Bears gain on ’13 opponents but how much?

Bears gain on ’13 opponents but how much?
March 17, 2013, 11:30 pm
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The easy part of the first week of free agency is assessing whether the Bears improved their roster. Based on the histories of tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod, the Bears improved dramatically from Kellen Davis/Matt Spaeth at the former position, and over Gabe Carimi/Jonathan Scott at the latter (J’Marcus Webb is going to right tackle so the real standard is whether the Bears upgraded at tackle generally -– they did.)

The harder part is determining how much real good it did.

That's because the true measure of the week is whether the Bears gained on their NFC North rivals and whether they advanced vis-a-vis their 2013 opponents. In some situations, the Bears gained significant ground on the opposition; in others, that remains to be seen.

Detroit Lions
Detroit lost elite defensive end Cliff Avril to the Seattle Seahawks, a major blow to the defense. They also saw veteran left tackle Jeff Backus retire.

But the Lions used their first pick in the 2012 draft on Iowa tackle Riley Reiff, and Backus finished last season with a lower rating than Bushrod or Webb, according to Pro Football Focus grading. Reiff, however, in spot duty (336 snaps, largely as a short-yardage tight end) graded well in both run and pass blocking. At this point of Backus’ career, Reiff is an upgrade.

The problem for the Lions is that highly regarded right tackle Gosder Cherilus, one of the top tackles on the market, departed to take care of Andrew Luck in the Indianapolis offense. Consider the Lions’ tackle transactions, at best, break-even.

Most significant, perhaps, the Lions added running back Reggie Bush. The Lions had only four runs of 20 yards or longer and Bush on artificial turf is another major upgrade, particularly with Jahvid Best’s future in doubt with concussion issues.

Important for Detroit was the re-signing of safety Louis Delmas and the addition of Glover Quin from Houston to pair with Delmas. The secondary has been a problem for the Lions and Quin is likely to be seeing a lot of Bennett when the Bears face the Lions twice a year.

Green Bay Packers

Any time Aaron Rodgers loses a dangerous target is a good time for the Bears. Greg Jennings may have gone to Minnesota and the Bears were looking up at the Vikings last year but Jennings has been a problem for the Bears.

The Packers also lost out in efforts to sign former St. Louis franchise back Steven Jackson, and center Jeff Saturday retired.

Green Bay is typically a minor player in free agency, so the events of early free agency aren’t completely surprising. But the Packers are right now not quite as good as they were in 2012.

Minnesota Vikings

Greg Jennings is a Viking, but Percy Harvin is not. Net loss for Minnesota. The Vikings also added Matt Cassel to upgrade their quarterback depth but Christian Ponder is still the starter, so the Cassel impact should be negligible. Minnesota re-signed right tackle Phil Loadholt, avoiding a falloff on their offensive line.

The worrisome element for the Bears is that Jennings is still an impact wide receiver who is expected to have a positive effect on the entire receiver group. More important, the Vikings added three draft choices in the Harvin trade to Seattle and now have two No. 1s for the second year in a row.

The Vikings got two starters in the first round last year. If they do that again next month, the Bears have a great deal to worry about. Just as the Bears’ signings threw open their draft options, the Vikings now do not need to commit a No. 1 to a receiver.

Around the NFC

The Bears draw the NFC East this season (Dallas and New York in Soldier Field; Philadelphia and Washington away) but the division remained generally unaltered through the first wave of free agency. One team did make myriad moves, but that was the Philadelphia Eagles. And the last time the Eagles blitzed the market to this degree, the result was the “Dream Team” that was anything but, so maybe a busy Philly is a good thing on the Bears' schedule.

Philadelphia’s big add was former Houston rush linebacker Connor Barwin, a positional role model of Bears defensive lineman Shea McClellin, who had 11.5 sacks in 2011 but only three last year. Virtually everything the Eagles did was on defense –- safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoago, cornerback Cary Williams –- which was expected for a team that ranked 15th in yardage and tied for 29th in points allowed last season.

The New Orleans Saints took a hit on their offensive line when Bushrod left for the Bears, but upgraded one of the worst defenses in the NFL by signing former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis, a 16-game starter with 71 tackles and 23 pass defenses. The St. Louis Rams lost fragile receiver Danny Amendola to the New England Patriots and Steven Jackson to Atlanta. Big subtractions on offense. But the signing of Tennessee tight end Jared Cook ranks with the Bears’ addition of Bennett for offensive impact. The Rams also moved in and signed Jake Long to a multi-year deal, shoring up their offensive line on quarterback Sam Bradford's blind-side.

And in the AFC

The Baltimore Ravens have hemorrhaged personnel much of the offseason, in addition to gushing money with the Joe Flacco contract. Anquan Boldin was traded, Matt Birk and Ray Lewis retired, Ed Reed is potentially headed to Houston and Paul Kruger went to the Cleveland Browns, who also signed defensive tackle Oakland defensive end/tackle Desmond Bryant. Signing New York Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty helps the defensive interior, but this is a team in deep makeover.