Grading the Minnesota Vikings' Major Offseason Moves
The Minnesota Vikings are on a roll. Last season, they surprised a lot of people by winning seven more games than in 2011—making it the largest turnaround in franchise history. Their success earned them a wild-card berth into the playoffs.
They made their giant strides relying heavily on the running ability of Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 yards. Over the final seven games, Peterson was the Vikings' one-man show, as he rushed for 1,140 yards after Percy Harvin was lost for the season.
The team will also have a new home beginning in 2016 when they open their new stadium, replacing the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. After a long fought battle, the state finally relented and approved a plan to fund the new stadium.
In order to prove that 2012 was not a one-year fluke and that their playoff appearance was not a one-year event (like the 2011 Lions), the Vikings have made some significant moves this offseason to improve the team.
Here's a look at some of their bigger moves as summer begins and training camp remains a little more than a month away. The grading was based on what impact the move will have on the starting lineup for the Vikings and how it improves the team.
March 11, 2013: Percy Harvin Is Traded to the Seattle Seahawks
It's somehow poetic that Percy Harvin's last game with the Minnesota Vikings occurred on Century Link Field in Seattle. His Week 9 outburst directed at head coach Leslie Frazier, combined with an ankle injury suffered in the game that landed him on the injured reserve, ended his four-year career with the Vikings.
Look, the loss of Harvin alone would make this move extremely bad. After all, he led the Vikings in all-purpose yards in his first three seasons in the NFL and, at one point last season, was the NFL's leading receiver.
Harvin was also good for at least one kickoff return for a touchdown. His five kickoff-return touchdowns tie him for eight all-time in NFL history and are the most by any Viking.
The positive side of this move is the fact that the Vikings had a better record without Harvin (5-2) than with him (5-4).
Perhaps, cleaning the locker room of a potential problem had more benefit than the performance lost on the field.
March 12, 2013: Antoine Winfield Released
Antoine Winfield only played in five games in 2011. A neck injury and a broken collarbone limited his playing time, activating an appearance clause that lowered his 2012 salary to $3 million.
In 2012, Winfield had a tremendous bounce-back season. He led the Vikings with three interceptions and was third on the team with 101 tackles. He was one of the top-ranked cornerbacks in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and the Vikings rewarded him by cutting the 36-year-old 14-year veteran.
The Vikings tried to re-sign Winfield at a lower price than the $7.25 million he was due to make, but that was never going to happen. Instead, he ended up in the same place as Percy Harvin, signing a one-year contract with the Seahawks.
Sure, it freed up plenty of room on the salary cap, but it also removed a lot of experience from the defensive backfield. Right now, the combined experience of the projected starting defensive backfield is only six seasons.
March 12, 2013: Re-Signed Right Tackle Phil Loadholt
After drafting the cornerstone of their offensive line in 2012 with the addition of Matt Kalil at left tackle, the Minnesota Vikings needed to keep their line intact. The Vikings went a long way toward doing that when they re-signed right tackle Phil Loadholt to a four-year, $25 million contract.
The Vikings' second-round draft pick in 2009, Loadholt has played and started in every game except one. He has been as durable as any player on the Vikings roster.
After Adrian Peterson's record-setting season in 2012, the team could not afford to let Loadholt go.
March 12, 2013: Re-Signed Fullback Jerome Felton
The Minnesota Vikings seem to have a knack for finding very good fullbacks. Or, perhaps it's just the fact that they are blocking for Adrian Peterson.
In 2006, the Vikings signed Tony Richardson as a free agent. That year he blocked for Chester Taylor, who rushed for 1,216 yards. The following season, he was in front of Peterson, who rushed for 1,341 yards, and was named to his third Pro Bowl.
Last season, he helped Peterson become only the seventh player to exceed 2,000 yards and accompanied him to the Pro Bowl. It also got him a three-year contract worth $7.5 million.
Just as the re-signing of right tackle Phil Loadholt helps to maintain the Vikings' explosive running game, the signing of Felton does so even more.
March 14, 2013: Matt Cassel Is Signed to Back Up Christian Ponder
Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings have repeatedly stated that the signing of Matt Cassel does not create a quarterback controversy. Frazier insists that Christian Ponder is their starting quarterback and that there will be no competition coming into training camp.
Of course, things were so bad behind Ponder last season that Frazier refused to pull the second-year quarterback despite having three games with less than 100 yards passing and another six games with less than 200 yards passing.
It wasn't until a torn triceps muscle in his throwing arm, preventing him from playing in the Wild Card Game, did No. 2 quarterback Joe Webb throw his first pass of the season.
Frazier may not want a quarterback controversy, but if Ponder struggles and Cassel gets his shot, one may very well develop.
March 15, 2013: Greg Jennings Signs a Five-Year Deal
The Vikings needed an upgrade at wide receiver even before trading away Percy Harvin. After they traded Harvin, the need to upgrade was even greater.
That upgrade comes in the form of former Packer Greg Jennings. As great as Harvin was for the Vikings, he never finished with more than 967 yards receiving. Sure, Harvin also brought some ability to run the ball, but with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, there wasn't much need to run Harvin.
Jennings, a seven-year veteran, comes to the Vikings with three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and 53 touchdowns. Before missing eight games last season, Jennings averaged eight touchdowns per season.
While Jennings may not be as explosive as Harvin from anywhere on the field, he is a better receiver.
April 25, 2013: The Vikings Trifecta of First-Round Draft Picks
The Minnesota Vikings have been extremely successful with their first-round draft picks. Since 2006, when the Vikings drafted Chad Greenway with the 17th pick in the draft, they have been extremely successful with their picks.
Including Percy Harvin (2009), the Vikings had six former first-round draftees at the top of their depth chart. If you want to consider that the Vikings traded their 2008 first-round pick for Jared Allen, then the success looks even better.
Last year, general manager Rick Spielman moved back into the bottom of the first round to select starting safety Harrison Smith. Smith led the Vikings with three interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns, and was second on the team with 104 tackles.
This year, the Vikings addressed needs with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Floyd and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson—all taken in the first round. According to NFL Draft Scout, the Vikings got the second-best defensive tackle, the second-best cornerback and the third-best wide receiver in the draft.
If even two of the three become starters, it will be another successful draft for the Vikings.
April 27, 2013: The Drafting of UCLA Punter Jeff Locke
For the second straight year, the Minnesota Vikings used a draft pick on a specialist. Last year, the move paid off with the selection of kicker Blair Walsh out of Georgia in the sixth round. Walsh was perfect from greater than 50 yards, making all 10 of his attempts and setting the NFL record for the most 50-yard field goals in a season.
This year, they moved up a round and selected UCLA punter Jeff Locke. Locke has a strong leg and averaged 44.2 yards per punt in his four years in college. His best season came as a sophomore when he averaged 45.8 yards on 64 punts. He was also the Bruins' kickoff specialist.
It seems like a strange move for the Vikings and unlikely to pay the same kind of dividends the selection of Walsh yielded.
The man he replaces, Chris Kluwe, also out of UCLA, averaged 44.4 yards per punt in his career with the Vikings. An undrafted rookie in 2005, only one of Kluwe's 623 punts was blocked over his seven seasons.
Perhaps the most important role for rookie punter Jeff Locke will be handling the holding duties for Walsh.
April 29, 2013: Signed Cornerback Jacob Lacey
As previously pointed out, with the release of Antoine Winfield, the Minnesota Vikings are extremely inexperienced at cornerback. The team addressed this lack of experience with the signing of four-year veteran Jacob Lacey.
After going undrafted in 2009, Lacey started nine games for the Colts as a rookie. In four seasons, three with the Colts and last year with the Lions, he has 36 starts in 54 games. He also has six interceptions to his credit—that's two more than Harrison Smith (three), Mistral Raymond (one), Chris Cook (zero) and Xavier Rhodes (zero) have combined.
According to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune, Lacey was taking reps with the second-team defense as the slot corner behind Josh Robinson before a dislocated thumb sidelined him.
Lacey required surgery to repair his thumb, and it is hoped he will be ready for the start of training camp.
It's not a big signing, but does add some experience to the cornerback position.
June 24, 2013: The Signing of Linebacker Desmond Bishop
The Vikings addressed one of the remaining holes in the defense with the signing of former Green Bay Packers middle linebacker Desmond Bishop. The deal is for one year worth a very reasonable $1.35 million.
The signing came just a week after the Packers released the six-year veteran. Due to make $3.46 million, the Packers wanted to restructure Bishop's contract. After attempts to do so failed, they parted ways with the 2007 sixth-round draft pick.
In 2011, he led the Packers with 121 tackles. His signing moves Erin Henderson back to the weak side and draftee Gerald Hodges back to the bench.
The biggest question will be how well Bishop will play after missing all of last season with a torn hamstring.
It really helps that the Vikings are getting a very motivated player from their division archrival. Walter Football grades this signing out as an A—there's no reason to disagree.