Vikings Distancing Themselves From NFC North Foes
When I posted a claim that the Green Bay Packers’ offseason personnel moves indicated they were in a rebuilding mode, as opposed to a Super Bowl push, I got some of that “lol” criticism. Oh yeah? Well then, let me give you examples of some teams that are dead set at going after the Lombardi Trophy this season.
One such team is to the Packers’ immediate west. The big free agent prize of this offseason was quarterback Kirk Cousins, who got the bidding going by leaving the Redskins. The prize winner was none other than the Minnesota Vikings, even though they were in the astonishing position of having three quality quarterbacks in 2017 – Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater.
The Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman apparently weren’t convinced that any of their three QBs was enough to go all the way. Bradford is now with the Cardinals, Bridgewater is with the Jets and Keenum, their hero of 2017, is a Bronco. That, sports fans, is wheeling and dealing aimed at winning it all in 2019.
For what it’s worth, the Vikings also brought in Trevor Siemian as their backup quarterback, rather than paying starter-level money to any of their three 2017 QBs. Siemian is just what you’d want: entering his fourth season, he’s started 24 games for Denver, and his career passer rating of 79.9 is acceptable for a backup. The Vikings have covered their bases in case Cousins is injured – something the Packers failed to do in 2017.
As if that weren’t enough, even though they have one of the best defenses in the league, the Vikings went out and got defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson on a one-year deal for $8 million. Of 47 free agent defensive lineman, rotoworld.com rated Richardson below only Ndamukong Suh. Packers’ acquisition Muhammad Wilkerson was ranked fourth on that list.
The Vikings still have the resources to do some fine-tuning. They have more than $22 million of available cap space. That ranks them 10th best in the league and five spots higher than the 15th-ranked Packers, who have $17 million left to spend.
No one this side of Mike Daniels believes the Packers have much chance of finishing ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North race.
Los Angeles Rams: Wheeling and Dealing
NFL.com’s Adam Schein ranks one team higher than the Vikings when it comes to gearing up for a Super Bowl run: the Los Angeles Rams. That’s just great, as the Packers have to play them in 2018 in Los Angeles.
You could say that the Rams upgraded its defensive backfield.
The Rams first went out and got Marcus Peters, via a trade with the Chiefs in February. Peters was a first-team All-Pro in 2016, and he’s only 25 years old. In return for Peters and a sixth-round pick this year, the Rams gave up their fourth-round pick and their second-round pick next year. That’s wheeling.
The other first-team All-Pro cornerback of 2016 was a guy named Aqib Talib. Oh, the Rams got him too, in a trade with the Broncos a week before the start of free agency in March. What did the 10-year vet and five-time Pro Bowler cost? A fifth round draft choice. That’s dealing.
Like the Vikings, the Rams then proceeded to strengthen their defensive line by working out a one-year deal. Yes, on Monday Suh joined the Rams at a cost of $14 million. Suh joins reigning defensive player of the year Aaron Donald. That’s a duo with three first-team All-Pro honors apiece.
It’s Getting Unbearable
So who does writer Schein consider to be the team that has made the third-best improvements? Da Bears! As soon as the free agency gates opened, receiver Allen Robinson signed with Chicago for three years and $42 million. Then they added tight end Trey Burton, who spent his first four years with the Eagles. Burton signed for $32 million over four years.
Still not done, they added speedy and versatile receiver Taylor Gabriel, also a four-year veteran. All three of these deals were consummated on March 14, the first day of free agency. The Bears had a plan and they executed it without any hesitation.
As many Packers fans know, the Bears’ GM Ryan Pace didn’t blink when the Packers made an offer to cornerback Kyle Fuller, to whom the Bears had attached the transition tag. Pace, undoubtedly with the approval of new head coach Matt Nagy, decided immediately to match the Packers offer of $56 million over four years.
In a bit of gamesmanship, Pace waited for five days before making the deal official, tying up the Packers’ offer money as long as he could. Not gentlemanly, but a good hardball tactic. Schein believes that QB Mitch Trubisky is now primed for a breakout second season.
The Packers, meanwhile, must play these three teams and their aggressive front offices five times in the upcoming season. The hill just got steeper for Green Bay.