The Minnesota Vikings' Definitive Offseason Shopping List
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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.
In Search of a Wide Receiver
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Last season Percy Harvin led the Vikings with 87 receptions for 967 yards and six touchdowns.
No other Minnesota receiver had more than 38 receptions, or more than 466 yards.
Last season Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe caught 81 passes for 1,159 yards and five touchdowns. In 2010 Bowe led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions.
The problem is Kansas City may use the franchise tag on their 2007 first-round draft pick in order to retain his services for 2012.
The Changing of the Guards
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The Vikings' offensive guards have not been on the field together for all 16 games since 2008.
If the Vikings have the opportunity to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil, they could move Charlie Johnson to guard and fill in the other side with a free agent.
In some ways it would only be slightly poetic if the Vikings could sign guard Ben Grubbs from Baltimore.
Like Bowe, Grubbs was a 2007 first-round draft pick, selected six places later by the Ravens.
In five seasons Grubbs has started 70 games, but was limited to only 10 games last year because of a turf toe injury.
In Need of a Fullback
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With the retirement of Jim Kleinsasser the Vikings need to find someone to lead the way for Peterson and Gerhart.
The Vikings should also consider fullbacks Le'Ron McClain from Kansas City or David Johnson from Pittsburgh.
A Tight End to Complement Kyle Rudolph
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Visanthe Shiancoe may be the best free agent tight end option for the Minnesota Vikings.
Shiancoe knows the system and will have a full offseason of mini-camps and OTAs to build some rapport with Ponder. Prior to 2011, Shiancoe had three straight seasons with at least 500 receiving yards.
Someone to Plug the Gaps Between Jared Allen and Brian Robison
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It sure seems that it would not take a whole lot to make an improvement over Remi Ayodele. Ayodele was credited with only four tackles and 10 assists and 1.5 sacks in 13 starts for Vikings in 2011.
One of the best options might be Detroit's restricted free agent Sammie Lee Hill. According to ESPN.com, Hill is a star on the horizon and could be the nose tackle to help improve the Vikings run defense that dropped to 11th in the NFL.
A Force Up the Middle
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While there are greater needs in the defensive backfield, the Vikings have two free-agent linebackers—both of the Henderson brothers.
If you were just to look at the numbers, it would appear that Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson had a better season in 2011 than when he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010. That's why statistics don't always mean anything.
Henderson, who turns 32 in August, has seen his best days with the Vikings.
The best option to replace E.J. Henderson would be Stephen Tulloch. The Lions signed Tulloch to a one-year deal worth $3.2 million. It will take a lot more than that to sign the six-year veteran.
Another option to consider is Dan Connor from Carolina. The fourth-year veteran started 11 games for the Panthers last season.
An Outside Linebacker
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The younger Henderson will only be 26 when the 2012 season starts.
According to WalterFootball.com, Erin Henderson is the third-best free-agent linebacker available.
Finding Someone to Help Turn the Corner
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The Vikings are hoping for a healthy Antoine Winfield, and possibly an acquitted Chris Cook as their starting cornerbacks in 2012.
While the Vikings will most likely add a cornerback from the draft, they still should look at the possibility of adding some depth through free agency.
The Cardinals Richard Marshall played both cornerback and safety this past season. He replaced A.J. Jefferson at cornerback, and then moved to safety Kerry Rhodes broke his foot. The six-year veteran would be a welcome addition for the Vikings.
Desperately Needing a Safety
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If the Vikings make only one free agent signing this year, it should be at safety.
The top player available is strong safety Tyvon Branch of the Oakland Raiders.
The fourth round draft pick from 2008 has started 45 of 56 games and has been the top tackler over the past three seasons for the Raiders.