CHICAGO – The only way a team can be clearly affected by free agency in March is with a massive exit of talent.
As far as teams getting better, that doesn’t happen until September or October at the earliest when we get to see a team’s new additions in games that count and see how well those players fit their new environment, their new coaching staff and new schemes.
It looked as if the Vikings might be in trouble with Anthony Barr going to the Jets, until the linebacker changed his mind, and Sheldon Richardson had an excellent 2018 season, but Minnesota is loaded up front and should be fine without him.
Bears starting safety Adrian Amos did a nice job for the Bears, but was highly overrated thanks to some strong publicity from an independent scouting service that provides some valuable information, but lousy rankings and scouting reports.
While he wasn’t gone at this writing, Bryce Callahan is a very good nickel I’m sure the Bears would like to keep, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to make his departure significant.
The Packers and Lions have made a bunch of interesting signings without losing anyone, so no slippage there.
I understand what Packers and Lions fans are excited about with all their shiny new toys.
But Matt LaFleur is a rookie head coach who may get the Packers turned around, or may not be able to carry Mike McCarthy’s jockstrap.
Until he’s coached them, how are we to know?
The Lions were clearly heading in the wrong direction at the end of 2018, and how much of it was because Matt Patricia might be in over his head is anybody’s guess.
The Vikings will be really good on defense again, but can Kirk Cousins beat good teams? History says no.
The balance of power in the NFC North is unchanged and will stay that way until at least the end of September.
Bears fans are best served right now by focusing on the changes to their own team, and ironically the team I’m the most confident guessing is better already is the Bears.
They finished the season with clearly the best young talent in the division, and history tells us a number of those players will be better with a year under their belts.
I hate to see Callahan go, but he’s not irreplaceable.
Honestly, I don’t expect the defense to skip a beat if it’s Deon Bush in Amos’ spot on opening day, and I’m not convinced they won’t eventually be better with Bush instead of Amos.
Adding Cordarrelle Patterson, arguably the NFL’s best kick returner to the league’s 32nd-ranked kickoff return unit is undeniably an upgrade.
With Patterson, Buster Skrine and Mike Davis, the Bears got markedly faster at running back, wide receiver, nickel and in the return game, are markedly better on special teams, which wasn’t always a strength last year.
All of that seems likely to move the needle for them once they start playing games for real again.
But Patterson is clearly the Bears’ most exciting addition so far.
He proved in Minnesota and New England he will never be a big-time receiver, but he can be a top playmaker, and after Bill Belichick made him a difference maker at running back, 42 carries for 228 yards,
5.4 yards a carry, one touchdown, 15 first downs, you have to know Matt Nagy is already at his white board drawing up ways for Patterson to affect his offense.
Like Davis, Patterson is not the answer for all that ails the Bears’ ground game. But Belichick, the greatest of all time himself, drew up the blueprint for Nagy on how he can improve it. You can bet the Bears will try and expand it.
On top of all that, Ryan Pace has done a nice job of adding additional cap space without pushing too much trouble down the road, and he has the room for a few more moves if they fit.
The balance of power in the division will take care of itself, but right now the Bears and Pace have a game plan, and with the addition of Patterson, they appear to be executing it awfully well.
• Write to Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.