The 2023 NFL offseason is underway, and free agency is just on the horizon. Legal tampering begins March 13, when teams are free to negotiate with unsigned veterans, and deals — plus trades — can be finalized two days later. One division that figures to be plenty busy is the NFC North. The Bears are loaded with cash to build around their young quarterback. The Lions are fresh off a feisty playoff bid, aiming to take the next step. The Packers could be rebuilding around a new signal-caller. And the Vikings should be busy trying to shore up their defense while defending the division crown.
As we approach the open market and all that comes with it, here’s a survey of all four NFC North teams, as well as their top needs going into the offseason:
Note: Projected cap space is courtesy of Over the Cap.
Top needs: OT, DE, WR, DT
Cap space: $94.4M (1st)
Top draft picks: No. 1, No. 54, No. 65
It starts and ends with Justin Fields, unless, of course, they deal the young playmaker to reset at QB with the No. 1 overall pick. That means prioritizing better protection and downfield weapons for the signal-caller. Starting right tackle Riley Reiff is set to hit free agency, as are two of their interior depth pieces. So they at least need competition there. A true alpha out wide would also go a long way in helping Fields develop through the air. Both Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool are better suited playing secondary roles. Up front on defense, they simply need bodies to push the pile. Only a single player in Matt Eberflus’ 2022 lineup logged at least 10 QB hits. That needs to change, either with power off the edge, up the middle, or both.
Potential veteran targets: WR Odell Beckham Jr., 49ers OT Mike McGlinchey, Raiders OT Jermaine Eluemunor, 49ers DE Charles Omenihu, Commanders DT Da’Ron Payne
Top needs: CB, DT, TE, QB
Cap space: $13M (11th)
Top draft picks: No. 6, No. 18, No. 49
Their secondary improved once Dan Campbell made an in-season staffing shuffle, but the defensive backfield has been their biggest weakness for a while. A truly reliable cover man would not only take pressure off former first-rounder Jeff Okudah but aid the Aidan Hutchinson-led pass rush. Hutchinson, meanwhile, could use a running mate in the trenches, where four different players are set to hit the market and sacks were hard to come by on the interior. While their receiving corps is young and spry, their offense could also use another safety valve with the ever-trusty T.J. Hockenson since traded to Minnesota. As for QB? Jared Goff has proven resilient, and he can still throw a pretty ball. But in today’s NFL, if you have the ability to land a dual-threat talent, incorporating more unstructured play-making into your attack, you’re probably wise to do so.
Potential veteran targets: Bengals TE Hayden Hurst, Rams DT Greg Gaines, Chiefs DT Khalen Saunders, Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean, Raiders CB Rock-Ya Sin
Green Bay Packers
Top needs: TE, WR, S, OLB
Cap space: (-$4.7M) (20th)
Top draft picks: No. 15, No. 46, No. 79
With or without Aaron Rodgers, QB is tentatively situated with Jordan Love’s live arm waiting on the bench. But the aerial weaponry still leaves a lot to be desired. Christian Watson was a thrilling late-year revelation and could enter 2023 as WR1, but Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, two serviceable but replaceable A-Rod pals, are both slotted for free agency. Robert Tonyan’s red-zone magic from years ago has also worn all the way off at tight end. On “D,” starting safety Adrian Amos is due for the market after a down season, while top pass rusher Rashan Gary is coming off an ACL tear. With defensive tackle Jarran Reed (14 QB hits) also set for free agency, they could stand to add multiple starters on that side of the ball. You can start to see where a potential Rodgers trade might come in handy, assuming it’d return several premium draft assets.
Top needs: CB, S, WR, DE/OLB
Cap space: (-$23.3M) (30th)
Top draft picks: No. 24, No. 88, No. 120
As porous as their defense was in Mike Zimmer’s final hurrah, it was equally as vulnerable in Kevin O’Connell’s first go-round, hence Brian Flores’ quick arrival as the new coordinator. Reinforcements at corner and safety would be a major help, with three regulars — CB Patrick Peterson, CB Chandon Sullivan, S Harrison Smith — set to enter free agency or exit as a cap casualty. Despite a long run as a fan favorite, Smith in particular was due to be upgraded. OLB Za’Darius Smith (10 sacks) is another potential big-money cut, but either way, Danielle Hunter can’t be the only imposing presence they lean on off the edge. You could make a case that, like Detroit, they should also be in the business of exploring longer-term QB talent. In the meantime, however, securing Kirk Cousins someone other than Justin Jefferson would help alleviate the pressure on No. 18 to constantly hit a home run; Adam Thielen still deserves a role, but if he sticks, he’s better suited as a No. 3 type going on 33.
Potential veteran targets: Chiefs WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chiefs DE/OLB Carlos Dunlap, Steelers CB Cameron Sutton, Cardinals CB Byron Murphy, Rams S Taylor Rapp
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