often able to scheme up smart pressures to help out the secondary.
Major Free Agents: Anthony Barr, LB; Patrick Peterson, CB; Sheldon Richardson, DL; Xavier Woods, S; Tyler Conklin, TE; Mackensie Alexander, CB; Rashod Hill, OL; Dede Westbrook, WR
Many of the Vikings' key departures are on the defensive side. Conklin and Westbrook are up for new deals on offense, but those guys do not demand high-resource replacements. On defense, however, Barr, Peterson, Richardson, Woods, and Alexander are all significant contributors who must be re-signed or replaced. Given the coaching turnover and expected franchise reset, perhaps this would be the best time to let guys such as Barr walk, but the Vikings will need to attack defense in the offseason no matter what considering all the losses.