It wouldn’t bother the Bears much if they didn’t re-sign any of their own unrestricted free agents, although OL John St. Clair has proven his value over the years by being able to start games at three different positions, including all 16 at left tackle last season.
TOP THREE TEAM NEEDS
1. Wide receiver: The Bears don’t have a No. 1, and it’s still a stretch to call Devin Hester a No. 2. There also isn’t any quality depth. Bigger receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Darius Heyward-Bey make more sense than a little, injury-prone guy like Florida’s Percy Harvin.
2. Offensive tackle: Last year’s No. 1, Chris Williams, should start after missing much of last season with a back injury and barely playing. But ORT John Tait is 34 and last year’s OLT, John St. Clair, will be 32 in July and is an unrestricted free agent.
3. Pass-rushing DE: Nobody on the team had more than six sacks and if the Bears can’t get pressure with the front four, the defense struggles, as it did much of last season.
OFFSEASON STRATEGYAs general manager Martin Mayhew said, the biggest decision the Lions must make this off-season is at quarterback – and they have to get started soon.
Daunte Culpepper ($2.5 million) and Jon Kitna ($500,000) have upcoming roster bonuses. Dan Orlovsky is set to become an unrestricted free agent Feb. 27. Drew Stanton and Drew Henson, both inexperienced projects, are under contract. The Lions have the No. 1 pick in the draft.
TOP THREE TEAM NEEDS
1. Quarterback: The Lions don’t have a quarterback for the future, and they have the No. 1 pick in the draft. Most mock drafts have them taking Georgia QB Matt Stafford. He could sit behind Daunte Culpepper for a year.
Green Bay Packers
OFFSEASON STRATEGYOnce again, general manager Ted Thompson has a lot of money at his disposal to be a player when free agency commences Feb. 27. The Packers are $25 million under the projected 2009 salary cap of $123 million.
Whether Thompson breaks from his track record of being a frugal spender when it comes to available players from other teams remains to be seen. The team’s radical switch in defensive philosophy from a 4-3 base scheme to a 3-4 should convince Thompson to try to woo a big-name free agent – Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and the Baltimore Ravens duo of defensive end Terrell Suggs and linebacker Bart Scott are intriguing.
Further fueling the opportunity to go outside the box is the Packers won’t have to spend much to retain a slim list of their own free agents. Right tackle Mark Tauscher is the most prominent free agent-to-be, but he suffered a serious knee injury late last season and will be sidelined until at least training camp, thus making him unattractive on the open market.
TOP THREE TEAM NEEDS
1. Defensive tackle: In light of the commitment made this offseason to change the base front from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the Packers will need a stout nose tackle to line up over center and occupy multiple blockers. Ryan Pickett gets the nod for now, but the new role could be too big for him.
2. Defensive end: The switch to the 3-4 means top pass rusher Aaron Kampman will be moving to outside linebacker. That leaves a void at one of the two end positions in the new scheme, and the other spot isn’t foolproof with Cullen Jenkins‘ coming back from a torn pectoral muscle.
3. Tight end: Jermichael Finley, who came on at the end of his rookie season, probably will be cast in the starter’s role for next season. Considering a drop in production from starter Donald Lee last season and little impact from Tory Humphrey, reinforcements could be warranted.
OFFSEASON STRATEGYBrad Childress and other members of the Vikings coaching staff and front office have been spending long hours in meetings at Winter Park the past few weeks. Among the decisions that must be made are whether to make an attempt to bring back free agent center Matt Birk and safety Darren Sharper. Both likely will be allowed to walk. The quarterback position is another area of focus. Tarvaris Jackson has yet to prove he’s worthy of being a starter in the NFL and the Vikings could look elsewhere for help. Among the team’s potential targets is the Patriots‘ Matt Cassel.
TOP THREE TEAMS NEEDS
1. Quarterback: Tarvaris Jackson began and ended the season in this role but spent a large portion of the year on the bench as veteran Gus Frerotte ran the offense. The Vikings continue to look for stability at this spot and clearly are examining all options.
2. Right offensive tackle: Ryan Cook was the primary starter but found himself benched because of inconsistent play and penalties. Artis Hicks served as Cook’s replacement but a triceps injury sidelined him. It’s unlikely Cook or Hicks will be the starter in 2009. The versatile Hicks is considered more valuable as a backup.