Key Offseason Moves By Each NFC North Team In 2022

The market has changed quite a bit since the Minnesota Vikings finished the 2021 season with a disappointing 8-9 record, causing the team to make major management changes.

The Vikings brought in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to serve as general manager and Kevin O’Connell as the new head coach. There was a depressing pall associated with the previous regime of Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer, and both men were shown the door. The new administration has changed the attitude, and at least as far as the offseason is concerned, there is an optimistic air about the team.

The competition around the NFC North centers on the defending champion Green Bay Packers, but the Detroit Lions may be competitive for the first time in years, while the Chicago Bears are still in the rebuilding stage.

Here’s a look at the key moves each of the division rivals have made going into training camp.

Chicago Bears

The Bears set the tone for the 2022 season when they traded former All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack. At his best, Mack could change the tone of any game through his quickness and pass-rush ability. His very presence was enough to cause sleepless nights for opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks.

However, Mack has had a difficult time staying healthy, and at the age of 31, that does not seem like a trend that is going to turn around. The Bears are in a rebuild mode, and trading Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a second-round pick in the 2022 draft and a sixth-rounder in 2023 made that official.

The Bears drafted safety Jaquan Brisker out of Penn State. While Brisker clearly has to prove himself at the NFL level, he brings size, strengths, excellent tackling skills, and the instincts to be successful. An instinctive safety can be one of the greatest defensive assets in the NFL, because of the ability to anticipate plays and react accordingly.

Brisker should be able to show off his instincts during training camp and assert himself early in the NFL season.

Detroit Lions

There is something of a shocking air of optimism around the Detroit Lions as they prepare for the start of training camp. National pundits are looking at the Lions that have some talent and can be expected to improve in the 2022 season.

That is almost never the case, but the Lions appear to be a better team than the rebuilding Chicago Bears and could make a run at .500. Holding onto their most important coaches was a great start, as defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant were both interviewed for other positions. Adding wide receiver D.J. Chark (one-year, $10 million) is a solid move that should help the Lions move towards the middle of the pack at that position.

However, the Lions had a superior draft, with Aidan Hutchinson serving as the outright star. Hutchinson, a defensive end who recorded 14.0 sacks in 2021 at Michigan, was the second pick in the draft. He will immediately become the focus of the Detroit defense because of his size – 6-7 and 260 pounds – skill, speed and motor. Hutchinson’s strength and balance will allow him to play off blocks and make plays in the backfield, and that’s just what the Lions need to be successful.

Green Bay Packers

The departures at wide receiver were huge, as the Packers lost Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and that’s a major blow to Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Signing Sammy Watkins is a positive move that will go a long way to stopping the bleeding.

However, the best move the Packers made in the offseason was drafting defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt from Clemson in the first round.

Kenny Clark has been the man on the Green Bay defensive line for years, and he has basically been a man alone. Wyatt, 6-3 and 305, could change that. He has the quickness in the middle of the defensive line to beat blockers to the spot and the skill with his hands that can cause major problems for opposing blockers.

Wyatt has excellent awareness and will find the ball, and he has the drive and lower-body strength to plow through and make plays. Wyatt has a chance to develop into a solid complement to Clark, and that will give the Green Bay defensive line greater credibility and consistency.

Minnesota Vikings

The change at the top of the management tree is likely to have the greatest long-term impact on the franchise. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell offer enthusiasm and intelligence as they attempt to drive the Vikings to elite status in the NFC.

Their overall talent and abilities will play out over the next 3-5 years. However, the key move of the offseason is the signing of ex-Packer Za’Darius Smith (three years, $42 million) to man an outside linebacker position opposite Danielle Hunter. If both men can stay healthy – and that’s a big if considering their recent history – the Vikings could have one of the most dangerous pass-rush teams in the league.

Smith had 13.5 sacks in the 2019 season and followed that up with 12.5 the following season. He missed all but one game last year with a back injury, but the Vikings have made a commitment to him and he has a chance to become a game-changing player for them.