ESPN ranked the Vikings this past week as the eighth-best team in the NFL heading into the draft later this month, despite all of the losses they suffered on defense in free agency. ESPN had the Packers ranked fifth, the Bears 19th and the Lions 29th.
Las Vegas seems to agree with those marks. Online sportsbook Bovada had the Packers as the favorite to win the NFC North at +130, meaning a $100 bet would pay off $130 if the Packers won the division. The Vikings were at +185, the Bears at +375 and the Lions at +850.
Ever since those four clubs joined the NFC Central in 1966, which became the NFC North in 2004, the Vikings and Packers have dominated.
The Vikings have won the division 20 times, the Packers 16, the Bears 11 and the Lions three. The Vikings’ 30 playoff appearances are also the highest mark in that time, topping the Packers’ 24, the Bears’ 15 and the Lions’ 12.
However, this year has to be the first time that the Packers and Vikings combined to have so few moves in free agency compared to the other two teams in the division.
And you have to wonder if the Vikings’ losses on defense are going to really hurt their chances to compete for a playoff spot.
The Bears made the biggest moves in the division, bringing in defensive end Robert Quinn from the Cowboys on a huge five-year, $70 million contract. But they also added former Packers tight end Jimmy Graham (two years, $16 million) and made their biggest splash by trading a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for Nick Foles. That means Chicago will have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback challenging Mitch Trubisky for the starting role.
Detroit was the most active team, bringing in offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai from Philadelphia on a five-year, $45 million deal. That deal was a necessity because guard Graham Glasgow left the Lions to sign a four-year, $44 million contract with the Broncos.
The Lions also added linebacker Jamie Collins from the Patriots for $30 million over three years. Quarterback Chase Daniel was brought in from the Bears to back up Matthew Stafford on a three-year, $13.1 million deal, and former Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant signed a two-year, $20 million contract.
Pack, Vikings stand pat
While the Vikings’ losses in free agency have been well-documented, the fact is that the Packers have been similarly hamstrung in making moves this offseason.
They lost linebacker Blake Martinez to the Giants on a three-year, $30.8 million deal. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who had been with Green Bay for nine seasons, went to the Chargers for $30 million over three years.
What’s just as noteworthy is the lack of free agents who have come to Green Bay this offseason.
The only players of note that the Packers added were linebacker Christian Kirksey from the Browns (two years, $13 million) and right tackle Ricky Wagner from the Lions (two years, $11 million).
Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers went on the radio this past week to say he thinks the reason the Packers didn’t make as many moves is because they have the right pieces in place already.
“A lot of times the teams that are doing the most in free agency are doing the most because they need the most,” Rodgers said. “The teams that aren’t doing as much often don’t really need as much, and I think we’re one of those teams where our GM [Brian Gutekunst] did a great job last season of adding some guys on the defensive side of the ball.”
Similarly, the Vikings’ only major addition was Michael Pierce at defensive tackle on a three-year, $27 million deal, along with minor $1 million contracts for receiver Tajae Sharpe and defensive end Anthony Zettel.
The difference is you have to wonder if the Vikings will be able to bring in enough players to replace the talent they lost in the secondary.
Cap situation improves
With free agency entering a slower period, it’s worth looking at the cap situation around the division.
The Vikings, who entered the offseason with the worst salary cap situation in the NFL, now rank 21st with $12.6 million in salary cap space with two weeks left before the draft, according to the website Spotrac.
The Bears now rank last in the league with just $709,833 in cap space, though they do have 65 players signed.
The Lions are in the best salary cap situation in the division. Detroit has $30.2 million in cap space, a number that ranks fifth-best in the NFL.
The Packers are in a similar spot to the Vikings with $10.9 million in cap space, ranking 23rd in the league.
And if fans want to know how the Vikings and Packers might try to add talent while keeping that cap number down, look no further than the draft. The Bears have just seven draft picks, the Lions have nine, the Packers 10 and the Vikings 12.
Just as important for the Vikings is that they have five picks in the first three rounds (Nos. 22, 25, 58, 89 and 105) while the Lions have four (3, 35, 67 and 85), the Packers have three (30, 62 and 94) and the Bears have only two (43 and 50).
• Odds Shark has released its Big Ten football championship odds for 2020 and the Gophers rank seventh at 25-1. Ahead of them are Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa. Incredibly the Gophers are once again picked fourth in the Big Ten West after finishing in second place last year and winning 11 games.
• Some updates on Gophers football players in the pros: Safety Eric Murray signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Texans after a great season with the Browns; linebacker De’Vondre Campbell signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Cardinals; and linebacker Damien Wilson will be on the second year of his two-year, $5.75 million deal with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
• Vikings great Everson Griffen remains unsigned, and Pro Football Focus ranked him eighth on its list of remaining available free agents. At No. 28 was former Gophers and Vikings defensive back Tramaine Brock.
• In his freshman season at Duke, Rochester John Marshall product Matthew Hurt averaged 9.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. The 6-9 forward, like teammate Tre Jones of Apple Valley, might benefit from a sophomore season at Duke instead of being one-and-done. ESPN has Jones ranked as the 33rd-best prospect in the 2020 NBA draft.
• Gophers assistant men’s basketball coach Rob Jeter took the Western Illinois coaching job and former Cretin-Derham Hall standout Jaeden King will be on his roster. King averaged 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 16 games his freshman season.
• The Twins will get $4.49 million in bonus money to sign draft picks if MLB goes to a 10-round draft because of a shortened season. That would be the fourth-lowest total in the majors, behind the Astros, Yankees and Braves. There is still a chance the draft will be its usual 40 rounds, but it could also shrink to as few as five.