NFC North Free Agency Grades
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Packers - C
- LB Christian Kirksey, 2-years, $16 million
- OT Rick Wagner, 2-years, $11 million
- LB Blake Martinez, signed by the Giants
- OT Bryan Bulaga, signed by the Chargers
- WR Geronimo Allison, signed by the Lions
- TE Jimmy Graham, signed by the Bears
Green Bay got marginally worse in free agency, but they were able to immediately fill the holes in their roster caused by the losses of Bryan Bulaga and Blake Martinez with new additions.
Bryan Bulaga has been a constant starter in his 9 years with the Packers. Over the course of his career he has proven to be a top end right tackle in the NFL, in 2019 Bulaga faced 612 pass blocking attempts and only allowed 3.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits and 27 pressures. Despite his obvious talent the Packers allowed him to walk in free agency as they couldn’t afford to pay top of the market money for a right tackle. Green Bay moved swiftly once losing Bulaga to secure Rick Wagner to a 2-year $11 million deal. Although Wagner has never been elite, he is a good reliable starter. Additionally, the last three years Wagner has been the starting right tackle for the Detroit Lions who also reside in the NFC North meaning facing the likes of Khalil Mack and Danielle Hunter will not be new to him.
Whilst In my opinion signing Wagner to replace Bulaga was a really good move by Green Bay, I do not like the signing of Christian Kirskey. Although Blake Martinez was by no means good in coverage, allowing 80% completions when targeted, he has led the league in tackles for three straight years averaging 148 tackles each year which is hard to do regardless of whether you are a liability in coverage. Hence, allowing Martinez to leave in free agency would make sense if you were to bring in a top coverage linebacker. However, they signed Christian Kirksey to a 2-year $16 million deal which is only $2 million less annually than Martinez and one year shorter, and given Kirskey is known for being poor in coverage as well as only starting 9 games over the past 2 years compared to Martinez who has not missed a game over the past 3 it begs the questions why Green Bay didn’t just re-sign Martinez to the deal he received in New York, 3-years $30 million.
Lions – C+
- CB Desmond Trufant, 2-years, $20 million, $14 million guaranteed
- LB Jamie Collins Sr, 3-years, $30 million, $18 million guaranteed
- S Duron Harmon, via trade
- DT Danny Shelton, 2- years, $8 million
- OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, 5-years, $45 million, $20 million guaranteed
- CB Darius Slay, traded
- DT Mike Daniels
- OG Graham Glasgow, signed by the Broncos
- DT Damon Harrison Sr, released
- DT A’Shawn Robinson, signed by the Rams
Detroit allowing Darius Slay to leave was in my opinion an awful move. Whilst many believe they had no other option as Slay wanted out and to be paid, I believe it is on Coach Patricia to allow probably the best player on your roster to lose “all respect” for you to the extent he forced himself out. Since 2017 Slay has made 3 consecutive Pro Bowls, one 1st team All-Pro and 13 interceptions placing him amongst the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Given Slay went on to be made the highest-paid corner in the NFL by the Eagles, the Lions signing Desmond Trufant to a 2-year $20 million deal is a nice deal for Detroit. The deal places him 15th in annual salary which for a corner who can at times push to be top 10 in performance
is a good deal
The Lions signed offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a 5-year $45 million deal. While his contract is expensive it fits the current trend of overpaying young offensive lineman this free agency. However, throughout his career he has been a rotational player, starting only 20 games in 55 for Philadelphia. Yet, unlike some players who have proven themselves whilst playing rotational roles, Vaitai is an average to good run blocker but very inconsistent and he’s a poor pass protector, all of which point to him being more of a depth piece than a starting tackle.
Signing three ex-Patriot players was a good move by Detroit in my opinion. Matt Patricia was previously the defensive co-ordinator for the New England Patriots and his defensive scheme almost mirrors that of the Patriots meaning all three should be able to slide into the starting team without any problems, they also are used to the culture so it won’t come as a shock to them. Duron Harmon has played as a rotational safety over his 7 years in New England but when his time comes, he’s made plays with 10 interceptions over the last 3 years, proving he is ready for the jump to starter. Danny Shelton is a two down run stuffer, whilst he has no presence in the pass-rush he will play a role in Patricia’s defense. Jamie Collins is a boom or bust signing, when not playing in New England Collins has looked average, but in 2019 he was back with the Patriots and played like the Collins of old. Whilst Patricia’s scheme mirrors that of New England there remains no guarantee Collins will perform the same way, and at 30 years old it’s likely he will begin to regress throughout the durations of his 3-year deal.
Bears - C+
- QB Nick Foles, via trade
- LB Danny Trevathan, 3-years, $21.75 million, $14 million guaranteed
- EDGE Robert Quinn, 5- years, $70 million, $30 million guaranteed
- TE Jimmy Graham, 2- years, $16 million, $9 million guaranteed
- CB Prince Amukamara, released
- WR Taylor Gabriel, released
- LB Nick Kwiatkoski, signed by the Raiders
- EDGE Leonard Floyd, released
- OG Kyle Long, retired
- S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, signed by the Cowboys
The most notable move by the Bears was trading for quarterback Nick Foles. Foles had potentially the greatest back to back play-off games of all time in 2018 leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl. However, since then Foles has never returned to that form. He got a huge 4-year $88 million contract in Jacksonville but never lived up to expectations getting injured in week 1 only to return and lose his job to rookie quarterback Gardener Minshew. While its likely trading for Foles was purely to light a fire underneath former number 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, there is the potential that if Trubisky fails to perform Foles could see the field.
Signing Robert Quinn was a good move in my opinion. While Quinn is 30 years old, he has shown no form of regression yet. In 2019 Quinn totalled 11.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 14 games. Although between 2015-18 Quinn struggled with injury and regression in stats the Bears will be hoping he can continue on from 2019 and potentially reach his 2012-2014 play in which he totalled 40 sacks over 3 years. While the contract is a lot of money to invest in Quinn, the money is heavily loaded up front allowing them to move off from Quinn in 2023 with a dead cap hit of $6.2 million if his play regresses.
Vikings – B+
- DT Michael Pierce, 3-years, $28 million, $18 million guaranteed
- S Anthony Harris, franchise tag
- 22nd overall pick, plus a fourth, fifth and sixth round pick via trade with the Bills
- WR Stefon Diggs, traded
- CB Trae Waynes, signed by the Bengals
- EDGE Everson Griffen, declined option
- DT Linval Joseph, signed by Chargers
- CB Xavier Rhodes, signed by Colts
Although trading Stefon Diggs seems like a large loss, they received considerable compensation for him. Whilst he has averaged 1075 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons Diggs has never truly flourished in the Vikings offense and like most receivers wanted to be a number one option and see the majority of targets. So, to flip the pick they received for Diggs to draft wide receiver Justin Jefferson at 22nd overall was a good move in my view by Minnesota. Jefferson has a similar play style to Diggs and will likely slide into the Vikings offense opposite Adam Thielen. Also, Jefferson’s annual salary sits at $3.2 million whereas Diggs makes $14.4 million a year allowing Minnesota some additional cap relief on top of the large compensation.
The Vikings made some good moves on the defensive side of the ball as well. While releasing Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes gave the Vikings big cap relief it left holes in the defense. However, the Vikings moved fast to sign former Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce who is the perfect replacement for Joseph as he is a good run stopper and fills the hole in the middle of the defensive line. The Vikings also lost Everson Griffen when he declined his player option. Although Griffen has proven himself as a top edge rusher in the NFL since 2014, averaging 10 sacks a year excluding 2018 in which he only played 10 games, the fact he remains unsigned shows to an extent where the league views him. Minnesota also franchise tagged safety Anthony Harris, who has been elite over the past two seasons. While it’s likely the Vikings will sign Harris to a long-term extension given their poor secondary, there remains the possibility they could trade him for assets.
Image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkipDSIL9tw
Image by: Tennessee Titans