NFC North landscape changing soon

The Vikings have re-signed two key players already, but the rest of the NFC North has some solid starters likely to find work elsewhere. We look at the top players set to hit free agency among the Vikings' division rivals.

The free agency countdown clocks that have become so popular are hitting zero at 3 p.m. Central Tuesday. Will the Vikings be active early? Will they wait to let the "crazy money" get spent and then make a move? Will they be passive?

It depends.

While "it depends" is rarely viewed as an acceptable answer, in this case, it has to be the answer.

The Vikings find themselves in an interesting situation as it pertains to their own division. Once the free agency floodgate officially opens at 3 p.m. melting snow time, the green water of the NFL will have lime-colored foam.

The re-signing of Matt Cassell and Everson Griffen were two of the three biggest question mark free agents – if you considered that Jared Allen was potentially coming back for significantly less money.

The Vikings and Allen have made it clear that the relationship is over. Cassel and Griffen were two significant questions and they were both answered.

What about the other teams in the NFC North?

Green Bay set an impressive precedent in keeping Sam Shields. Playing under a restricted free agent tender last year, the Packers gave him a four-year, $39 million deal. That move alone, given that $15 million is going to be paid out this year, potentially could keep the publicly-held Packers from getting into bidding wars. That could be bad news for fans of B.J. Raji, Jermichael Finley and James Jones. In order to keep Shields, the Packers won't get into bidding wars for any of the remaining three. The math doesn't look good – keep one and lose three.

Chicago released Michael Bush, one of the NFL's most unsung insurance policy running backs, Monday. They are trying to trade Julius Peppers – NFL slang for he's going to get cut. And Charles Tillman will get an offer for more than the Bears think he's worth. The other NFC North teams might be willing to offer Josh McCown significant money just to get him away from the Bears. Devin Hester could be a specialist for a team with cash – can you smell Oakland? Henry Melton was something before he tore his ACL. One medico's thumb up could result in a big offer.

In Detroit, a big fear is that Brandon Pettigrew will go to New England, Denver, or any team that exploits tight ends, and become what they dreamed he would be. Defensive lineman Willie Young is likely going to get a quick run-up by a team that looks at film. The Lions want to pay him part-time money. Someone else will pay him low-end starter money. The secondary is a huge question mark. The team released Louis Delmas, who signed with Miami, and Rashean Mathis, arguably Detroit's best cover corner, is yet unsigned.

The NFL landscape is going to change starting Tuesday afternoon. Franchises will sign players. Franchises will lose players. But, as things stand right now, the Vikings may have less to lose than any of their division rivals. Why? The players they are going to lose are ones they've known for some time they were going to lose.

The other three teams? Not so much. In a game in which winning and losing is typically determined by a handful of plays, there is going to be change in the NFC North. The difference between the Vikings and the Packers, Bears and Lions is that those three are all likely or guaranteed to lose players that played key roles in the success they all had in 2013. The Vikings know who is and isn't coming back.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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