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Minnesota Vikings Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

Tim ArcandCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2012

Minnesota Vikings Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

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    The 2012 version of the Minnesota Vikings will have a very different look to it than the the team that finished 3-13, tied for the most losses in a season with the Les Steckel led 1984 team.

    Newly appointed general manager, Rick Spielman, while having his work cut out for him, should find it quite easy to make improvements to a team that needs upgrades and depth at almost every position. Almost as easy as using this team tracker to stay current on what is happening with the Purple. 

    Following you will find a current list of moves the Vikings have made since the end of last season, a summary of the Vikings salary cap situation, and what impact it will have on the Vikings activity in free agency. As well, there's a look at which free agents they will re-sign and where they might look elsewhere to make an immediate improvement.

    Based on the moves the Vikings make in free agency will affect the direction they take in the draft. Where the Vikings will look to improve through the drat will be updated based on their free agent activity.

Tracking Every Offseason Signing, Re-Signing and Move

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    April 4, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Vikings have signed CB Chris Carr to a one-year deal. Carr, who started all 16 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2010, was limited to only one start and seven games last season.

    April 2, 2012: In a report from the StarTribune the Vikings have signed WR/KR Bryan Walters to a multi-year deal, though no details are known. Walters, an undrafted free agent in 2010, played in four games for the San Diego Chargers. He has eight kickoff returns for an average of 5.6 yards per return, and three receptions for 27 yards.

    Another under-the-radar acquisition by Rick Spielman that does little to excite the fans.

    Mar 26, 2012: According to Foxsports.com the Vikings signed former Chicago Bears cornerback Zachary Bowman to a one-year contract. Bowman, a fifth round draft pick of the Bears in 2008, started one game last season. In 2009 he started 12 games for the Bears and led them with six interceptions. 

    Mar. 23, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Vikings have re-signed LB Erin Henderson to a one-year, $2 million contract. While not unexpected, this is a signing that means something for the Vikings. Henderson started 15 games last season and finished with 44 tackles.

    The Vikings also agreed to a one-year contract with wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, details of the contract have not yet been reported. Aromashodu only had 26 receptions last season, but his 18.0 yards per catch was the best among Minnesota receivers with more than two receptions.

    Mar. 22, 2012: The Vikings have released former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Remi Ayodele. After signing him last season for $9 million for three years, the Vikings released Ayodele. He only had four tackles and one and a haf sacks last season for Minnesota. 

    Mar. 21, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Vikings have signed OL Geoff Schwartz. Like tight end John Carlson, Schwartz, a seventh-round draft pick of the Panthers in 2008, did not play last season because of a hip injury. He did start all 16 games in 2010. At 6-6 and 331 pounds he has the dimensions to be an effective lineman.

    The Vikings have signed fullback Jerome Felton. Details of the contract have not been disclosed. Felton, a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2008, played three years in Detroit. Released by Detroit last August, he opened the season with Carolina. After nine games he was released and claimed off waivers by the Colts. This is another in a line of moves by GM Rick Spielman so far this season that does little to improve the Vikings.  

    Mar. 20, 2012: The St. Paul Pioneer Press is reporting that the Vikings have offered a contract to safety Husain Abdullah. Abdulleah, 26, who missed seven games last season because of a concussion, joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2008.

    Mar. 18, 2012: Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press is reporting that the Vikings have signed former Miami Dolphins running back Lex Hilliard. A sixth-round draft pick of the Dolphins in 2008, Hilliard has only 39 carries in three seasons for 130 yards.

    Mar. 16, 2012: According to a report from Kevin Seifert from ESPN.com, the Vikings have signed Nicholas Taylor, a former collegiate basketball player from Florida International. Taylor, who did not play football at FIU, was signed after a private workout with the Vikings.

    Pro Football Talk is reporting via their Twitter that the Vikings have agreed to terms with DT Fred Evans on a two-year deal.

    Mar. 14, 2012: The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Vikings have signed Seattle tight end John Carlson to a five-yer $25 million contract. Carlson, a second round draft pick in 2008 from Notre Dame missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp. In three years with the Seahawks he has 137 catches and 13 touchdowns.

    The Vikings re-signed defensive tackle Letroy Guion to a three-year deal. Guion, the Vikings' fifth round pick in 2008, made three starts last season, two of them while Kevin Williams was serving his suspension to open the season.

    Mar. 12, 2012: According to a report from FoxSports.com the Vikings have re-signed free agent quarterback Sage Rosenfels to a two-year deal.

    Mar. 10, 2012: According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, as expected the Vikings released left guard Steve Hutchinson and cornerback Cedric Griffin. This move frees up $13.6 million to the salary cap.

    Right guard Anthony Herrera was also released. Herrera was scheduled to make $2.9 million this coming season. This indicates that the Vikings offensive line could have three new starters for 2012.

    Feb. 7, 2012: The Vikings re-signed tackle Patrick Brown to a one-year deal worth $540,000. An undrafted free agent, Brown was with the Panthers in 2009. He has been a practice squad pass-around, spending time with the Patriots, Vikings, Jets, Dolphins and Vikings (again). He was activated to the Vikings roster in 2010, but did not see any playing time. Last season he saw action in one game.

    Jan 31, 2012: The Vikings signed linebacker Solomon Elimimian to a Reserve/Future Free Agent contract. Elimimian spent the last two seasons playing for the BC Lions of the CFL. In 2010 he won the CFL's Most outstanding Rookie award, and in 2011 he was named the league's hardest hitter in a TSN player poll. At the very least Elimimian will make an impact on coverage teams for the Vikings, and should be given a shot to start at linebacker.

    Jan. 18, 2012: The Vikings signed TE Daniel Hardy and G Jose Valdez to Reserve/Future Free Agent contracts. Both spent time as practice squad players. Hardy, a 2011 seventh round draft choice of Tampa Bay spent some time last season on the Buccaneers and Saints practice squads, and Valdez has been with the Falcons the past two seasons.

    Jan. 13, 2012: Signed quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson from Sacramento State to the practice a reserve/future free agent contract (practice squad). Don't expect anything from Bethel-Thompson, who after being cut from the 49ers signed to play with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL, where is was the third string quarterback.

    Jan. 10, 2012: The Minnesota Vikings re-signed fullback Matt Asiata to their practice squad. Asiata from the University of Utah, was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent. He spent a brief period as part of the team's practice squad before being released on September 7th, 2011.

    Jan. 2, 2012: The Minnesota Vikings signed seven players to their practice squad: WR Kris Adams, G Chris DeGeare, DB Reggie Jones, G Butch Lewis, LB Tyrone McKenzie, TE Allen Reisner, WR Kerry Taylor. Only DeGeare and Reisner have seen any regular season NFL action.

Salary Cap Status

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    According to spotrac.com the Minnesota Vikings' 2012 salary is currently at $96.26 million for 42 players currently under contract.

    Depending on the source you choose, the projected NFL salary cap next season will be between $122 and $130 million.  Going the conservative route, that means the Vikings will have approximately $25.7 million to fill out their roster, signing free agents and their 10 draft picks.

    Biggest Cap Hits

    The Vikings have $50.5 million, approximately 41.4 percent of the projected cap, tied up in only six salaries. (Based on the $122 million figure).

    The biggest hit to the cap is the $14.2 million they have committed to Jared Allen—11.6 percent of the projected cap.

    It's likely that Minnesota will find some space by releasing a couple of veterans that have not been playing up to the level that earned them their current contracts.

    {Update Mar. 10}: With the release of left guard Steve Hutchinson, who has not been able to complete a full season since 2009, and cornerback Cedric Griffin, who tore both of his ACL's within nine months of the 2010 calendar year, the Vikings freed up $13.6 million in salary cap space.

    The Vikings also released right guard Anthony Herrera giving them another $2.9 million to use in pursuit if free agents.

    That's $16.5 million total in salaries, increasing the Vikings space under the cap to approximately $42.2 million.

    {Update March 16th}: Cedric Griffin has signed a one-year contract with the Washington Redskins for $2.5 million.  According to tweet from John Clayton, Steve Hutchinson has signed a three-year contract with the Tennessee Titans for $16 million.

     

    Greatest Bargains 

    The Vikings have perhaps two of their most athletic and exciting players under contract at a reasonable price. Quarterback Joe Webb, who should get a shot at the starting job, will be paid $490,000, and their most dangerous weapon last season was Percy Harvin who led the team with 1,312 total yards from scrimmage will make $1.35 million.

    The Vikings will be putting a lot of hopes on backup running back Toby Gerhart to fill the void until Adrian Peterson is fully recovered from the ACL/MCL injury to his left knee. Gerhart will make $974,750 compared to Peterson's $8 million. Even at half the contribution, Gerhart is financial bargain.  

    Other Cap Considerations

    Looking at the Vikings current list of free agents, the only one that could be re-signed before the free agent period begins might be weakside linebacker Erin Henderson. The younger of the Henderson brothers cost the Vikings $1.2 million last season. Rated as the third-best free agent outside linebacker by WalterFootball.com, Henderson might be the best fit for the Vikings in the free agent market.

    It will cost the Vikings a little more to retain the services of their starting linebacker who was fifth on the team with 44 tackles last season. 

    The question will be how the Vikings will use their available cap. While most fans would love Minnesota to make a major acquisition, the odds are they will spread it out and look to add depth with so many needs across the board on both sides of the ball.

Breaking Down Last Year's Most Problematic Positions

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    It would be so much easier to point out those position that didn't have a problem last season. The list would be extremely short—defensive tackle, and punter come to mind. Other than that, the Vikings need help everywhere.

    In an earlier article I ranked the Vikings need by position for the upcoming NFL draft. That priority holds true for any free agent signings the team would consider.

    Offense 

    The Vikings have plenty of needs when they put the ball in Christian Ponder's hands. He needs better protection and a little more time to make the right read. He also needs an upgrade in receviers to target. Minnesota also needs to add depth at tight end and running back.

    Offensive Tackle and Guard:

    The Vikings greatest need on either side of the ball is offensive tackle, especially left tackle. Charlie Johnson was added to the roster after head coach Leslie Frazier released nine-year veteran Bryant McKinnie, the Vikings starting LT for eight seasons. To say the move was less than successful would be an understatement.

    The popular opinion is that the Vikings will draft a starting left tackle and move Johnson to guard. This would help to address the decline in performance of both guards, Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson. Hutchinson, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, and Herrera have not played entire season together since 2008.

    Wide Receiver:

    The Vikings most explosive player last season was wide receiver Percy Harvin. He led the team in total yards from scrimmage, and was a force whether he lined up in the slot, as a running back out of the backfield, or on the goal line as the kick returner.

    The problem is at 5-11, he is not the prototypical outside receiver that can stretch the field. The Vikings need to find a No. 1 receiver that is the downfield threat they had in Sidney Rice in 2009.

    Running Backs:

    With Adrian Peterson working to rehabilitate tears to both the MCL and ACL in his left knee, and his backup, Toby Gerhart coming off his own MCL sprain, the Vikings could find themselves a little thin at running back.

    Lorenzo Booker is a Restricted Free Agent, but don't look for the Vikings to re-sign the former UFL Hartford Colonial, who only had 13 carries for 52 yards and three fumbles last season. 

    The Vikings also need to address the retirement of tight end/fullback Jim Kleinsasser. His departure leaves a need for a blocking fullback to help the running game. The only fullbacks currently on the roster are converted linebacker Ryan D'Imperio, who spent the 2010 season on the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster last October, and Matt Asiata, a 2011 undrafted rookie who spent some time on the practice squad last season.

    Defense

    The only bright spot on the Vikings defense last season was the play of defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison who combined for 30 sacks, led by Allen's franchise record 22. Special teams player, and backup DE ,Everson Griffin, added another four sacks in limited play.

    The defensive backfield experienced so many injuries that the Vikings were forced to sign free agent cornerback Benny Sapp to the starting lineup. Sapp, who had been released by the Dolphins after Week 1, was signed following the loss of Antoine Winfield for season with a broken collarbone in Week 7. 

    Overall the Vikings defense finished 31st in the NFL in points, and worst in the league in touchdown passes allowed.  

    Cornerback:

    This is the Vikings biggest concern on the defensive side of the ball. There are issues with starting cornerbacks that need to be fully addressed if the Vikings are going to turn things around.

    Despite a clause in Winfield's contract that has reduced his salary from $7 million to $4 million because of reduced playing time due to his injury, the 13-year veteran has indicated that he still wants to play two more seasons at cornerback.

    On the other side of the field, the future of second-year corner Chris Cook rests squarely with the decision that will be delivered in his domestic assault trial in March. The Vikings' second-round draft pick from 2010 has only played in 12 games because of meniscus tears to his knees in 2010, and the off-the-field problems he's had in 2011.

    Even if Winfield comes back healthy, and Cook is able to rejoin the team, the Vikings need to add depth to this position. Cedric Griffin, coming off major knee injuries to both knees within nine months in 2010 did not look very good last season, and with a $5.22 salary cap hit, he could find himself looking for a job elsewhere. 

    Safety:

    Along with cornerback, the safety position was decimated with injuries. It got so bad that the Vikings started rookie Mistral Raymond—the Vikings sixth round draft pick.

    Following their Week 12 loss to the Falcons, Husain Abduallah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) were placed on injured reserve. Both are currently unrestricted free agents. Of the two there's a better chance that Abdullah, who started nine games, could be re-signed. 

    According to a report from 1500ESPN Twin Cities,  Jamarca Sanford, who beat out Johnson to open the season as the starter, has been demoted to specials teams for 2012. 

    Linebacker:

    The Vikings signed Chad Greenway to a pretty hefty contract extension last season, giving their payroll a $7.7 million salary cap hit. While he has led the Vikings defense in tackles every season since 2008, his play can best be described as steady, but not spectacular.

    Jasper Brinkley, the Vikings fifth round draft choice in 2009, is projected to take over as the Vikings middle linebacker. Brinkley, who started four games his rookie season, missed the entire 2011 season after requiring hip surgery last August.  

    That leaves one starting spot still available. Right now the best bet is that the team re-signs free agent Erin Henderson. If that fails, it's possible the team will experiment with moving DE Griffin to outside linebacker.  

    Defense Tackle

    With Jared Allen and Brian Robison manning the ends of the defensive line, this is the strength of the Vikings team.

    With the departure of defensive tackle Pat Williams, and an ailing Kevin Williams, who started the season with a two-game suspension and suffered from plantar fasciitis for most of the season, the Vikings run defense dropped to 11th in the NFL, with an average of 107 rushing yards allowed.

    Only three years ago the Vikings defense was the best in the NFL against the run, allowing an NFL-low, 76.1 yards per game.

    The Vikings added Remi Ayodele in the offseason to replace Pat Williams. Ayodele finished the season with only four tackles and 10 assists and 1.5 sacks—the poorest stats in his five-year career.

    The Vikings will be looking to add some depth and experience to the interior of the defensive line.

The Vikings RFA's and UFA's

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    According to Vikings.com, the Vikings have only two restricted free agents (RFA's). 

    RB Lorenzo Booker

    LB Kenny Onatolu

    If the Vikings make a one-year qualifying offer, the player can continue to negotiate with other clubs for a period of time. If the player accepts an offer sheet from another team, the Vikings have the right to match it and retain the player, or allow them to sign with the other team. In return the Vikings would receive one or two draft picks as compensation.

    For a tender amount of $2.562 million, the compensation is a first and third round pick.

    A tender of $2.017 million returns a first round selection.

    If the offer is for $1.417 million a second-round pick is awarded as compensation.

    The lowest tender is $92,000. The compensation matches the round the RFA's was originally selected. 

    The following are the Vikings unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Minnesota has the exclusive right to negotiate a contract prior to the the start of free agency. If no deal can be made, any NFL team has the ability to offer these players a contract after March 13th:

    S Husain Abdullah

    LB Xavier Adibi

    WR Devin Aromashodu

    WR Greg Camarillo

    DT Fred Evans Update: Pro Football Talk is reporting via their Twitter that the Vikings have agreed to terms with DT Fred Evans on a two-year deal.

    DT Letroy Guion

    LB E.J. Henderson

    LB Erin Henderson Update: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Vikings have re-signed LB Erin Henderson to a 1 year, 2 million dollar contract.

    S Tyrell Johnson

    LS Matt Katula

    OT Scott Kooistra

    SS Jared Page

    QB Sage Rosenfels

    CB Benny Sapp

    TE Visanthe Shiancoe

    OT Patrick Brown: Update: The Vikings re-signed tackle Patrick Brown to a one-year deal worth $540,000.

Determining the Contract Value of Every Minnesota Free Agent

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    The one thing about a 3-13 team, with the third pick in the draft, there's not an abundance of talent, and this is certainly reflected in the free agents from the Vikings roster.

    For the 15 unrestricted free agents (UFA's) and the two restricted free agents (RFA's) the odds that any more than four of them re-sign is extremely slim. 

    Trying to determine the contract value for each of these free agents is more difficult than trying to predict their stats in the upcoming year.

    For many it will be an exercise in give-and-take, and they will be doing the giving in order to find any takers. The estimated values are for annual amounts:

    Lorenzo Booker, running back (RFA): $600,000

    With only 13 attempts for 52 yards, it's hard to imagine that any team would sign Booker to the minimum salary allowed for a player with four years experience. There's a reason he was playing in the UFL before the Vikings signed him in 2010, and that might be his only option in 2012. 

    Kenny Onatulo, linebacker (RFA): $685,000

    Like Booker, it's hard to imagine a team signing the three-year special teams player to anymore than the minimum allowed by the CBA signed last summer. With only one start in three years, the best the former CFL player can hope for is another special teams assignment.

    Husain Abdullah, safety (UFA): $2.0 million

    The 2008 undrafted free agent had cracked the starting lineup in 2010 and led the Vikings with three interceptions. Concussions forced the Vikings to place Abdullah on injured reserve, limiting him to 11 games in 2011. He was considering retirement, but based on a report from Tom Pelissario of 1500ESPN radio, two specialists have cleared him to play.

    Having been a part of the worst passing defense in the NFL, it's unlikely Abdullah would wind up anywhere else. 

    Xaiver Adibi, linebacker (UFA): $600,000

    The fourth year veteran was signed off waivers from the Texans in September and played in only four games for the Vikings in 2011. There's no way Adibi will be able to sign for anymore than the minimum. 

    Devin Aromashodu, wide receiver (UFA): $685,000

    According to a report from 1500ESPN, Aromashodu had the lowest catch rate (33.3 percent) of any NFL receiver that played in at least one-third of their teams plays. While he had a career high with 26 catches, the six-year veteran just hasn't produced to a level that will earn him any more than what the Vikings paid him last season.

    Greg Camarillo, wide receiver (UFA): $700,000

    In order for Camarillo to stay with the Vikings he will have to take a pay cut in 2012. The six-year receiver had the fewest catches in a season since 2007, his first year in Miami.  

    Fred Evans, defensive tackle (UFA): Update: Pro Football Talk is reporting via their Twitter that the Vikings have agreed to terms with DT Fred Evans on a two-year deal.

    Letroy Guion, defensive tackle (UFA): $685,000

    Guion, a fifth-round draft choice of the Vikings in 2008, has played in 40 games with three starts and two sacks over his first four seasons. Playing in all 16 games last season he finished with 14 tackles—10 more than starting defensive tackle Remi Ayodele. 

    E.J. Henderson, middle linebacker (UFA): $5.1 million

    The Vikings second round draft pick from 2003 finished with the second most tackles in his career last season, but is seen as a liability in passing situations. The Pro-Bowl linebacker in 2010 will turn 32 this summer. With the Vikings in a rebuilding mode he will should find a home where his tackling and run stopping ability is valued.

    Erin Henderson, linebacker (UFA): $4.1 million

    The younger brother of E.J., Henderson, an undrafted free agent of the Vikings in 2008, cracked the starting lineup along side his brother. Last season he finished with 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He should be looking for a significant increase over the $1.2 million he was paid in 2011. 

    Update: ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Vikings have re-signed LB Erin Henderson to a 1 year, 2 million dollar contract.

    Tyrell Johnson, safety (UFA): $685,000

    Johnson's role has diminished each year since starting 15 games in 2009. Last season he made only three starts and was limited to 11 games because of a torn hamstring. If he is to make another roster it would most likely be as a special teams player. 

    Matt Katula, long snapper (UFA): $685,000

    The only reason Katula played in 2011 was because of the injury to Cullen Loeffler, and the Vikings were hesitant to use Jared Allen as a long term substitute. After playing six full seasons with the Ravens from 2005 to 2009. He played the final eight games with New England in 2010, and was out of football when Minnesota signed him.

    Scott Kooistra, tackle (UFA): $810,000

    The Bengals seventh round pick from 2003, signed a free agent contract with the Vikings on July 31st, 2011, and was placed on the injured list less than a month later. The nine-year veteran has played in84 games making his only start in 2005.

    Jarrad Page, defensive back (UFA): $700,000

    The Vikings signed Page following the Week 12 loss to the Falcons after placing safeties Johnson and Abdullah on injured reserve. The former three starter in Kansas City was waived by the Eagles just two weeks prior to signing with Minnesota.

    Sage Rosenfels, quarterback (UFA):$1.2 million

    Rosenfels looked like the leading candidate to start for the Vikings during the 2009 preseason, outplaying Tarvaris Jackson through three games. Then the Vikings brought in Brett Favre and he was relegated once to a backup role. 

    The 10-year veteran has made only 12 starts, playing in 44 games. There will certainly be team out there looking for the competent backup with an 81.2 passer rating.

    Benny Sapp, cornerback (UFA): $810,000

    Sapp was signed to the team after the Vikings placed cornerback Antoine Winfield on injured reserve following the loss to the Packers in Week 10. Due to injuries to the defensive backfield Sapp started the final three games for the Vikings.

    Like Rosenfels, it was Sapp's second stint with the Vikings. The eight-year veteran, who has never started more than seven games in a season, had been waived by the Dolphins following their Week 1 loss to the Patriots.

    Visanthe Shiancoe, tight end (UFA): $2.5 million

    The nine-year veteran tight end's performance has been slipping since he had his best season in 2009 with Favre throwing his way. By the end of the season rookie Kyle Rudolph had taken over as the primary receiving tight end. 

    He will most likely need to take a pay cut in order to make a roster next season.

Those Free Agents That Will Be Back in Purple, Those Who Won't

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    The Vikings need to determine if there are any free agents they want to lock up before the start of free agent signing period begins March 13th.

    On one hand the task should be easy for Vikings GM Rick Spielman. The list of Vikings free agents is not that impressive, with only four starters. 

    If the Vikings re-sign anymore than four or five of their free agents it will because they get an incredible discount. With 10 draft picks this year, the Vikings will look to go younger, and cheaper, using many of them on their special teams.

    The following Minnesota Free agents have played their last game in purple:

    Lorenzo Booker (RFA): The Vikings had so little faith in Booker, that after both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart went down with knee injuries they used Percy Harvin out of the backfield.

    Kenny Onatolu (RFA): The linebacker the Vikings signed from the CFL in 2009 has made only one start in three seasons. The only way Onatolu stays on the roster is as a special teams player at the veteran minimum contract. Update March 16: Onatolu signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers.

    Xavier Adibi (UFA): Signed off the waivers from the Houston Texans, the backup linebacker and special teams player saw action in only four games last season.

    Devin Aromashodu (UFA): In his first full season with the Vikings, the wide receiver caught a career high 26 passes for an 18.0 yard average—the problem is he was targeted 78 times. UPDATE: The Vikings agreed to a one-year contract with Aromashodu.

    Greg Camarillo (UFA): The wide receiver had to take a pay cut last season in order to stay with the Vikings. Unfortunately for Camarillo, the Vikings can easily replace his nine catches with a lot cheaper player—even if he signed for the veteran minimum of $685,000.

    Fred Evans (UFA): Update: Pro Football Talk is reporting via their Twitter that the Vikings have agreed to terms with DT Fred Evans on a two-year deal.

    E.J. Henderson (UFA): While the Vikings middle linebacker had a decent season, credited with 78 tackles, the second most in his career, he is not the game changing linebacker the Vikings need. According to a tweet from Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Vikings are not planning on using the franchise tag on the older Henderson.

    Tyrell Johnson (UFA): The Vikings second round draft pick from 2008 has seen his playing time reduced over the past two seasons, losing his starting job to 2009 seventh-round draft pick Jamarca Sanford. 

    Matt Katula (UFA): The long snapper was signed to take over for the injured Cullen Loeffler, who suffered a back injury in Week 12.

    Scott Kooistra (UFA): The nine-year veteran has started only one game in his career. After not playing the last two seasons, there's no reason to believe the Vikings will be willing to pay even the $810,000 minimum.

    Jarrad Page (UFA): The defensive back was signed two weeks after being released by the Eagles to help plug some holes in the Vikings defensive backfield. Minnesota needs to start fresh, and it's unlikely the six-year veteran will be re-signed.

    Benny Sapp (UFA): The cornerback the Vikings traded to Miami for wide receiver Camarillo, sat around without a job for more than eight weeks before the Vikings were desperate enough to sign him.  

    Those free agent most likely to re-sign with the Vikings:

    Husain Abdullah (UFA): The undrafted free agent safety had earned a starting job the last two seasons. Limited to games because of a concussion, his fourth in two years, he has been given clearance to play in 2012 and has interest in returning to Minnesota. 

    Letroy Guion (UFA): The fourth year veteran made three starts in 2011, making more tackles than starter Remi Ayodele. Four years younger than Evans, look for Guion and Ballard to split time along side Kevin Williams in the middle of the Vikings defensive line. Update March 14: Guion has signed a three-year deal with the Vikings.

    Erin Henderson (UFA): The first-year starting outside linebacker did just enough to give the Vikings confidence that the undrafted free agent from 2008 has a bright future in Minnesota. Update March 23: The Vikings have re-signed LB Erin Henderson to a one-year $2 million contract for the starting outside linebacker.

    Sage Rosenfels (UFA): The Vikings are interested in retaining the services of the veteran backup to help in the development of Christian Ponder and Joe Webb. It is unlikely he would be anymore than the emergency, third-string quarterback. Update March 12: The Vikings have signed Rosenfels to a two-year contract to be their third-string quarterback.

    Visanthe Shiancoe (UFA): If the price is right the tight end could remain with the Vikings as a backup. He will have to take a significant pay cut to stay, but like Rosenfels, the team could use a veteran presence to assist in the development of last season's second round pick, Kyle Rudolph.

Projected Salary Cap After Re-Signings

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    The Minnesota Vikings projected salary cap space is $28.8 million (estimated).

    This is based on the following:

    • The release of guard Steve Hutchinson and cornerback Cedric Griffin freeing up $13.6 million.

    • The re-signing of five free agents: Husain Abdullah, Letroy Guion, Erin Henderson, Sage Rosenfels, and Visanthe Shiancoe for a total of $10.5 million. 

    This is assuming the average annual value of the contracts signed by the free agents with no front or back loaded amounts. 

    The only contract that might be tricky could be that for linebacker Henderson. I see his deal resulting in a longer term, in the neighborhood of three to five years, for a total of $12 million to $16 million. 

    The Vikings will need to use this cap space to sign their draft picks as well as any free agents they want to target.

A Look at the Biggest Needs After Re-Signings

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    Even with the re-signings of the Vikings' free agents, it does little to improve their 3-13 team of 2011.

    The problematic positions identified in Slide 3—they all still remain. Here's a quick recap.

    Offense

    Offensive Line

    The Vikings still need to find a starting left tackle to replace Charlie Johnson who will slide over to guard, replacing Steve Hutchinson who will become a salary cap victim.

    They will still need to find another guard to replace Anthony Hererra, who, if he remains with the team will most likely serve as a backup.

    Wide Receiver

    There's no question that Percy Harvin is the Vikings best receiver, but he is better suited in the slot than out wide.

    While Micheal Jenkins, who only played in 11 games last season, finished second on the team in receptions—the problem was he only caught 38 passes for 466 yards. He is better suited as the third or fourth receiver, and while an upgrade over Greg Camrillo, he should not be a starter.

    Running Backs

    The Vikings still need to add some depth, especially with both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart coming off season-ending injuries.

     

    Defense

    Cornerback

    The biggest need is at cornerback—even if both Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield come back healthy. Winfield, who the Vikings moved to cover the slot receiver is very much on the downside of his career. Still a solid tackler, he played in only five games because of injury and will be 35 next season.

    Linebacker

    Even though the projected starting linebackers are Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, and Erin Henderson, the Vikings will need to add some depth. Henderson has only one season as a starter, and Brinkley is coming off a hip injury that kept him out for all of last season.

    The Vikings could use a veteran presence to help their development.

    Safety

    The worst pass defense in the NFL in giving up touchdowns will need an upgrade at safety. The re-signing of Husain Abdullah does nothing to improve the position unless another year he shows significant improvement. If the Vikings find the right player available, he could be relegated to a backup role.

Free Agents the Vikings Could Sign

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    There are plenty of high profile free agents out there, but don't expect the Vikings to be aggressive in the free-agent market—it just has not been their style.

    Here's a look at some of the free agents they should be considering to upgrade their roster.

    Offensive Tackle

    While I believe the Vikings will address this need with their first round draft pick. The crop of offensive tackles is not that deep, especially if the Vikings are looking for a left tackle.

    The most attractive option is Jared Gaither who split time in Kansas City and San Diego last season. The upside is he is only 26 years old, the down side he missed the entire 2010 season due to a back injury. 

    Demetrius Bell from Buffalo and Jeff Backus of Detroit complete the consensus top three tackles in the free agency. Both WalterFootball.com and Pro Football Focus agree with this ranking. If the Vikings are going to pursue a free agent to address their biggest need, it better be one of these three—considering the Vikes may have the opportunity to draft Matt Kalil from USC.

    Cornerback

    The Vikings are hoping for a healthy Antoine Winfield, and possibly an acquitted Chris Cook as their starting cornerbacks in 2012. But they will still need some depth.

    While it would be great if the Vikings could lure the top free agent cornerbacks, like Brandon Carr of the Chiefs, or Cortland Finnegan of the Titans, it's more likely they will look for someone they can afford.

    The Cardinals Richard Marshall played both cornerback and safety this past season. The six-year veteran would be a welcome addition. Other options include Tracy Porter from New Orleans or William Middleton from Jacksonville.

    Safety

    Update:March 3rd, 2012: Oakland used their franchise tag on Tyvon Branch, ensuring they will have the top safety back in the fold. 

    The top free-agent safety available is strong safety Tyvon Branch of the Oakland Raiders. If the Vikings could sign him , it might be the only splash they make in free agency. 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.

    Dwight Lowery spent the first three seasons with the Jets before a trade sent him to Jacksonville. A shoulder injury limited him to 11 starts, the most in his four seasons.

    Another option is Thomas Decoud from Atlanta. The Falcons third-round draft pick from 2008 has started the last three season at free safety. In 2011 he finished third for the Falcons with 73 tackles and led his team with four interceptions. 

    Offensive Guard

    In some ways it would be slightly poetic if the Vikings could sign guard Ben Grubbs, the Ravens first round draft choice in 2007. In five seasons Grubbs has started 70 games, but was limited to only 10 games last year because of a turf toe injury.

    They should also take a long look at Mike Brisiel from Houston or Chad Rinehart from Buffalo. Rinehart had a breakout year for the Bills subbing in the starting lineup making 12 starts and did not allow a sack. 

    Wide Receiver

    Update March 13th, 2012: Free agent Pierre Garcon has posted on his Facebook page that he will sign with Washington

    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.

    In Kansas City, 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, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Kansas City will use the franchise tag on their 2007 first-round draft pick in order to retain his services for 2012.

    Other potential free agent wide receivers the Vikings could pursue include Vincent Jackson of the Chargers, Steve Johnson from Buffalo or Pierre Garcon from Indy.

    Linebacker

    The problem with the Vikings strategy for linebackers in 2012, outside of Chad Greenway, it lacks experience.

    Options for the outside linebacker include Manny Lawson, a six-year veteran who played his first five years with the 49ers and spent last season in Cincinnati, and Leroy Hill, who was third with 78 tackles for the Seahawks with four sacks last season.

    An instant home run in the middle would be if the Vikings could sign Stephen Tulloch. The six year veteran in his first year with Detroit led the Lions with 92 tackles. Another option is Dan Connor from Carolina.

    Defensive Tackle

    With Jared Allen and Brian Robison on the ends and Kevin Williams in the middle, the Vikings defensive line is the strength of the entire team. Still it could use some depth in the middle.

    One of the best options for the Vikings might be Detroit's restricted free agent, Sammie Lee Hill. The 25-year old could help improve the Vikings run defense that dropped to 11th in the NFL last season.

    Another candidate would be Cory Redding of the Ravens. The nine-year veteran finished last season with 29 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

    Nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who played seven years in Detroit before moving on to Cleveland and New Orleans last season, would add experience and depth to the position. At 32 years old he would be a part of a good rotation along with youngsters Christian Ballard and Letroy Guion.    

    Running Back

    Mainly to add some depth, and as an insurance policy for Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Vikings would look to add a competent backup.

    Former Bear and current Bengal, Cedric Benson and Jason Snelling from the Falcons are a couple of options that would address the need. The Vikings might also want to consider bringing Chester Taylor back. The 32 year old may have enough in the tank to be the third down back.

Potential Free Agent Contract Offers the Vikings Could Make

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    If the Vikings make any forays in the free agent market I don't expect it to be extensive, and while it would great if the team could complete all of the following scenarios, it's not realistic.

    At most they may make one or two major signings during the free agent signing period. Here are some potential offers the Vikings could make at each position identified.

    OT Jared Gaither: 2011 base salary $685,00—Contract offer: $2 million per year.

    It will be interesting to see how much interest the top free agent tackle receives. After refusing to re-sign with Baltimore because they planned to switch him to right tackle, he signed with the Chiefs. Then coach Todd Haley released him after 10 games. 

    His worth is largely based on five starts for the Chargers to end the season. Depending how badly the Chargers want him back could push the price higher.

    CB Richard Marshall: 2011 base salary $3.5 million—Contract offer: $5 million per year.

    The deciding factor here could be how long of a contract a team is willing to offer the six-year veteran. Marshall would be an immediate upgrade at cornerback over the likes of Asher Allen, Marcus Sherels, and Benny Sapp, and he has the ability to play safety as well.

    S Thomas Decoud: 2011 base $550,000 + $145,000 signing bonus—Contract offer: $1.5 million per year.

    Depending on what you want to believe, Decoud is between the second rated free agent safety or the ninth. He provides an instant upgrade over the current crop of safeties that played for the Vikings last season.

    OG Chad Rinehart: 2011 base $707,000 + $153,000 signing bonus—Contract offer: $2.75 million per year.

    According to Pro Football Focus Rinehart is the fourth best free agent guard available. The three-year veteran made 12 starts for the Bills last season. At 27 years old for the start of next season he would be five years younger than Anthony Herrera. 

    WR Pierre Garcon: 2011 base $555,000 + $22,750 signing bonus—Contract offer: $7 million per year.

    The problem here is according to a report from ESPN, Garcon has rejected a five-year contract from the Colts. Although he has yet to amass a  1,000-yard season, Garcon is looking to be paid like one of the top receivers in the NFL.. This might be a little too rich for the Vikings.

    So what about Dwayne Bowe—the Chiefs are planning on using their franchise tag. How about Mario Manningham, there's the report he is not going to re-sign with the Giants—he wants to go to a warm weather city, and it looks like he will sign with Tampa Bay and be united with the Giants former quarterback coach Mike Sullivan.

    UPDATE 3/13: Pierre Garcon reports on his Facebook page that he will sign with the Redskins.OLB Dan Connor: 2011 base $555,000 + $197,250 signing bonus—Contract offer: $2.1 million per year.

    OLB Dan Connor: 2011 base $555,000 + $197,250 signing bonus—Contract offer: $2.1 million per year.

    The Vikings best option at outside linebacker is Erin Henderson, and their focus should be in the middle. Connor started 11 games for the Panthers last season.   

    MLB Stephen Tulloch: 2011 base salary $3.25 million—Contract offer: $6.5 million per year.

    It might take more than this amount in a long term contract to sign the six-year veteran. While it would instantly help the run defense, it would limit what the Vikings could do elsewhere.   

    DT Shaun Rogers: 2011 base $2.5 million + $1/5 million signing bonus—Contract offer: $2.5 million per year.

    This could be a lot like the Jerry Ball signing of 1997, or the Pat Williams signing of 2005. Both were 33 when they joined the Vikings and played nose tackle. Since Rogers has started only five games over the past two years the Vikings just might be able to pick up the 11 year veteran.

    RB Cedric Benson: 2011 base $3 million + $2 million signing bonus—Contract offer: $2.5 million per year.

    The only way this works, is if in a soft market, Benson doesn't have many offers. 

Franchise Tags: Who's Tagged!

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    Updated: March 6th, 2012.

    NFL teams have until March 5th to use their franchise tag in order to retain the services of their top free agent. Once tagged that player will receive a one-year contract for the average of the top five highest paid players at their position. 

    The deadline to use the franchise tag has passed.

    From NFL.com, here is the final list of teams that used their franchise tag. 

    Arizona Cardinals: DE Calais Campbell

    Atlanta Falcons: CB Brent Grimes—a big need for the Vikings, but there was no way Atlanta was going to let Grimes go, who missed the Falcons playoff game against the Giants because of a knee injury.

    Baltimore Ravens: RB Ray Rice

    Buffalo Bills: Not used—The Bills signed wide receiver Steve Johnson to a five year $36.25 million contract, and avoid having to use their franchise tag.

    Carolina Panthers: Not used

    Chicago Bears: RB Matt Forte—No surprise the Bears would use it on the Forte who finished second to Ray Rice with the most yards from scrimmage.

    Cincinnati Bengals: K Mike Nugent

    Cleveland Browns: K Phil Dawson

    Dallas Cowboys: LB Anthony Spencer

    Denver Broncos: K Matt Prater

    Detroit Lions: DE Cliff Avril

    Green Bay Packers: Not used

    Houston Texans: Not used

    Indianapolis Colts: DE Robert Mathis

    Jacksonville Jaguars: K Josh Scobee

    Kansas City Chiefs: WR Dwayne Bowe—that means cornerback Brandon Carr will be available for the Vikings to pursue during free agency. 

    Miami Dolphins: Not used

    Minnesota Vikings: Not used

    New England Patriots: WR Wes Welkerno surprise the Patriots would want to retain their leading receiver. Welker led the Pats with 122 catches for 1,569 yards.

    New Orleans Saints: QB Drew Breesunable to come to an agreement on a contract has forced the Saints to place the franchise tag on Brees. This means the Vikings can try to sign guard, Carl Nicks.

    New York Giants: P Steve Weatherford

    New York Jets: Not used

    Oakland Raiders: S Tyvon Branch—No surprise the Raiders want to keep the best free agent safety in Oakland.

    Philadelphia Eagles: WR DeSean Jackson

    Pittsburgh Steelers: Not used

    San Diego Chargers: Not used

    San Francisco 49ers: S Dashon Goldson

    Seattle Seahawks: Not used

    St. Louis Rams: Not used

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K Connor Barth

    Tennessee Titans: S Michael Griffin—cornerback Cortland Finnegan will be on the free agent market. Finnegan would provide an instant upgrade for the Vikings' defensive backfield.

    Washington Redskins: TE Fred Davis


    Interestingly enough, of the 21 teams that used their franchise tag, five of them were for kickers, and one for a punter.

Analyzing the Vikings Draft Strategy

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    The Vikings should be looking to find a starting offensive lineman, cornerback, and wide receiver in the draft.

    The popular position is that if USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is available when the Vikings are on the clock with the third pick, they should snap him up. A lot will depend on what the Rams do with the second pick.

    {Update Feb 28} In a report from NFL.com the Rams are definitely shopping their second pick in the draft, most likely to a team looking to draft a quarterback. That means the Vikings should be assured of having the ability to draft Kalil.

    {Update March 10} Washington has reached a deal with the Rams, swapping first round selections. In return, according to a report by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, St. Louis will also receive two future first round picks and a second round. 

    This certainly means that Kalil will be available for the Vikings with the third pick. It also means that with Andrew Luck, and Griffin III off the board, Minnesota will have much less leverage to trade down,.

    Beyond that, the Vikings need to find at least one more starter in the draft. With 10 picks the Vikings should have plenty of chances to find some talent, mostly to add depth and to the special teams. 

    Besides a starting lineman, Minnesota needs to find some help in the defensive backfield and wide receiver. The order will depend on who the Vikings covet in the second and third rounds.

    After that, even if the Vikings are able to sign their starting linebacker, they will need to add some depth. At any point, if the right player is available at safety when they pick, look for the Vikings to add another body that can make the team as a special teams player. 

    Beyond that the Vikings will look to add another receiver, either a wideout or a tight end. With the retirement of Jim Kleinsasser, that tight end might be a big body that can also play fullback. 

Those Players the Vikings Should Be Scouting

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    Making the assumption that the Vikings will draft according to need to address the offensive line, wide receiver, and then cornerback here's some of the players they should be taking a long look at.

    Offensive Line:

    As mentioned at least a half-dozen times (although I've not kept track) the Vikings should select Matt Kalil. However, if for some reason he is not available, or if the Vikings receive an offer they cannot refuse, the should also be looking Iowa tackle Riley Reiff, who should be available later in the first round.

    Beyond those two the Vikings will probably wait until later in the draft to find another lineman. The Vikings coaching staff had the opportunity to coach in the Senior Bowl spending the entire week with Ohio State linemen Mike Adams and Mike Brewster, Kelechi Osemle from Iowa State, and Senio Kelemete of Washington. Don't surprised if one of these guys ends up in purple.

    Cornerback:

    While Morris Claiborne is the best cornerback in the draft, the Vikings probably won't address this need until the second or third round. Some names to pay attention to include Chase Minifield from Virginia, Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina, and Casey Hayward of Vanderbilt. Any of these should be available in the second round, with Minnifield ranked above the others.

    Wide Receiver:

    Where the Vikings first make this selection will depend on whether they can get the cornerback they covet. Some receivers they should be checking out includes Mohamad Sanu from Rutgers, Dwight Jones from North Carolina, Marvin McNutt, a Senior Bowl player for the North team from Iowa, and Brian Quick from Apalachian State.

    The Vikings will probably take two wide receivers, one in either the second or third round, and another later, most likely with one of the two compensatory picks they will receive.

    Safety:

    Looking to fill this need later in the draft the Vikings should keep an eye on Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson, Blake Gideon from Texas, Jerrell Young from South Florida, and George Iloka from Boise State.

    The best bet for any of these players might be to make the Vikings on special teams and work their way into the starting lineup. 

    Linebacker:

    Where the Vikings select a linebacker will depend on what happens in free agency. Most likely looking to add some depth later in the draft, the Vikings may consider a couple of Senior Bowl players in Audie Cole from N.C. State or Demario Davis from Arkansas State.

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