Missing Pieces the Vikings Could Still Get
June in the NFL is sort of like waking up at 5 a.m. when the alarm is set for 6:30 a.m. You probably can't fall asleep again, but getting up that early feels like a waste of time, so you just sort of lay there.
Teams across the league have all finished their first round of OTAs, beginning the summer season in shorts and a whole lot of sweat.
For the Minnesota Vikings the OTAs are probably as important as anywhere else in the league, as the Vikings are trying to integrate a second-year coach and quarterback into a team that could have as many as 15 to 20 new players on the roster.
At a time when the free-agent pool has mostly been picked through and undrafted rookies who have any chance of sticking have all signed, there isn't much left for a team to add that would pay much of a dividend.
There are some pretty high-profile names still out there, but they all come with red flags and caution tape for a variety of reasons. They're old, injured or just not worth the trouble of bringing into your locker room.
I think the Vikings had a stellar draft and at this point see no reason why all 10 drafted players won't make the roster. Add to that several signed free agents and Minnesota will have a decidedly different look at the start of the 2012 season.
Here is a look at a few players the Vikings could still conceivably get, but more often than not, I'll list reasons as to why the Vikings should probably stay away.
E.J. Henderson, MLB
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E.J. Henderson has been a consummate professional in his time with the Vikings, fighting through a string of injuries and always being a constant presence when on the field.
He had 110 tackles for the Vikings last year, and although he's still a competitor against the run, Henderson's days of being good in coverage or any kind of a sack threat are long gone.
I'd be surprised if Henderson went the whole summer without being signed, but if he isn't, there is still a chance he could re-up with Minnesota. The Vikings are leaning towards giving Jasper Brinkley the first shot at the starting job in the middle, and they got a steal in the sixth round by getting Audie Cole out of North Carolina State. But in the event that Brinkley doesn't prove he's ready for the starting role, the Vikings should keep Henderson's number on their speed dial.
Probability: 30 percent. I think the Vikings are ready to rebuild and though they have all the respect in the world for E.J., they want to get younger where they can.
Ryan Longwell, K
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Trust me on this one: Ryan Longwell will thoroughly enjoy his summer honing his scratch golf game while kicking just enough footballs to be ready for a call that will most certainly come.
Nobody is going to sign a 37-year-old kicker until they have to. And no scratch golfer is going to sign with an NFL team until he has to.
Training camp will start and anywhere from three to seven NFL teams will realize that they are unhappy with the kickers they have on hand. That huge leg that impressed them so much in March and early June will prove to be not as consistent when it really matters.
Come mid-to-late August those teams with some suspicions about their kickers will hit the panic button and start calling those consistent veterans who still have a year or two left in their legs. Longwell will certainly be one of those guys.
The Vikings let Longwell go after taking Blair Walsh in the draft. Walsh has a huge leg, but the list of college kickers with huge legs left on the side of the road at the NFL level is long. Walsh will obviously be given every opportunity to win the job with Minnesota, but if he doesn't pan out, don't be surprised if Longwell is back in purple.
Probability: 20 percent. At this point, we're giving the benefit of the doubt to Walsh.
Plaxico Burress, WR
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In a word: No.
Is Plaxico Burress a better NFL wide receiver today than Greg Childs or even Michael Jenkins? Yes. Would it be worth it to the Vikings to bring him in for 2012? Absolutely, positively not.
Burress had a very respectable comeback season with the Jets last year, catching 45 balls for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. He proved that two years out of the league didn't kill his career, and he's still a really good red-zone threat.
What Burress is not, however, is any kind of answer for a team in a wholesale rebuild like the Vikings are. Even if Burress could come in and improve on his 2011 numbers (very doubtful), it would only hinder the growth of the youngsters the Vikings have on hand.
Are the Vikings one big-play, red-zone receiver away from a playoff push? No. The interest level league wide on Burress has been pretty slim for a couple of reasons. He'll be 35 years old next season and he's proved to not be the smartest guy in the world, not the veteran presence you want around a team that will have so many young players looking for guidance on it.
Probability: 1 percent. Never say never. Having said that, um, never.
Marcus McNeill, OT
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The fact that Marcus McNeill remains unsigned in June is pretty telling, don't you think?
The number of teams that could use a 6'7", 335-pound left tackle who has multiple Pro Bowls under his belt and is only 28 years old should be pretty much everybody, no?
The secret is out that McNeill is damaged goods at this point, with two knee operations and then a serious neck injury to boot, McNeill's best days, or even his days in the league, may be over.
He'll get some looks over the summer for sure. Teams will do their due diligence on McNeill, and if he's healthy and wants to play, he'll certainly land a job before things kick off in September.
While the Vikings are obviously hoping they have no need for McNeill, the decline in play of Phil Loadholt in 2011 has to have them on alert. They'll be working Loadholt hard over the offseason to make sure he shows up for training camp in the best shape possible so that he can regain the form from his first couple of seasons.
If Loadholt fails to do so, McNeill might be available at a discount price.
Probability: 5 percent. I think the Vikings are confident Loadholt will bounce back. I also think some team will overpay for a guy who has had some serious injury problems in McNeill.
The Vikings Missing Pieces Aren't Available Yet
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I realize that if you looked at this slideshow hoping to find some hidden gems just sitting out there waiting to be signed that would improve the Vikings in 2012, I haven't helped you any.
At this point, as they say, the hay is in the barn for the 2012 season. The Vikings could certainly add a piece or two as needed because of injury or bad play from the guys on hand, but don't expect much more. The Vikings front office has done a wonderful job of adding talent this offseason, and they've done so without breaking the bank on a guy like Vincent Jackson or Carl Nicks, which would have been foolhardy moves for a team that is rebuilding.
Instead, the Vikings added three or four free agents who will either start or at least get a lot of snaps and all of them are still pretty young. Add to that a stellar draft (I see no reason why all 10 guys shouldn't make the roster. It's a long shot, but who would you guess wouldn't make it right now? Seventh-round choice, defensive end Trevor Guyton was ranked 95th on Mike Mayock's board!).
None of this is to say that the Vikings don't have missing pieces; of course they do. It's a rebuild that is going to take a couple of years. The quickest way to hamstring that type of rebuild is to throw a ton of money at guys like Nicks or Jackson, who will be worth far, far less in two years than they were this offseason.
The Vikings and their fans have to be patient. Next year's draft will probably bring another really high pick and hopefully three more starters. That's how you rebuild.
Better days are ahead.