While searching B/R articles on other team’s sites I took a bit of time to think about where the Packers are against the Bears and the Vikings (sorry Lions fans you do not qualify as a rival at this time).
All three sites are screaming for the GM to sign FA. All three are under the cap. Everyone has unhappy fans. I decided to do my evaluation of where the teams are in terms of current talent and projections by positional breakdowns.
Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers a young, top 25% of the league QB former first rounder on the rise, backed up by two top prospects.
Chicago has Kyle Orton. Young questionable arm. Reasonable decision making. Hard pressed to rank above the bottom 1/3 of league starters. A third stringer, and no true second on the roster.
Minnesota has Tarvaris Jackson. Very young, short athletic QB, prone to mistakes. Again hard pressed to rank other than in the bottom 1/3. Signed a potential competition to start in Rosenfels who may get there rank slightly higher, but not much.
Huge advantage Packers. Minnesota a distant second, Chicago third.
Green Bay has Ryan Grant. Young, back to back solid seasons. Two young backups on the rise. Middle third of the league with upside potential.
Chicago has Matt Forte. Solid rookie season. Backups more of the blocking variety. Weak middle third to top of the bottom third. Seriously need depth.
Minnesota has Adrian Peterson. Young probably the best in the NFL. Signed backup own RFA. Seriously possible the No. 1 set of RB in the league.
Huge advantage Minnesota, Packers a distant second, Chicago significant third.
Green Bay has Jennings young top 15 in the league and Donald Driver veteran in the top 25. Three solid young WR backups. TE has Lee and Finley too young as yet to be overly significant receivers, and very average blockers.
Chicago has Devin Hester who has great return skills but has yet to establish as an NFL reciever. He is backed up by Rasheid Davis, Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker, aging veteran who scare no one. They have outstanding TE in Desmond Clarke and rising superstar Greg Olsen.
Minnesota has Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade, one veteran one developing. Good not spectacular. They also have two young developing backups. Their TE are a very serviceable Shiancone receiver, and a veteran outstanding blocker in Kleinsasser.
Big advantage Green Bay, in the top 1/3 of the league. Minnesota at best middle 1/3 and Chicago very distant in the bottom 1/3 and it is a position of huge need.
Green Bay – In transition. Two veteran tackles in Tauscher and Clifton with College a very obvious replacement for one. Inside they have Wells a serviceable centre with Barbre, Moll, Spitz, Giacomini and Sitton all considered starting quality. This group has yet to be moulded into one starting group, but all the pieces are in place.
Chicago has a very solid starting five of Tait, Garza, Kreutz, Beekman, and St Clair. Only Kreutz is all pro class but the group is very good. Behind these are three totally untested less than two season players, they could use depth but have a plan for the future.
Minnesota has pro bowlers Hutchinson and McKinnie on the left side. They lost pro-bowl centre Birk in free agency. The right side of the line is not good, and they have no backups that belong in the NFL. Serious, serious team need.
Advantage Chicago, second Green Bay with the rebuild in the works, and Minnesota a very far behind third.
Overall offensively, Green Bay has a big advantage at the skill positions, given that the run game of Minnesota cannot offset the enormous advantage in the passing attack.
Minnesota could struggle to open any holes for Peterson as teams stack the defensive side against their two solid OL. Need to get QB issues settled, as well as the offensive line.
Green Bay offensive line is in transition, but looks to have the best talent looking to 2009.
Chicago is clearly a very distant third, as their running game is at best on par with Green Bay, mostly due to the best offensive line of the three. Their quarterback is a weakness but the greatest reason for a bleak outlook is they have no significant receivers, even if they did have a QB.
While the O line is good, it is not dominant enough to win games, and has little depth.
Overall, looking to 2009 and beyond a huge advantage to the Packers, who for the next two seasons do not need to look at more than replacing two starters with people already on the team.
Potentially three development players in the next two seasons.
Minnesota needs to replace three starters on the O line, seriously need a QB upgrade, and at least two improvements at the WR spots, and a backup for AP, estimate at least seven players, and could use nine.
Chicago needs a QB, at least three receivers, depth at RB, and three development OL. Minimum eight players and could use 10. Green Bay is six to eight players ahead of both Chicago and Minnesota to have and maintain a very good offense for the next two years.
Green Bay has Jenkins and Pickett as legitimate starters. Jolly and Harrell may be able to play, and two totally untried backups.
Chicago has the outstanding Tommie Harris at tackle with three other very serviceable starters on the line. All three have a young backup with some playing time. The group is young, solid and deep if not spectacular.
Minnesota has Allan and and Edwards at at DE and the Williams at DT. Quite possibly the best DL in football. Allan and Edwards are both in their prime. The Williams are both near the end.
All four current roster backups are free agents. The Williams both face four game suspensions that did not go away, were only postponed. It is critical for Minnesota to get the FA DL signed, or this position of strength very quickly will become a gaping hole.
As surprising as this sounds, big advantage Chicago. Minnesota could regain top spot if the FA are resigned, or could slide as low as the Packers if they leave. Packers clearly third with big needs, the biggest on their roster..
Green Bay has Hawk and Barnett, fixtures inside, with Bishop a very serviceable backup for both. With the switch to 3 – 4 from 4 – 3, the OLB spots are in flux. Kampman, with the other two presumed converts Hunter and Thompson clearly fill the physical requirements as rushers, but we have yet to see how they convert into the new scheme.
Poppinga and Chillar are veterans but neither is tremendously impressive. Havner and Lansaneh are young, and both played well on special team, as did Bishop. While the numbers are here, it is very hard to even guess how they will perform, and how much of an upgrade they need.
For now, at best, somewhere in the middle of the league. This is clearly the most difficult assessment of any position on any team except, perhaps the Minnesota DL.
Minnesota has Greenway drafted 12 picks later than Hawk in the same draft and their performance difference is very negligible. Two undrafted rookies took starting spots from aging veterans this past season.
The strength of the D Line allowed them to make plays, but this is a group very much in transition. There is no depth of any type. They overperformed, but if the DL has any issues there is no evidence they would withstand a trial by fire.
Chicago has the aging but very effective Urlacher and underrated star Lance Briggs. Two raw rookies fought for the other starting spot, both can play, but neither will be Briggs class stars. The two backup LB are retreads taking up space, and need replaced.
For a division that has historically been so strong at LB it is now painfully pedestrian. Green Bay and Chicago have slight edges over Minnesota, in that Chicago has Briggs the best in the division, and Green Bay clearly has the best depth and balance.
Chicago and Minnesota clearly both need depth and replacements, Green Bay might need to upgrade for one true impact LB in the category of Briggs.
Green Bay has Collins the all pro safety, and aging but top flight corners Harris and Woodson. They also have Williams and Lee at CB who both played well at nickle and are the obvious replacements at corner.
Bigby, Rouse, and new FA Smith give the team very talented young players at the safety spots. With special teamers Blackmon and Bush, as well as youngsters Porter and Peprah, this is clearly a very talented deep secondary.
Keeping Williams happy contractually will be a big priority, but should not be a major issue, as Al Harris' paycheque is looking to be renamed to Willaims who is taking the spot on the field. Bigby’s leverage shrunk dramatically with the signing of Smith.
Chicago has the No. 30 ranked secondary in football. Tilleman at one corner is the only starting quality DB on a team that has three draft busts and other peoples rejects they signed as free agents.
They are too bad for words, with only two very young guys trying to win and hold starting jobs, the rest are just bad.
Minnesota has Antoine Winfeild, the aging small corner on one side and three other guys competing for the starting job on the other side none of them is remotely impressive, and only 1 is young enough there is hope for development.
The safeties are the very old Sharper and the recycled Williams. They get by but are far from special. Their backups fail to impress, as they projected replacing the starters a couple of seasons ago...ooops.
Overall the difference in secondaries is shocking. Green Bay is a league elite, Chicago is right at the league bottom, and Minnesota is clearly in the bottom third.
Overall defensively, Chicago has the best DL which kept them competitive, but it is not remarkable. It just does not require fixing, they have too may bigger problems. Minnesota has a DL that is / was at the top, but is in great peril of a very rapid and ungracious fall.
They seriously need to get the backup DL FA resigned or it becomes a problem. The DL is Green Bay’s major issue to fix.
All three teams have OK linebacking crews, but all need improvements. Green Bay needs one very top end LB, and the other two teams need at least two solid backups and one starter upgrade. Overall a minor edge to the Packers.
The secondaries is where the difference is. Green Bay seems very close to set, just needing to get their younger replacement guys resigned and into key roles. Minnesota needs three new starters and improvements at two depth spots. Chicago needs four new starters and two new backups.
Team needs for 2009 and beyond for the Packers are two DL starters and one or two depth DL, one upgrade at LB and one depth player for the secondary.
Minnesota needs to re-sign all four DL backups, two of whom will need to be starters in the next two seasons, so they also need two more backups. They also need three new LB all of the depth variety, but it would be good if they managed one starter. They need at least three starters and two backups in the secondary.
Chicago needs one potential backup on the DL, two backup LB with a replacement for Urlacher imminent. The bad news is they probably need seven quality DB, and that will take more than two seasons to fix.
Looking at where the three teams are in total requirements during this free agency and heading to the draft:
Green Bay needs two starting DL, one upgrade at LB, and three development players on offense and three more development players on D. They have nine draft choices this season, to fill the two critical and seven upgrade positions.
Chicago needs one QB, and three WR, one backup RB, and three development OL. They critically need three DB, plus two depth, and two development LB. They have 15 holes to fill. Six are critical needs. They have seven picks, so obviously will still have many gaping holes, unless they fill some in free agency.
Minnesota needs one QB, three OL starters, with three WR development or upgrades. They critically need two starters and two backups in the secondary, plus three backup development types for the LB.
Their DL needs are dependant on signing their four FA backup DL. They have a total of between 14 and 18 holes to fill. They to maintain their seven picks with seven critical needs and seven to 11 other needs, they too need free agents signed.
After this review, I come to the conclusion that both Minnesota and Chicago fans have a bunch to scream at their management regarding signing FA, Green Bay has needs, but Free Agency may not fill those needs, other than the DL depth.
Many of those backup roles can readily be found, which would make the upcoming season look better for each of the teams. I find it hard to believe that GB is not hot after the Minnesota DL guys, or that Minnesota is not hot after Tauscher.
The team that does the best job of filling the holes, most notably the “critical holes” in their starting rosters should be in the best spot to win the division. Green Bay has the fewest glaring holes, the biggest being their starting QB is by far the best.
I predict the Packers have less gaping holes and a better chance to plug the most holes that do exist. That will give them the best shot to win the division, not only in 2009 but for several seasons..