Free Agency 2012: Players Minnesota Vikings Should Target
With 2011 squarely in the rear view mirror, the coaching staff seems to be set, although I cannot understand why Joe Woods, defensive backs coach, and Mike Priefer, special teams coach, are still with the team. If you think about it, the only person removed was Karl Dunbar, and some of the others reshuffled. Hmm, curious about those changes they were talking about. Anyhow, we soldier on.
The offseason is a time of excitement, anticipation, and yes, even anxiety. We waited a while for the Vikings to name Alan Williams as the new DC, let us hope that works out for us. Do not be too quick to judge this decision, let's let this play out. Now if they had named Deputy Dog as the new DC, then we could gripe.
In reality, other than Steven Spagnuolo, what other DCs were available? We can go in to "what ifs" and "what should be's", but we are who we are and we are where we are, so let's get to an area that will be one of great interest to the Vikings and every team, free agency.
Actually, the Vikings offseason starts this weekend in Mobile, Alabama, and this is a great opportunity for this coaching staff to evaluate talent, develop greater camaraderie and start the process.
Then it's on to the combine before free agency. I don't know about you, but I am already excited about this. It's like getting a surprise package in the mail every year.
The purpose behind this article is to gaze into the crystal ball and look at positions of need and perhaps some players coming up in free agency who could step in and help the rebuilding process.
I am sure the Vikings would like to be like those in Washington and just spend, spend, spend, but they are on a budget, so we have to think logically about where the money goes, and who we can get.
The Vikings can go the Wal-Mart route and get several cheap free agents, or go the L.L. Bean route and target two or three and "pay the man."
The positions are in alphabetical order, not in order of priority.
Okay, hit that next button—here we go!
Defensive Backs: No Stars Needed, Just Solid Play
With the back end in disarray due to poor play, injury, arrest or ability, it is incumbent upon the Vikings to address this position in a big way. And, I would go so far as to say that either wide receiver or corner will be the top free-agent focus.
With uncertainty as to the futures of Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield with the Vikings, for polar opposite reasons, the Vikings have to do more than something here.
I am of the opinion that this area could and should be filled via free agency. The Vikings have desperate needs at wide receiver and offensive line, and so to say you are going to draft a corner in the first few rounds does not seem likely. Here are some free agents listed on kffl.com to consider:
Courtland Finnegan, Titans
My top choice, case closed. He brings a toughness and absolute solid play to the position. He would give immediate credibility to that end on day one, period.
Brent Grimes, Falcons:
Injuries have slowed him this year, but would be a bargain and had six INTs in 2009 and five in 2010, so the potential is there.
Bryant McFadden, Steelers
Seems to have fallen out of favor and would be a bargain.
Tim Jennings, Chicago
This would be a great steal for the Vikings and tremendous loss for the Bears. I could see this happening.
Jason Allen, Texans
With a career that dates back to Miami, Allen adds consistency in the area of INTs.
Safeties: Leadership Need Only Apply
Continuing with the back end, another area is the safety position. Yet again we talk about a revolving door between Hussain Abdullah, Tyrell Johnson, Jamarca Sanford, Eric Frampton and now rookie Mistral Raymond. The Vikings recently added Jarrad Page and Andrew Sendejo...good luck with that.
Outside of a few names, this position is not a hot-topic position in the upcoming draft. According to CBSSports.com, the highest-ranked strong safety is Mark Barron, SS of Alabama at No. 44. The highest-ranked FS is Markelle Martin of Oklahoma State at No. 54.
As you can see, these guys might be mid-round decisions, so only time and resources will tell whether the Vikings address this through the draft. In the meantime, here are some veterans that are set to be free agents come 2012.
I think the Vikings like Abdullah, and seem to be high on Mistral Raymond, so free agency here, I am not sure, but let's at least look at some names.
Chris Hope, Titans
A solid veteran drafted in 2002, Hope is a solid player who could instantly add the veteran leadership. Has been limited due to injury this year, but such is life as a strong safety.
Jim Leonhard, Jets
Leonhard is a tough, hard-nosed guy who makes plays. He is not very good in pass coverage and his lack of height is a concern, but in run support he excels.
Craig Steltz, Chicago
Another one of those steal from a rival to better you, worsen them. Urlacher's comments about Steltz tells me enough to say he would be a valuable addition, but most likely the Bears will keep him. We'll see.
Mike Adams, Browns
Adams would add a veteran presence and for the most part has had a solid career.
Michael Griffin, Titans
Probably the prize of this group. Drafted in 2007 by the Titans, it is most likely the Titans will do what they can to retain the steady star.
Reggie Nelson, Bengals
Nelson has been a little up and down throughout his career, and the Vikings will have to consider whether to look at another Bengals free safety.
The verdict in the case of the Vikings secondary versus the NFL is simple: guilty. At times we have had good play. Sanford and Abdullah have shown good skills and perhaps promise, but do the Vikings walk confidently into the 2012 campaign with them as their No. 1 guys?
Linebacker: Solid but Needs Help
If you look at the most dangerous or feared defenses in the NFL, usually there is a linebacker who evokes a certain fear or anxiety with offensive coordinators. An impact OLB is tantamount to a defense having versatility and scheming.
Right now the Vikings have a solid corps of linebackers, but none of them evoke fear coming off the edge. If Greenway has not been established as that threat then it is most likely not going to happen moving forward.
I am a big Greenway fan and he is a tackling machine. E.J. Henderson is as solid as they come, but the weak side is weak. Brinkley will be returning from injury, but depth is an issue. Even though Henderson is an unrestricted free agent, the Vikings have a strong history of keeping their middle men from start to finish. Let's hope they do the same in this case.
I do not see the middle as a need, but outside is a must. I have publicly suggested the Vikings should consider moving Everson Griffen to SLB a la Lamar Woodley. He is so athletic, you have to get him on the field. He will make plays, especially in space. Then they could move Greenway to WLB, a more natural position.
Although no one name really jumps out at you, here are some notable names that might be available.
Dan Connor, ILB, Panthers
If the Vikings lose E.J. Henderson, Connor might be a very good replacement. I know about Brinkley, but do the Vikings really know what they have in him?
Barrett Ruud, ILB, Titans
Ruud had somewhat of a down year with the Titans, but he thrives in a Tampa 2 style defense, and if that is what the Vikings continue to run, Ruud could fit in nicely.
Anthony Spencer, OLB, Cowboys
Spencer and Ware switch around so it's hard to know who is the weak- or strong-side LB. Spencer is steady, albeit that he has not lived up to the first-round hype. He too would be an upgrade.
Jarrett Johnson, OLB, Ravens
Johnson is a highly underrated LB because of where he plays, but he is solid. He may not be the pass rushing LB you are looking for, but he is very good in all other facets of the position.
Mario Haggan, OLB, Broncos
Is it me, or is it every time I watch a Broncos game that Haggan is making a play? I know he will be 30 and that will hurt his chances to land on a team that is looking to get younger.
Offensive Line: Protection If You Please
Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Many fans are calling for massive changes on the offensive line, and given the Vikings' offensive woes in most games it's easy to lay blame on the line or play-calling. Sometimes it's not always about play-calling or the line's fault, there are many factors that go into an offense running smoothly.
To placate those calling for major offensive line change, here are a few observations.
Charlie Johnson has been an adequate replacement for McKinnie. As a long-term solution that remains to be seen, so it is likely the Vikings will address this position in the draft. Right now, according to the depth chart on Vikings.com, DeMarcus Love is Johnson's backup. Love is only a rookie; perhaps the coaches see something in him that we the fans are not privy to.
One could argue the play of the guards is poor. Hutchinson will be 34 next November and Herrera is an overachiever, but he enters his ninth year next year. Joe Berger is an adequate journeyman. I see this as a position of need unless they move Johnson down to guard.
At right tackle are Loadholt and Patrick Brown. Loadholt has struggled with the smaller, faster ends, a trend in the NFL it seems, so the Vikings may have to look here as well.
At center are John Sullivan and Brandon Fusco. Sullivan appears to be making strides, but struggles at times and Fusco is just a rookie. Oh, how the Vikings pine for a guy like Matt Birk. He is a free agent.
You could add, that how often does a team find its left tackle anchor in free agency? Not too often. It's tough thinking about the starting lineup in September, but I think it may look vastly different, or perhaps not, we don't know how the coaches graded out the line for this year.
It is safe to say that if Minnesota is able to land Matt Kalil it will be a no brainer, unless they are considering trading down thinking that Riley Reiff has the same tools as Kalil. Who knows, right?
If the Vikings go the way of free agency, here are a few names that could be in the conversation:
By the way, Carl Nicks will be very difficult to take away from the Saints, so he is not included here as an option.
Khalif Barnes, T, Raiders
Helps to anchor a solid group that has similar running game style as Vikings. And the LT class is pretty weak this free agency period.
Jake Scott, G, Titans
He is 30, but Scott is a very valuable lineman to the Titans, and will most likely do all they can to resign the eight year vet.
Ben Grubbs, G, Ravens
Most likely will re-sign unless the right price tag comes along. The former first-round pick has lived up to expectations.
Again, take away the top two or three and the drop off is very noticeable. If you cannot grab the top dog, you are most likely signing a back up.
Tight Ends: The More the Merrier
If I've never said this before, I love the tight end position. In fact, I chose No. 83 in college because of Stu Voigt, remember him? Yeah, I am that old. Anyhow, the tight end has re-emerged as a valuable weapon in offenses and perhaps that is why I am so patient with Musgrave because he emphasizes the tight end.
With the retirement of a rock of a man in Jim Kleinsasser, and the eventual loss of Shiancoe—unless he settles for less and returns, the Vikings will most assuredly look at this position in the draft or via free agency. Also, what is going to happen with Allen Reisner? He's up, he's back down, he's re-signed, I mean it's ponderous man, ponderous. The same for Shuler.
I have a few draft picks in mind, but this is all about free agency, so let's see who would look good in purple and gold.
Jacob Tamme, Colts
This is a tough one because is Tamme part of a system guy, or can he step up his game in another offense? New Vikings DC Alan Williams should know plenty about Tamme, so it will be interesting to see if he garners interest.
John Carlson, Seahawks
Carlson is coming off a shoulder injury, so the price could come cheap, and he is a former Fighting Irish TE.
Jermichael Finley, Packers
I am curious to see if the Packers try to "re-hab" Finley and his pension for dropping passes. It could be a gold mine signing if we could wrest him away from the Packers and enhance our offense, but it is doubtful that will happen.
Okay, I couldn't resist. Here are two college TEs that interest me:
I would like to say Coby Fleener of Stanford, but he is rated to go round two. I am looking more at a third or fourth round guy that would be a potential sleeper.
Michael Egnew, Missouri, 6'5", 245, 4.6 40 yard dash. Look him up at: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1724614/michael-egnew
Ladarius Green, LA-Lafayette, 6'6", 240, 4.64 40 yard dash. How many TEs average 18 YPC? And sometimes small school guys come into the NFL with a chip that shows they belong.
Wide Receiver: Speed, Speed, and Oh Yeah, Speed
It's no secret the Vikings lack the deep threat. With the departure of the oft-injured Sidney Rice and the unfortunate departure of one Randy Moss, there be no resurrection here, the Vikings are in need.
Other than Harvin, the receiving corps is average at best. Devin Aromashodu showed some signs in the Broncos game, but oftentimes is missing in action. Michael Jenkins went on IR and who knows what to say about him? He was supposed to be from Bill Musgrave's system. I had him on my fantasy team—man, what a disappointment.
With the Vikings holding the third pick, many speculate the Vikings will select Justin Blackmon, but others say the Rams will select him. Whatever happens here are some possible free-agent wide receivers they should consider as insurance. Besides, as teams have shown in the past, speed kills.
Devin Aromashodu, Vikings
Do they re-sign him or let him seek employment elsewhere?
Marques Colston, Saints
Has been a great story since day one. I would imagine the Saints will want to hang onto one of their consistent receivers.
The Saints have a dilemma, both Colston and Meacham are FAs, but my money is on the Saints signing Colston.
Vincent Jackson, Chargers
Say what you want about this guy, he scares the defense and carries the size and speed the Vikings covet. He's not a 100 reception type receiver, but I'd settle for 60-70 and 10 TDs.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
I always worry about that "year before FA productivity" stuff. Bowe is tough to gauge because he hasn't had the best quarterbacks, but sometimes a good receiver can make a quarterback look better. I am on the fence with this guy.
Pierre Garcon, Colts
Has dropped some passes, but the man can go deep—that's for sure.
Yeah, when hell freezes over. He's not a deep threat, but nearly all defenses fear this guy.
Other than those mentioned above, they are no more than a class of Aromashodu's and Jenkins'.
We make much ballyhoo of the Vikings' situation, but perhaps we undersell what they have. Do they need more talent? There's no doubt, but it's finding the right talent that fits the pieces of what the general philosophy appears to be in Minnesota.
Stay positive folks, and don't forget to look for my subsequent articles where I go into more depth about the positions and the draft.