NFC North Round-Up: Prepare for a Seismic Vikings Offseason in 2023

NFC North Round-Up: Prepare for a Seismic Vikings Offseason in 2023
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham (left) hugs running back Alexander Mattison (2) after losing a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Well, every team from the NFC North has officially had their 2022 seasons end after the Vikings lost to the New York Giants in the Wild Card round. Because of that, this week’s NFC North round-up won’t discuss any games. Instead, it will be the offseason preview for each team, including what could be a seismic Vikings offseason, and a look at some of the questions they must answer prior to the 2023 season’s start.

Chicago’s Embarrassment of Riches

Nov 27, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh (left) speaks with Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus (center) and general manager Ryan Poles during pregame warmups at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears are going into the offseason with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the most cap space in the league by a country mile (over $61 million more than any other team), and a quarterback that the franchise, in general, seems to have positive feelings on. Especially with a Draft that only has two clear-cut QBs at the top (potentially even just one if CJ Stroud goes back to Ohio State), you couldn’t ask for a much better situation, other than perhaps being a bit more competitive in 2022.

If Stroud does go back to school for a year, Chicago very likely will get a king’s ransom for that No. 1 pick if they choose to trade it. Potential suitors include teams like the Houston Texans at No. 2, the Indianapolis Colts at No. 4, the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 7, and the Carolina Panthers at No. 9. Or the Bears could opt to stay at No. 1 and simply take one of the premiere defenders like Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter.

Regardless, I have a feeling that we’ll be hearing a lot about this Bears team from now until late April when the 2023 Draft concludes. With needs all over the field, Chicago’s plan of attack is very wide open and will be fascinating to watch unfold.

Could Detroit Emerge as the NFC North Favorites?

Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) rushes for a thjird quarter touchdown against Green Bay Packers during their football game on Sunday, January, 8, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Apc Packers Vs Lions 6439 010823 Wag

The Detroit Lions seemed like they were headed on a similar path as the Chicago Bears early on in their season. They began 1-6 with a defense that consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in just about every metric.

Then, for whatever cosmic reason, their rise from the ashes can be correlated with the same week that they traded tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings. Prior to Week 9, Detroit shipped him off to Minnesota, and the Lions proceeded to rip off six wins in seven weeks. Their season ended with an upset victory over the Packers at Lambeau to prevent Green Bay from making the playoffs; a statement win that should be translated as “we’ve arrived”.

So, should Detroit be taken seriously as NFC North contenders next year? The short answer is yes. There is much uncertainty surrounding both Green Bay and Minnesota (each of whom we’ll get to in a second), but Detroit has plenty of holes to fill defensively.

One of their most consistent starters on that side of the field is linebacker Alex Anzalone, who led them in tackles this season with a whopping 125 and was a consistent playmaker. Perhaps Detroit will bring back the 28-year-old linebacker, but they just as well could approach that position in either the draft or with another free agent acquisition.

The Lions have the 10th most cap space at about $17.9 million, so they have plenty of flexibility to add veterans through the free agent pool. If they shore up the defense, Detroit could be a contender as early as next season. And it’s still hard to believe that I just typed that sentence in complete sincerity.

Will Aaron Stay, or Will Aaron Go?

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Jan 8, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) reacts after an interception was nullified by a Detroit Lions penalty during the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

Aaron Rodgers promised he “won’t hold [the Packers] hostage” this offseason, but once again, things appear to be in flux with Green Bay’s starting QB. After back-to-back MVPs in 2020 and 2021, Rodgers had arguably his worst season as a pro since his 2008, his first year as a full-time starter.

Because of his poor performances, the Packers stumbled out to a 4-8 start to the season. Then, they started figuring things out down the stretch, winning four straight games before ending their season with that loss to the Lions.

Rodgers has already requested a trade and threatened to retire in back-to-back years, and after all those years with Brett Favre in the mid-2000s, drama isn’t anything new for Packers quarterbacks. If he comes back, the Packers have an aging QB at an escalated cap hit from 2023-26, and if he doesn’t, then the Packers have to find out what they have in Jordan Love very, very quickly. Unless Love gets a fifth-year extension, he enters free agency following the 2023 season.

Outside of their circus of a QB room, the Packers also find themselves in a hairy situation regarding their cap space. Green Bay has the fourth-worst cap situation, currently sitting $21.87 million over the projected 2023 salary cap. With key offensive players like Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, and Robert Tonyan set to hit free agency, that doesn’t bode well for the offense in 2023.

It Will Be a Busy Vikings Offseason

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Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates the win after the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings currently have the ninth oldest roster in the NFL, and it certainly looked that way on Sunday against the Giants in the Wild Card game. New York, the youngest roster in the league, were simply faster and stronger than the Vikings this weekend.

Because of that, it’s Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s job to inject some speed and youth into this team during the offseason, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. However, before they can do that, the Vikings have to address their own cap situation that currently has them around $8 million over the projected 2023 salary cap.

That means the possible exodus of some of the most beloved Vikings over the past few years. Sunday could have been the final game that players like Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and even Adam Thielen play in a Vikings uniform. Don’t be surprised if something happens with Za’Darius Smith, either.

It would certainly sting in the moment, but the Vikings can save upwards of $44 million against the cap just by dumping those five contracts. If they do that, it moves them to around $36 million of cap space, which would be the ninth most in the NFL right now. Perhaps they won’t make all these moves, but we should expect at least a few of them to take place in the coming months.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.