2009 Offseason Overview: NFC North

Minnesota Vikings:

-Brad Childress finally got the playoff monkey off his back, and the Vikes are heading into the postseason. The Vikings still don’t really have their quarterback situation resolved yet, but we will see how Tavaris Jackson does in his first playoff game. After Jackson played poorly to begin the season, Childress did not hesitate to yank him for veteran Gus Frerotte, who led the offense until he got injured with three games left in the season.

Jackson would again be put in the starting role, but this time he looked much more mature and poised in the pocket, and even had a four touchdown performance at Arizona in a must-win situation. The strength of this team is the defense, and Jared Allen was the missing piece that took them to another level this year. They were tops in the NFL in rush defense, but their pass defense still wasn’t stellar. Childress may have saved his job by making the playoffs, but he will face a few questions this offseason.

Key FAs:

-TE Jim Kleinsasser: is an excellent run blocker, but with the emergence of Visanthe Shiancoe, he is only used in spot duty, and is 31years of age.

-C Matt Birk: is an excellent player at the center position and the Vikings will not let him get away in free agency.

-S Darren Sharper: Minnesota would love to bring him back if they think that he can still be effective at age 33.

Needs: OT, QB, CB, S, DT

-The Vikings have not liked what they have seen out of the right side of their offensive line, especially at right tackle. The Vikings will probably look to draft a good young tackle, and maybe play him at RT to start, and then trade sides with Bryant McKinnie, or move McKinnie right away, and play the rookie at LT. Also, they could look to free agency, as there are some good RTs available. I’m not sure how much faith the coaching staff has in Tavaris Jackson, but if it isn’t a lot they may look to draft another prospect who can be groomed into the starter.

-The defense was very good for the most part, but the Vikings really need another quality starting corner opposite Antoine Winfield. Winfield enjoyed a Pro Bowl season, but his counterpart, Cedric Griffin, was picked on constantly. With Darren Sharper a free agent, and also approaching his mid thirties, it is time to find his successor. Pat Williams got banged up at the end of this season, and you have to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank. Just in case, the Vikings should add some depth on the inside of their line, and maybe even some at defensive end too.

Chicago Bears:

-The Bears were in the postseason hunt right down to the last week, but ultimately they came up short. The Bears’ normally excellent defense had a very poor season, especially against the passing game, which they were almost dead last as far as yards allowed. This can be contributed mostly to the lack of a decent pass rush, and unspectacular play from their corners, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman.

They did play well against the run, but they are going to need to make some changes to get back to the level that they were at in previous years. The big surprises were on offense, where rookie Matt Forte led all rookies in total yards from scrimmage, and Kyle Orton was outstanding, until his ankle injury. The Bears are going to have to have a good offseason to get back to the top of the NFC North.

Key FAs:

-QB Rex Grossman: this really is the end of his career in Chicago, as Orton stepped up this season. Should probably be able to find a back up job somewhere, though.

-WR Brandon Lloyd: part of the Bears’ miserable crop of WRs, will be let go, and may find it hard to ever get a job in the NFL again.

-TE Desmond Clark: the Bears have been successful running a two tight end system, but I think they will cut ties with Clark this offseason and go strictly with Greg Olsen.

-OT John St. Clair: did a better than expected job protecting Orton’s blind side, but will give way to first round pick Chris Williams, who missed the majority of the season with back problems. May be re signed to play guard.

-S Mike Brown: injuries have really hurt what looked to be a promising career, and yet again he finds himself on the I.R. at the end of this season. He may have worn out his welcome in Chicago, but is a great player when healthy.

Needs: WR, OL, DE, S

-The Bears might just have the worst group of wideouts in the entire league. They are led by converted cornerback and kick returner, Devin Hester, who is still learning the position, yet is the best threat they have. They must find some targets for Kyle Orton to throw to, or he is going to become another Rex Grossman. The Bears spent their first rounder on an offensive lineman last year, but they may need to use a few more picks on the line this April. The Bears’ line is a veteran unit, and many of the starters are passed their prime, but still playing because of a lack of depth; this must be addressed.

-As mentioned earlier, the Bears’ lack of a pass rush really hurt their defense. The normally productive Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown were not themselves this year, and you cannot expect DT Tommie Harris to do it all himself. The Bears will most likely look to the draft to find themselves a pass rusher. With Mike Brown possibly on his way out of town, and no other viable starting options, the Bears should look to add a safety to start for their defense.

Green Bay Packers:

-Year one A.F. (After Favre) did not go as well as expected in Packer Nation, although it would be very hard to blame Aaron Rodgers, as he was outstanding. Instead it is the defense that should covet most of the blame, and the running game that took awhile to get going for the second year in a row. The pass defense wasn’t so bad, but the run defense was terrible, and that starts with the defensive line. The Packers are a talented club, though, and Aaron Rodgers looks like he will be a very good quarterback in this league. With a few key additions at certain spots, this could definitely be a team that contends for the NFC North crown.

Key FAs:

-OT Mark Tauscher: from all accounts it looks as though Tauscher will be allowed to test the free agent market, and will not be back with the Pack next season.

-DE Mike Montgomery: played well for stretches this season, and will most likely be back just because he is a big body, and for depth.

-LB Brady Poppinga: has been a solid, although unspectacular starter for their defense. Should be brought back, even if it is only for depth purposes.

Needs: OL, TE, DL, CB

-The Packers need to figure out their offensive line, and get it back to playing at a high level once again. Look for the Packers to address this area with one of their first couple of picks in this April’s draft, and maybe grab a free agent as well. With Tauscher out the door, tackle becomes a big need, but the inside could also deserve a look. A good receiving tight end would make things easier for Rodgers, and he already has a ton of weapons on the outside at receiver, but Donald Lee does not have great hands at the TE position.

-The Packers’ defensive line was a mess this season. They have a talented group of guys, but they just couldn’t find the right combinations, or any chemistry together. They would also like to add another pass rusher, because as it stands, Aaron Kampman is the only real threat coming off the edge. The Packers have two excellent corners in Charles Woodson and Al Harris, but both are in their thirties, and the Packers really haven’t done anything to address the lack of depth behind them.

Detroit Lions:

-The only positive the Lions can take from their winless season, is that there is nowhere to go but up from here. This organization is a mess, and it starts from the top with the ownership group. All you have to do is look at the trouble that Ford Motor Company is in to figure out why these owners can’t run a football team either. The Ford family let Matt Millen run the team into the ground before he was finally let go this season.

Millen had managed to turn the Lions into the laughing stock of the NFL with such brilliant personnel moves as drafting WRs with his first round pick for three straight years, amongst other blunders. He was so bad that his firing was probably the highlight of the season for most angry Lions fans. With this offseason the Lions will have to completely overhaul their roster, and find a coach that has enough ‘cojones’ to try and turn this ship around. The Lions have a long way to go, but at least the firing of Millen has them going somewhat in the right direction. They will also have the first overall pick, which may be the only positive of finishing winless.

Key FAs:

-QB Dan Orlovsky: certainly not franchise quarterback material. Really depends what happens with Culpepper and the draft. Could be a solid back up.

-WR Shaun McDonald: will probably be let go, as the Lions will most likely get rid of almost all of their free agents and build from the ground up.

-OT George Foster: will probably be let go, and the Lions will move first rounder, Gosder Cherilus, to his more natural position of RT.

-Shaun Cody: has not been very good after being drafted fairly high. Will probably be released, as the Lions try to rebuild their defensive line.

-LB Paris Lenon: was not very good at all, starting at MLB. They drafted Jordan Dizon last April to come in and play this position, but he didn’t see the field much as a rookie, which makes you wonder.

Needs: Everything!

-Okay, well maybe not everything, but pretty close to every position on their roster could be upgraded. It will be interesting to see who they take with the first overall pick. Just from consensus, it will most likely be a QB, LT, or DE, but it is really too early to tell. I’m not sure the Lions will be bringing in many high priced free agents, though, as 0-16 may be a tough sell, but I’m sure they could convince some veterans to help in the rebuilding process. The Lions offense has a couple pieces to build around in RB Kevin Smith, WR Calvin Johnson, and OT Gosder Cherilus, but besides them, practically every position could be overhauled.

-Aside from LB Ernie Sims there isn’t really any other player on the defense that is a difference-maker at their respective position. The defensive line is a particular area of concern, especially considering that Rod Marinelli’s specialty in Tampa was the defensive line, and even he couldn’t get much production. A stud pass rusher would be welcomed on their front four, as well as a cornerback, safety, and while were at it, why not a linebacker for good measure. There are many directions the Lions could go with their first overall pick, and it will come down to salary as well, but my money is on a quarterback or offensive tackle.

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