The Packers kept some potential free agents from walking by inking cornerback Sam Shields and defensive lineman B.J. Raji to new deals. Here’s a free agency breakdown for the NFC North:
GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-7-1)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RBs James Starks and Kahlil Bell; DLs Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson; C Evan Dietrich-Smith; TEs Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless; QBs Matt Flynn and Seneca Wallace; LBs Rob Francois and Mike Neal; WR James Jones; FB John Kuhn; OL Marshall Newhouse.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S M.D. Jennings; LB Jamari Lattimore.
NEEDS: Biggest is getting more playmakers on defense that slipped in second half. DL could get makeover with starters Pickett, Raji and Jolly hitting free agency, and team could use jolts of energy at safety and linebacker, where thumb injury to pass rusher Clay Matthews hurt last season. Sam Shields was re-signed to 4-year deal Sunday, keeping one of game’s top CBs in Green Bay. Finley coming off serious neck injury, and Pack may look elsewhere at tight end. GM Ted Thompson espouses “draft-and-develop” philosophy and rarely makes splash in free agency. What might team do this year with estimated $30 million-plus in cap space?
CHICAGO BEARS (8-8)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CBs Charles Tillman, Sherrick McManis and Zack Bowman; QBs Josh McCown; LS Patrick Mannelly; WR/KR Devin Hester; DTs Landon Cohen and Henry Melton; DE Corey Wootton; OLs Jonathan Scott and OL Eben Britton; LBs James Anderson, Blake Costanzo and D.J. Williams; S Craig Steltz and Major Wright.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DB Anthony Walters.
NEEDS: McCown’s status aside, offense is basically set after franchise record for total net yards (6,109) last season while finishing second in club history in points (445). Heavy lifting will be on defense after group gave up 2,583 yards rushing on 5.3 per carry – both club records. Bears need help on line, at linebacker and in secondary. Star LB Lance Briggs, CB Tim Jennings have jobs locked in. Looks like DT Jeremiah Ratliff does, too, after agreeing to two-year deal on Wednesday. Other spots are question marks. DE Julius Peppers could be released or have contract restructured given cap hit of more than $18 million. Hester was released. Agreed to one-year deals with DT Nate Collins and backup QB Jordan Palmer on Sunday.
DETROIT LIONS (7-9)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: K David Akers; DT Andre Fluellen; T Jason Fox; G Dylan Gandy; QB Shaun Hill; DEs Israel Idonije and Willie Young; CB Rashean Mathis; LB Rocky McIntosh; C Don Muhlbach; WRs Michael Spurlock and Kevin Ogletree; TE Brandon Pettigrew; S John Wendling.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Isa Abdul-Quddus; RB Joique Bell; TE Dorin Dickerson.
NEEDS: Lions recently released WR Nate Burleson and S Louis Delmas, so both areas now need shoring up. Without Burleson, Lions could use another veteran pass catcher to play alongside star WR Calvin Johnson. DT Ndamukong Suh is not free agent, but Lions may try to sign him to extension that also offers team short-term relief under salary cap.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (5-10-1)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Jared Allen; LBs Desmond Bishop and Marvin Mitchell; C Joe Berger; QBs Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman; CB Chris Cook; DTs Kevin Williams and Fred Evans; RB Toby Gerhart; OL Charlie Johnson; WRs Jerome Simpson and Joe Webb; OT J’Marcus Webb.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Larry Dean.
NEEDS: Defense! With Allen and Williams no longer under contract and release of LB Erin Henderson, three of front seven starters are gone. After allowing league-most 30 points per game last season, several spots in need of upgrades, too. DE Everson Griffen was re-signed, and Vikings signed former Cardinals middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley on Sunday. CBs also priority. Cook’s assumed departure opens another starting job. Gerhart’s free agency creates need for dependable backup to RB Adrian Peterson, but that could come in draft. Team’s biggest deficiency remains QB, and Cassel will be pursued aggressively considering UFA market rarely offers much for QB quality.
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