Ranking the 5 Biggest Free-Agent Priorities for the Minnesota Vikings

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IFebruary 21, 2013

Ranking the 5 Biggest Free-Agent Priorities for the Minnesota Vikings

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    Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman went on the record again Thursday, saying at the NFL Scouting Combine that the team had no plans to trade Percy Harvin.

    At this point in the year, declarative statements like that only go so far, but for now we'll take Spielman's word for it. No matter what else happens in the 2013 offseason, Harvin's future with the club will have the biggest impact on the team moving forward.

    If they keep Harvin and re-sign him to a big deal, they move on with two of the most dominant offensive players in the league. If they decide to cut ties with him at some point, they'll have to hit free agency and the draft with a mindset that has to immediately fill in the gap left by Harvin.

    Beyond that, don't expect the Vikings to be very big players in the free-agency market. Spielman's M.O. is to nurture his own, so the priority will be to re-sign their own free agents rather than to over-spend on one of the big-name free agents available.

    Here we count down the Vikings' five biggest free-agent priorities for 2013. 

5. Wide Receiver

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    Though many fans of the Vikings would love for the club to make a big splash by signing a big-name free-agent wide receiver, it's just not going to happen.

    If the Vikings are not blowing smoke and have every intention of keeping Percy Harvin, they're going to have to pay him a lot of money. Harvin is certainly a candidate for a franchise tag after the 2013 season, but ideally both sides could work out a long-term deal before that. 

    That two-year window would at least give the Vikings a better indication of where they are with quarterback Christian Ponder and time to upgrade at the wide receiver position. 

    If things change over the next month and Harvin is indeed traded, then all bets are off and wide receiver becomes the most important position in free agency.

    Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace and Wes Welker would all be options, as Minnesota would simply have to fill in their roster with a No. 1 receiver.

    That scenario is a long shot, though. Expect Harvin to be in purple in 2013. 

    Jerome Simpson remains an intriguing prospect for the Vikings. He had a miserable season in 2012, but he's clearly the athlete the Vikings thought he was when they signed him last offseason. Simpson battled injuries for most of last season and never seemed to get on the same page as Ponder. He'd certainly be worth bringing back for a deal similar to the $1 million they gave him for 2012. 

4. Safety

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    In March of 2004 the Vikings made an uncharacteristic move when they spent big bucks to sign Antoine Winfield away from the Buffalo Bills.

    It's highly unlikely to happen again.

    Would it be nice to sign safety Jairus Byrd away from the Buffalo Bills? Of course it would; everyone would love to add a Pro Bowl-type safety to their defense. It won't happen because the Vikings can't afford him and the Bills will probably franchise tag him if they have to.

    William Moore of the Atlanta Falcons is another extremely attractive free-agent strong safety, but that won't happen for the same reasons that apply to Byrd.

    What the Vikings will more than likely do is re-sign free agent Jamarca Sanford. After a pretty brutal 2011 season, Sanford bounced back in 2012 and had a pretty solid season alongside Harrison Smith. Sanford lost the starting spot to Mistral Raymond out of training camp, but took over after Raymond was injured.

    Sanford is a very well-liked player in the Vikings locker room and is one of the vocal leaders on the team. He'll never be a superstar player, but he's a great glue guy and will almost certainly be back in purple to challenge Raymond for the starting spot once again. 

3. Fullback

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    The Minnesota Vikings were fullback Jerome Felton's fourth team in four seasons. He can expect that merry-go-round to stop after his Pro Bowl season in 2012.

    Felton is a solid lead blocker and that's all the Vikings are asking him to be. When Adrian Peterson is in your backfield, you don't need your fullback to carry the ball, you just need him to pick off anyone who might be in Peterson's way.

    Felton should be an easy re-sign for the Vikings as he loves being in the same backfield as Peterson and is looking forward to being on the same team for consecutive seasons.

    He is obviously due a bit of a raise, but will be signed to a reasonable deal that won't hurt Minnesota's cap much.

2. Quarterback

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    The Minnesota Vikings 2012 season was an unexpected success and with it came a lot of back-slapping and congratulating. Going from the dismal 3-13 2011 season to a 10-win year with a playoff appearance was surprising and it raises the bar for expectations heading into 2013.

    The Vikings owners hedged their bet a little bit when they didn't extend head coach Leslie Frazier's contract. They simply exercised their one-year option on him.

    The Minnesota brass may have to do the same thing with quarterback Christian Ponder.

    While Ponder showed signs of improvement late in 2012, he hasn't shown the overall progress you'd want from a starting NFL quarterback. He's a work in progress and the truth is that nobody knows yet if he has what it takes to be a quality starter.

    What the Vikings should know after the debacle in the playoffs is that Joe Webb is not a viable backup quarterback. It was a horrible situation for Webb to be dropped into, but he just doesn't have the throwing accuracy to play quarterback in the NFL.

    Beyond Ponder, the biggest question in the Vikings quarterback mix is McLeod Bethel-Thompson. If the Vikings feel like he's ready to play in games beginning in 2013, they can stand pat with what they have, or draft another quarterback in the later rounds. 

    If Bethel-Thompson is nowhere near ready to play, then the Vikings have to sign a viable backup. Ponder is still a question mark and every starting quarterback is one play away from injury.

    It would be shocking if the Vikings brought in somebody as expensive as the Dolphins' Matt Moore will probably be. If Moore does leave Miami, he'll want to sign somewhere where he has the opportunity to start, and that's not going to happen in Minnesota.

    Vikings GM Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier have gone all in on Ponder and all of their futures may be tied to how Ponder performs.

    It's obviously great to have Adrian Peterson on your side, but an NFL football team can only go as far as their quarterback can take them.

1. Offensive Line

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    Four years into his Vikings career and it's time for Phil Loadholt to get paid.

    The mammoth right tackle had a nice bounce-back season in 2012 and is one of the most high-profile offensive lineman in this year's free-agent crop. You'd certainly hope that Loadholt will take a little less money to stay in Minnesota, but he still deserves a hefty raise from the $918,000 he made last year.

    Loadholt is a very good run-blocker and a so-so pass-blocker. He'll never be quick enough to be a great pass-blocker, but his massive size and run-blocking make him the third-most valuable member of the Vikings offensive line. 

    In the ultimate team sport, continuity is vital in offensive lines. With Loadholt and Matt Kalil at tackle and John Sullivan under center, the Vikings have three great pieces on their front five.

    If the Vikings want to spend any money in outside free agency, somebody like Bills guard Andy Levitre would be a nice fit. Bills beat writer Joe Buscaglia isn't very optimistic that the Bills are going to sign Levitre, and the Vikings have made noise at guard before, signing Steve Hutchinson to a massive deal in 2006.

    While Levitre is no Hutchinson, he'd still be a sizable upgrade over either Charlie Johnson or Brandon Fusco.