Breaking Down What Minnesota's Offseason Moves Mean for the NFL Draft
What's Left To Do?
For a team that's generally not known for making flashy moves in the offseason, the Minnesota Vikings spent a lot of time in the spotlight during the first week of NFL free agency. It's time to break down what Minnesota's offseason moves mean for next month's NFL draft.
According to spotrac.com, the Vikings started the week with about $13.6 million left under the salary cap. That doesn't take into account the contract signed by new wide receiver Greg Jennings.
The Jennings deal is tricky. Spotrac lists the contract at five years and $47.5 million ($18 million guaranteed). Not including any bonuses, that makes the yearly average roughly $9.5 million. Apply that to this year's cap, and that basically leaves the Vikings with $4 million.
Obviously, the team will have to do some restructuring and move some other money around to give itself room to sign its draft picks and restricted free agents.
The downside to all of this is that it looks like the Vikings are essentially done with the free-agent market for this year. The good thing is that knowing what the roster currently looks like makes it easier to predict what the team might do in the upcoming draft.
The upcoming slides are organized by position. Each slide will show the notable additions and subtractions for that position, a current status report and a prediction of what the Vikings will do to address that spot in the draft.
Click on for a breakdown of what Minnesota's offseason moves mean for the NFL draft.
Notable Additions: Matt Cassel (free-agency signing).
Notable Departures: None.
Position Status: Christian Ponder remains the team's quarterback of the future. Cassel's signing doesn't do anything to change that. However, bringing in a veteran backup solidifies the position going forward. After last season's playoff debacle, the Vikings realized that Joe Webb just wasn't a top-notch NFL backup.
Since the only other QB on the roster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who has never appeared in an NFL game, it was paramount to get a viable backup for Ponder.
What it Means for the Draft: This depends on how much time the Vikings are willing to invest in either Webb or Thompson. Webb has been in the system longer and has some game experience. It's possible the team would keep him on the roster as a third quarterback and utilize him in the backfield as a running back or receiving option to help offset the absence of Percy Harvin.
Thompson is a project, and there's no telling how quickly he'll develop.
While it's possible that the team might spend a late-round pick on a project, it's more likely that it will choose either Webb or Thompson as the third-stringer. The other will likely be released. It's also feasible that the team would sign an undrafted free agent and dump both Webb and Thompson.
Notable Additions: Jerome Felton (re-signed).
Notable Departures: Technically, the Vikings didn't lose any free agents here. However, Percy Harvin was often used in the backfield, and his absence will be felt almost as much here as at wide receiver.
Retaining Felton was a necessary move. His contract calls for $2.5 million a year, which is a bargain for a Pro Bowl-caliber fullback. Toby Gerhart will see some spot duty spelling Peterson, and would step in as the starter in the event of an injury. The team lacks a true third-down back.
What it Means for the Draft: Call this a position of minor need. With Peterson and Gerhart in place, the Vikings have a potent 1-2 punch at tailback. However, there is a need for a third-down back. Peterson simply cannot carry the entire load forever. Gerhart is a solid change-of-pace back but isn't really suited for third-down duty.
Look for the Vikings to explore their options with undrafted free agents. They may also choose to spend a late-round pick on a back who has pass-catching and return game experience.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Notable Additions: Greg Jennings (free-agent signing), Jerome Simpson (re-signed).
Notable Departures: Percy Harvin (traded to Seattle).
Position Status: This is where the Vikings have been most newsworthy this offseason. First, the team parted ways with the disgruntled Harvin. Then, Minnesota filled part of the Harvin void by signing Jennings away from archrival Green Bay.
Essentially, the team traded Harvin for Jennings and some draft picks.
Given Harvin's new contract with Seattle, the Vikings got Jennings for about $1.5 million a year less than they would have had to pay Harvin, and they will have a chance to use one of their first-round picks in the draft to further supplement the position.
Re-signing Simpson was a low-risk move. If he doesn't produce more than he did in 2012, the team will simply cut him. The rest of the receivers on the roster are either uninspiring or unproven. With Kyle Rudolph and Rhett Ellison on board, the Vikings are pretty well-set at tight end.
What it Means for the Draft: The team still needs help at this position. While Jennings may be able to equal Harvin's production as a wide receiver, he won't be able to match Harvin's versatility in the run or return game. Look for the Vikings to spend one of their first-round picks on another receiver. Likely candidates include Cal's Keenan Allen and Tennessee's Justin Hunter.
Notable Departures: Geoff Schwartz (signed with Kansas City).
Position Status: Though it's odd to say this about an offensive line that paved the way for Peterson to rush for nearly 2,100 yards last season, the Vikings could still use a bit of help here.
Getting Loadholt back was a key. The massive right tackle is a force against the run, though he could still use some work on pass protection. Berger provides flexibility, as he can play almost any position up or down the line. John Sullivan is coming off of a Pro Bowl year at center.
The Vikings starting guards, Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson, were adequate, at best. Both are under contract for 2013 (with Johnson restructuring his deal last week), meaning the the team would have all five starters back from last year. Of the two, Johnson is the more solid. Fusco's play varied from pretty good to absolutely abysmal in 2012.
What it Means for the Draft: Don't be surprised if Minnesota spends an early- to mid-round pick to upgrade the guard position. While the top prospects at the position will be gone in the first or second round, the team could pick up a player with great potential, such as Arkansas' Alvin Bailey, in the fourth or fifth round.
This isn't really a position of need at this time, but if a solid prospect is on the board when the Vikings turn comes up in Rounds 4-7, they might decide to shore up the middle of the offensive front.
Notable Additions: None
Notable Departures: None
Position Status: Upgrading the defensive line is definitely a priority for the Vikings. The pass rush is in solid shape, with perennial Pro-Bowler Jared Allen at one end and Brian Robison at the other. Everson Griffen showed flashes of brilliance in passing situations last year and could easily fill in at either end spot if one of the starters goes down.
The problem lies in the middle of the line. Kevin Williams is aging and relatively expensive at over $5 million in base salary. Fred Evans did well in spot duty but suffers when he plays too many downs. Christian Ballard hasn't shown any indications of becoming an NFL-caliber starter. And Letroy Guion became a liability in the latter part of 2012.
With a depleted secondary and a division full of strong-armed quarterbacks, the Vikings need to generate a pass rush from all four line positions if they want to compete in the NFC North.
A big body to help stuff the run is also a priority.
What it Means for the Draft: Depending on who's available when the Vikings' first-round picks come up, the team could definitely spend a top pick on a defensive tackle. The very top prospects won't be around by the time Minnesota drafts, but there will still be plenty of quality left on the board.
Notable Additions: Erin Henderson (re-signed).
Notable Departures: Jasper Brinkley (signed with Arizona Cardinals).
Position Status: One side of the field is manned by Chad Greenway, one of the league's leading tacklers. Re-signing Henderson was a relatively inexpensive move, and one that benefits the Vikings. Henderson may not be an elite outside linebacker, but he's steady and a surer bet than anyone the team could have picked up for the same money in free agency.
Losing Brinkley wasn't a huge blow, either. He was adequate against the run but a liability in pass coverage. That's a no-no in the Vikings' Cover 2 defensive scheme.
What it Means for the Draft: Here's where it gets interesting. According to 1500 ESPN's Tom Pelissero, the Vikings might be looking to the draft to fill the void left by Brinkley's departure. Alternatively, the team could draft an impact player at outside linebacker and move Henderson into the middle.
Many mock drafts have the Vikings taking a linebacker with one of their first-round picks. Given the depth at the position, it's certainly a possibility. Likely candidates include Georgia's Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter of LSU or Arthur Brown from Kansas State.
This would be a great spot for the Vikings to get creative. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o was once considered a surefire first-rounder. Off-field controversy and a poor performance in the BCS title game have caused Te'o's value to plummet. There's a strong chance that he could still be around when the Vikings pick in the second round. That would allow the team to use its first-round selections on a receiver and a defensive tackle.
Notable Departures: Antoine Winfield (released).
Position Status: There's a lot going on here. The release of Winfield was a shocking move by the Vikings, but they apparently needed the cap room to pursue Matt Cassel and Greg Jennings. While the decision to release Winfield was shocking at the time, it may not have been a permanent one. According to ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero, Minnesota is making an effort to re-sign the feisty cornerback.
If the team is able to bring Winfield back, the roster could be set at corner. Josh Robinson and Chris Cook are the likely starters with Winfield stepping into the nickel and slot roles. A.J. Jefferson would remain the dime back, and Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton would provide depth and special teams assistance.
If Winfield signs elsewhere, look for Minnesota to try and upgrade the corner position in the draft. With Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Harrison Smith manning the safety slots, the back end appears to be in good shape.
What it Means for the Draft: Everything here depends on Winfield. If the team is able to bring him back, it's unlikely that it would spend a top draft choice on a cornerback. If Winfield signs somewhere else, the chances of Minnesota drafting a corner skyrocket. Look for the team to spend a late-round pick to shore up its depth at safety.
The Vikings made great strides in 2012, going from a 3-13 mark the previous year to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in the NFC. Much of this was accomplished with the youngest roster in the NFL and no legitimate threat in the receiving corps once Percy Harvin went down with an injury in the middle of the season.
That said, there are still holes to fill on this roster. No one can expect Adrian Peterson to repeat his 2012 performance without more help. Trading Percy Harvin was a shocking move, but signing Greg Jennings and using one of the picks garnered from Seattle in the trade to get another receiver should make the team stronger overall.
The Vikings still need a legitimate deep threat at wide receiver, someone to return kickoffs, a middle linebacker and some depth on both the offensive and defensive lines. They could also use some help at cornerback, depending on the outcome of the Antoine Winfield situation.
With two first-round picks and 10 selections overall, look for the team to turn its focus to April's NFL draft to address those needs.
Have a plan of your own? Want the Vikings to go in a different direction? Speak your mind in the comments section below.
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