2014 NFL free agency: Packers, Lions keep continuity and Bears, Vikings lose top pass rushers

Gregory Shamus

The NFC North has seen some names come and go during the start of free agency, with a few teams getting better and others suffering the consequences.

The NFC North has seen a ton of change since the start of free agency. Gone are the likes of Evan Dietrich-Smith, James Jones and Jared Allen, while Golden Tate, Linval Joseph and Domenik Hixon have joined the mix. However, some have decided to stay in the division, but have joined new teams with Julius Peppers moving to Green Bay as well as M.D. Jennings and Willie Young traveling to Chicago.

This is SB Nation ranks the teams in the division following the initial burst of free agency:

Green Bay Packers

Moves: Lost  C Evan Dietrich-Smith to free agency, lost CB M.D. Jennings to free agency, re-signed NT B.J. Raji, re-sign LB Mike Neal, re-signed TE Andrew Quarless, re-signed RB James Starks, signed DE/OLB Julius Peppers, signed DT Letroy Guion

While the Packers lost their starting center, Green Bay did add a defensive weapon in Peppers. The team was also able to retain Raji, Neal, Starks and Quarless, which are solid pieces to their overall puzzle. With Jermichael Finley likely leaving in free agency, Quarless' re-signing may be the most important. While the Packers have avoided their big splashes in free agency, they have been able to keep most of their talent and continuity should be key to any division winner.

Detroit Lions

Moves: Lost DE Willie Young to free agency, re-signed TE Brandon Pettigrew, signed DT Vaughn Martin, signed WR Golden Tate, signed DE Darryl Tapp, released S Louis Delmas, released WR Nate Burleson, re-signed RB Joique Bell, re-signed WR Kris Durham, re-signed WR Alec Ogletree

The Lions new coaching staff was clearly happy with what they saw on game film in 2013, despite Detroit's late-season meltdown. The team re-signed several players, but also addresses needs. They added depth at defensive end and defensive tackle, as well as upgraded the wide receiver position by signing Golden Tate. Detroit is now not forced to rely on the first or second round for a starter opposite Calvin Johnson.

Minnesota Vikings

Moves: Lost DE Jared Allen to free agency, re-signed DE Everson Griffen, signed NT Linval Joseph, signed LB Jasper Brinkley, re-signed QB Matt Cassel, released TE John Carlson, signed CB Derek Cox, signed CB Captain Munnerlyn, re-signed WR Jerome Simpson

The Vikings were able to fill the void of Allen form in-house with the re-signing of Griffin. Minnesota also signed the likes of Joseph, Munnerlyn and Brinkley, who will all likely have major roles on defense. A huge move for the Vikings was re-signing Cassel, who is likely to be stop-gap passer for Minnesota next season. The new coaching staff will at least have continuity on the field and in the locker room.

Chicago Bears

Moves: Released DE Julius Peppers, lost QB Josh McCown to free agency, released P Adam Podlesh, released RB Michael Bush, signed DE LaMarr Houston, signed WR Dominik Hixon, signed DE Willie Young, signed LB Jordan Senn, re-signed CB Charles Tillman, signed DE Israel Idonije, released WR Earl Bennett

The Bears narrowly missed out on the playoffs, but have done little to make ground in the division. The team has released Peppers, Bush and Bennett and has only replaced Peppers with a younger, less-capable pass rusher. The Bears lost a key player in McCown, who was impressive in his time as a starting quarterback for the squad. The team did re-sign Tillman, who seemed likely to leave in free agency.

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