Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Dan Parr examines the current makeup of the NFC North below.
Now, Chicago seeks something it has experienced only once since the Ditka era -- consecutive division titles -- with retooled challengers seeking to make sure the Bears' grip on the top spot doesn't become a stranglehold.
The defending NFC North champs, led by reigning Coach of the Year Matt Nagy, are expecting progress in the development of third-year QB Mitch Trubisky and more dominance from their monstrous defense to propel them back to the postseason, despite a change at D-coordinator and significant turnover in the secondary.
In Green Bay, they're trying to rejuvenate Aaron Rodgers and Co. on the fly, bringing in young offensive whiz Matt LaFleur to reheat what went cold in 2018 while breaking from their recent standard by spending big in free agency to fill some glaring holes.
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There's a case to be made for four-time Pro Bowl selectee Anthony Barr, since he nearly did depart for a Jets team offering greener pastures, but we'll go with a true newbie to the NFC North who's more deserving of the nod here anyway. He doesn't arrive with sexy numbers (21 sacks in four NFL seasons), but make no mistake: Flowers was a big fish to reel in and fills a huge need off the edge. The 25-year-old DE's a palate cleanser after a year of Ezekiel Ansah playing on the franchise tag left a bad taste in the mouths of Lions fans. Flowers knows his role in the defense, having blossomed under Patricia during their three years together with the Patriots, and he was the third-highest-graded edge rusher in the league last season, per Pro Football Focus. Expectations will be high for a player who just received $56 million in guarantees, and the fact that Bill Belichick was willing to let him walk might make some folks suspicious, but he'll be well worth the investment if he can play at the level he's displayed over the past couple seasons.
The Bears are replacing safety Adrian Amos (Packers) and nickelback Bryce Callahan (Broncos) with cheaper options (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine), but the absence that will be felt the most is on the coaching staff. The reigning NFL Assistant Coach of the Year is now the head man in Denver thanks in large part to his long-established reputation as one of the brightest defensive minds in the league. He has 19 seasons of experience as an NFL defensive coordinator. Fangio's replacement, former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, has just one (2011 with the Ravens). Pagano's a good coach who left Indianapolis with a winning record (56-46, including playoffs), but his defenses ranked 26th, 30th and 30th in his last three seasons at the helm. Yes, he has better talent to work with in Chicago. However, Fangio casts a long shadow after overseeing a top-10 defense in each of the past two seasons and a top-10 D in six of the last eight seasons (including 2011-14 with the Niners), never ranking lower than 15th.
This isn't a suggestion that Kline, who was released by the Titans after reportedly refusing to take a pay cut, is set for a breakout year at 29 years old after the lowest-graded season of his career, per PFF. It is, however, an acknowledgement of how consequential he could be to the Vikings in 2019. The offensive line was a disaster for Minnesota last season, and thus far, Kline has been the only addition to the group. That figures to change come the draft, but Kline is penciled in as the starter at right guard and he has to be at least functional for his new team if Minnesota doesn't want to relive the nightmares from its disappointing 2018 campaign. He's made 46 consecutive starts at right guard, which is the longest active streak among NFL guards, per the Pioneer Press, and the Vikes are going to need the consistency -- along with solid play -- up front that they sorely lacked.
Chicago Bears: With limited draft capital (five picks; second-fewest in the league), including no selections in the first or second round, the Bears will need to use the middle rounds to supplement their depth at positions like edge rusher, tight end -- where a blocking specialist is needed -- and running back, now that Jordan Howard has been dealt. Oh, and then there's the matter of making sure they don't go through another painful season at kicker.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers added Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith and Adrian Amos to the mix on defense, shoring up the biggest deficiencies on that side of the ball. Now, doesn't Aaron Rodgers need another weapon? Davante Adams is great, but be it at wide receiver, tight end or running back, LaFleur's offense could use another jolt of electricity if it's going to join the ranks of the elite in the NFC. That is, unless the Packers draw an inside straight and get a breakthrough from one or more of the three receivers they selected on Day 3 in last year's draft (J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown), a renaissance for Jimmy Graham and a fully healthy season from Aaron Jones.
Minnesota Vikings: Priority No. 1 is still the offensive line. They should be looking to add another starter there, likely at left guard or left tackle (if they want to kick starting LT Riley Reiff inside). Adding depth at defensive tackle, where Shamar Stephen was signed to replace Sheldon Richardson, and running back should be on the to-do list, too.