Friday, March 5, 2010

Busy day for the NFC North

As a "final 8" team in this new uncapped year, the Vikings don't look to be too active in free agency this offseason. But the other teams in the division aren't as restricted, as was evidenced by today's flurry of activity by two of the Vikings' divisional rivals.

Well, by one of our divisional rivals and the Lions.

Here's my opinions, in order of increasing importance, of the five free-agent moves made today by the Bears and the Lions.

5) Lions sign WR Nate Burleson. Apparently learning nothing from the Seahawks, who got nine more catches and 31 fewer yards in four years of Burleson than the Vikings got from him in three, the Lions handed Burleson a five-year, $25 million contract. He did have a respectable 63 catches and 812 yards for the Seahawks last year but also missed three games, following a one-game 2008 season. And the Lions continue to show why they're in last place, year after year.

4) Bears sign RB Chester Taylor. If you're surprised I rank this transaction so low, consider this: The Bears already have a decent third-down back in Matt Forte (120 receptions in two seasons), Taylor will turn 31 just after the start of the season, and he's averaged 4.0 and 3.6 yards per carry his last two years with the Vikings. If the Bears plan to make him their featured back, consider that Taylor managed just 4.0 yards per carry his one year as a featured back (2006), which was vastly inflated by his 95-yard run against the Seahawks; he managed just 3.7 yards per carry on his other runs that year. I'm really appreciative of what Taylor did in his four years with the Vikes, but his age, Adrian Peterson's new-found receiving skills, and the presence of Albert Young and Ian Johnson to take over the backup role made him eminently expendable.

(Strange note: In my copy of Madden NFL 2009 that I played four seasons of last year, Taylor signed with the Bears during the 09-10 offseason. Now, if Tarvaris Jackson can just lead us to the Super Bowl, my game will be uncannily accurate...)

3) Lions sign DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Two years ago, Vanden Bosch was coming off three seasons of 12.5, 6.5, and 12.0 sacks. Since then, he's managed just 7.5 sacks, and the Titans' scoring defense sank to 28th in the league last year. Granted, he instantly improves the Lions' defense -- not a difficult task -- but he's not the playmaker he used to be.

2) Bears sign TE Brandon Manumaleuna. Chester Taylor won't do much to improve the Bears' running game, but Manumaleuna might. He's not much of a pass-catcher, but he's blocked for the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk during some of their biggest years. On the bright side, this means that Greg Olson's career as a Bear is almost virtually done, as he'll likely be traded for a draft pick, so, in the short term, one wonders if the "trade" is a wash.

1) Bears sign DE Julius Peppers. All of the other transactions involve so-so players or don't provide significant upgrades to their teams. This one's the biggie, though, and I, for one, am not looking forward to Peppers making our QBs run for their lives twice a year. My only consolation is that Peppers turned 30 in January (by comparison, Jared Allen is two years younger), but as was evident in the Panthers' game against the Vikings in December, he can still give any offensive coordinator nightmares.

Still, in general, I think that most of these moves -- Peppers excepting -- aren't the kind of big-impact deals that can completely change a team. The only team I'm really worried about in our division going into next year is the Packers, who, in winning seven of their last eight regular-season games last year, might not need much in the free agency market to give the Vikings a run for their money in 2010.

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