Now that Green Bay has exited stage left of the playoffs, all four NFC North teams are in offseason mode.
Free agency begins March 12 and the Packers, Bears, Vikings and Lions will have some tough decisions to make on a number of key free agents. Depending on how this offseason goes, some of these teams could look a lot different come the fall.
Here’s a list of the free agents from NFC North teams provided by ProFootballFocus.com:
Packers WR Greg Jennings
Unrestricted free agents: Greg Jennings, WR; Cedric Benson, RB; Ryan Grant, RB; Donald Driver, WR; Erik Walden, LB; Brad Jones, LB.
Restricted free agents: Sam Shields, CB; Evan Dietrich-Smith, C; Rob Francois, LB; Frank Zombo, LB; Tom Crabtree, TE.
Twentyman comment: The two big ones here are obviously Greg Jennings and Sam Shields.
Unfortunately for Jennings, he wasn’t able to show off what he could do in his seventh NFL season because of injury. He played in only eight games with 36 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
Still, he’ll be looking to cash in to the tune of $50-plus million like Vincent Jackson did with the Bucs last offseason. Jennings is an ideal pick-up for an offense looking for a precise route runner and a legitimate No. 1 threat.
Shields is a restricted free agent, which means the Packers can match any offer or at least get compensation for him if he leaves. Shields started eight games this season and has averaged three interceptions in each of his first three seasons. He’s a legit No. 2 cornerback.
There will also be a market for linebackers Erik Walden and Frank Zombo (restricted).
Unrestricted: Henry Melton, DT; Israel Idonije, DE; Brian Urlacher, LB; DJ Moore, CB; Olindo Mare, K; Zackary Bowman, CB; Geno Hayes, LB; Troy Nolan, S; Josh McCown, QB; Johnny Knox, WR; Amobi Okoye, DT; Lance Louis, G; Nick Roach, LB; Kelvin Hayden, CB; Chris Spencer, G; Kahlil Bell, RB; Jason Campbell, QB; Jonathan Scott, OT; Chilo Rachal, G.
Bears DT Henry Melton
Restricted: Nate Collins, DT.
Twentyman comment: Henry Melton, who was a former running back at Texas, couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to notch his first career Pro Bowl. He had 43 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles in 14 games this season and was one of the more important pieces of that terrific Bears defense. He’ll be one of the hot defensive tackle names on the market and will likely get a nice pay day.
Israel Idonije played in all 16 games with 11 starts and also had a fine season with 7.5 sacks. He’s a nice No. 2 defensive end for a team looking to add some talent to the edge of its defense.
I’m not sure how big the market will be Urlacher, who is reaching the end of his career (turns 35 this year). How much does he have left in the tank and how much do the Bears value a player who’s been the face of their organization for the better part of a decade?
Vikings LB Erin Henderson
Unrestricted: Jerome Felton, FB; Jerome Simpson, WR; Erin Henderson, LB; Phil Loadholt, OT; Geoff Schwartz, G; Jamarca Sanford, S; Devin Aromashodu, WR; Marvin Mitchell, LB; Joe Berger, C; Jasper Brinkley, LB.
Restricted: Troy Kropog, G; AJ Jefferson, CB.
Twentyman comment: There are some nice pieces hitting the open market for a surprising Vikings team in 2012.
FB Jerome Felton earned his first Pro Bowl nod and could look at that as his pay day (those aren't big for fullbacks). He’d be wise, though, to sign with the Vikings and continue to let Adrian Peterson help make him look good.
Henderson started 10 games and finished with 79 tackles, three sacks and forced fumble. Entering just his sixth season, there’s a market for that kind of production.
There's also a market for fellow linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who had a nice season as a first-year starter (97 tackles).
The Vikings were hoping Jerome Simpson would stretch their passing game, but it never worked out that way. He had just 26 catches for 274 yards and didn’t find the end zone in 12 games. He wasn’t near the player he was in Cincinnati the previous year and it’ll be interesting to see what that does to his stock.
Lions DE Cliff Avril
Twentyman comment: This is the most critical offseason for the Lions in some time. After the disappointment of 4-12 considerable turnover is expected on the roster and the Lions need to make the right personnel moves.
They can start by re-signing Chris Houston and Louis Delmas.
Houston was by far their best corner this season and they might have to pay him very well to keep him. He’s been solid over the last three seasons and there will be other suitors that come calling.
Delmas has to prove his knee injuries are behind him, but if he does that, he’s one of the best playmaking safeties in the league and an important piece of the backend of the Lions defense. The one positive for the Lions is that those same knee concerns might driven his price down.
Cliff Avril could get $10-plus million on the open market as a 26-year-old edge rusher who hovers around double-digit sacks each year. The Lions probably aren’t players at that price.