Second in an eight-part series previewing all 32 NFL teams by division ahead of training camp, which begins this month.
What happens when the top defensive free agent since Reggie White leaves the division?
His old team scrambles, in vain, to replace him, while the other three franchises silently celebrate.
Ndamukong Suh’s decision to bail on Detroit and sign a record-breaking contract with Miami has changed everything about the NFC North.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will now have a second or two more in the pocket.
The holes will be a little bigger for Adrian Peterson.
And Jay Cutler? He will have to find something else to sulk about.
If Suh is indeed this generation’s White, it’s bad news for the Lions. The Eagles dropped from fifth in yards per play allowed to 23rd the year White bolted for Green Bay and allowed 4.4 more points per game than they did in his final season in Philadelphia.
(Some good news for the Dolphins, too; adding White helped the Packers vault from 26th in yards per play allowed to first.)
▪ 2014 record: 5-11 (fourth in NFC North).
▪ Coach: John Fox (first season).
▪ Training camp: July 29 (Olivet Nazarene University; Bourbonnais, Illinois).
▪ Major additions: LB Mason Foster, LB Pernell McPhee, S Antrel Rolle.
▪ Key losses: LB Lance Briggs, WR Brandon Marshall, CB Charles Tillman.
▪ Outlook: Jay Cutler is on his third coach in four seasons. That’s not an accident. The Bears went all in when they handed Cutler a seven-year, $127 million contract in early 2013. Since then, they’ve gone just 13-19, haven’t sniffed the playoffs and gotten a bunch of empty stats from Cutler. And, for the foreseeable future, the Bears are stuck with their sullen anti-hero. Cutting Cutler this year would have cost the Bears nearly $30 million in dead money; doing the same next year would bring only a negligible amount of salary-cap savings. Hey, at least the defense should be better.
▪ 2014 record: 11-5 (second in NFC North).
▪ Coach: Jim Caldwell (second season).
▪ Training camp: July 28 for rookies, August 2 for veterans (Detroit Lions Training Facility; Allen Park, Michigan).
▪ Major additions: RB Ameer Abdullah, DT Haloti Ngata, G Laken Tomlinson.
▪ Key losses: RB Reggie Bush, DT Nick Fairley, DT Ndamukong Suh.
▪ Outlook: From the outside, the Lions’ offseason was a catastrophe. They lost arguably the most dominant defensive player in the league, and, aside from a trade for Haloti Ngata and the addition of first-round pick Ameer Abdullah, didn’t upgrade much anywhere. More than ever will be asked of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who hasn’t had a truly great season since 2011, when he threw for 41 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards. Even with Calvin Johnson, the Lions were middle of the pack in yards and points a season ago. Much more will be needed to compensate for the steep losses on defense.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
▪ 2014 record: 12-4 (first in NFC North).
▪ Coach: Mike McCarthy (10th season).
▪ Training camp: July 29 (St. Norbert College; De Pere, Wisconsin).
▪ Major additions: WR Ty Montgomery, S Damarious Randall, CB Quinten Rollins.
▪ Key losses: LB A.J. Hawk, LB Brad Jones, CB Tramon Williams.
▪ Outlook: The Packers and the Steelers have a lot in common. They have star quarterbacks. They don’t overpay in free agency. They reward their own. And they usually are in it until the end. Green Bay stuck to script this offseason, even after perhaps the most devastating loss in NFC Championship Game history. The Packers locked up Randall Cobb just before the start of free agency, and paid moderately large money to keep tackle Bryan Bulaga in town. This all surely makes Aaron Rodgers, the league’s MVP in 2014, very happy.
▪ 2014 record: 7-9 (third in NFC North).
▪ Coach: Mike Zimmer (second season).
▪ Training camp: Saturday (Minnesota State University-Mankato; Mankato, Minnesota).
▪ Major additions: LB Eric Kendricks, WR Mike Wallace, CB Trae Waynes.
▪ Key losses: QB Matt Cassel, LB Erin Henderson, WR Greg Jennings.
▪ Outlook: The Vikings might be the best team this season that no one’s talking about. Local product Teddy Bridgewater (Miami Northwestern) improved significantly as his rookie season went on, proving his doubters wrong. Over the final five games of the season, Bridgewater had a passer rating of 103. Furthermore, the Vikings essentially traded Greg Jennings to Miami for Mike Wallace, who was never a great fit in Miami. And they attacked their deficiencies on defense, taking back-seven players in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft. And, oh yeah, Adrian Peterson is back after his one-year exile.