The NFC North Mailbag: February 22 Edition

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The NFC North Mailbag: February 22 Edition
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The Chicago Bears could have enough cap room to pay three Matt Fortes (four, under the franchise tag)

In this week's NFC North Mailbag, I cover the salary cap issues for each team, what the Green Bay Packers should do about Jermichael Finley and whether Cortland Finnegan is the next member of the Tennessee Titans defense to join the Detroit Lions.

 

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Titans CB Cortland Finnegan won't likely have a reunion with his former teammates in Detroit this year

Considering the huge gap between what Cortland Finnegan wants from the Tennessee Titans and what they're willing to give him, it looks like the cornerback could hit the open market in March.

While it seems attractive for the Lions to add him, considering all the other members of the Titans defense they've acquired over the years, it doesn't look like they'll get Finnegan this year.

Though Tennessee is in extremely good shape in terms of the cap, they're not interested in franchising Finnegan, which would cost nearly $11 million in 2012.

They also don't seem to be willing—yet, at least—to give him what he reportedly wants, which is a deal exceeding that of the Houston Texans' Johnathan Joseph, who got a five-year, $48.75 million deal last summer.

Considering those are the numbers we're looking at for Finnegan and the fact that the Lions are pressed right up against the cap (and reportedly borrowed against this year's cap last year), there's little chance Finnegan ends up in Detroit, even if he does leave the Titans.

 

Speaking of the salary cap:

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The Minnesota Vikings should have enough cap space to make a few major free agency acquisitions

Easily, the Chicago Bears have the most cap space to work with this offseason, with potentially as much as $28 million available to them, depending on whether they want to carry over their unused dollars from 2011.

Chicago is thus free to spend at will, though it's unknown whether that's what they are interested in doing in the coming months. Their first priority, of course, is signing running back Matt Forte to a new deal, or barring that, giving him the franchise tag.

They are likely to use some of that money on a veteran wide receiver, though I don't see Chicago in play in the Mike Wallace sweepstakes that is a seeming inevitability considering the Pittsburgh Steelers' cap situation.

The Detroit Lions are hurting the most in terms of cap space; it's looking, at the moment, like they have at most $2 million worth of cap room to work with. However, that doesn't take into account the undetermined amount they borrowed against this year's money in 2011.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lions MLB Stephen Tulloch could be a cap casualty

That means the Lions will have to restructure a number of contracts, cut a few players and only make plays in free agency for their own guys.

The Minnesota Vikings entered the offseason with around $6 million in cap space, but they're likely to release a number of more expensive players, and that number is projected to climb to at least $20 million.

That's good news for a team that needs to make additions on offense and defense from more than just the draft. They'll be looking at a number of areas in free agency, from wide receiver to cornerback, pass-rush to offensive line, and should come away with more than one impact name.

Green Bay is about $6 million away from the projected $124 million cap and has to decide the fates of tight end Jermichael Finley and center Scott Wells.

With a few cuts and retirements and a restructure here or there, the Packers will have enough cap space to retain some of their own free agents and pay their draft class, but I don't see them making any overtures to free agents on the open market.

 

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Can the Packers gain a defense by losing a Jermichael Finley? No.

It's doubtful that the Packers are going to part ways with Jermichael Finley entirely, though it's unclear just yet if he will end up with the franchise tag ($5.4 million in 2012 for a tight end, though Finley could negotiate a higher sum) or if they will successfully sign him to a long term deal.

Considering all of the receiving talent the Packers have, there is a valid argument for letting Finley go. However, tight ends of his type are hardly a dime-a-dozen, and the kind of threat he provides the team is certainly worth at least $6 million or more in 2012 and beyond.

It's very true the Packers need help on defense, both in the pass-rush and in the secondary. The former might be a useful free-agency target, but Green Bay would be far better served to focus on cornerbacks and safeties in the draft.

When free-agent corners and safeties are allowed to walk away, that's a sign that their best playing days are behind them. The Packers need youth in the secondary, as well as talent, so I don't see that being an area they'll target in free agency.

In contrast, there are a number of free-agent defensive ends and inside and outside linebackers who could benefit the Packers. I wouldn't be surprised if they picked one up, but that will have to be at the right price, and the right price will have to fit in with their financial plans for Finley.

 

If you have any questions for next week's NFC North mailbag, on Twitter for the next call for submissions.

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