The Bears, in a sense, might have overachieved last season. The expectations, based on their personnel from both sides of the ball, were for them to be an 8-8 team, but they wound up being much better than that. And the good thing is that only four starters are unsigned for next season, but they have depth issues on both sides of the ball.
Key Free Agents
Olin Kreutz, C — He turns 34 in June, but the Bears have no one left on their 80-man roster to replace him.
Anthony Adams, DT — While not a household name to fans, Adams has started 36 games over his four seasons with the team.
Pisa Tinoisamoa, SLB — Tinoisamoa, who turns 30 in July, has missed 18 games over the past two seasons, so it remains to be seen if the team will look to re-sign him. However, they have no viable replacements for him within their 80-man roster.
Danieal Manning, SS — Manning has had an up and down career with the Bears, but he has started 56 games in five seasons at a few positions in the secondary. Plus, he’s a decent kickoff returner. Personnel sources said, however, that he’s a bit out of place at strong safety.
Corey Graham, CB — The backup secondary player is probably Chicago’s top special teams cover player. Finding a top notch special teams player isn’t easy.
WR, C, G, OT, DE, DT, SS
The Lions became one of the most intriguing teams last season based on the upside of their offense. They currently have 19 players scheduled to become free agents, but only a few are key starters.
If the Lions can significantly improve the talent on the backend of their defense, they could have a realistic shot to make the playoffs next season for the first time since the 1999 season.
Key Free Agents
Cliff Avril, DE — Despite missing three games and dealing with lingering injuries, Avril played very well last season. If the Lions were smart, they would make re-signing him a priority.
Turk McBride, DE — McBride became a very pleasant surprise for the Lions last season after taking over for injured DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. He was drafted by the Chiefs to be a defensive tackle, which makes his performance from last season that much more impressive.
Chris Houston, CB — He’s not coming off of a particularly strong season, but the Lions have no depth at cornerback.
LT, DE, SLB, WLB, CB
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have built their roster mostly through the NFL Draft and not through free agency. Yet so many other teams have taken the opposite approach, so it will be interesting to see if the rest of the teams change or adjust the way they build their rosters since the Packers just won the Super Bowl with the build through the draft philosophy.
The Packers are also set up well for the long haul because they have so many of their key younger players signed to long-term contracts.
Key Free Agents
Brandon Jackson, RB — The second-round pick out of the 2007 NFL Draft never lived up to the hype and could be playing elsewhere next season considering the rapid development of RB James Starks. Still, at the very least, Jackson could handle a third down role with another team.
John Kuhn, FB — Because of the absence of starting RB Ryan Grant last season, Kuhn became a bigger part of their running game, and he didn’t disappoint. It will be interesting to see how much interest he finds around the NFL if the Packers don’t re-sign him.
James Jones, WR — Jones certainly is capable of being a full-time starter, but he might have to sign elsewhere to achieve that goal since the Packers are very deep at the position.
Daryn Colledge, G — He has been a full-time starter the past three seasons and Colledge is coming off of his best season to date. If he’s not re-signed, 2010 fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse could be his replacement. A source said the team high on backup G Nick McDonald, who the team signed as an undrafted rookie last year.
Jason Spitz, G-C — Spitz was Green Bay’s top backup interior offensive lineman the past few seasons, but he’s certainly capable of starting.
Cullen Jenkins, DE — The Packers would like to re-sign him, but they’ll likely have company if he makes it to free agency. Jenkins should receive plenty of attention from teams that use a 3-4 scheme on defense.
Charlie Peprah, S — He took advantage of his chance to start and played fairly well. Because of that, Peprah could get a shot to start elsewhere if he doesn’t re-sign.
G, DE, OLB
The Vikings are one of many teams in need of a major upgrade at the quarterback position. Their inability to develop one over the years has set the team back a bit. But their struggles on the offensive line also continue to be an issue.
Their very dependable defense has some key free agents who could be playing elsewhere next season. At least they should be able to retain starting WLB Chad Greenway, who received the non-exclusive franchise designation earlier this week.
Key Free Agents
Naufahu Tahi, FB — It remains to be seen if the team thinks 2010 seventh-round pick Ryan D’Imperio, a former collegiate linebacker, can come in and replace him.
Sidney Rice, WR — Rice had a breakout year two seasons ago, but he was limited to just six games last season due to hip surgery. Still, the Vikings need to do what they can to re-sign him since they have next to no depth at the position.
Pat Williams, DT — While he turns 39 in October, it’s believed that he still wants to play.
Ray Edwards, DE — Since the team is not expected to use their franchise tag on Edwards, he could be playing elsewhere next season. However, they really don’t have anyone left on their 80-man roster signed for next season that could come in and start.
Brian Robison, DE — Robison has played very well during his role coming off the bench since the team selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He could find a starting role with another team next season.
Ben Leber, SLB — Leber may not be the priority to re-sign that Greenway is, but he figures to have a decent shot to start somewhere else should the Vikings not re-sign him.
Husain Abdullah, SS — He’s coming off his first full season as a starter, but it remains to be seen if the Vikings will look for an upgrade over Abdullah.