NFC North Notes: Packers, Lions, Hockenson

Rashan Gary is all set to debut in Week 1, completing his recovery from the ACL tear that ended his 2022 season in November. But the Packers will begin their top pass rusher on a pitch count to start the season, Matt LaFleur confirmed (via Packers Wire’s Zach Kruse). This could open the door for early-season Lukas Van Ness development. The Packers still roster Preston Smith, who is going into his fifth season with the team, and Van Ness contributed as an inside and outside rusher at Iowa. The team has versatile linebacker Justin Hollins and 2022 fifth-rounder Kingsley Enagbare, who became a primary starter after Gary went down last season, as options while Gary ramps up to a full workload.

Additionally on the Green Bay injury front, David Bakhtiari, Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are viewed as game-time decisions for Sunday’s opener against the Bears. Bakhtiari, who has seen knee trouble sidetrack his career to a degree over the past two-plus years, is listed on the injury report with more knee trouble. He expects to play, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein tweets.┬áBoth starting receivers are battling hamstring maladies and have not practiced this week. Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • As for tonight’s game, the Lions ruled out cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. Although Detroit activated Moseley off its active/PUP list before roster-cutdown day, the free agency addition underwent a second knee procedure this summer and was viewed as a long shot to start the year on time. Moseley is finishing up a recovery from an October 2022 ACL tear.
  • Isaiah Buggs started 13 games at nose tackle for last season’s Lions edition, but the veteran was informed in advance he would be a healthy scratch tonight, the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers notes. The Lions gave Buggs a two-year, $4.5MM deal in March but gave more snaps to rookie Brodric Martin and Benito Jones during camp. Buggs believes his lack of offseason attendance affected the team’s decision, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. The former Steelers contributor said his wife giving birth led to him staying away during OTAs. Jones and Alim McNeill are expected to start in Kansas City, Birkett adds.
  • Going into free agency, the Bears did extensive work on Dre’Mont Jones, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes. Although the Bears carried plenty of cap space into free agency, they chose to stand down on Jones and spend for the likes of Tremaine Edmunds, Nate Davis, T.J. Edwards and DeMarcus Walker. The team later addressed its D-tackle needs in the draft, choosing three — Zacch Pickens (Round 2), Gervon Dexter (Round 3) and Travis Bell (Round 7) — on Day 2. This duo should be expected to play bigger roles down the line, but in Week 1, Justin Jones and Andrew Billings are slated to start. A four-year Broncos regular, Jones ended up with the Seahawks on a three-year, $51MM deal.
  • T.J. Hockenson‘s four-year, $66MM Vikings extension comes with $29.29MM fully guaranteed, according to OverTheCap. That number checks in fourth among tight ends — behind Kyle Pitts‘ rookie deal and the extensions for Mark Andrews and George Kittle. Hockenson’s 2024 base salary is fully guaranteed. His $10.9MM 2025 base salary is guaranteed for injury at signing, per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who notes that number shifts to a full guarantee a year early (March 2024). The Vikings did not use the year-out guarantee structure for Hockenson’s 2026 setup, giving them more flexibility. Hockenson has $2.3MM of his 2026 base ($15.4MM) guaranteed for injury; it does not shift to a full guarantee until March 2026, giving the Vikings additional flexibility. Hockenson’s cap number will climb from $5MM this year to $14.1MM in 2024, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweets.
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