Predicting the Vikings' NFL Free-Agent Targets

Bob Garman@@bgarmaniAnalyst IMarch 7, 2013

Predicting the Vikings' NFL Free-Agent Targets

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    The NFL's free-agent free-for-all begins next week. For those who bleed purple, it's a bittersweet time. Historically, the Minnesota Vikings aren't big spenders in the free-agent market, instead choosing to depend on the draft to fill immediate needs, then sign a few cost-effective veteran free agents to fill any remaining gaps. The following slideshow predicts the Vikings' NFL free-agent targets.

    Given the Vikings' usual M.O. when it comes to free agency, they'll have plenty of cap room to get things done.  The team released wide receiver Michael Jenkins Monday, which should leave them about 17.5 million in cap space.

    Most experts agree that the Vikes need help in several areas. The biggest weaknesses on the roster are at wide receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker, backup quarterback, offensive guard and the defensive backfield.

    The first thing that Minnesota needs to do is evaluate its own free agents. Once that process is over, then the team can look outside of the current roster to fill any remaining needs. The first slide will cover the Vikings' current list of free agents.

    The slides that follow will give a position-by-position breakdown of what the Vikings have, and what's available. Available free agents will be categorized as either Pure Fantasy (big names that cost big money, and thus are unlikely to be signed), It Could Happen (guys that seem to fit the Vikings' normal free-agent profile) and Others to Consider (those guys that might work out that don't fit into the other two categories). Each slide will end with a prediction of who Minnesota will target.

    Click on to start predicting the Vikings' NFL free-agent targets.

Their Own Guys

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    As of Wednesday morning, the Vikings had 14 free agents on their roster. That list includes some starters from 2012 (LBs Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson, FB Jerome Felton, OT Phil Loadholt and S Jamarca Sanford), some primary backups (WRs Devin Aromashodu and Jerome Simpson and CB AJ Jefferson) and some fringe players.

    The amount of money needed to retain these free agents varies widely, and the Vikings are likely to simply let some of the players walk.

    Those likely to leave include Aromashodu, OT Troy Kropog, LB Marvin Mitchell, C Joe Berger and OG Geoff Schwartz. The Vikings can easily replace the contributions of these players and probably do so for less money than they paid this group in 2012.

    For the right price, the team might be willing to hold on to Simpson, who had a disappointing 2012 due to injury concerns and a suspension to start the season. If Simpson comes back, it will likely be on an incentive-laden one-year deal.

    Another player who might be re-signed for the right price is CB Marcus Sherels. Sherels is a serviceable kick returner who could see some spot duty in the defensive backfield. Since Sherels is an exclusive-rights free agent, the Vikings could offer him the NFL minimum and keep his services without getting into a bidding war with another team.

    Of the remaining free agents, the team is most likely to re-sign safeties Sanford and Andrew Sendejo. Sanford played well when injuries forced him into a starting role, and is a valuable special teams contributor. Sendejo is another exclusive-rights free agent. He has value as a special-teamer, and he can be re-signed for the minimum. 

    CB A.J. Jefferson is another likely signing. He's a restricted free agent, meaning the team can choose to tender him an offer based on his draft position, and earn the right of first refusal if he gets another offer. Since Jefferson was an undrafted free agent, the Vikings would likely offer him the second-round tender (currently just over a million dollars) in order to retain his services.

    That leaves the two biggest names. FB Jerome Felton had a great year, leading the way for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings running game. Felton will likely be offered what the top fullbacks in the league earn—somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million a year.

    The other huge name on the list is a huge person as well. Right tackle Phil Loadholt was not tagged with the franchise player designation, which would have tied him to Minnesota for a year (and cost the Vikings just under $9 million). Instead, the team is likely to offer him a multi-year deal worth somewhere between $5 and $6 million per year.


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    Position Overview 

    The good news is that the Vikings aren't looking for a starter here. They're committed to former first-round pick Christian Ponder as the team's leader going forward. Instead, the team will likely try to sign a veteran backup that can play well enough to keep the team on track if Ponder goes down with an injury.


    Pure Fantasy

    Matt Moore (Miami Dolphins). Moore is a very solid backup, and is looking to work his way into a starting job somewhere. He will likely demand more money and playing time than the Vikings are willing to commit to.


    It Could Happen

    Jason Campbell (Chicago Bears), Brady Quinn (Kansas City Chiefs), Rex Grossman (Washington Redskins) and Josh Johnson (Cleveland Browns).

    Of this lot, Campbell, Quinn and Grossman have all been underwhelming as starters, but could be effective as backups. Johnson is very much like Joe Webb, who is already on the roster.


    Others to Consider 

    David Carr (NY Giants), Byron Leftwich (Pittsburgh Steelers), Derek Anderson (Arizona Cardinals) and Matt Leinart (Oakland Raiders).



    Grossman could be the choice here.

    He's started quite a few NFL games for a couple of teams, and quarterbacked the Bears to Super Bowl XLI in 2007. Grossman is somewhat similar to Ponder in terms of style, and wouldn't require the team to change its offense drastically if he were pressed into service.

Wide Receiver

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    Position Overview

    This might be the Vikings' biggest position of need. Their top receiver in terms of both catches and yards was Percy Harvin, who missed all or part of nine games with injuries in 2012.

    Given Harvin's touchy temperament and the fact that he's in the last year of his rookie contract, the team might consider trading him. However, General Manager Rick Spielman insists that Harvin isn't on the block.

    Counting Harvin, the Vikings only have five receivers under contract. Only Jarius Wright, entering his second season, is a lock to make the team this year.  


    Pure Fantasy

    Wes Welker (New England Patriots), Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh Steelers), Danny Amendola (St. Louis Rams). Welker is most likely to end up back with the Patriots. He's too smart to think that he could easily duplicate his production in a different system with a quarterback not named Tom Brady.

    Both Wallace and Amendola are big names with injury histories. Each will likely get a big contract with some desperate team, however. That's just not the way the Vikings play ball.


    It Could Happen

    Greg Jennings (Green Bay Packers), Brian Hartline (Miami Dolphins). Jennings is coming off of an injury-plagued year and Hartline is an ideal No. 2-type receiver. Hartline would have to be signed quickly, as rumor has it he's very close to re-signing with Miami (h/t Alex Marvez, Fox Sports).


    Others to Consider

    Julian Edelman (New England Patriots), Brandon Gibson (St. Louis Rams) and Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh Steelers).



    Signing free-agent wide receivers is a dicey proposition, at best. Look for the Vikings to target a receiver in the first round or two of April's NFL draft.

    If the Vikings do test the waters, the best bet is Jennings. The team could offer him an incentive-laden deal, which would lower his impact on the salary cap if he's either injured or simply doesn't produce.

Offensive Guard

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    Position Overview

    Given that Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards last season, it's hard to be too critical of the Vikings offensive line. However, while it's generally agreed that the Vikings have one of the 10 best lines in the NFL, they could still use some help at one or both of the guard spots.

    Charlie Johnson proved to be a better left guard than left tackle, but still wasn't anywhere near dominant. On the other side, Brandon Fusco struggled mightily at times.

    An upgrade here would make the team even stronger next season.


    Pure Fantasy

    Andy Levitre (Buffalo Bills).

    The Vikings won't be signing Levitre, who will probably get somewhere north of $7 million a year from someone. Minnesota just won't eat up nearly half its cap space for an interior offensive lineman.


    It Could Happen

    Brandon Moore (New York Jets) and Louis Vasquez (San Diego Chargers).  

    There isn't a particularly deep crop of guards in this year's free-agency pool. Moore would be an upgrade for the Vikings at either spot, while Vasquez is certainly better than Fusco, and would thrive next to John Sullivan, Minnesota's outstanding center.


    Others to Consider

    Donald Thomas (New England Patriots).



    The top guards in the draft are likely to go early this year, so free agency might be the way to go here.

    Unless the Vikings simply re-sign Geoff Schwartz to a cheap deal, Moore is the way to go here. He's a solid pass protector and a mauler in the run game. He fits the Vikings profile perfectly.

Defensive Tackle

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    Position Overview

    Historically, the defensive tackle position has been a strong suit of the Vikings. That wasn't really the case in 2012.

    Kevin Williams, long a stalwart on the interior line, continued to show his age. Williams only registered 19 tackles and two sacks on the season, and with a cap hit of $ 7.5 million set for the upcoming season, the veteran will either have to re-structure his deal or finish his career somewhere else. Fred Evans and Letroy Guion played passably at the other tackle spot, but neither is a top-notch NFL starter.

    If the Vikings can agree to a reduced deal with Williams, there should be money left under the cap to sign a veteran to play alongside the future Hall of Famer.


    Pure Fantasy

    Richard Seymour (Oakland Raiders).

    Much like Williams, Seymour's best days are behind him. He'll ask for a lot of money, based on his reputation, but his days of double-digit sack totals are over.


    It Could Happen 

    Jason Jones (Seattle Seahawks), Desmond Bryant (Oakland Raiders) and Sedrick Ellis (New Orleans Saints).  

    Jones is more of an end than a tackle, but has done both in his time with Seattle. Bryant is a steady, dependable run-stopper, though he doesn't rush the passer at the level of the elite tackles in the league. Ellis, considered a bust, has shown flashes of promise.


    Others to Consider

    Cullen Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles), Isaac Sopoaga (San Francisco 49ers), Chris Canty (NY Giants) and Terrance Knighton (Jacksonville Jaguars).



    If defensive tackle isn't a priority in the draft, then the Vikings might like Bryant the most. Bryant's recent brush with the law might even drive his asking price down a bit. They have to like his intelligence. He went to Harvard.

    Bryant won't ever record double-digit sacks, but he'd be an upgrade over anyone the Vikings currently have at the position.


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    Position Overview

    The Vikings' starters didn't play poorly in 2012. Chad Greenway led the team in tackles, Erin Henderson showed a nose for the ball and Jasper Brinkley was solid against the run.

    The problem for the Vikings is depth.

    Behind the starters, there is little experience or quality to be found. The most likely scenario is that the Vikings will sign either Brinkley or Henderson and let the other walk. Since Brinkley will command less cash, he's the best bet to return.


    Pure Fantasy

    Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore Ravens), Paul Kruger (Baltimore Ravens) and Brian Urlacher (Chicago Bears).  

    Ellerbe and Kruger both performed admirably for the Super Bowl champs last season, and they will command big price tags based on those stats. They are probably out of the Minnesota price range. Urlacher will also command a hefty sum, and is clearly on the downside of a spectacular career.


    It Could Happen

    Brad Jones (Green Bay Packers) and Daryl Smith (Jacksonville Jaguars).

    Jones plays the middle and Smith the outside. Both are reasonably productive and would be able to start for the Vikings. If the Vikings re-sign Brinkley, they might consider Smith as an alternative to Henderson. If Henderson stays with the team and Brinkley walks (or even if he re-signs as well), Jones would provide an upgrade in the middle.


    Others to Consider

    Leroy Hill (Seattle Seahawks) and Shaun Phillips (San Diego Chargers).



    Assuming that Brinkley is the most likely to re-sign, the obvious choice is Smith. He'll likely get a bit more money than Henderson on the open market, but his production warrants the extra expense. It's possible that the Vikings could re-sign both of the incumbents and still pursue Jones.


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    Position Overview

    Ideally, the Vikings would start Chris Cook at one corner, Josh Robinson at the other and use Antoine Winfield in the slot and AJ Jefferson coming on the field in dime situations. The problem is that Cook and Winfield have both had injury issues over the past few years, and Robinson isn't suited to be a No. 1 corner at this stage of his career.

    When all of the corners are healthy and active, the secondary isn't bad. When the inevitable injuries come along, the Vikings get exposed with players like Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton on the field. 


    Pure Fantasy

    Aqib Talib (New England Patriots) and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (Philadelphia Eagles).  

    Talib has had too many disciplinary issues to be a serious consideration and Cromartie is looking to earn top dollar. Neither really fits the Vikings' plans.


    It Could Happen

    Chris Houston (Detroit Lions), Brent Grimes (Atlanta Falcons) and Derek Cox (Jacksonville Jaguars).

    Houston isn't a huge upgrade over the current starters, and will likely cost too much to justify signing him as a backup and spot starter. Cox is about equal to Cook, with a similar injury history. Grimes was one of the top corners in the league in 2011, but missed 15 games with an injury last year. Teams might be scared away by that fact.


    Others to Consider

    Sean Smith (Miami Dolphins), Quentin Jammer (San Diego), Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Derek Cox (Jacksonville Jaguars).



    It's a fact of life in the NFL. Cornerbacks get injured. Since most of the players in the Vikings' price range have injury histories, the team might have to take a risk. Grimes, if healthy, is the best of this lot, but many teams will shy away due to his injury-plagued 2012 season.

    The Vikings aren't above taking a limited risk on a veteran coming back from injury. A one-year deal loaded with playing-time incentives might just be the ticket.


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    Position Overview 

    In 2011, the Vikings suffered from atrocious play at the safety position. In 2012, rookie Harrison Smith and the combination of Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond played much better on the back end.

    Raymond isn't a great run-stopper and Sanford is more valuable to the team as a special teams standout. Minnesota could still use some depth at the position, if not a new starter.


    Pure Fantasy

    Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens), Ronde Barber (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Dashon Goldson (San Francisco 49ers).

    If Reed decides to play another year, he'll command a hefty price tag. Barber is simply too old to fit the Vikings' needs, and Goldson will command top dollar. None of these three really fit into Minnesota's plans.


    It Could Happen

    Kenny Phillips (NY Giants), Glover Quin (Houston Texans) and William Moore (Atlanta Falcons).

    Quin and Moore might be a bit pricey for Vikings GM Rick Spielman. Both would represent an upgrade over Sanford and Raymond, but wouldn't be as good a value for the money. Phillips has suffered from injuries recently and could probably be signed to a cap-friendly contract.


    Others to Consider

    Patrick Chung (New England Patriots), Louis Delmas (Detroit Lions) and Chris Clemons (Miami Dolphins).



    The Vikings have seen enough of Delmas to know better. Chung and Phillips are the most likely candidates. Given Phillips' recent injury history, he might be looking for a little less money. Kenny Phillips it is.


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    Though the Vikings improved drastically from 2011 to 2012, there are still a number of holes in the roster. The team is looking to open a new stadium in two years, and it would help ticket sales to have a recent history of playoff appearances.

    While GM Rick Spielman prefers to build through the draft and re-sign his own players, there are bargains to be had in the free-agent market. If the Vikings spend wisely, they can set themselves up as a team to contend with for the next five to 10 years.

    Somebody missing from the list? Have your own predictions? Think Minnesota should break the bank for a big name or two? Speak your mind in the comments section below.