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Updates on the NFC North: If Aaron Rodgers isn’t there, what becomes of the division?

Could Jordan Love, Kirk Cousins, Justin Fields, and Jared Goff really be the starting QBs here?

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Detroit Lions Off-Season Workout Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Yes, that is really Jared Goff in a Lions practice uniform. It happened and Goff is now potentially in line to be head and shoulders the second-most experienced quarterback in his division behind Kirk Cousins. And it’s not as though Goff hasn’t had the potential to be a much better quarterback than Cousins, who isn’t at all a bad starting option. It’s just that Goff never reached that level with the Rams, and even if you believe that he did, he wasn’t able to maintain it for long enough to keep Sean McVay happy.

Perhaps he can keep Dan Campbell satisfied during his second chance.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The NFC North has long been owned by Aaron Rodgers — and before that, Brett Favre — but the reigning MVP has thrown the division into chaos by hinting at a holdout that could last for the entire season. If the Packers have Rodgers, I think the team that wins the division should be relatively easy to predict.

If they don’t, then maybe Goff has a chance to lead the Lions to one or two more wins than they had expected.

This series does not directly involve the LA Rams and if you hate that fact, it’s understandable why you would decide to skip this post and move onto the next one that does. Here’s one about the Rams practice squad! This series intends to instead focus on another CRITICAL question facing the Rams: How many wins will it take to make the NFC playoffs? To get the number one seed? How strong or weak are their opponents?

You can’t sail to America without navigating the ocean — this is just me figuring out how choppy the waters are.

Previously: NFC East

NFC North

Green Bay Packers - Is Aaron Rodgers coming back?

All you have to do is watch any show on the NFL Network, ESPN, or NBC Sports for longer than two minutes to find out that Aaron Rodgers is holding out. Oh, they’re framing it as something else. That Rodgers is “just a quirky fella” and “he’s unhappy they drafted a quarterback” and “he likes hosting Jeopardy, a job he hasn’t even been offered yet as far as we know.” But I prefer Occam’s Razor:

Aaron Rodgers wants more money.

It behooves Rodgers to frame this as anything other than a holdout because if there’s anything I know for sure, it’s that fans generally don’t support any player who wants a raise and is willing to miss games until he gets one. Not even the reigning MVP. Sure, those same fans will move on once the holdout is over, but some of them will never forget.

And if Rodgers doesn’t want to further damage his reputation prior to hosting Jeopardy or going into broadcasting or doing whatever he chooses to do after his career, maybe he doesn’t this situation to be framed as a “holdout” so that he doesn’t get labeled as “greedy” on top of being “cocky” and all the other unfavorable superlatives. But the Packers are headed for a dire financial situation in 2022 and Rodgers is the most obvious place for them to find savings — which is likely why they drafted Jordan Love to begin with.

It was all setup for Green Bay to trade Rodgers next March, which he may have caught wind of, so he decided to force himself into a situation before then that would allow for him to sign a $200 million contract extension with his next team sooner than that.

But the Packers aren’t really incentivized to trade Rodgers before the season either. They don’t necessarily need the savings — if he holds out, they save money anyway — and they would rather wait and be able to trade him for a guaranteed high draft pick rather than sending him to the Broncos or Raiders and finding out that it is actually pick 31 or 32. Green Bay might need to find a third or fourth team to involve in the trade in order to maximize the total number of 2022 and 2023 first rounders that they would receive.

You will hear a lot of fluff around Jordan Love in the coming months if Rodgers doesn’t return, but what he does in practice — and especially how it is reported by the media — is MEANINGLESS. Either he’s good or he’s not, but we won’t find that out until the regular season.

If Love is good, maybe Green Bay’s not so bad. If he’s not, I believe the Packers could be more like the 6-9-1 team that they were in 2018, or the 7-9 finish they had in 2017 when Rodgers missed half of the season. And if Rodgers isn’t there, the backup becomes Blake Bortles.

Most interesting free agent addition: None

Most interesting draft pick: WR Amari Rodgers

There are only two “A. Rodgers” in NFL history and it now looks as though they will barely miss becoming a duo. Previously, the Packers had Richard Rodgers. Now it is Amari, a third round pick out of Clemson and one of the highest-drafted Green Bay receivers of the last decade.

The Packers never tend to do a lot in free agency.

Recent Story: None of Green Bay’s top five receivers showed up for OTAs

Chicago Bears - Will Justin Fields — QB4 in the 2021 NFL Draft — really beat out Andy Dalton and Nick Foles to start Week 1 vs Rams?

There has rarely ever been any excitement over the fourth quarterback taken in a given draft, one who was passed over by QB-needy teams in San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, Carolina, Denver, and Philadelphia, to say the least, but Justin Fields is already being treated like an established franchise quarterback in Chicago. It’s not just remarkable confidence in a rookie quarterback, or in a player who will be defying the odds if he becomes a star, but especially so for the Bears franchise and a fanbase that has never known what a franchise quarterback really looks like.

The best quarterback in Bears history actually is Jay Cutler. The Bears have been around for over 100 years. (The best quarterback in team history is Sid Luckman, but I’m gonna have a hard time comparing him to players of the last 70 years.)

I’ll root for Fields just like I’ll root for any player because more than anything else I love talented football players, but I’m not sure where this immediate confidence comes from. He’s not the first quarterback with a strong arm. He’s not the first with dual-threat ability. He’s not the first with fantastic college production. He wouldn’t be the first to possess all of those things and to still not turn in an NFL career worthy of praise. Certainly not the first from Ohio State and I do think there are critiques of his game that deserve attention.

The media has piled onto anything that sounds like praise of Fields through OTAs, but things like “confidence” and “leadership” and “strong arm” are not attributes that I ever doubted from Fields before. I am not surprised when I hear a coach or a teammate say something positive about Fields. What I’d prefer to hear from coaches, if I was a Bears fan, is that he’s “way fucking better than Andy Dalton.”

It might be early to expect that but it is definitely what you want to have heard by September. So far, Fields has had some problems taking snaps under center — something he did zero times in college — and that’s part of the reason that I’ll be surprised if he does beat out Dalton for the job. At least, when it comes to playing the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Week 1.

I think Dalton will be starting Week 1, but Matt Nagy will probably tire of that decision a few weeks into the season — just like he did with Mitchell Trubisky a year earlier — and he’ll give Fields a chance whether he’s ready or not. I think Bears fans should be praying for patience with Fields instead of hoping that Nagy throws him out there as soon as possible. He might not be better than Dalton, or even Foles, as of today. That doesn’t mean that he can’t get there in time.

I hope that he does. I’m skeptical that he’s already there.

Most interesting free agent addition: RB Damien Williams

Most interesting draft pick other than Fields: OT Teven Jenkins

Chicago is relying more on in-house growth than anything else. Receiver Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet, nose tackle Bilal Nichols could be those who emerge as notable starters this season. The Bears will look a lot the same as last season, which could win them division if Rodgers isn’t there, but they could also implode and Nagy could be the first coach fired.

Minnesota Vikings - Is continuity going to be a good thing for Mike Zimmer?

The Vikings are going into their ninth season under head coach Mike Zimmer (three playoff appearances, zero seasons with 10+ losses) and their fourth with quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook, but they only went 7-9 in 2020 and missed the playoffs. They intend to look pretty much the same as they did a year ago and the -45 point differential was their worst as a franchise since Leslie Frazier was in charge.

Is “more of the same” going to be good for Minnesota?

How much better can Justin Jefferson really do than 88 catches for 1,400 yards? How much better can Cook do than 1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns? Who was added to the defense that is going to make them elite?

It seems as though the Vikings are banking on Rodgers holding out, same as the Bears. Otherwise, Cousins, Cook, and Jefferson will need to be just as good as they were a year ago while also hoping that the defense is twice as good with almost all of the same parts.

Most interesting free agent addition: DT Dalvin Tomlinson

Most interesting draft pick: OT Christian Darrisaw

The Vikings also added CB Patrick Peterson, S Xavier Woods, NT Michael Pierce, but Tomlinson could be the most ready to make an impact. Minnesota is changing around some names on defense, but there aren’t any clear improvements and some of these players would have been fighting for jobs on their old teams.

Quarterback Kellen Mond will draw attention because of the position he plays, but there probably isn’t any competition. Rookie linebacker Chazz Surratt is also interesting.

Recent Story: Andrew DePaola’s career is a modern miracle

Detroit Lions - What is Brad Holmes’ ceiling as a general manager?

I think Holmes has the much likelier path to a long career in Detroit and that’s not to disparage Jared Goff, but that is the reality for a new GM vs a quarterback who just got traded away from another team.

I would also say that Holmes’ first offseason has been a good one: He never appeared to panic.

Holmes didn’t panic when Matthew Stafford wanted a trade, but he did move swiftly and receive two first round picks in a deal while also bringing in a quarterback who could potentially keep the bottom from falling out next season.

He didn’t panic with Kenny Golladay, letting the receiver leave in free agency rather than guaranteeing him a big salary on the franchise tag when the team doesn’t really need him right now. Instead, they’ll get a 2022 compensatory pick.

And he didn’t panic in the draft to trade up for Penei Sewell, instead waiting until the top-rated tackle of the class fell into Deroit’s lap at pick seven.

The Lions might have the worst team in the NFL in 2021 but that could have been true even if they still had Stafford and Golladay. Instead, Detroit is setting themselves up nicely to build a team around the QB position for when the Lions are likely picking in the top-three in 2022. They’ll also have LA’s first rounders in 2022 and 2023 and by then players like T.J. Hockenson, D’Andre Swift, Sewell, fourth round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown, and a pair of young guards could have developed into a strong supporting cast.

On defense there appear to be a lot more holes, if not at least “opportunities for improvement or a star to step up” and that might be a bigger concern for Holmes than whatever is happening at quarterback.

Most interesting free agent signing/trade: Michael Brockers

Most interesting draft pick: DT Alim McNeil

McNeil was the player who drew physical comparisons to Aaron Donald and while that is certainly not believed to be his ceiling, there is a pattern here. The Lions also drafted defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike in round two and it’s obvious that they had a lot of work to do on the side of the ball.

Detroit used a third round pick on corner Ifeatu Melifonwu and a fourth on linebacker Derrick Barnes. What will become of cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, a rare top-three pick at the position in 2020 but one who seemed to struggle as a rookie.

Recent Story: Brockers doing well in his role as a mentor to Detroit’s young defensive line

Poll

If Aaron Rodgers is NOT on the Packers, who will win the NFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Packers
    (15 votes)
  • 16%
    Bears
    (28 votes)
  • 53%
    Vikings
    (92 votes)
  • 21%
    Lions
    (37 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now