With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, the attention has now turned to the offseason. As coaches slowly return to their offices, every team will have a storyline that could make or break their new season. In our last article, we looked at the top 2020 storylines for the AFC West, with our attention now turning to the NFC North.
Every franchise in the NFC North has a flaw that could hold them back. The Packers could soon part ways with the face of the franchise, while the Bears are still looking for their man under center. Injuries could keep Detroit in the cellar and Minnesota is hoping to contend after a cap-stricken offseason played a role in free agency. Although these teams are undoubtedly full of talented players, each franchise has an Achilles heel that could cost them a trip to the postseason.
In our new series for PFN, lead NFL writer Cole Thompson and NFL columnist Tommy Call III will be breaking down each team’s top offseason storyline. Here’s what fans of the NFC North should be looking towards in the coming months.
Top storylines in the NFC North
Nick Foles or Mitch Trubisky, are either the right call?
Matt Nagy was named the 2018 Coach of the Year following a 12-4 season with the Chicago Bears. However, his seat will be hot after a down year in 2018, but all the attention will be on Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles as they battle for the right to start under center.
The former second overall pick regressed immensely in his third season, proving his throwing errors are still a massive problem. The offense stalled, failed to score, as the team faltered to an 8-8 finish. Trubisky will now play for a new contract after the team elected not to pick up his fifth-year option, proving they are ready to pull the plug.
Foles is best known for his Super Bowl LII MVP performance. However, in the regular season, the former Eagles and Jaguars quarterback has struggled to connect with his targets and thrive as the franchise quarterback. After signing an $88 million deal with Jacksonville, injury and bad performances meant that Foles lost the starting job to sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew before being traded to the Windy City.
Chicago’s defense still should be considered as one of the league’s best, but the pressure is on whichever quarterback is on the field to succeed. Both have something to prove, and for one, this likely is the final stop in their careers.
Matthew Stafford’s situation Post 2020
Everyone knows that Matt Patricia’s hot seat is scalding, but the attention in Detroit should really be on Matthew Stafford. With Detroit continuing to underwhelm in the NFC North, could this be the 32-year-old’s final season in the Motor City?
Stafford is one of the league’s most underrated players due to playing with a horrendous offensive line. When healthy, the former No.1 overall pick can lead the offense to a top-10 finish in passing yards and touchdowns. The biggest concern is health moving forward after two injured-ridden seasons.
The Lions fell flat without Stafford last season, who missed eight games due to a spinal injury. Rumors floated around that the long-time starter could be traded this offseason with the team wanting to start fresh. With an injury such as that, Stafford could potentially never return to Pro Bowl form and become an expensive liability to the organization’s future.
Any further setbacks to Stafford could force the team to part ways with him this offseason. If the offense struggles in the passing game, expect Patrica and Bob Quinn to be looking for jobs elsewhere when the season ends. And with a new head coach calling the shots, there is no guarantee that Stafford will be a part of the plan moving forward, similar to Cam Newton‘s situation in Carolina this offseason.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ final year?
Green Bay shocked the world in April when they selected Jordan Love in the first round. Despite being 35, Aaron Rodgers is still playing at a high level for the Packers after leading them to a 13-3 record last season. Now the question is, will Green Bay look to enhance his trade value?
Rodgers shined last year with limited weapons on offense, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Instead of building around him, Matt LaFleur proved by selecting Love, running back A.J. Dillon and H-back Josiah Deguara, that this is now his team moving forward.
The team added veteran Devin Funchess this offseason to play opposite of Davante Adams. Should he return to full form after missing all of 2019 with the Colts, perhaps he will be a quality addition to the offense. Green Bay will also have potential breakout tight end, Jace Sternberger, in the mix after missing nearly his entire rookie season due to injury. Will that be enough to push the Packers into contention for the Super Bowl?
There’s no denying that Rodgers will be the starter this season. Even with a power struggle between the coach and quarterback, Green Bay exceeded exceptions and will look to win another Lombardi Trophy in 2020. However, should Rodgers regress at all, then the clock could be striking midnight sooner than anyone expected.
Limited offseason for rookies
By far one of the top value drafts, Minnesota hit a grand slam in April with their overhaul of new talent. In any other offseason, rookies would have the chance to adjust to NFL speed thanks to OTAs and summer camp. However, the world being in a stalemate position now, there’s is still uncertainty when training camp will officially begin, despite positive rumors coming out of the league.
The Vikings added a high-potential weapon in Justin Jefferson in the first round, following the trade of Stefon Diggs. The LSU star led the FBS in receptions last season but could take time to blend in Minnesota’s offense as the team’s No.2 option opposite of Adam Theilen. The same could be said on defense as TCU’s Jeff Gladney and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler fight for starting roles. Both cornerbacks have issues in coverage that will take time to develop, likely forcing Holton Hill and Kris Boyd to the top of the depth chart.
Minnesota took a hit in the offseason thanks to the salary cap and any early-season struggles due to a limited offseason could cause the team to miss the postseason altogether. This should put pressure on Kirk Cousins to become the x-factor early for the Vikings this season. If the new-extended quarterback fails to exceed expectations, it’ll be a long season for Mike Zimmer’s roster.
Cole Thompson and Tommy Call III serve as the lead NFL writer and NFL columnist, respectively, for Pro Football Network. Follow them on Twitter at @MrColeThompson, @Tommy_III, and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.