Finally, this hideous season for the Minnesota Vikings has come to a close.
Analysts like myself can finally look at free agency and the 2012 NFL draft without being scoffed for "giving up on their team."
Before I can do these things, however, it's important to address the cap and roster space needed to make room for new players.
Even before looking at what guys ought to be released by the team, a good starting point for this task is to determine what current free agents the Vikings may or may not re-sign.
Though many of this offseason's free agents are not what you'd call "big names," there are certainly some starters and key contributors that could very well be sporting a different uniform next season.
All of that being said, here are my predictions for what Vikings free agents will be re-signed, and who will not.
Lorenzo Booker may be a restricted free agent going into 2012, but I don't anticipate him being with the team next season.
The Florida State product spent much of the season third on the depth chart, behind Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson. Obviously, given that information, you can't expect a ton from Booker.
However, when Booker has been on the field this season, he has barely been able to pick up any yards on the ground and has blown some important blocks as well.
When he was signed to the team two years ago, he showed his value on the kick-return team, but even that production has fallen off, giving way to young CB Marcus Sherels.
The way I see it, there are plenty of young RBs that are anxious to prove themselves in the NFL. Booker had his shot with the Vikings, and he couldn't really hack it.
The Vikings don't do many things well lately, but running the football has been one of them. Booker hasn't been able to get his game in line and will likely end up on someone else's practice squad.
Many fans might not know much about Kenny Onatolu and cast him off for lack of production, but I think he'll be re-signed by the Vikings.
Onatolu has been a standout on special teams for the Vikings in the past. Injury to him and his teammates haven't put him in a great light, but that's not to say that he hasn't made an impact on this team.
Like I said, Onatolu is one of the Vikings best special teams players. With copious injuries to the Vikings' linebacker corps, he's been forced to play a lot more than he's used to, resulting in a lower level of play on special teams.
That being said, I think the Vikings will re-sign him due purely to his ability on special teams. With a healthier group on linebackers in 2012, Onatolu should be able to return to a solid level of production.
Husain Abdullah is the best safety the Vikings have had under contract since Darren Sharper.
I know that's not saying much, but it does mean that he will be an important guy to re-sign this offseason.
Before being placed on IR, Abdullah showed a decent amount of potential and the ability to do his job—something that many other Vikings DBs seem to be incapable of.
Even if Abdullah ends up being replaced as the starter at some point, he will make a very solid role player moving forward and could be a nice building-block in this sore rebuilding process.
Xavier Adibi was brought in for depth by the Vikings after LB Jasper Brinkley when down for the entire season.
He's pretty much just been a body on the practice field, and if he's re-signed, he'll likely stay that way.
I honestly don't see him being around in 2012 simply because the Vikings can fill that spot with a rookie anxious to prove himself.
Adibi hasn't done anything notable and just isn't really worth a new contract.
Laugh at me for this claim if you want, but re-signing Devin Aromashodu should be a big priority for the Vikings this offseason.
Though Aromashodu was off to a relatively slow start, he was second only to Percy Harvin in the effort category amongst the WRs. His production steadily increased over the course of the season and could end up being a key piece in the rebuilding process as well.
Don't get me wrong, signing a No. 1 WR should still be the main priority, but Aromashodu would make a great No. 2 along with Harvin in the slot.
I like to compare Aromashodu to the Carolina Panthers WR Legedu Naanee. Neither player is a top receiver for his squad, but both are capable of making big catches when their team needs them to, and both are great complements to No. 1 receivers like Harvin and Steve Smith.
Aromashodu will get re-signed by the Vikings—probably to a pretty decently sized contract.
He could end up being a key contributor down the road and ended up being just the type of player we've needed him to be.
Greg Camarillo was brought in during the Brett Favre era for depth when Sidney Rice went down for the season. The fact that he's been able to stick around with so little production amazes me.
I understand that he's one of those coach-on-the-field kind of guys, but with how little this group of receivers has accomplished, I think it's safe to say that this 29-year-old will be with a new team in 2012.
He may be one of the most sure-handed receivers on the team, but Camarillo lacks any sort of speed or explosiveness on the field to keep around any longer.
The Vikings need a serious upgrade at this position, and I just don't see this free agent fitting into the framework.
I think when the Vikings re-signed Evans before the 2011 season, it was kind of on a whim.
Evans hasn't really done much in his time as a Viking.
In 2011, he tallied only 22 tackles and received some pretty decent playing time behind a struggling Remi Ayodele at nose tackle.
The 28-year-old has likely seen his last game in purple.
Letroy Guion is pretty much in the same boat as Fred Evans.
The difference, however, is that I think he'll be re-signed because of his young age and the amount of potential he has at the nose tackle position.
His statistical production doesn't necessarily match the value he possesses to this defense.
Guion is revered by his teammates for being extremely hard working, and he's tremendously improved since his first season with the Vikings in 2010.
Guion will be re-signed by the Vikings and could end up battling with Remi Ayodele for the starting NT job—that is, if they don't draft someone for the job first.
The situation with E.J. Henderson is actually pretty tricky.
Henderson has been the long-time Tampa 2 MLB that the Vikings have used as an anchor.
In 2009, he suffered a very serious leg injury that had the status of his career in question. Though he's been just as solid as ever, possibly even better than years past against the run, Henderson has become a huge liability against the pass.
He's been a captain for the Vikings and such a key contributor for the Vikings for so long that it's tough to imagine him playing somewhere else, but that could be a reality in 2012.
He's said that he definitely take a pay cut to remain with the team, but how would he react to being demoted from a starting spot?
Jasper Brinkley showed some serious promise before being placed on IR prior to the 2011 season. When he comes back, he might be in a position to take over as the starter which would leave Henderson and the Vikings in a tough spot.
I'm sure the Vikings would gladly take him back if he was content with this possibility, but something tells me that won't be the case.
Sadly, some key players often become casualties to the rebuilding process in the NFL. I'm thinking E.J. Henderson will fall into that group.
LB Erin Henderson probably won't meet the same demise as his brother E.J.
Erin was a restricted free agent last season and worked his way into the starting lineup after a solid preseason. Though his play hasn't been over-the-top good, he has been consistent enough to deserve a new contract—given that he isn't too sore about his brother not getting a contract.
Erin Henderson is another guy who may be replaced as a starter at some point soon, but he's very useful for depth and could be a great contributor down the road.
This young linebacker definitely has his best years ahead of him and will likely receive a new contract—if he still wants to be in Minnesota.
I think this picture perfectly captures the summary of Johnson's tenure as a safety for the Vikings.
Johnson has been nothing but a disappointment since Brad Childress drafted him four years ago. In fact, I think most Vikings fans were actually relieved when he was placed on season-ending IR.
The Vikings secondary is in need of a serious overhaul. This means that no DB's job is safe at this point.
Given that he's now a free agent, I think the decision to part ways with Tyrell Johnson should be all that much easier for the Vikings.
Longsnapper Matt Katula is as good as gone.
Katula was brought in after long-time starter Cullen Loeffler was placed on IR.
The lack of chemistry between Katula and the rest of the Vikings specialists was very apparent. I mean, how many field goals did Ryan Longwell miss before Katula got here? That's right, not many.
Getting Loeffler back will make a huge difference for the Vikings in 2012. This story just goes to show that, despite not being a key contributor on every down, even the longsnapper can have a major impact on the course of a game—or in the Vikings' case, a season.
Needless to say, I think Katula should be looking for another job by now.
Scott Kooistra came to the Vikings with aspirations of reviving his career and taking over the right guard position—despite traditionally playing tackle.
He looked like he was well on his way to doing so before being placed on IR early in the season with a very serious neck injury that could have his NFL career in jeopardy.
That being said, I don't see the Vikings re-signing him. Apart from the fact that he might not be able to play in the NFL anymore, the Vikings can't afford to take a gamble for a second straight season with their offensive line. The need to rebuild this line from the ground, up—excluding C Jon Sullivan, who had a very nice season in 2012.
Regardless, I wouldn't count on Kooistra getting re-signed, especially with how that injury turned out.
Jarrad Page, like Xavier Adibi, was brought in for depth due to the unusually high number of injuries to this team. After the Vikings lost Abdullah and Johnson to IR, it became necessary to find a body to stick in the secondary.
Given that rookie Mistral Raymond was starting over this veteran for his tenure in Minnesota doesn't bode well for him getting re-signed—and honestly, I don't really think he's counting on getting re-signed.
Page hasn't impressed anybody this year and when the—well, you know—hits the fan, he'll be the first guy out on his behind.
Just a few years ago, Sage Rosenfels was in line to take over the starting job in Minnesota from Tarvaris Jackson.
Then this guy named Brett Favre came to town, and Rosenfels found himself behind Eli Manning in New York.
Rosenfels was brought back to the Vikings to be a mentor for Christian Ponder and will probably be re-signed for that same reason.
He isn't a flashy player, but he's reliable and is certainly capable of the job the Vikings need him to do.
Benny Sapp is the only DB brought in for depth in 2012 that I think will end up getting a new contract with the Vikings.
This is Sapp's second tour of duty in Minnesota. Though he might be doubted by fans for being too inconsistent to deserve a new contract, Sapp is pretty reliable covering slot receivers not-named Wes Welker and could end up being a solid piece in dime packages.
In reality, he played a lot on the outside—which isn't somewhere he should be. Asking that of an out-of-shape 5'10", 190-lb, 30-year-old corner is like asking Christian Ponder to play fullback—ridiculous.
Sapp is regarded as a great guy to have in the locker room, and his performance filling in with so many DBs down probably was enough to get him at least one more year in purple.
Visanthe Shiancoe looked like a Pro Bowl TE with Brett Favre throwing him passes, but during his contract year, he fell off the map.
With Kyle Rudolph likely taking over as the top TE in Minnesota soon, Shiancoe will probably head to greener pastures. That's not to say the Vikings won't pursue him—especially with Jim Kleinsasser retiring—but he isn't nearly as valuable now as he could've been.
Shiancoe has shown in the past that he can be a solid starting TE, but he didn't do that in the year that it mattered most for him.
I don't see him in Minnesota next season, but even if he somehow did, he would likely take a pretty substantial pay cut.
Given that cap space will be important for a rebuilding Vikings team, Shiancoe could be in the same boat as EJ Henderson as a casualty to the rebuilding process.
On a bright note, this would free up the No. 81 jersey for Justin Blackmon—if the Vikings were able to draft him.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more free-agency articles.
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