The Minnesota Vikings are approaching one of the most intriguing offseasons for the franchise. After tying for the worst record in team history, they have the third pick in the 2012 NFL draft, their highest since 1968.
The Vikings finished with the 31st scoring defense in the NFL, giving up an average of 28.1 points per game—only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up more points.
To say the Vikings need to make some improvements on defense is an understatement. They need to improve at defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety.
With Jared Allen and Brian Robison at the defensive ends, combining for 30 sacks in 2011, this is only position on the defensive side of the ball that appears to be solid.
On the offensive side of the ball, it took head coach Leslie Frazier six games and a 1-5 record to finally pull the trigger and start rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
The move didn't help as Ponder and the Vikings finished 2-8.
Things got worse after running back Adrian Peterson suffered tears to both the ACL and MCL of his left knee. After having reconstructive surgery on December 30, it is unlikely Peterson will be ready by the time the 2012 season starts.
His backup, Toby Gerhart, suffered a sprained MCL on his left knee as well. The good news is that Gerhart won't require surgery and should be ready to go for the 2012 season.
After giving up 49 sacks, ranking them 28th in the NFL, the Vikings need to upgrade their offensive line. Both starting guards, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, missed starts in 2011, and left tackle Charlie Johnson looked overmatched at left tackle.
They also need to find a No. 1 receiver to complement slot receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Even if the Vikings were to receive a couple of compensatory draft picks, giving them potentially a total of 10, there are more holes than can possibly be addressed through the draft alone.
If they are going to avoid a third straight last-place finish in the NFC North, they must make some improvements through trades and free agency. With a roster that finished 3-13, there's not a lot of talent to deal with in possible trades, meaning the Vikings will need to be active in the signing of free agents.
I expect the Vikings to address the offensive line and cornerback early in the draft, and use the rest of their draft picks to add depth, and not necessarily starters.
Based on that premise, here's a look at some potential free agents the Vikings should take a run at signing.