This offseason will be critical for General Manager Rick Spielman and the Minnesota Vikings front office. Fresh off an atrocious 3-13 season, the Vikings have quite a few holes to fill.
Spielman is going to give his best effort to build a championship-caliber team through the draft, but he'll also likely spend some money this offseason in free agency. As it stands right now, I'd say that offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback are the most important positions to fill, respectively.
The good news is that the Vikings will most likely have a good amount of cap space after they release or restructure some players' contracts. (For the record, I think Cedric Griffin, Anthony Herrera and Remi Ayodele will all be released this offseason. I also think Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen will restructure their contracts.)
Wide receiver seems to be a pretty deep position in this free agent class, so I fully expect Minnesota to sign someone to play opposite Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins. I also fully expect the Vikings to draft a tackle with their first-round pick—either Matt Kalil or Riley Reiff. (In fact, I hope St. Louis takes Kalil and Minnesota trades its first-round pick to Cleveland for both of their first-rounders. Cleveland takes RGIII at No. 3 and the Vikings select Reiff at No. 4 overall, leaving them with an additional first-rounder.)
That being said, here are three key free agents the Minnesota Vikings should sign this offseason.
The New Orleans Saints have quite a few free agents of their own to re-sign, most notably left guard Carl Nicks, quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Marques Colston. That means that the cash-strapped Saints won't be able to re-sign everyone.
While I have a good feeling those three guys will be re-signed, I don't see New Orleans retaining free agent wide receiver Robert Meachem.
Enter the Minnesota Vikings.
It's no surprise Christian Ponder needs some more weapons. Outside of Percy Harvin the Vikings don't have any down-field threats. Devin Aromashodu isn't anything more than a No. 3 receiver at best, and Michael Jenkins, while he was having the best season of his career, ended last season on injured reserve after tearing the meniscus in his left knee.
Meachem is the quintessential deep-threat receiver. He's an excellent route runner and has elite speed and soft hands. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, he also has the size to be an outside starting receiver.
Last season, Meachem caught 40 passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns in just eight starts. In his four-year career, Meachem has averaged 16.1 yards per reception, and at only 27, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
If Minnesota could sign Meachem, he'd immediately upgrade the receiving corps and work the outside No. 1 spot. With Meachem and Jenkins manning the outside receiver spots, Harvin could move back into the slot and work the underneath routes.
Meachem can most certainly fill the role Bernard Berrian was expected to fill four seasons ago...
Contract Prediction: Three years, $22 million
Minnesota's secondary was one of the league's worst last season, and with quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler in the same division, that's a recipe for disaster. Both Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier indicated that cornerback is a definite need this offseason.
Antoine Winfield is the Vikings best defensive back, but he's 35 years old and coming off to back-to-back seasons where he landed on injured reserve. Chris Cook is a big physical cornerback who has shown flashes of shutdown potential, but he could be facing jail time after being accused of assault.
Cedric Griffin was a productive player for the Vikings before tearing both ACLs, he just doesn't have the speed to cover wide receivers in the NFL.
If the Vikings could pry Brandon Carr away from the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason, it could be one of the best moves in free agency. Carr is only 25 and he's looking to land his first big payday in the NFL after coming off his best statistical season as a starter. Carr, who stands at 6'0" and 210 pounds, recorded 40 tackles, 15 pass deflections and four interceptions for the Chiefs.
If Cook could avoid jail time (and/or a suspension from the NFL), he and Carr would provide a physical starting cornerback tandem in Minnesota and allow Winfield to work the nickelback position.
Contract Prediction: Five years, $35 million
When you have only one real starter in the secondary, that's a problem. Too many times last season the Vikings safeties were out of position and missed tackles.
Minnesota's safety tandem is below average at best, not to mention the uncertainty at cornerback. Strong safety Jamarca Sanford is likely nothing more than a special teamer, and free safety Hussain Abdullah has a history of concussions.
Which is why Minnesota should sign strong safety LaRon Landry to an incentive-laden deal.
Landry seems to be done in Washington, and although he only started eight games last season before ending up on injured reserve with an Achilles injury, he is one of the best free agents to hit the open market.
A massive safety at 6'0" 220 pounds, Landry is solid in coverage and a beast in run support. If he can stay healthy, the Vikings could go from having the worst safety tandem to an above average one with the signing of one player.
Landry would make quarterbacks respect the Vikings secondary, and he'd allow either Mistral Raymond or Hussain Abdullah to freelance at the free safety position.
Contract Prediction: (incentive based) Four years, $36 million
The Minnesota Vikings have their work cut out for them this offseason, as they have a lot of holes to fill this offseason and depth to replenish. They'll have to work around a fixed salary cap, while also adding quality players to a team and coaching staff desperate for wins.
In addition to adding quality starters, the most important thing to add to this roster is youth, and while the most effective way to do that is still the draft, free agency gives teams an opportunity to add quality players who have proven they can perform at the NFL level, something the draft cannot do.
If general manager Rick Spielman can make smart roster moves this offseason, let go of overpaid and underachieving veterans and really hit a home run in this year's NFL Draft, the Vikings have enough blue-chip players like Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson in place to make another run at a championship in the near future...