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Lunchbreak: NFC North Landscape Gaining New Look Through Free Agency

In the days since free agency opened, the Vikings have added a **Pro Bowl quarterback** in Kirk Cousins and a **dynamic 3-technique** in Sheldon Richardson.

The Vikings signed two of the most-talked-about free agents on the market, but they aren't the only team making moves. Clubs across the league have made some splashes since Wednesday, including Minnesota's NFC North rivals.

John Holler of *Viking Update *recently took a look at the division and **the new look it’s taken in the early days of free agency**. He pointed out that the Packers have made more movement in free agency under new General Manager Brian Gutekunst:

In the first days of free agency, the Packers cut loose popular veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson, traded cornerback Damarious Randall and ponied up the dough to sign tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. What may have gone largely unnoticed, the Packers tried to poach restricted free agent cornerback Kyle Fuller from division rival Chicago, offering him an eye-popping four-year, $56 million offer sheet the Bears eventually matched. The landscape has changed in Green Bay as to their approach to free agency, perhaps feeling pressured into going outside to find talent and potentially alienate in-house players who have lived by their development vision rather than free agency.

The Bears hired a new head coach, former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy, and Chicago's roster has added a number of new players, as well, including two quarterbacks – Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray. Other additions are tight end Trey Burton, receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, linebacker Aaron Lynch and kicker Cody Parkey.

However, there has been just as big an exodus, including QB Mike Glennon, wide receiver Markus Wheaton, guard Josh Sitton, defensive end Mitch Unrein, linebackers Willie Young, Pernell McPhee and Christian Jones, cornerback Marcus Cooper and safety Quintin Demps.

There is always change when a new coach comes in with a new philosophy, but the blood-letting in Chicago has been impressive in its scope.

According to Holler, the Lions have worked to keep their own players, re-signing seven who were due to become free agents. They also have made a couple of significant moves, however, including the recent addition veteran running back LeGarrette Blount, who spent the 2017 season with the Eagles. Holler:

None of their outside signings have been viewed as blockbuster moves, but the look of the franchise is much different because of the players who are no longer with the team – parting ways with tight ends Eric Ebron and Daniel Fells, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, cornerback D.J. Hayden and safety Don Carey.



Cronin: Addition of Cousins, Richardson 'solidified' Vikings as Super Bowl contenders

Plenty of attention has been on the Vikings since they signed Cousins and Richardson to address positions of priority in free agency.

Courtney Cronin of ESPN said the signings significantly **increase the Vikings chances of success** in 2018. She wrote:

As the first wave of free agency wraps up, all of those boxes have been checked. Adding two Pro Bowlers in two days between quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson not only fulfilled position needs, it solidified Minnesota as a Super Bowl contender.

As pivotal as it was for the Vikings to land the top free agent at arguably the most important position in all of sports, it was equally crucial to fill the missing piece on the league's No. 1 defense.

According to Cronin, Zimmer addressed the "possibilities of where struggles started" in affecting the quarterback less effectively toward the end of the 2017 season.

Cronin said that Richardson provides "more than an upgrade" and will be a "potential game-changer" in Purple. She said that Minnesota will be "in the conversation" among the league's best defensive lines.

The Vikings did more than get better in free agency. They backed their commitment to fight tooth and nail for the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy with two huge additions. Chalk that up as a successful week.



MMQB Details Vikings Wooing of Cousins

Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback *caught up with Cousins' agent Mike McCartney over the weekend for **more details*** **on how the Vikings wooed the quarterback who was sought by other suitors.

At the beginning of the process, McCartney said, he and his staff produced a book for Cousins that detailed the seven teams he felt might be interested in Cousins once it was clear Washington was not going to make him a serious long-term contract offer: Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Miami, Minnesota and the Jets. This winter he and Cousins had discussed in detailed phone calls each team — how close it was to competing for a title, who would coach him, the style of offense, the lifestyle of the area. And on Monday at 11, he wasn't positive how many teams would call, but he had a good feeling that at least four would. He told each one to make its best offer. This was not going to last long. At the beginning of the process Monday, McCartney felt strongly that any of the four — Cards, Broncos, Jets, Vikings — could win. But he and Cousins, before any formal bids came, felt that probably Minnesota and the Jets had an edge.

McCartney described the importance that Cousins placed on the opportunity to visit. The quarterback spoke last week about how he previously **scouted the area** during Super Bowl LII.

McCartney knew now that the visit by Cousins was vital — because they might not have great options if for some reason Cousins hated something about the Vikings. Minnesota sent its plane to Atlanta, where Cousins was spending time with his in-laws, Wednesday at the start of the free agency period — 4 p.m. ET. Accompanied by Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Cousins and his wife, Julie, and son, Cooper, flew to Minneapolis to join a contingent of 13 for dinner Wednesday night, including owner Mark Wilf, coach Mike Zimmer, Spielman, DeFilippo and wife, Stefanski and wife, tight end Kyle Rudolph and wife, and wideout Adam Thielen and wife. Independently, Cousins' mom and dad came in to help babysit Cooper and experience the moment, and that night McCartney got a call from Don Cousins. The Vikings had left two Cousins jerseys — Vikings purple, number 8, with COUSINS on the back—in the parents' hotel room, one for dad and one for mom. "That's the first time I ever got a jersey from a team," Don Cousins told McCartney.

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