Vikings: Building a 2013 Free Agent Shopping List Around Projected Cap Space
Last offseason was relatively quiet for the Minnesota Vikings.
Their biggest signing was John Carlson. They offered the former Seattle Seahawks tight end $25 million over five years.
This offseason the Vikings will probably stay relatively quiet again. That's because much of the roster is filled with youngsters who the franchise hopes will develop into playoff-caliber players (many already are).
According to my Bleacher Report colleague Tim Arcand, the Minnesota Vikings have 16 players who will be free agents this offseason, freeing up roughly $13.9 million. That leaves Minnesota's projected 2013 salary cap at $101.6 million.
The 2013 NFL salary cap will be $120 million and teams are forced to spend at least 88.8 percent of that amount, or $107.1 million. So the Vikings will have to spend a minimum of roughly $5.5 million this offseason.
That means Minnesota has, at max, $18.4 million to spend in free agency.
The Vikings' notable free agents are Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Kevin Williams, Jerome Simpson and Phil Loadholt. Depending on how the market values those players, it is logical that Minnesota would try to re-sign all of them.. Some of the minimum $5.5 million will be spent on those players. But Minnesota will likely re-sign other players who are scheduled to be free agents (here's spotrac.com's list).
Given the roster's makeup and the likely free agents, Minnesota's offseason position needs are at wide receiver, middle linebacker, outside linebacker and tight end.
Each of the following slides will be dedicated to one of the those positions and will feature a handful of players Minnesota could be interested in signing.
Potential Wide Receivers
This is the position where the Vikings need the most help. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson all gone in 2013.
That would mean Minnesota would need to sign and draft three receivers, at least.
Don't kid yourself. Minnesota is unlikely to make a sexy splash at the position. Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe are not likely to be in purple and gold next year.
Percy Harvin is the No. 1 guy and needs a new contract soon. So money at the position will be tight. But the Vikings do need a No. 2 receiver to complement Harvin and can't afford to have too tight a wallet.
While the Vikings need a downfield threat, more than anything they need competent receivers.
Here are some possible candidates:
Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers: Alexander has seemingly come from nowhere to take the NFL by storm the past two weeks. Over that stretch he's caught 12 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. The third-year receiver has shown good ball skills. At 6'5" and 217 pounds, he could be a dangerous red-zone threat.
Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins: Hartline is on pace for a career season. He already has 53 receptions for 790 yards and a TD. Of his 53 receptions, 22 have come on passes thrown between 11 and 40 yards. Minnesota needs help down the field. Harvin has the short game covered and Kyle Rudolph has the intermediate.
Ramses Barden, New York Giants: It's hard to make a major impact when Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart. But Barden did light up the Carolina Panthers for nine catches and 138 yards in Week 3 when Nicks was out. He's 6'6" and 224 pounds. He could be a nice red-zone target and he's only 26 years old.
Kevin Ogletree, Dallas Cowboys: Ogletree shocked the world with eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. It's been downhill from there. But Ogletree is on a roster with three other talented receivers: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. If given a true No. 2 receiver position, he could be in line to replicate his Week 1 performance on a more consistent basis. He has the size (6'1", 198 pounds) and will turn 26 in August.
Potential Middle Linebackers
My best bet is that the Minnesota Vikings will re-sign Jasper Brinkley. He's been in the system since 2009, is 27 years old and on pace for slightly fewer than 100 tackles this season.
He doesn't play a terrible middle linebacker.
But if Minnesota opts to sign someone else, here are four possibilities:
Dannell Ellerbe, Baltimore Ravens: Ellerbe has replaced Ray Lewis, who's out for the season with a torn triceps, as Baltimore's starting middle linebacker and has posted double-digit tackles in his two starts. He's known for his pass defense more than his run defense. But Minnesota's linebackers are known more for their run defense. He'll turn 27 by the end of this month and has never had a full-time starting gig. He's on pace for 120 tackles and has two forced fumbles.
Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati Bengals: Maualuga is 25 years old and has three season with 75 or more tackles. He's on pace for more than 131 tackles this season. He's dropped 20 pounds over the past seven weeks and his coaches think it has helped his play. He's a young player who has had success but still needs to improve.
Larry Foote, Pittsburgh Steelers: Foote's a little older than Minnesota would like (will be 33 in June) and is declining. But he has a track record of success and would be a veteran presence on a defense that could be younger in 2013.
Brad Jones, Green Bay Packers: Jones is filling in well at inside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers after D.J. Smith's knee injury forced him out for the year. His primary position is outside linebacker, but he's showing the ability to play either position well. In his second start there, he had 10 tackles against Jacksonville. He's a fourth-year player looking for a starting opportunity.
Potential Outside Linebackers
It's tough to get a read on Erin Henderson. He hasn't been the same since he's returned from a concussion. It's difficult to tell if Minnesota will bring him back.
If not, Marvin Mitchell and Tyrone McKenzie, the two most likely in-house replacements, are also free agents.
If all are gone, here are four potential free agents Minnesota could pursue:
Brad Jones, Green Bay Packers: He was already on the middle linebacker slide, but Jones has the ability to play either position. As a fourth-year player who will turn 27 in April, he needs a starting opportunity. Minnesota could be attractive for him.
Daryl Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars: Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny proclaimed Smith the team's best defender during training camp. He has yet to play this season with a groin injury. Prior to this season, he had never missed more than two games and had 107 tackles last season. He's not terribly old (will be 31 in March) and would provide a veteran presence for the defense.
Erik Walden, Green Bay Packers: Walden is proving his worth while filling in on the Packers' injured linebacker corps. He's known more as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 system, but I think he could transition well to Minnesota. He had two sacks and six tackles in Green Bay's win over Detroit on Sunday and will be 28 years old at the start of the 2013 season.
Potential Tight Ends
The Minnesota Vikings are fine with their current crop of tight ends. But they may choose to cut John Carlson.
That would leave them with Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and Allen Reisner. Reisner's a young tight end known more for his receiving abilities than his blocking. Ellison is the exact opposite.
Depending how Minnesota feels about Ellison and Reisner will determine what type of tight end they may be interested in acquiring.
Martellus Bennett, New York Giants: Bennett's having a career year with the New York Giants and could be the tight end Minnesota could pair with Kyle Rudolph to form a nice duo for Christian Ponder. He's big (6'6" and 265 pounds) and has good speed (4.68-second 40-yard dash). He's caught 36 passes for 411 yards and three TDs this season at 25 years old.
Tom Crabtree, Green Bay Packers: Crabtree has been on the receiving end of some big plays for the Packers this season, such as his 27-yard reception on a fake punt against the Chicago Bears. But he's known more as a blocking tight end. He wouldn't impact the game like a Bennett would. He would do it more in a Jim Kleinsasser-type of way. He'll turn 28 next November.
Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders: Myers, like Bennett, is having a career year. He's caught 50 passes for 554 yards and three TDs. He has solid size (6'3" and 256 pounds) and average speed. He's a solid blocker with strong hands. He'll turn 28 in September and could be that best-of-both-worlds tight end Minnesota lacks.
The Minnesota Vikings will have more needs than the four positions I listed in this slideshow.
Offensive line is still an issue. Charlie Johnson is struggling at left guard and Phil Loadholt is up and down at right tackle. Minnesota is likely to re-sign Loadholt and may seek an in-house replacement for Johnson next season (Joe Berger or Geoff Schwartz).
Kevin Williams could be done at defensive tackle, but Christian Ballard is waiting in the wing for a shot to start.
Wide receiver is the big position of need. Minnesota needs to revamp its receiving corps.
Tight end may not be an issue, but I think the Vikings should seriously consider cutting ties with John Carlson.
Let me know what you think.