Grading the Minnesota Vikings' Moves so Far This Offseason
At this point in the offseason, the Minnesota Vikings are worse off than when the season ended with the Wild Card Playoff loss to the Packers. General manager Rick Spielman has been very active in the free-agent market since things got cranking last Tuesday. Let's hope this is just the beginning of the process and Spielman still has a few more moves to make.
His biggest moves so far have been the trade of Percy Harvin, the release of Antoine Winfield and the signing of Greg Jennings.
Consider this a midterm report card of the Vikings' offseason. Surely, there are still more free-agent moves to come, followed by the draft and then training camp to complete the rebuilding process for the 2013 season.
Contract data from Spotrac.com.
March 4: The Release of Wide Receiver Michael Jenkins
Sometimes a team can get better through subtraction. That's the case with Michael Jenkins. To Jenkin's defense, he was never a No. 1 receiver in his career. In his seven seasons with the Falcons, he played second fiddle at wide receiver to Roddy White.
The Vikings signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract, one day after the Falcons released him in July of 2011. Adam Schefter tweeted that the move saved the Vikings from paying a Jenkins his roster bonus. It saves the Vikings $2.42 million against the salary cap.
Without a true No. 1 receiver to command double teams, Jenkins was unable to provide any separation, catching 78 passes and five touchdowns the past two seasons.
Grade: B. The true value of this move comes in whoever replaces him. It's a good start.
March 11: The Trade of Wide Receiver Percy Harvin
While the subtraction of wide receiver Michael Jenkins can be seen as a positive, the trade of Percy Harvin is a huge loss for the Minnesota Vikings—at least until we see what general manager Rick Spielman does with the picks he received from Seattle.
On one hand, there's no question that Percy Harvin is one of the most talented all-around players in the NFL. In his four seasons with the Vikings, he set the franchise mark with five kickoff returns for a touchdown. His ability to line up anywhere on the field made him a dangerous weapon in the Vikings offense.
On the other hand, in only one of those seasons was he able to play in all 16 games. Before suffering a sprained ankle in Week 9 against the Seahawks, he was leading the NFL in all-purpose yards, and his name was being included in conversations for MVP. Part of the problem is that Harvin plays hard, and looks to deliver hits instead of avoiding them.
Perhaps he took exception to Leslie Frazier's comments early last season that the Vikings needed to limit his touches for his own protection. Frazier called Harvin reckless, stating that the 200-pound receiver doesn't hold anything back.
With the latest collective bargaining agreement in place with a rookie wage scale, it seemed like a long shot that the Vikings would be able to get a first-round draft pick for Harvin. But Spielman was able to get three picks, including not only Seattle's first-round pick, but also a seventh-rounder this year and a third-rounder next season. On paper, the deal looks at least like a draw at this point.
They gain the 25th pick in the 2013 draft. The Vikings drafted Harvin with the 22nd pick of the 2009 draft. Of course, because of his questionable history, he fell to the 22nd pick.
With a draft deep in wide receivers, the Vikings will need to find another player talented enough to earn Offensive Rookie of the Year as Harvin did.
Grade: Incomplete—mainly because how the Vikings replace Harvin will decide the grade. Plenty of people are hoping this doesn't lead to another Troy Williamson.
March 12: The Re-Signing of Jerome Simpson
It's hard to believe after the season that Jerome Simpson had in 2012, he could actually receive a pay increase. Last season the Vikings signed Simpson to a one-year, $2 million contract. They re-signed the troubled wide receiver to another one-year deal that will cost them $2.1 million in 2013.
After Simpson's career-best 50 catches in 2011 for the Bengals, the Vikings were looking for an upgrade at wide receiver. Instead, due to a three-game suspension and injuries that limited his play to 12 games, they got 26 receptions for 274 yards and zero touchdowns.
The Vikings are in desperate need at wide receiver. I'm just not sure Simpson fills that need.
Grade: C minus. Mainly based on the bust Simpson was last season.
March 12: The Release of Antoine Winfield
Last season the Minnesota Vikings were the third-youngest team in the NFL. The average age of the roster was 25.5 years old. With the release of Antoine Winfield, who will turn 36 in June, the Vikings will be even younger in 2013.
After a strong season in 2012, where Winfield finished third on the Vikings with a 101 tackles, and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, general manager Rick Spielman decided Winfield was not worth $7.25 million. Perhaps he needs to revisit the defensive rankings for the past two seasons.
When Winfield was limited to only five games in 2011, the Vikings yielded a league-high 34 touchdown passes in 2011. Last season Winfield played the entire season, and the Vikings improved to 23rd in the NFL with 28 touchdown passes allowed.
Given that Winfield is considered one of the best run-stopping corners in the league, this will be a huge hole in the Vikings defense.
Grade: D minus. Spielman needs to make good use of the money saved in cutting Winfield.
March 12: The Re-Signing of Phil Loadholt
The Minnesota Vikings had to re-sign right tackle Phil Loadholt. Their second-round draft pick from 2009 has missed only one game in four seasons, starting 63 games over the past four seasons. Loadholt agreed to a four-year, $25 million contract that will pay him $4.75 million in 2013 and escalate to $7.75 million in 2016.
General manager Rick Spielman was able to work out a long-term deal that allowed the Vikings to avoid using the franchise tag on Loadholt. The move keeps intact the 2012 offensive line that helped open up holes for Adrian Peterson who rushed for 2,097 yards.
The only downside to Loadholt is that he was one of the most penalized players in the NFL. He led the Vikings last season with 11—five of these were false starts, something that he can improve on.
Grade: A minus. The Vikings were able to retain Loadholt for a reasonable contract.
March 12: The Re-Signing of Joe Berger
The Minnesota Vikings retained the services of veteran backup offensive lineman Joe Berger with a one-year contract that will count $945,000 against the salary cap.
A sixth-round draft pick of Miami in 2007, Berger started 20 games in five seasons with the Dolphins. In his first season with the Vikings in 2011 he made seven starts. This is an insurance policy for the Vikings, who are hoping that Berger will have another season like last year, when he was not called upon to start along the offensive line.
Grade: C. It neither helps or hurts the team, but having been a part of the line the last two seasons will be helpful if the Vikings need to plug him in 2013.
March 12: Re-Signing Jamarca Sanford
After starting 15 games in 2011, Jamarca Sanford opened last season as Mistral Raymond's backup at safety. When Raymond suffered a bone bruise in his ankle in Week 3, Sanford took advantage and started the final 13 regular-season games. Over the past two seasons, he has started 28 games.
Sanford was one of four starters for the Vikings from the 2009 draft. He was the Vikings' seventh-round pick that year, which included Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt and Jasper Brinkley.
He was effective enough that the Vikings signed him to a two-year contract worth $5 million.
Grade: B. Another year playing alongside Harrison Smith may help Sanford continue to improve.
March 12: The Re-Signing of Erin Henderson
After signing a one-year deal for $2 million for last season, Erin Henderson and the Minnesota Vikings agreed to a two-year contract for $4 million. After starting the last two seasons at weak-side linebacker, Henderson was unable to negotiate a raise—perhaps he should have used the same agent as Jerome Simpson.
Henderson is rated by Walter Football as the 17th-best free agent at outside linebacker, so the Vikings had an opportunity to upgrade the position.
However, there is something to be said for having some consistency from year to year. With middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals, the Vikings could not afford to overhaul two-thirds of the starting linebacker position from last season.
Henderson had a career-high 80 tackles and three sacks playing in 14 games, starting 10 of them in 2012.
Grade: C. While not an upgrade, at least it's not a step backward.
March 12: The Re-Signing of Jerome Felton
Statistically, Felton had the worst season of his career, with only three catches and no rushes, but his presence was certainly a factor in the Vikings' offense.
Signing a three-year deal worth $7.5 million feels like a win-win for Felton and the Vikings. Due to make $1.67 million in 2013, Felton will be one of the top paid fullbacks in the league. For the Vikings, they retain the backfield duo that resulted in Adrian Peterson rushing for 2,097 yards.
Grade: A. It's a small investment as part of a successful ground game for the Vikings.
March 14: The Signing of Matt Cassel
All along the Minnesota Vikings kept saying they were looking for a veteran quarterback to backup Christian Ponder. After the Chiefs released Matt Cassel they signed him to a one-year deal worth $4 million. The deal was done with the understanding that Ponder will be the starter.
Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2005, made his mark in 2008 when he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. He took over for Tom Brady in Week 1 and started the final 15 games, finishing with a 10-5 record as the starter.
He parlayed that into a starting job in Kansas City. He replicated that 10-5 mark in Kansas City in 2010 and was named to the Pro Bowl. Since then, things have fallen apart for Cassel. He has a 5-12 record, with 16 touchdowns and 21 interceptions and a 71.6 passer rating.
Over that same time frame, Ponder is 12-14 with 31 touchdowns and 25 interceptions for a slightly better passer rating of 77.1.
Even though the team insists that there is no quarterback competition, stranger things have happened, and who knows what happens if Ponder falters.
Grade: C plus. It does little to improve the starting lineup, but it is an upgrade over Joe Webb.
March 15: The Signing of Greg Jennings
The highlight of the Minnesota Vikings moves so far this offseason came on Friday when they announced the signing of wide receiver Greg Jennings. They agreed to a five-year, $47.5 million contract that relocates Jennings west from Green Bay to Minneapolis.
Depending on where all the final contracts wind up, it makes Jennings one of the top-10 paid wide receivers in the league at $9.5 million per season. The deal averages about $2 million less than the deal the Seahawks agreed to with Percy Harvin.
In his career, Jennings has averaged a touchdown for every 1.81 games played. Compare that to Harvin, who averages a receiving touchdown every 2.7 games. Of course, Jennings has had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to him, while Harvin has had Favre, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder at quarterback.
Over his seven-year career, Jennings has averaged 61 receptions for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. If he can replicate these results in Minnesota, he would become the first Viking to gain 1,000 yards since Sidney Rice in 2009.
Grade: B plus. It's a start, but after losing Harvin, the Vikings will need to add more talent to Jennings.