The Minnesota Vikings are no stranger to the buzz that surrounds free agency in the otherwise deadened offseason. With teams open to negotiate with players on March 9 and free to sign them three days later, rumors have been flying as the deadline approaches, and any number of players have been suggested as possible free-agent targets.
Despite a playoff run, there hasn't been a lot of talk of free agents willing to sell their services to the Vikings. The perceived attractiveness of the Vikings as a destination for star players is fairly low, but Minnesota can still hope to attract a number of impact players if things go well.
The nature of the rumors makes it hard to know what's genuine and what isn't, but knowing the team and its front office should give some clues as to whether or not the average fan should buy or sell the rumors.
It's not groundbreaking to say the Vikings need help at wide receiver or that Bowe is one of the top free agents on the market, but analysts outside the bubble of Chiefs or Vikings fandom have weighed in with their insight.
Adam Schefter at ESPN "figures" that the Vikings should be interested in the former LSU Tiger if the Chiefs choose to let him test the market.
It's more than simple calculation, however. While Schefter doesn't think it's likely (subscription) that Bowe walks away without being re-signed or tagged, anything is possible in a new regime.
It makes sense to take Schefter at his word. His read on teams is a bit better than the average fan. With sources in nearly every organization and a good feel for a team's profile and personnel attitude, he can do a fairly good job describing how a team plans to build for the future.
More than that, it does make sense that the Vikings would pursue Bowe. Schematically, Bowe is a good fit. With his penchant for circus catches and in-air adjustments to the ball, he can cover for any deficiencies in Ponder's game.
Bowe can run almost any route and might be able to do anything that Percy Harvin won't be asked to do. In an offense like the one offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave runs, he might be underutilized, but he would be an immediate impact on the team—he's a three level receiver that can stretch defenses out horizontally and vertically.
There are concerns about his concentration and character, but the first concern is overrated. He's never ranked in the top 10 of receivers in drop rate, although 2012 was a relatively poor year for him. He ranked 12th in catches dropped per catchable pass last year, but ranked below the top 25 the four years previous, including 50th overall in 2009.
Minnesota has paid particular attention to character—including a long list of draftees with red flags—but every team takes character risks for talent, just like when Rick Spielman approved the Harvin pick as the vice president of player personnel. The team took a chance on Everson Griffen, Fred Evans and Jared Allen. It could do the same with Dwayne Bowe.
This isn't quite a free-agency rumor, but any offseason report on the buzz around the team would be incomplete without a discussion of Harvin.
The same Adam Schefter that argued the Vikings should be interested in Bowe also pointed out that the Vikings would do all they can to retain Percy Harvin—and that thinking otherwise would be delusional.
It's not just that the Vikings would be giving away an asset at a position they are already weak at, but that they might not get value for any trade. Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500 reported that an NFL personnel executive thought the Vikings might only get a second- or third-round pick, while Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network reported that one NFL general manager said he would be shocked if the Vikings received better than a third-round pick.
For one of the most productive picks of the 2009 NFL draft (and perhaps better than those picked above him), that seems awfully low.
The Vikings are a ball-control team that values consistent yardage to manage the clock on their terms, and Harvin might be the best receiver in the NFL for that particular type of offense.
Naturally, his attitude has irked fans and possibly team executives with his moody behavior. From reported preseason demands to be traded to sideline arguments with the head coach Leslie Frazier, Harvin has been a constant source of tension and potentially conflict on the team.
His close friendship with Randy Moss doesn't help the perception that he's trouble waiting to happen.
But every team has dozens of personalities to deal with, some more demanding than others. The Vikings know that and are willing to take that risk for a truly special player. It's unlikely that they'll hit on an equally productive player, especially with the draft pick they might receive in return.
Perhaps the most bandied-about rumor involving free agency and the Vikings involves a productive performer from across the border, Greg Jennings (formerly) of the Green Bay Packers.
Minnesota followers well know the damage Jennings can cause. In 14 games against the Vikings, Jennings put up 964 yards on 65 receptions for 10 touchdowns—a good season nearly in itself.
Greg Jennings has indicated he's willing to play for the Vikings, although he didn't provide a ringing endorsement either, quickly adding that he would play for any team in the National Football League willing to have him. Jennings' interest is probably not the biggest barrier to his inclusion on the Minnesota roster.
Jennings could provide veteran leadership in the locker room, a deep understanding of the Packers offense and the ability to move defenders out of box—all things the Vikings need.
But his age (he will be 30 for most of the 2013 season) and recent injury history give reason for pause. The Vikings had the fifth youngest team in the NFL and the second youngest team in the playoffs (and started the year at fourth and first, respectively), and will want to continue the trend toward younger players as they build for the future. Twenty-two of the 53 players on the roster by the end of the year were in their first or second seasons.
Over the past two years, Greg Jennings has missed more regular season games (11) than the "injury-prone" Percy Harvin has in his career (10). The variety of injuries should be cause for concern as well, given that abdominal strains, hamstring injuries and a sprained medial collateral ligament have sidelined him in recent years and concerns about durability could stay Spielman's hand for an already inconsistent receiving corps.
He also does not provide the additional dynamic the Vikings need. According to Pro Football Focus (in their subscription-only Premium Stats section), Jennings has had over a third of his touchdowns, receptions and yards come from the slot position in the last five years and produced more yards there than going deep—unusual for what many people consider a multi-talented receiver.
While the Vikings haven't locked up Percy Harvin to a long-term deal, they likely won't need help at the slot.
Jennings has an unusually low catch rate for deep balls and doesn't take the top off of defenses as well as one might think—playing with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver made Jennings less important for opposing defenses, and he still only managed 45 yards a game.
He's undoubtedly a skilled player, deservedly called by some the best free-agent receiver available (subscription), but without the ability to either play at all three levels or consistently move safeties back, his value to the Vikings would be less than the contract he would rightly command.
Of course, if the Vikings move Harvin, that could change.
Phil Loadholt was one of the more valuable players for the Vikings franchise, maintaining a dominant run-blocking performance for the past three years. Inconsistent as a pass protector, Loadholt improved in a big way in 2012.
He still has problems kick sliding to the outside and maintaining blocks for long periods of time, but he has much better intuition than before and a good sense of where to place his body (if not always the ability to put it there).
For a team that relies on Adrian Peterson and the run game so heavily, Loadholt provides somewhat unique value. He can create yardage for a team that had the fewest deep targets in the league and most yards after the catch as a percentage of passing yardage (as determined by Pro Football Focus - again, in their Premium Stats section).
As a result, the folks at PFF have identified Loadholt as a probable franchise tag target. While causing some stir among fan blogs, it really is very unlikely.
Such a tag would cost $9.7 million according to PFF, and that would be significantly overpaying. When signing new contracts, top-tier right tackles have barely averaged $5 million a year (Tyson Clabo, for example, parlayed himself into a contract averaging $4.8 million) according to Spotrac. The only right tackles paid more than that (like Doug Free) signed their new contracts when they were expected to play on the left side.
With Matt Kalil on the team, that's a fairly unlikely scenario.
Loadholt is not one of the best right tackles in the league by any means, but even if he were, paying him twice that of others at his position would be foolish.
The Vikings should be able to sign him to a long-term deal, which should not be too difficult to negotiate; there aren't likely any other teams willing to pay over $5 million a year for an inconsistent tackle. The history of free agency for right tackles suggests that Loadholt won't command much more.
With the glut of free-agent tackles hitting the market, the Vikings should be able to easily replace Loadholt if he walks. Sebastian Vollmer, Gosder Cherilus, King Dunlap, Ryan Harris, Sean Locklear and other starting right tackles will be available. Not all of them are as good as Loadholt (some are), but all of them would cost less than $10 million.
Sirius XM NFL Satellite Radio reported that Adrian Peterson and Dwight Freeney had a conversation where Peterson expressed great interest in Freeney signing with the Vikings.
It's not happening.
Barring an unlikely trade of Jared Allen, the Vikings have almost $25 million in cap space (over one-fifth of available space) invested in the three defensive ends they currently have. Freeney was technically a linebacker in the Colts' new 3-4 system but is honestly just a pure pass-rusher (one who suffered from the position change).
Freeney won't command an amazing salary given his down year, but he won't be cheap either.
Generally speaking, successful Tampa-2 teams have had three effective pass-rushers, like the 2007 New York Giants or the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. More than that is a waste, especially with the Vikings having so many other positions of need.
With only $13.7 million in estimated cap space, the Vikings will look elsewhere to fill their remaining roster space and cap room.