NFC North: Headlines around the division

The NFL's offseason is in full swing as personnel departments and coaching staffs prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine later this month, and then the beginning of free agency next month.

Let's check in on the headlines for the four teams in the NFC North:


Headline: What will the Packers do at running back?

The team has already released James Starks, and Eddie Lacy is scheduled to become a free agent in March. Lacy's battled weight and ankle problems, but he also has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, and has never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry in any of his first four seasons.

Ty Montgomery will be staying at running back permanently, which is a good move after he was great there last year, but he can't carry the load alone. The Packers need more help at the position, whether that's signing Lacy, signing someone else or drafting a runner.

Lacy, who finished the year on injured reserve, was off to the best start of his career with 71 carries for 360 yards (5.1 average) through Green Bay's first five games.

Stats pack: Montgomery averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 77 attempts (457 yards) last season.

Quotable: "Talking with Ty in his exit interview, he's a running back," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told "He wants to change his number and that's the way we're going. He'll spend the whole offseason clearly working at the running back position."


Headline: Who is Matthew Stafford's backup in 2017?

Dan Orlovsky has held onto that role the last three seasons, but it might be time for the Lions to hand over the reigns to second-year quarterback Jake Rudock, or at least see if he's ready for the role.

View photos of the Detroit Lions quarterbacks in 2016.

It was very telling last year that when other teams came calling about Rudock, the Lions signed him to the active roster from the practice squad. It seems like he could have a future in Detroit.

Orlovsky, 33, has been a trusted advisor to Matthew Stafford the last few seasons, but he'll be a free agent when the league year begins in March, and the Lions could want to see what they have in Rudock moving forward.

Stats pack: Stafford played every snap under center this past season and has started 99 consecutive games including the playoffs.

Quotable: "Matthew had a good year," Lions GM Bob Quinn said after the season. "Matthew, it's his second season with Coach (Jim Bob) Cooter as the coordinator, so I think that relationship grew. I think Matthew got better over the first eight to 10 weeks, then he suffered the injury with the finger, which maybe affected him to a degree. But I think he had a really good year. Happy that he's our quarterback."


Headline: What's next for Vikings' offensive line?

The Vikings on Friday announced that they had released guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris, who started a combined 85 games for the Vikings.

Next they'll have to decide whether they want to try and bring back Matt Kalil or Andre Smith, both Week 1 starters at the two tackle spots, and both unrestricted free agents.

Minnesota doesn't have many good options to replace either Kalil or Smith internally. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner and Lions right tackle Riley Reiff are probably the best available at the position via free agency, if they get there.

Big changes are on the horizon upfront in Minnesota.

Stats pack: The Vikings allowed the 10th most sacks in 2016 (38) and ranked 19th in STATS, INC.'s protection index.

Quotable: "For the second straight offseason, the offensive line will be the Vikings' chief priority -- only this time, the mission cannot be characterized as an upgrade," Vikings reporter Ben Goessling recently wrote of the issues facing the Vikings this offseason upfront.

"An overhaul is necessary, with injuries and ineffective performances having stripped away all the options the team believed it had heading into training camp last year. It will be substantial and it will likely be expensive."


Headline: Is the Jay Cutler era over in Chicago? What's next at the position?

After eight seasons in the windy city, it looks like the Bears could really be entertaining the thought of moving on from quarterback Jay Cutler, whose time in Chicago can be characterized best as average.

Could Chicago try and re-sign Brian Hoyer, who played well when given a shot last season? In six appearances (five starts) in 2016, he completed 134-of-200 pass attempts for 1,445 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions (98.0 quarterback rating).

Will they make a push to try and trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or Tony Romo?

The Bears own the No. 3 pick. Could they use it to draft someone like Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer or Deshaun Watson?

A decision that will shape their franchise for years to come could be made in the coming weeks.

Stats pack: Cutler has a 51-51 win-loss record in regular season games since joining the Bears in 2009. He's 1-1 in the playoffs over than span. He threw 109 interceptions in 102 career games with the Bears

Quotable: "I met with probably 30 players on Monday, and one of them was Jay," Bears GM Ryan Pace told the Chicago Tribune after the season. "There's a lot of real candid conversations that take place and a lot of transparency and honesty, so some of those things I'd like to keep between us.

"But I think once we make a decision as an organization, whatever it is, he'll be the first to know and his agent, Bus Cook will be the first to know. And I made him that promise. But, again, those decisions haven't been completely finalized yet, but when they are he'll know immediately."

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