NFL Free Agency Rumors: Latest Insider Notes Surrounding the Lions, Packers, Vikings, and Bears

With free agency around the corner, Pro Football Network's NFL Insider Adam Caplan shares the latest intel surrounding the Lions, Packers, Vikings, and Bears.

Welcome to our inside NFL free agency series. We’ll start to take an inside look by team and division leading up to the start of free agency on Monday, March 11. That’s the date when the opening negotiating period (legal tampering) begins leading up to the total opening of free agency on that Wednesday (March 13) at 4 p.m. ET.

Teams and players can agree a deal starting that Monday, but players can’t sign until after free agency totally opens two days later. This gives a player a chance to change his mind, which we’ve seen happen in the past, but this usually only happens a few times each year.

Another key date coming up is on Tuesday, Feb. 20, when teams can begin to designate one franchise or transition player, and have until Tuesday, March 5, at 4 p.m. ET to use it. Six players received the franchise tag last year, and only three of them signed extensions.

With that, let’s get our series started, first by looking at the NFC — specifically, the NFC North.

Latest NFL Free Agency Rumors

Detroit Lions

Offensively, the key player to re-sign for the Detroit Lions is Jonah Jackson, who has been one of their best interior offensive linemen ever since the team selected him in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

A league source said both sides were not close to an agreement to begin last season, but that doesn’t mean Detroit won’t look to re-sign him before free agency starts. They clearly don’t have his potential replacement on its 90-man offseason roster.

Veteran receiver Josh Reynolds, even if the team re-signs him, is expected to be replaced as a full-time starter by third-year WR Jameson Williams. Willliams, a first-round pick in 2021, barely played as a rookie but saw extended playing time during the second half of last season. And as team source told us, he’s the most explosive player on the team.

Defensively, things got so shaky at cornerback that Kindle Vildor, who was released from the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad in Week 11, wound up starting for the Lions for five games, including all three playoff games.

While he was a nice story for the team, Detroit must significantly address this position, and that’s the expectation whether it’s free agency or in the draft.

At safety, veteran Tracy Walker is a candidate for a paycut or release. Once a starter, he was replaced in the lineup last season and carries a $12.8 million salary cap number to go along with a non-guaranteed base salary of $8 million.

And with S Ifeatu Melifonwu’s 2023 breakout season and third-year pro Kerby Joseph solidly entrenched at the other spot, C.J. Gardner-Johnson may have to look elsewhere for a starting job. What will help Gardner-Johnson garner interest is his versatility (safety or nickel), but he has missed 19 games due to injury over the past two seasons.

Green Bay Packers

A key player for the front office to decide on is starting RG Jon Runyan, who was a sixth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2020 NFL Draft. Runyan, who is also capable of playing center if needed, started losing playing time to 2022 third-round pick Sean Rhyan during the second half of last season.

It’s rare for team to rotate offensive linemen in game, so that could be an indication that they’re targeting Rhyan to replace the durable Runyan going forward.

AJ Dillon, a 2020 second-round selection, has shown flashes of high-level play over the years, but as a league source told us, hasn’t played a consistently high enough level to warrant a second contract.

As for veteran LT David Bakhtiari, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be returning to Green Bay for his 12th season due to his injury history (has missed 38 games over the past three seasons), and he carries a massive salary cap number of $40.6 million.

Defensively, the front office has decisions to make on whether or not they’ll bring back some key veteran starters:

  • ILB De’Vondre Campbell ($6.7 million base salary, $14.4 million salary cap number, $2.9 million roster bonus due 3/15)
  • OLB Preston Smith ($5.7 million base salary, $16.5 million salary cap number, $5.4 million roster bonus due 3/15)
  • CB Jaire Alexander ($6.7 million base salary, $24.4 million salary cap number, $8 million roster bonus due 3/15)

Ordinarily, the uber-talented Alexander’s salary cap number wouldn’t be a problem despite how high it is, but because of his enigmatic behavior, this situation must be watched.

Minnesota Vikings

The big decision in terms of re-signing a key player or not is Kirk Cousins. From what we understand, no hard decision has been made by the Minnesota Vikings on bringing him back or declining to do so.

Cousins, who was perhaps headed for the best season of his career until he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the team’s Week 8 game against the host Packers, turns 36 in August.

If he doesn’t re-sign, the team clearly wouldn’t have his replacement on the roster, as Jaren Hall (fifth-round pick last season) is seen around the NFL as a developmental backup, and journeyman Nick Mullens is seen as a decent backup.

Defensively, keep an eye on D.J. Wonnum, who a pro personnel source said should be considered a top “sleeper” for free agency. Wonnum, who has posted 23 sacks in his four seasons of play, played in a career-high 83% of the team’s defensive snaps last season and has excellent length and size as an edge rusher (6-5, 260, 34 1/8-arm).

Wonnum has only been a full-time starter in two of those seasons (2021, 2023) and has experience playing with his hand in the dirt earlier in his career under former head coach Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 scheme and as a stand-up pass rusher over the past two years.

As for Danielle Hunter, who enters this ninth NFL season, is coming off his best overall in just about every key defensive category and has clearly showed that he’s over his neck issues from a few seasons ago. Hunter’s amassed 27 sacks and 35 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.

MORE: Is Kirk Cousins Really Looking for a $90M Guaranteed Contract?

Look for Minnesota to make a push to re-sign at least one of them, but Hunter, who turns 30 in late October, could yield a deal worth $17-$20 million per season elsewhere due to his outstanding productivity over his career and versatility. Both sides agreed to a revised one-year deal last season worth $17 million (fully guaranteed).

As for Marcus Davenport, who only played in just four games last season due to injury, look for him to be playing elsewhere.

Chicago Bears

The good news is that while the Chicago Bears don’t have many needs to fill, they’ll have a lot of salary cap space (well over $60 million) and a good amount of draft capital to address several roster issues.

Not that they needed the salary cap space, but the releases late last week of C/G Cody Whitehair and S Eddie Jackson will save Chicago over $21 million in cap space to go along with cash savings of over $24 million.

Offensively, keep in mind that GM Ryan Poles did not draft the underrated Darnell Mooney and selected WR Tyler Scott in the fourth round in last year’s draft. Both are seen as similar types of players in terms of skill set, with Scott having a slightly larger body frame.

We’re told Scott was cross-trained to play the slot (“F” position in the West Coast offense) and the “Z” (move position) last year, and they’re going to be running a West Coast scheme with new OC Shane Waldron.

As for Lucas Patrick, he was signed primarily due to his experience with former Bears OC Luke Getsy and could be playing elsewhere this season.

Defensively, the top free agent, and the most important one for the team to re-sign overall, is Jaylon Johnson.

KEEP READING: Top Free Agents By Position 

Teams that called the Bears for him prior to last season’s trade deadline were turned off by the price. One personnel source deemed the asking price as “exorbitant,” even though the Bears gave Johnson’s representatives the ability to seek a trade.

Johnson, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection last season, could be a candidate for the team’s franchise tag if they’re unable to reach a long-term deal by March 5.

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