NFC North team needs

Cedric Griffin (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)

With the NFL Scouting Combine next week and free agency just about two weeks away, teams are wrapping up their internal evaluations and moving on to player acquisitions. We take a trip around the NFC North to discuss the top three team needs for each of the division's teams.


CHICAGO BEARS

It wouldn't be much of a problem if the Bears lost all four (assuming there is no CBA) of their unrestricted free agents, but LB Pisa Tinoisamoa is probably the one they want back the most. He was a major disappointment last season in his first year in Chicago, but that was because of the knee injuries that limited him to less than one full game. Tinoisamoa played well enough in the preseason to win a starting job and, after missing so much time, it's doubtful that he'll get a lot of interest from other teams.

DE Adewale Ogunleye will probably be looking for more money and more years than the Bears care to offer a 32-year-old whose best sack days are probably behind him. But, if there is no market for him, the Bears would welcome him back, since they don't have anyone better on the roster. Gaines Adams, who cost the Bears their second-round pick, could have been the successor to Ogunleye at left end, but he died tragically due to complications from an enlarged heart.

If the Bears let Ogunleye walk, they will be forced to keep restricted free agent Mark Anderson, who has only flashed since a 12-sack rookie season in 2006.

The Bears won't use either tag on any of their players.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Offensive line: Depending on whether Frank Omiyale stays at left guard or is switched back to his original position at tackle, the Bears need a starting-caliber player at whatever spot Omiyale doesn't play. Actually, based on his inconsistent performances last season, the Bears might even seek an upgrade for Omiyale. QB Jay Cutler must get better protection than he did last season if Mike Martz's offense is to flourish.

2. Defensive end: DLE Adewale Ogunleye is an unrestricted free agent and perennial disappointment Mark Anderson is restricted. Versatile journeyman Israel Idonije could step in for Ogunleye, but ideally the Bears would like someone who provides a better pass rush.

3. Free safety: The roster is full of string-safety types who are capable of physical play and solid run support, but the Bears lack a true ball hawk who is adept at coverage and can patrol the deep middle.


DETROIT LIONS

General manager Martin Mayhew made it clear the Lions won't be using a franchise or transition tag on anyone this year. No one rises to that level.

The biggest decisions are at linebacker. Larry Foote, the captain in the middle in 2009, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 5. Mayhew said he wouldn't rule out bringing back Foote, but Foote sensed a lack of interest and said he expected to hit the market. Julian Peterson is due a $7.5 million salary in 2010. The Lions can't afford to overpay, but they're so short on talent that they can't afford to let decent players leave, either.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive line: The Lions failed to generate a four-man rush and were inconsistent against the run in 2009. They need both a pass rusher on the edge and a force in the middle. They could use the No. 2 pick on one of two tackles: Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

2. Defensive back: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz, but the Lions couldn't cover behind it in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round last year, is their only really promising DB.

3. Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL and separated shoulder, and the Lions needed more explosiveness at the position even before he got hurt.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

Unless things drastically change in the talks between the team owners and the players association, the Packers are bracing for the onset of an uncapped year when free agency begins March 5.

If that's the scenario, Green Bay will have 13 players who will become free agents with the potential to leave. Eight of those would be restricted free agents, including starters Nick Collins (free safety), Atari Bigby (strong safety), Johnny Jolly (defensive end), Daryn Colledge (left guard) and Jason Spitz (center).

General manager Ted Thompson's M.O. is to keep his players, so figure the majority of the baker's dozen to be back as Packers. One notable departure could be Aaron Kampman, an unrestricted free agent who is coming off late-season knee surgery and wasn't a good fit for moving from defensive end to linebacker in the team's new 3-4 scheme last season.

The Packers aren't expected to use a franchise or transition tag on anyone this year.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Offensive tackle: The Packers potentially have vacancies at both positions since veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are due to become free agents. Even if the team brings both of them back, they're only short-term solutions at an advanced age — Clifton will be 34 and Tauscher 33 later this year.

2. Running back: Given the trend of teams to divvy up the carries between two backs, getting a worthwhile complement to Ryan Grant figures to be a priority. The Packers haven't had that luxury because of the fragile health of Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn.

3. Safety: Incumbent starters Nick Collins and Atari Bigby will be restricted free agents if 2010 indeed becomes an uncapped year, so the team is all but certain to retain both players. There's little depth beyond them, however, and the Packers could be looking for an upgrade over the injury-plagued Bigby.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS

While it seems unlikely the Vikings will use a franchise or transition tag on any of their free agents, this doesn't mean they don't want them back. Running back Chester Taylor would be atop the list because of his value as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield on third down.

Taylor's presence also means the Vikings can keep Adrian Peterson away from taking constant hits. Cornerback Benny Sapp also proved to be a valuable replacement for Antoine Winfield when he missed time because of a foot injury.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Cornerback: This becomes a position of need because of the ACL injury suffered by starting right corner Cedric Griffin and the foot problem that plagued left corner Antoine Winfield for much of last season. Benny Sapp could leave as a free agent, further weakening this spot. Asher Allen will be entering his second season in 2010, but the Vikings need more depth here.

2. Quarterback: If Brett Favre doesn't return, or even if he does, the Vikings still don't have a long-term solution here. Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels are expected back — Jackson likely will be a restricted free agent — but are they the answers? The Vikings could use the 30th pick in the draft on this spot.

3. Safety: Madieu Williams has underwhelmed in his two seasons since signing as a free agent and Tyrell Johnson was extremely up-and-down in his first season as a full-time starter. Jamarca Sanford, a seventh-round pick in 2009, was impressive in limited time because of his willingness to hit, but the Vikings might want to look at adding more pieces at these spots to create competition.

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