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Lunchbreak: Evaluating NFC North Moves Through Free Agency's 1st Week

We're only one week into the 2023 NFL New League Year, meaning more moves likely are coming across the league, but the NFC North division already looks quite a bit different.

Wil Ragatz of Sports Illustrated recently took a look at the division to determine if the Vikings, Packers, Bears and Lions have gotten better or worse thus far in free agency.

Ragatz opined that "all four teams can talk themselves into being right in the mix to win it."

Looking first at Minnesota, Ragatz weighed the additions of CB Byron Murphy, Jr., OLB Marcus Davenport, TE Josh Oliver and DL Dean Lowry, as well as the departures of LB Eric Kendricks (Chargers), CB Patrick Peterson (Steelers), WR Adam Thielen (Panthers) and DT Dalvin Tomlinson (Browns).

Though Ragatz feels the Davenport addition "has a chance to be a very impactful one," it's the signing of Murphy that tops Minnesota's moves so far. He wrote:

The 25-year-old ex-Cardinal was one of the top cornerbacks on the market this offseason, and the Vikings landed him at a reasonable price on a two-year deal. Murphy can play outside and inside and will bring an impressive combination of coverage ability, ball skills, and run support to Minnesota. He feels like a perfect free agent addition for [Vikings Defensive Coordinator] Brian Flores' defense.

Ragatz said Tomlinson is the Vikings biggest loss, noting that he's "quietly been a very important player over the past two seasons, eating up blocks and gaps in run defense and showing some pass rush juice at times."

Nevertheless, Ragatz believes the Vikings still have improved over the past week.

Murphy is a slight upgrade over Peterson in Flores' scheme, Davenport is a great buy-low pass rusher due to his athleticism and pressure rate, and Oliver is one of the best run-blocking tight ends in football. Adding Lowry to help replace Tomlinson made sense, too. There have been some notable losses, but they're mostly aging players. Second-year LB Brian Asamoah II should be ready to step right in for Kendricks. Minnesota also retained some key pieces, including S Harrison Smith, C Garrett Bradbury and RB Alexander Mattison. Still, there are some pending questions that will tell us a lot, most notably possible trades involving Za'Darius Smith and Dalvin Cook.

Ragatz actually thinks three of the four NFC North teams have gotten better through free agency moves. The one that's moved the other direction? Green Bay.

Are Packers Better or Worse? Worse – and probably considerably worse. Putting aside the quarterback drama, it's clear they're using 2023 as a financial reset. Even had they kept one of their defensive linemen, that would have been a draft need. Even had they kept [TE Robert] Tonyan, they would have needed a tight end. Now, those are positions demanding a premium investment – joining the list of outside linebacker, receiver, safety and offensive tackle that could use an instant-impact draft pick.

The Packers have signed S Tarvarius Moore and LS Matt Orzech but lost WR Allen Lazard (Jets), Tonyan (Bears), DT Jarran Reed (Seahawks) and Lowry (Vikings).

It's the totality of losing defensive tackles Reed and Lowry. It's not as if they were great or irreplaceable. Rather, it's the giant crater left behind. Kenny Clark is back to lead the defensive line. He'll be joined by Devonte Wyatt, last year's first-round pick who flashed a bit late in the year, and T.J. Slaton, who's been a valuable role player. Nobody else on the depth chart has ever played in a game.

View photos of Vikings DL Dean Lowry during his first day at the TCO Performance Center with the team.

Plus, the loss of Aaron Rodgers seems impending, as the QB has said he plans to play for the Jets in 2023.

Ragatz is most impressed by the Lions, who "have been aggressive in filling their needs through free agency."

The signings of [CB Cam] Sutton and [CB] Emmanuel Moseley make the secondary deeper, while [RB David] Montgomery is statistically an upgrade over [Jamaal] Williams. Adding Graham Glasgow to compete at right guard doesn't hurt, either. The mix of outside signings and commitments to returning players have made Detroit deeper while raising the talent level of the organization heading into a pivotal 2023 season.

PFF highlights Vikings biggest remaining needs

At this point in free agency and with the 2023 NFL Draft fast approaching, what are Minnesota's biggest needs?

Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently highlighted remaining needs for each of the 32 teams a week into free agency, and PFF's Trevor Sikkema said the Vikings should be most focused on receiver, cornerback and linebacker. He wrote:

Adding Byron Murphy, Jr., and Marcus Davenport certainly helps mitigate two of the Vikings biggest projected needs heading into the draft. But cornerback remains a major need for them, as does linebacker. With the release of Adam Thielen, they could also stand to upgrade their WR2 spot.

Let's take a look at what Sikkema said about the Vikings division rivals, as well.

He said Chicago should look at bolstering their interior defensive line, tackle and cornerback spots.

The Bears have brought in a ton of talent since free agency opened. They've signed Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, Nate Davis, Andrew Billings, DeMarcus Walker, Robert Tonyan and D'Onta Foreman. They also acquired DJ Moore in their trade-down with the Panthers. They're not quite a complete team yet, though, even despite the positive outlook of those additions. They still need a dominant 3-technique pass rusher in the middle and could stand to get a starting-caliber offensive tackle. Though their secondary is already pretty young, another solid outside cornerback could be a target for them on Day 2 of the draft.

The Lions also need interior d-line help, Sikkema noted, as well as depth at safety and wide receiver.

The Lions are surely hoping Levi Onwuzurike can be a consistent contributor for their defensive line in 2023 and beyond, but his back injuries make it hard to have blind faith in that. With that in mind, the Lions need a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle.

And in Green Bay, Sikkema believes the Packers would benefit from focusing on tight end, wide receiver and safety.

The Packers have been quiet this free agency period, as all focus is on the Aaron Rodgers situation and getting the right deal done there. They do need some new talent at both tight end and wide receiver, though it isn't a total desert in either category. Their lone defensive signing has been safety Tarvarius Moore, but they could look to draft another one in the later rounds.