Since Free Agency began at Midnight EST Friday, there has been a flurry of activity, most notably among two of our NFC North division rivals, the Bears and the Lions. It's easy to take a look at a few signings by one team, or a loss of free agents by another, and then proclaim that one team is all of a sudden better, another team is worse, and the football world as we know it has been flipped on it's ear. Well, it's not always that simple. If we break things down a little more, I think we'll see that the Vikings aren't as bad as we think, and that the Bears and Lions still have a way to go to catch the purple...with one notable exception, of course. But to read some places on the Internet, the Vikings are worse and getting worse with each passing day. I'd like to present my rebuttal, after the jump.
I'm not going to try and minimize the impact of Julius Peppers signing with the Bears. He's one of the three or four best DE's in the game, and makes the Bears better. It angered me when the Vikings swung that draft day trade for Jared Allen because I thought it was a great deal, yet people wanted to pan it. It was a great trade for the Vikings, and this was a great signing for the Bears. That said, there are significant differences between the two. Prior to the Allen trade, the Vikings were quietly collecting some serious talent on a defense that had been neglected for the better part of the last 10 years. Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, etc., arrived through free agency or the draft, and Allen was widely considered the 'final piece' of the defensive puzzle. He has flourished, the defense has been one of the league's best, and looking back there is no way you can consider that a bad trade by the Vikings.
With the Peppers signing, the Bears find themselves in a different place. He is a 30 year old pass rusher on a defense that has been aging for the last two years. He will be an upgrade, but he is not a long term answer. The Bears are still a year older, Tommie Harris still is injury prone and playing on a degenerative knee, Brian Urlacher is still coming back off a season ending injury, and their secondary still hasn't upgraded a unit that was 28th in touchdown passes surrendered last season.
The Vikings defense was a defense on the ascendency when they acquired Allen, the Bears are a defense on the decline, and even with the Peppers signing, it's still hard to make an argument that the Bears defense is ascending. Entering 2010, every Bears defender has a 'yeah, but' quantifier attached to him that makes them a very questionable unit, Peppers included, especially if the Bears switch him to the left side, as is being reported.
The Lions, however, have something going in Detroit. Very quietly, they've signed DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, and with the second pick in the draft, they are guaranteed a premier DT if they want one. All of a sudden, they look downright respectable on the defensive line. They still have a ways to go, but I really like what the Lions have done so far. Well, other than to give Nate Burleson $25 million. That was kind of Matt Millen-ish, but they are putting more and more distance between them and the Millen era every day. I'm not saying the Lions are better than the Bears, but they're heading in the right direction.
The Chester Taylor signing bugged me more because of the team he went to, and not the fact that the Vikings lost him. Yes, it would have been nice to retain Taylor, but I can't fault a guy for wanting a chance to start and get one last big payday. Does losing Taylor make the Bears better? Marginally. Does he make the Vikings worse? Debatable. The Bears still haven't upgraded an offensive line that helped lead the Bears to the 29th ranked rushing attack, and Taylor was just okay running behind the Vikings line last year. His value was as a third down back, but if the Bears don't address their issues on the line, Taylor will be a wasted asset, much like a manners class would be on Jay Cutler.
Losing Artis Hicks was as damaging as losing a...backup offensive lineman. Yes, he was versatile, but he couldn't beat out Anthony Herrera, who struggled quite a bit in 2009. So how good was he, really? And the Vikings won't be able to replace him? Seriously? Can I ask more questions? Really?
The Bears had to make a splash in free agency because they spent the impact portion of their 2010 draft class on Jay Cutler, and the Vikings are restricted in free agency because of the stupid collective bargaining rules established in the event of an uncapped year. There are attractive alternatives to Chester Taylor on the market, and I doubt the Vikings will leave that situation unresolved by the time training camp begins. So let's wait until the Vikings announce their plans for a third down back and backup lineman before we declare them demostrably worse, shall we?
Oh, but if Favre doesn't come back, well, uh, it'll be interesting, and we'll leave it at that.