Most of us are more than familiar with all the changes the Bears have made this offseason. As we continue our three-part weekend series on what moves their NFC North rivals have made, we continue with the biggest rival of all.
The Packers will no doubt be ready and waiting for the Bears in their Week 7 matchup at Lambeau, where John Fox and company stunned the Packers on Thanksgiving/Brett Favre Night. It was the highest moment of the season, bringing the Bears to a surprising 5-6 record, and in the thick of the NFC Wild Card hunt. Things then quickly went downhill, as the Bears dropped consecutive home games to the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins, en route to four losses in the final five games of the season.
When it comes to the Packers, the offseason list of additions and subtractions is usually a short one, as general manager Ted Thompson's reputation for building within and keeping his homegrown products has been a successful formula.
Additions of note (*rookies): TE Jared Cook, *DT Kenny Clark, *OT Jason Spriggs, *OLB Kyler Fackrell, *ILB Blake Martinez, *DE Dean Lowry
Subtractions of note: DT B.J. Raji, DT Josh Boyd, CB Casey Hayward, QB Scott Tolzien, LB Nate Palmer, TE Andrew Quarless
Let's be honest, here, folks. The real impact additions to the Green and Gold will be Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy. Bears-killer Nelson missed all of last season after tearing an ACL in the preseason. Just his presence alone could have meant a different result Thanksgiving Night. His return will make Randall Cobb and Davante Adams better, and will ramp up the fourth and fifth wideout competition between Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, and fifth-round pick Trevor Davis of Cal. And it's once again made James Jones jobless (which he still is).
And if Lacy's down the 15 to 20 pounds that Mike McCarthy demanded after last season, as reports indicate, Aaron Rodgers is licking his chops again. And the one venture Thompson made into free agency — getting a much-needed target at tight end — will almost certainly pay off in the addition of ex-Titan and Ram Jared Cook, a step up from Richard Rodgers. The one gamble the Packers could take is having to rely upon sophomore Brett Hundley as Rodgers' backup after Tolzien went the free agency route to Indianapolis.
When Thompson traded up ahead of the Bears' second-round pick to select Spriggs, Ryan Pace traded down a second time in that round before settling on guard Cody Whitehair. While the Bears GM denied what it screamed (that Spriggs was the guy he wanted), it's two interesting career paths to watch between the offensive linemen over the next several years. Spriggs seems targeted to take over following the 2016 season for unrestricted free agent left tackle David Bakhtiari (if he doesn't win the job this year). Thompson has to find a way to pay Pro Bowl guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, who are also UFA's after 2016. Popular fullback and special-teamer John Kuhn remains unsigned and may not return in 2016.
The desire on defense is to get Clay Matthews back to the outside, in pass-rush mode. If a combination of Sam Barrington (season-ending injury in last year's opener at Soldier Field) and fourth-rounders Jake Ryan (2015) and Martinez (2016) can hold down the middle, it'll free up Matthews to terrorize opposing quarterbacks again, with 36-year-old (!) Julius Peppers on the other side. Potential Peppers successor Fackrell (third round, Utah State) will study up behind Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry.
The retirement of Raji set up a temporary defensive scramble and backup nose tackle Mike Pennel must serve a four-game suspension. That leaves their door open for top pick Clark (UCLA) to step in right away, with Letroy Guion, Mike Daniels and Datone Jones as bookends.
While Jones and Perry haven't quite lived up to their first-round status, the light seemed to go on for 2014 top pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as last season went on. Thompson's rebuilding of the secondary continued a year ago by using his first- and second-rounders on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, allowing Hayward to bolt. Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett return as the veterans in that group.
Next: Minnesota Vikings