Ranking Minnesota Vikings' Best Remaining Free-Agent Options
The marching band has left the foyer. The cashiers have all gone on break. The sports talk radio shows have all moved on to NCAA basketball. We've gone from the bedazzled pomp of a downtown Macy's to a lonely outlet mall on a deserted interstate.
Welcome to week two of NFL free agency.
It's like walking by an outdoor hockey rink a week after the ice has melted.
The Minnesota Vikings became far bigger players than anyone anticipated, signing backup quarterback Matt Cassel and then landing the big fish, wide receiver Greg Jennings. The Vikings were forced to become players in the free-agent market when they decided it was in their best interest to trade away disgruntled slot receiver Percy Harvin.
Adding Cassel and Jennings moves the Vikings close to their cap figure, if you consider they have to have money left to sign their draft picks. They can still restructure deals with their players on hand (with Jared Allen and Kevin Williams being the likely candidates) if they want to add any more players in free agency.
Consider these options mostly just for fun (except the last one), as the Vikings are almost certainly done with signing outside free agents. Here are five players who would certainly be good additions to what the Vikings currently have on their roster, but expect the Vikings to address these needs in the draft.
5. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
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Hey, the last big-name receiver who left Oakland went on to have a pretty good couple of years, didn't he?
OK, let that be the only sentence you ever have to read that even remotely compares Darrius Heyward-Bey to Randy Moss, but for a cupboard as bare as the one that houses Vikings receivers, should anything be off the table?
Here's the deal with the NFL: If Heyward-Bey hadn't been taken disastrously high (the seventh pick in 2009) by the Raiders, say he was an unsigned free agent out of college, teams would be a little more enamored with his career arc right now.
This kid has absolutely not been a bust so far. He has speed to burn and he knows how to run routes. He has over 1,500 yards receiving and nine touchdowns in his last two seasons. Has he performed at all like you'd want a top-10 pick to play? No, but remember, he was drafted by the Raiders. And he's been a helluva lot better than a certain Williamson ever was.
Heyward-Bey will be on an NFL team next season, and whoever gives him a chance might be pleasantly surprised. That team won't be the Vikings, but let's hope they don't regret not giving him a look in a couple of seasons.
4. WR Ramses Barden
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It's 99.5 percent that the Vikings are done signing free-agent wide receivers. They'll choose instead to draft two or three rookie wideouts whom they'll throw into the mix with Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Stephon Burton to try to line up on the field with Greg Jennings.
But we've learned to never say never, and considering how depth-poor Minnesota is at wideout, no options should be dismissed out of hand.
While the Vikings don't have the money left to look at a proven product like Giants free agent Domenik Hixon, there's another Giants wideout who is currently looking for work who'd come a lot cheaper.
And giant he is. Ramses Barden stands 6'6" and weighs 230 pounds. Buried behind the absurd amount of talent the Giants have had at receiver the last few years, Barden has just one career start to his name, last September against the Panthers.
He caught nine passes for 138 yards.
That might have landed him in the Vikings Ring of Honor for 2012.
Barden is 27 years old and should be entering the prime of his athletic career. A third-round pick in 2009, he's been nothing more than a casualty of the Giants' depth chart so far. Obviously, there's a reason he hasn't hit the field more for the Giants, but he's certainly going to get a good look by whoever signs him.
3. LB Karlos Dansby
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The Vikings are currently without a starting middle linebacker after Jasper Brinkley was signed away by the Arizona Cardinals.
There are still plenty of quality veteran linebackers who could fill that role for the Vikings, Karlos Dansby, Brian Urlacher and Michael Boley to name a few.
The 31-year-old Dansby would probably be the best fit of the bunch, as he still has enough speed to be a useful player in pass coverage. Dansby had 134 tackles last year for the Dolphins and would be a pretty significant upgrade over Brinkley.
The market hasn't been great for these veteran linebackers, so they'll all end up signing for less than they probably imagined a week ago.
Again, this is a highly unlikely move for the Vikings, who seem to be confident that they can find a starter in the draft, which makes it likely that they'll use one of their first three picks on a middle linebacker.
2. CB Brent Grimes
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The Minnesota Vikings are way too young in their secondary.
Prospects abound at corner, where Minnesota has stocked Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and more than likely A.J. Jefferson, but Cook is the veteran of the group at just 26. The Vikings are fine entering the year with Cook and Robinson as their starters, but they'd probably like to add a veteran presence to their secondary.
Brent Grimes is 29 years old and an established veteran in the NFL. Undrafted out of Shippensburg University, Grimes signed with the Falcons as a free agent and then spent a season starring in NFL Europe before sticking with Atlanta.
Grimes is a high-character, high-work ethic guy that the Vikings covet, and he would be an excellent third corner to defend against slot receivers and the run. He's been injured for the better part of two seasons, which would keep his cost pretty low.
Grimes would only be an option if the Vikings were unable to sign...
1. CB Antoine Winfield
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This is the one free agent we're still holding out hope for.
The Vikings are in dire need of a tough veteran presence in their secondary. Gee, let me think...
In a surprising move, the Vikings cut Antoine Winfield last week. Looking back, it was obviously done to clear enough cap space to be able to offer a large contract to Greg Jennings. Time wasn't on the Vikings' side, as they had to move quickly and assuredly in order to make sure they landed their prize free-agent catch.
Let's just hope that fences can be mended with Winfield.
According to the Pioneer Press, Leslie Frazier has reached out to Winfield in hopes that there is still a chance Winfield would return to the Vikings in 2013. Winfield was shocked at not only his release, but also the callous way in which Minnesota did it, giving him no advance warning.
It was another brutal reminder that professional sports will always be a business; the Vikings front office did what it had to do to land Jennings. Now it's time to give Winfield his apology and get him back in purple.
He's another year older and won't play as many snaps as he did last year. But remember, we all wrote that same sentence before the 2012 season, and Winfield was phenomenal for most of the season.
It would be a shame if Winfield was playing anywhere but Minnesota in 2013.