While all of these teams made moves to put themselves in a position to secure the division title, there can only be one King of the North. Both Green Bay and Minnesota made the playoffs last year, but with the Packers seemingly shifting their focus from the present to the future, it is anyone’s guess who represents the division in 2020. An exceptional draft in Minnesota, a whole new and improved roster in Detroit, and a new QB in Chicago points to possible chaos at the top. Below, I lay out every notable transaction, highlighting the best and worst moves and explaining how those moves affect each team’s immediate future and beyond.
* = 2020 Draft Selection
GREEN BAY PACKERS
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Christian Kirksey (LB), Ricky Wagner (OT), Devin Funchess (WR), Jordan Love* (QB), AJ Dillon* (RB), Josiah Deguara* (TE), Kamal Martin* (LB), Jon Runyan Jr.* (OL)
DRAFT GRADE: C
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: Signing Devin Funchess to a veteran minimum was the most savvy move by GB this offseason. History has showed how easily Aaron Rodgers is able to elevate any pass catcher’s level of play, especially those who thrive in the red zone. Look for Funchess to utilize his special frame in a bounce back year and put up big TD numbers this season after a lost 2019 due to injury (fractured clavicle).
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Bryan Bulaga (OT), Blake Martinez (LB), Geronimo Allison (WR), Jimmy Graham (TE), Kyler Fackrell (LB)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: The Packers have got to be happy that Jimmy Graham is gone, and even happier that their arch-rivals severely overpaid him instead. His profound athletic decline was on full display in GB, consistently dropping passes and showing little ability to create space as a receiver. His days as a dangerous receiving threat are in the past.
FUTURE FORECAST: Gutekunst called it a “long-term decision,” but how long is long? It is difficult for me to envision their sparkly new QB they just invested a 1st & 4th in to sit on the sidelines for more than a season or two. His live arm and glimpses of greatness dictate enormous potential. He’s got an intangible and infectious swagger to him, like his new mentor. His biggest knock is his inconsistent statistics during college, but I see this is a minor issue – he played under multiple HC/offensive coordinators and there was a mass depletion of starters after 2018 for Utah St. It is crucial for Love’s development that the Packers are deliberate in fostering a healthy relationship between the two QBs, especially before Rodgers is gone.
As for Rodgers, I believe he has a few good years left in him. It is truly a tragedy how the Packers handled the end of his career, failing to provide him dangerous aerial threats other than Adams. Even so, I won’t be surprised when he elevates Allen Lazard and/or EQ St. Brown to stardom in 2020.
When he leaves, where will he go? He has strong west coast ties, which deems the Las Vegas Raiders and LA Rams as a few good fits to keep in mind. Rodgers, Gruden, Mayock would be a terrific trio, as Aaron could finally have a coach to match his infectious moxie.
Overall, the defense is still above average with an elite pair of pass rushers, but their success in 2020 is fairly limited by their lack of offensive weaponry. Once again, they will rely on a solid run game and heroics from their star QB, but as last year showed, there’s only so much he can do against legit defenses.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 9-7 (PUSH 9)
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Michael Pierce (DT), Tajae Sharpe (WR), *Justin Jefferson (WR), *Jeff Gladney (CB), *Cameron Dantzler (CB), *Ezra Cleveland (OT), *Troy Dye (LB), *Josh Metellus (S), *Nate Stanley (QB)
DRAFT GRADE: A+
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: There were several superb value picks to choose from in this exceptional draft class. Their glaring need was CB and they addressed it beautifully with both (FOG CB3) Jeff Gladney at #31 and (FOG CB8) Cam Dantzler at #89. Ezra Cleveland provides a much needed versatile and ultra athletic piece up front at OT.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Stefon Diggs (WR), Everson Griffen (DE), Trae Waynes (CB), Xavier Rhodes (CB), Mackenzie Alexander (CB), Linval Joseph (DT), Andrew Sendejo (S), Josh Kline (RG)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Trae Waynes was decent on his rookie contract, but they were wise not to pay him big money. He will be a good player in Cincy, but Spielman elected to use their draft capital instead. I commend this strategy, and I am confident one if not both of Gladney-Dantzler will be star corners in the future, especially under Zimmer.
FUTURE FORECAST: The new draft picks help, but there are still a few holes on this team, specifically in the trenches. On defense, their back seven is as good as it gets, but their front four is weaker than years past with the loss of Griffen and Joseph. Mini-camp will be crucial for Gladney and Dantzler with their lofty Day 1 expectations, but COVID-19 makes attaining those reps unlikely. Justin Jefferson is a perfect fit for Kirk, Gladney and Dantzler are studs, Cleveland is an athletic specimen, and Troy Dye was the defensive captain of the Rose Bowl Champions. To make another playoff run, it is up to defensive guru Zimmer to put all these pieces into motion. With an abbreviated offseason, it will be extra difficult to do so, but I really like the overall structure of this roster.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 9-7 (PUSH 9)
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Jamie Collins (OLB), Halapoulivaati Vaitaii (OL), Desmond Trufant (CB), Danny Shelton (DT), Duron Harmon (SS), Reggie Ragland (LB), Geronimo Allison (WR), Darryl Roberts (CB), Oday Aboushi (OL), Jeff Okudah* (CB), D’Andre Swift* (RB), Julian Okwara* (LB), Jonah Jackson* (OL), Quintez Cephus* (WR)
DRAFT GRADE: A-
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: Out of all the talent they added, the best value I saw was Duron Harmon for a 5th and adding Julian Okwara in the 3rd. They now look to have a formidable pass rush with Trey Flowers on one side and Okwara on the other. Swift’s advanced receiving ability compliments Kerryon’s run style nicely.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Darius Slay (CB), Ricky Wagner (OT), Damon Harrison (DT)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison had the lowest tackle total of his career last season, so it makes sense that Detroit elected for the $6.7 M in cap savings instead of his services.
FUTURE FORECAST: Patricia’s fragile future hinges on his ability to revitalize their defense in order to give Stafford more of a consistent chance, something he simply hasn’t had since making the playoffs. Look for Kenny Golladay to take another step forward as a true WR1, and expect Detroit to enjoy their best running back production that they’ve had since Barry Sanders. Both of their fronts are vastly improved, but the secondary is still a question mark, even with Okudah. Overall, with a mightily improved roster, people are sleeping on this team but they could make noise with no clear King of the North.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 8-8 (OVER 6.5)
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Nick Foles (QB), Robert Quinn (EDGE), Jimmy Graham (TE), Artie Burns (CB), Tedd Ginn Jr. (WR), Tashaun Gipson (FS), Jason Spriggs (OT), Barkevious Mingo (OLB), Cole Kmet* (TE), Jaylon Johnson* (CB), Kindle Vildor* (CB)
DRAFT GRADE: B
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: I am not a huge fan of Foles, but he does bring a certain stability to their offense that Trubisky simply doesn’t. Aside from QBs, I love the Jaylon Johnson pick for them, he is very dependable in press/man coverage and they desperately needed another CB. I see Johnson becoming a very productive player alongside Eddie Jackson in their backend. In replacing Ha-Ha, Tashaun Gipson will prove to be a quiet but savvy addition as a veteran ballhawk for Pace
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Leonard Floyd (EDGE), Prince Amukamara (CB), Taylor Gabriel (WR), Kyle Long (OL)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Chicago cleared $9M in cap space after releasing Amukamara. His performances of late haven’t been enough to garner that type of money, evident by his current FA status.
FUTURE FORECAST: Pace has to give Trubisky one more shot this offseason based off of shear investment. He says “he believes” in Mitch despite declining his 5th year option, but he’s clearly trying to hold out in hopes that Mitch can turn it around. If his accuracy struggles continue, Pace’s bleak future in Chicago will hinge on whether Foles can reinvigorate their offense. Kmet is a nice piece to help either QB, but not enough to move the needle. He is more of a complete tight-end as opposed to an aerial threat. Foles has shown he can win with a strong defense behind him, so I would not be surprised if they enjoy some success in 2020. However, that success is likely limited to the regular season.
Even if Foles provides a spark, Nagy, A-Rob and their defense deserve better in 2021 at QB and GM. I think they pick around 10-15 in 2021 draft, and that pairs them up with a Trey Lance or Jamie Newman for their future. Lance, a midwest product who put up a 41-0 TD to INT ratio and was MVP of FCS in 2019, would be a match made in heaven for Bears Nation. I suspect a new GM, not Pace, will be making that crucial selection for the future of the Bears.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 6-10 (UNDER 8)
VALUE BET TO WIN THE DIVISION: Detroit Lions +650
If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, I really like this team to make some noise in the upcoming season. Stafford has shown that with a quality team around him, he can win a lot of games, and he now has a true WR1 and a formidable running attack to lean on. Aside from the offense, my favorite part of their offseason was the defensive additions they made. There are no excuses for Matt Patricia now, who has more than enough tools to put together a stingy defense. With the lowest odds to win the division, I really like the value here with Detroit.