NFC North roundtable: Top free-agent move

Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga staying put constitute two of the biggest moves in the NFC North. Getty Images

Ndamukong Suh is gone. Randall Cobb is back.

Those were the headline grabbers early in free agency as far as the NFC North is concerned.

Now that the buzz over the initial wave of free agency has died down, it's a good time to assess where things stand in the black and blue division.

Over the next several days, NFC North reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) will discuss the comings and goings in the division.

First, we look at the best free-agent signing:

Demovsky: Yes, Aaron Rodgers needs someone to catch his passes. But if he's not upright and healthy, it doesn't matter which receivers line up with him. That's why re-signing right tackle Bryan Bulaga was the best move the Packers – or anyone else in the division – made in free agency. Sure, bringing back Cobb was important, but the Packers have been able to develop and replace receivers over the years. It's much more difficult to find franchise tackles. Bulaga, the team's first-round pick in 2010, looks like a 10-plus year starter. What's more, the Packers developed chemistry on their offensive line (which started together in 17 of the 18 games last season), and it helped them become not only the league's highest-scoring offense but also one that could succeed via either the run or the pass. Re-signing Bulaga to a five-year, $33.75 million contract will keep the Packers' entire offensive line intact for at least another two years, when left tackle David Bakhtiari plus guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton will be free agents.

Goessling: In what has been a fairly quiet year for the NFC North in free agency, I'd say the best move was a team signing one of their own: The Packers got Cobb to stay for $40 million – or less than he probably could have made elsewhere – and they kept a 24-year-old receiver in tow after they'd let a couple of wideouts leave in recent years. Cobb has turned into an instrumental piece in that Packers' offense, and the decision to keep both him and Bulaga means the Packers will return all the pieces from the highest-scoring offense in the league. For a team that collapsed on the doorstep of the Super Bowl and has a 31-year-old quarterback, it's important to win now. Signing a young player at a reasonable price is an important step in that process.

Rothstein: Chicago needed to revamp its front seven, particularly as it switches from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Signing the versatile Pernell McPhee from Baltimore was an inspired move by the Bears, who were the most active NFC North team in free agency. McPhee might not have massive stats, but he is young and is just entering his prime. McPhee was rated as the No. 2 3-4 outside linebacker in the league last season by Pro Football Focus and was third in the league at 3-4 outside linebacker as a pass rusher. Considering the revamping going on in Chicago, he was a critical piece to land for the Bears.

Wright: McPhee deserves mention because Chicago acquiring a young, ascending talent to address a major area of need. But Cobb is easily the best free-agent acquisition in the division for a variety of reasons. First off, Cobb signed a very team-friendly deal in taking less money to stay in Green Bay on a $40 million deal. Cobb and Jordy Nelson are now signed through 2018 and Rodgers' deal runs through 2019, which means the trio should be able to continue developing chemistry over the next few years while still providing the production the staff has come to expect from them. What's especially promising for Green Bay is the fact Cobb is just 24 and hasn't even hit the sweet spot in his career where experience and athleticism intersect. Although Cobb is coming off a 91-catch 2014 season, he’s sure to eclipse those numbers at least a couple of times over the next few years.