Looking over Matt Williamson's offseason grades for the NFC North compelled me to take a look back at our Big Decision series from the winter. In it, I tried to preview some of the most important issues facing NFC North teams in the coming months.
The list was by no means exhaustive, but I thought we would take this moment to circle back and comment on its resolution. We discussed seven issues at the time, which I've reviewed below, and I'll also add a few additional topics that ended up dominating our conversations.
Charles WoodsonJeff Hanisch/US PresswireCharles Woodson is expected to play both safety and cornerback for Green Bay this season.
Big Decision: Charles Woodson's 2012 position for the Green Bay Packers
Resolution: A schematic adjustment that could feature Woodson as a hybrid safety-cornerback in the base defense. Woodson likely will play as a slot defender in nickel and dime situations.
Comment: The Packers answered (C) when faced with the question of Woodson as a safety or cornerback: All of the above. Given how malleable defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme is, there was no reason to make a black-and-white decision when gray might have been the best option all along.
Big Decision: Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs' trade request
Resolution: The Bears mollified Briggs with a $2.5 million raise for 2012. He would earn $5.5 million in 2013.
Comment: The Bears weren't ready to give a 31-year-old linebacker a huge upgrade, but as it turned out, it wasn't necessary. Briggs just wanted to see the most minor demonstration of love to be happy.
Big Decision: The future of Detroit Lions left tackle Jeff Backus
Resolution: Signed a two-year contract in March.
Comment: Backus will turn 35 during the season, but the Lions needed to protect themselves when they had an opportunity. They followed up by making tackle Riley Reiff their top draft choice, setting up an ideal succession plan that could begin next month or next year.
Big Decision: The Minnesota Vikings' middle linebacker situation
Resolution: Fourth-year player Jasper Brinkley will be given a chance to take the job of incumbent E.J. Henderson, who was not re-signed.
Comment: Brinkley missed all of 2011 because of a hip injury and was held out of June minicamp for precautionary reasons. There is no depth behind Brinkley, making this move a big risk. As a result, middle linebacker remains one of the Vikings' biggest question marks.
Big Decision: Backup quarterbacks for all four teams
Resolution: The Bears signed veteran Jason Campbell. The Lions re-signed Shaun Hill but allowed Drew Stanton to depart via free agency. The Packers allowed Matt Flynn to depart and seem committed to Graham Harrell. The Vikings re-signed Sage Rosenfels but appear set to make Joe Webb their No. 2.
Comment: Campbell represents a huge upgrade for the Bears. Hill is the perfect player to back up Matthew Stafford in the Lions' offense. Harrell is unproven but drew raves from Packers coaches this offseason. The Vikings are serious enough about Webb as their No. 2 that they stopped experimenting with him at other positions.
Big Decision: The Bears' commitment to Kellen Davis
Resolution: Davis re-signed with a two-year contract.
Comment: Davis feels confident the Bears will use the tight end more under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a former NFL tight end. That's probably a good assumption.
Big Decision: The future of Lions defensive end Cliff Avril
Resolution: The Lions restructured their salary cap sufficiently enough to make room for Avril's $10.6 million franchise tag figure. The sides have until Monday to agree on a long-term extension.
Comment: The Lions made clear from the start of the offseason that Avril was a strong fit for their defensive system and a vital part of its success. Given the importance of pass rushers in this era, few if any would argue with the decision, even if it means he ultimately departs via free agency in 2013.
The Bears jumped on the relative bargain rate of the franchise tag for tailback Matt Forte ($7.74 million) but the inability/unwillingness to sign him to a multi-year deal suggests some ambivalence about his long-term future. … The Bears re-committed to quarterback Jay Cutler by acquiring one of his favorite receivers (Brandon Marshall) and coach (quarterbacks guru Jeremy Bates), giving Cutler by far his best surrounding cast since he arrived in Chicago. … The Lions nipped a pressing long-term issue by making receiver Calvin Johnson the highest-paid player in the NFL at the time of the agreement, a deal that actually lowered his 2012 salary-cap figure and set up the rest of the Lions' offseason. … The Packers addressed their pass defense by signing several free agent defensive linemen, including veteran Anthony Hargrove, and selecting six consecutive defensive players to open the draft. … The Packers made a wise decision not to place the franchise tag on Flynn, who did not receive the level of free-agent interest once anticipated. … The Vikings publicly hemmed and hawed about their direction for the No. 3 overall pick, but ultimately made the obvious choice by selecting left tackle Matt Kalil after trading down one spot to No. 4.