NFC Notes: Bears, Packers, Vikings

     

Bears

There are a lot of things that keep Bears GM Ryan Pace up at night, from figuring out holes at quarterback and tight end to navigating the future salary cap. One is misevaluating a player in training camp, cutting him and seeing him thrive elsewhere. With no preseason games and limited practices, that fear is even stronger this year. 

“Your concern always, in every camp, is letting a good player walk out of here,” Pace said via Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “It goes back to taking every piece of information you can to complete the evaluation and leaning on your staff — and not just your coaches and your scouts but your support staff to complete the picture. Because, yeah, you are nervous a good player is going to walk out of here. You always are, but to be honest, you probably feel it more this year because we’ll have less time with these guys, and we won’t have the preseason games.”

  • The Athletic’s Adam Jahns writes he’s not even sure the “kettle is turned on yet” for Pace and Bears HC Matt Nagy, as ownership still believe in both. 
  • Jahns points out that while Bears DT Eddie Goldman opting out is a major blow to the run defense, he only played an average of 50 percent of the snaps the past three seasons. 
  • Kevin Fishbain of the Athletic sees Bears DL Bilal Nichols as a potential replacement for Goldman, as well as potentially DL John Jenkins.
  • Fishbain doesn’t see a trade for Browns TE David Njoku in the cards for the Bears. 
  • Fishbain thinks the Bears are confident in RB Ryan Nall as a third-stringer. 

Packers

Green Bay’s 2019 season infamously ended in the NFC title game when the 49ers ran all over them — literally. The Packers didn’t make many changes on defense with the exception of swapping out LB Blake Martinez for LB Christian Kirksey, electing to bring back DC Mike Pettine. But Packers DT Kenny Clark said fixing the run defense has been on top of their priority list this offseason. 

“This year we don’t plan on guys being able to run the ball 42 times on us,” Clark said via ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “We’re going to fix some stuff all around with our defense. Excited about the guys in our room, excited about the guys we brought in.”

Vikings

2020 was shaping up to be a landmark year for new Vikings DT Michael Pierce in a number of ways. The former undrafted free agent had paid his dues his first four seasons with the Ravens and finally earned his payday this offseason, signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Vikings. Pierce was ready to prove he could live up to that deal on the field this year but the pandemic complicated things. Pierce has severe asthma and qualified for the NFL’s high-risk opt-out option, but it was still a tough decision. 

“Obviously, I went undrafted, and everything I’ve gotten had to be earned,” Pierce said via Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “I made the team as a rookie, made Pro Bowl alternate last year, I’m starting to get acknowledged, I signed the deal. So it’s hard, especially, not knowing my coaches and teammates that well. It’s hard emotionally. And from a pure football standpoint, I was starting to ascend. It hit me hard.

“But at end of the day, what’s worse? Missing the season, or playing eight games and winding up on a ventilator?”

  • ESPN’s Courtney Cronin writes that in order to replace Pierce, the Vikings could either play DT Shamar Stephen at nose tackle on early downs or move DT Jaleel Johnson into the starting lineup at nose. 
  • Cronin notes the team has a bevy of options to play the three-technique defensive tackle, including Armon Watts, Jalyn Holmes, Johnson, Hercules Mata’afa and fourth-round DL James Lynch.
  • However, the team’s depth at defensive end is iffier, per Cronin, with not many proven quantities behind starters Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
  • Cronin mentions it usually takes three years for cornerbacks to develop into starters in HC Mike Zimmer‘s defense, which should be factored into expectations for a secondary that added first-round CB Jeff Gladney, third-round CB Cameron Dantzler, fifth-round CB Harrison Hand and UDFA CB Nevelle Clarke.
  • Zimmer says he is “100 percent” with Pierce’s decision to opt out. He adds he has a plan to replace him but won’t reveal it yet. (Chris Tomasson)
  • Asked about the risk to him and other members of the coaching staff, which skew older and more at risk, Zimmer responded: “There’s no way I would opt out but I don’t think they have opt-out for coaches.” (Tomasson)
  • Vikings GM Rick Spielman said the team is still working on an extension for RB Dalvin Cook: “I know how important Dalvin Cook is and I know we’ve been working closely with his agent and we’ll continue to work to try to see if there’s a deal we feel is not only fair to Dalvin but fair to us as well.” (Cronin)
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