With determination and deep pockets, the Vikings cast a large shadow over their NFC North counterparts during the first wave of free agency.
They guaranteed $84 million to a starting quarterback, traded for his backup and added a key starter to coach Mike Zimmer’s No. 1-ranked defense. But Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian and Sheldon Richardson aren’t the only newbies of the North to keep an eye on.
Allen Robinson joins the Bears’ much-needed overhaul at receiver. Jimmy Graham teams up with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. And, in an under-the-radar move in Detroit, former Giants linebacker Devon Kennard gives new coach Matt Patricia a versatile tool whose value could exceed Kennard’s modest three-year, $17.25 million deal.
Of course, there’s still work to be done throughout the division. The Vikings are using this weekend to study the defensive backs in next month’s draft. The Bears still need pass rushers. The Lions are without a tight end who has more than four NFL catches. And the Packers are in dire need of cornerbacks.
Here is a closer look at the Vikings’ division opponents:
Bears General Manager Ryan Pace wasn’t going to be outbid on Robinson. He gave the former Jaguars star $42 million over three years with $25 million guaranteed.
Will Robinson play like the guy who caught 80 balls for 1,400 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns in 2015? Or will he be slowed by the torn anterior cruciate ligament that limited him to one catch for 17 yards last season?
The Bears also added another receiver, Atlanta’s Taylor Gabriel, and a pass-catching tight end, Philadelphia’s Trey Burton, who should be nice security blanket for second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Did the Bears take a risk on Robinson? Certainly.
They now have three receivers — Kevin White, Cameron Meredith and Robinson — coming back from season-ending injuries.
The Bears also signed former 49ers defensive end Aaron Lynch, who had 12½ sacks in his first two seasons (2014-15) but only 2½ the past two years. They need more help in that area.
Detroit hasn’t spent much. Of seven players signed, Kennard got the biggest deal. But Friday’s one-year, $2 million deal for running back LeGarrette Blount is worth watching considering the Lions haven’t had a running game in years.
When Patricia wants to shake things up — a la his former boss, Bill Belichick — he can use the versatile Kennard as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 look. He’s an underrated player to watch.
Meanwhile, releasing Eric Ebron created a hole at tight end. The Lions have Michael Roberts, Hakeem Valles and Brandon Barnes. But Roberts, with four catches, is the only one of the three with an NFL catch.
The Lions also have just six draft picks. So perhaps they’ve targeted more moves for the second and third waves of free agency.
New General Manager Brian Gutekunst has continued the Packers’ tradition of taking a knee for the most part in free agency. Perhaps it has something to do with Rodgers heading toward a contract that will surpass Cousins’ deal as the richest in NFL history.
Now that Cousins has weighed in with a record guarantee and a record average per year ($28 million), Rodgers, who has two years left on his current deal, is looking at getting about $90 million guaranteed and an average of about $30 million.
So far, the Packers traded for Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer and signed Graham and former Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
The two signings are intriguing. Can Graham, at 31, still stretch the field a little bit like he used to in New Orleans? Can Wilkerson use a one-year, prove-it deal to resurrect a career that’s been in steep decline the past two years?
Graham averaged just 9.1 yards per catch last year, but he also led the league with 10 red-zone touchdowns. The Packers certainly believe in him since they guaranteed $22 million of his $30 million deal.
Wilkerson had 18 sacks in 2014-15, including 12 in 2015. But he’s had only eight sacks the past two years. So, like his former teammate Richardson, he took a one-year deal in hopes of jump-starting his career in the NFC North.
Now, the Packers need to find cornerbacks, possibly in free agency and high in the draft. They traded Damarious Randall to Cleveland for Kizer. Devon House is a free agent and Kevin King is coming off shoulder surgery.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider.