Welcome back East West Football fans, and thank you for sticking with me as I take a look through the entire NFC in my Head Coach and General Manager Hot Seat Series. For this article, we are taking a look at the NFC North. The seats have been relatively warmer in arguably one of the coldest divisions in the entire league, and there has been a lot of change here in an active offseason. There is still one lingering question that needs to be answered sooner or later for the Wisconsin faithful, while other franchises usher in new faces and new starts for their fanbases. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the NFC North!
Chicago Bears: GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy
Chicago may be the Windy City but it’s been nothing but a heatwave for GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy. This is a make-or-break year for these two, and they haven’t recaptured their spark from the 12-4 season back in 2018. If you remember the Wild Card game, kicker Cody Parkey’s field goal attempt was blocked and hit the crossbar twice as the clock expired to allow the Philadelphia Eagles to move on to the divisional round in one of the more heartbreaking losses you will ever see. Since then, it’s been back-to-back 8-8 seasons, more recently when they put on a rough performance against the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round and lost 21-9. The Bears, oftentimes, won games despite their horrid offense, which was led by former number two overall pick, QB Mitchell Trubisky. Given the investment they made in him (Bears traded the 2017 third overall pick, a 2017 third-rounder, a 2017 fourth-rounder, and a 2018 third-rounder to move up one pick and get him at second overall), it must somewhat sting them (or the fans at least) to see him now on a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills. As if that weren’t enough, Pace and Nagy surely were feeling the heat heading into the offseason, when they shocked the NFL universe by signing… wait for it… Andy Dalton to be their “QB1”! If my job was on the line, I’d probably do a lot more than signing a now journeyman QB to save my job but, luckily for them, they presumably struck gold in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Somehow, someway, Ohio State QB Justin Fields was still on the board when the Giants were picking at number 11. That’s when it was announced that the Bears had traded up with the Giants in exchange for pick number 21 and a future first-round pick in 2022, and the Bears grabbed this opportunity to get their QB of the future. It was an aggressive and necessary move to bring some stability to the position, and ultimately (most importantly, if I may) to save their jobs. If this team makes the playoffs again, I can see both Pace and Nagy staying in Chicago. If not, they may be packing their bags while we see a new regime take over this storied franchise.
Seat temperature: Red hot for both. Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are squarely on the hot seat this season without a doubt. They did get aggressive in securing Justin Fields, but trusting a rookie to save their jobs is a tall task and might just be too little too late. I don’t know if they survive this season but, like always, time will only tell.
Detroit Lions: GM Brad Holmes and Head Coach Dan Campbell
The Motor City is also seeing significant change over in Ford Field, as new faces of the franchise have been introduced. In comes former Director of College Scouting from the Los Angeles Rams, Brad Holmes, to the GM position and former assistant head coach and tight ends coach of the New Orleans Saints, Dan Campbell, to the HC position. Hopefully, they can right the ship of a franchise that hasn’t sniffed a playoff win since I was a year old, back in 1991. That’s a long time to not experience a playoff win and, while I don’t necessarily expect them to be close to that just yet, I do think they have the right people in charge to finally build a winner. I asked our very own Walter Stringer (a die-hard Detroit Lions fan) about his thoughts on Holmes and Campbell and he seemed very optimistic:
“As of now, everything is great! Brad Holmes came in and made a very uncomfortable decision for a lot of fans here in Detroit by moving Matthew Stafford, but his hands were tied, because the Staffords had already told the Fords (the Lions’ owners) they wanted out before [Brad] Holmes came in. As for Campbell, the players love him and the fact that he brought in so many ex-players to coach. There is a very joyful, relatable, just play football aura and mentality about this new regime.”
I agree with Walt here, as I think that the right guys have been brought in to lead the way. Just search for Brad Holmes’ reaction when they drafted offensive tackle Penei Sewell out of the University of Oregon with their first-round pick, it was awesome! I’ve always believed in building teams from the trenches first and then outward, and that philosophy was on full display in this past year’s draft with the Lions. Lions fans, yes we know that they have a long way to go to be a consistent team on the field but, with some more patience, this team will become more difficult to get by week in and week out for the rest of the league.
Seat temperature: Cold. Holmes and Campbell will have the leash and opportunity to build the team in their vision. This season may not be pretty, but I would imagine that, around the 2023 season, the patience will bear fruit. By then, we may see the Lions finally begin to turn the corner to dominance!
Green Bay Packers: GM Brian Gutekunst and Head Coach Matt LaFleur
The offseason has not been too kind to Green Bay and its fan base. Losing the NFC Championship in back-to-back seasons is sure to bring some unwanted tension and anguish to the fans, players, and front office. After a tough loss in 2019 to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game, which ended a 13-3 campaign, one would assume that the 2020 season was for sure the year that Green Bay would overcome those demons and book a trip to play for another Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, even with home-field advantage in cold Lambeau temperatures, they couldn’t stop Tom Brady and the Bucs and ended up losing in yet another heart-breaking fashion to bring Aaron Rodgers’ NFC Championship record to 1-3 all-time. Training camp is right around the corner and we still don’t know if the reigning MVP will suit up for the Pack, and there is a possibility that he might just end up sitting out or get traded. This is a major problem for the franchise that is now in limbo (which could have been avoided), and this is all on GM Brian Gutekunst. Let me remind you that, after the 2019 season, much of the talk was that Rodgers needed another weapon on the outside and a little bit more help on defense. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Gutekunst shocked everyone when the Packers traded UP and drafted Rodgers’ heir apparent, Jordan Love, out of Utah State. I have no issue with Love as a player, since we don’t know what he’ll eventually become, but I do have a problem with the position of choice, especially when they were just a win away from going to the SB. They made the title game again this year, only to fall short yet again and failing to advance to the SB. Jordan Love didn’t contribute to the overall success of the team, whereas another WR could have. This has created a massive rift between Gutekunst and Rodgers, which has lead to Rodgers stating that he has no desire to play for them again. While they did draft a WR (Amari Rodgers out of Clemson) and four of their picks this year were on defense, including first-rounder CB Eric Stokes out of UGA, I just feel like all of this is possibly coming too late to salvage any damage already done. I can go on and on about how I feel about this situation but, for now, I’ll just leave as it has been for the past few months. We just don’t know what’s going to happen in Green Bay.
Seat temperature: GM Brian Gutekunst: Death Valley hot. I don’t think many seats in the NFL are as hot as Gutekunst’s is with the decisions he’s made. Either he or Rodgers won’t be there much longer and, if he trades Rodgers, the media heads are going to go on about this for weeks. Matt LaFleur: Ice cold. I didn’t cover coach LaFleur all that much but he’s done a fine job coaching this football team and shouldn’t have to worry about job security. If Jordan Love is the starter, I will be paying close attention to see how he handles the new man under center as a new era is introduced in Lambeau.
Minnesota Vikings: GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer
Last but not least, we take look at Skol Nation and the Vikings. Two years ago, they suffered a defeat in the divisional round to the eventual NFC Champs, San Francisco 49ers, but regressed last year and missed the playoffs. Even with the overall solid work of GM Rick Spielman, this team seems to be stuck in purgatory and can’t seem to get over the hump. The Vikings haven’t gone into a full rebuild mode but they’ve kind of just stayed afloat by retooling year in and year out. I feel that one aspect of this team that is holding them back is the quarterback position, and it remains a question mark in my eyes for this upcoming season. Kirk Cousins returns under center to prove that he isn’t just a glamorous regular-season quarterback but, in fact, a player who can be clutch and win the big games. I think Spielman is hamstrung by not being able to move on from Cousins and his contract, which holds a $76,000,000 dead cap hit if he was released… in hindsight, that was bad planning! They have no choice but to continue to play him and develop a young prospect behind him, which is exactly what Spielman did when he drafted QB Kellen Mond, out of Mississippi State, in the third round. While I don’t think Mond’s accuracy issues will improve in the NFL, it is still worth it to take a chance on him and his cannon of an arm. They could develop him into a stop-gap option since this team isn’t quite ready to tear it all down quite yet. Coach Mike Zimmer enters his eighth year with the Vikings ball club and is looking to get back into the playoffs so that he can add an NFC Championship to his resume. Zimmer brings a sound mind and gives the team a chance to win every week, even if there is a lack of consistency from his offense, defense, or special teams units… yeesh!
Seat temperature: GM Rick Spielman: Cold. I think Spielman has done a fine job keeping this team relevant but he still needs just a little more time and the right players to truly be a legitimate contender in a competitive NFC North. The Cousins contract certainly presents obstacles but, I think with some extra patience, he could have a loaded roster in a year or so before he brings in a young rookie QB (on a much cheaper contract) to fully take this franchise to new heights and bring Skol Nation a Lombardi Trophy that they have been starving for. Head Coach Mike Zimmer: Warm. Zimmer is a solid football coach and leader of men but, while the results aren’t all faults of his own, sometimes the same voice over and over eventually runs out its course. I think his seat is a little warm at the moment because his units haven’t quite reached those expectations that have been assigned for this proud franchise. He would find a job immediately if he were to be fired but, if the Vikings want to avoid restarting from scratch, it would be wise to keep him onboard regardless of results on the field. This team certainly has quality talent and coaches but they need just a little more to be the Kings of the North.
That was part 5 of the series overall and part 1 for the NFC. Stay tuned for the remainder of the series, and thank you for keeping up with me so far!
- Cover Picture: https://www.thefantasycoaches.com/127-dynasty-talk-nfc-north-edition/
- Chicago Bears GM and HC Picture: https://bearswire.usatoday.com/lists/bears-ryan-pace-matt-nagy-press-conference-takeaways-2021-offseason/
- Detroit Lions GM and HC Picture: https://www.clickondetroit.com/sports/2021/03/02/5-takeaways-from-lions-press-conference-with-dan-campbell-brad-holmes/
- Green Bay Packers GM and HC Picture: https://clutchpoints.com/packers-news-brian-gutekunst-really-excited-about-year-2-of-matt-lafleur-and-aaron-rodgers/
- Minnesota Vikings GM and HC Picture: https://theathletic.com/1972117/2020/08/03/rick-spielman-mike-zimmer-vikings-new-contracts-2020-challenge/
Edited By: Rupayan “Abs” Samanta and Isaac Dirrim.