Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Fill Minnesota Vikings' Biggest Needs
The Minnesota Vikings' loss to the Baltimore Ravens, although it helps, comes a little too late to help their draft position enough to select the top quarterback in 2014. The way things presently look, the Vikings will be selecting fourth. That's the same position they were in two years ago when they selected offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
While quarterback has received the most attention this year with the rotation of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman, it's the defense that needs attention.
The offense is ranked 14th in the NFL with a scoring average of 24.2 points per game, and the defense is 31st yielding an average of 30.4 points per game and near the bottom of most statistical categories.
Heading into Week 14, the defense was last in scoring, last in touchdown passes allowed, 31st in time of possession, 30th in pass defense and 30th in total yards allowed.
A franchise quarterback might be able to overcome a couple of warts, but that might be too many.
After quarterback, the Vikings also have needs at cornerback, defensive line, linebacker, offensive line and wide receiver.
Here's a look at some options the Vikings may have heading into the offseason to bolster some of these positions.
Quarterback: Looking for a Free Agent
From 1993 to 2010, the Minnesota Vikings started 19 different quarterbacks for at least one game.
The parade of veteran quarterbacks to pass through the Metrodome began with Jim McMahon, who started 12 games in 1993.
Other veterans who started for the purple include Sean Salisbury, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Gus Frerotte, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. You could include Brad Johnson, whom the Vikings re-signed after he left and won a Super Bowl for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Unfortunately, the Vikings have been slightly more successful when led by washed-up veterans than when grooming a rookie. The retread quarterbacks have a 100-71 record for a 0.585 winning percentage.
Behind the quarterbacks they've drafted—including Brad Johnson, Daunte Culpepper, Tarvaris Jackson, Joe Webb and Christian Ponder—the Vikings are 78-81-1 since 1993. That computes to a 0.478 winning percentage.
In his eighth NFL season, Cutler has a 55-46 record with 149 touchdowns and 108 interceptions. His career passer rating is 84.4. If Chicago doesn't re-sign him, the Vikings might take a shot.
Cutler fits the mold of several of the quarterbacks the Vikings have signed. With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, it could just work.
Quarterback: Going into the Draft
The draft landscape for quarterbacks in 2014 will shift dramatically, depending on what a number of underclassmen decide to do.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a redshirt sophomore, has already indicated that he will return for his junior season for the Ducks. According to Walter Football, Mariota was the second-best quarterback prospect in 2014.
The top prospect is another underclassman, Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville. In fact, the top four quarterbacks are all underclassmen and are all projected to be first-round draft picks in the 2014 NFL draft.
The first senior on the list is Derek Carr from Fresno State.
Projected to be drafted in the first two rounds, Carr would be a great pickup for the Vikings in the second round—if he were to drop that far. This season, Carr led the nation with 4,467 passing yards and 45 touchdown passes. He led the Bulldogs to a 10-1 record and a berth in the Mountain West Championship game. He was third in the nation with a 70.3 completion percentage.
Walter Football states that Carr has been "phenomenal in his decision-making while showing a strong arm with good field vision."
The downside might be the level of competition he's faced, and the fact that he is the brother of David Carr, who was drafted first overall by Houston in 2002. Over an 11-year career, David Carr finished with a 23-56 record as a starter with 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions.
Cornerback: Looking for a Free Agent
The Minnesota Vikings may have finally found a No. 1 cornerback in rookie Xavier Rhodes.
After getting a chance to start with second-year cornerback Josh Robinson out with an injury, he has emerged as the team's best corner. Heading into Week 14, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Rhodes 61st among cornerbacks. He has only gotten six starts this season to show what he can do.
Now they need to find someone to shut down the other side of the field—something that Chris Cook has not been able to do.
In four NFL seasons, Cook has not been healthy enough to play an entire 16-game schedule. In 32 games, he has not intercepted a pass.
The last time the Vikings wooed a high-profile free agent to Minnesota it was in 2004 when they signed Antoine Winfield.
It might be time to take another big dip into the cornerback free-agent pool.
According to the rankings by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Davis is the seventh-best cornerback in the NFL and third among those set to be free agents in 2014.
At 6'0" and 205 pounds, Davis brings size to the position. A first-round draft pick of the Dolphins in 2009, Davis will turn 26 before next season—the same age as Winfield when he joined the Vikings in 2004.
In five seasons, Davis has started 57 of 66 games and has 13 interceptions, with at least one every year.
Cornerback: Going the Draft Route
With the success the Minnesota Vikings appear to have had with drafting Xavier Rhodes in the first round, they might be willing to use another high draft pick to complete their tandem.
Another young cornerback would give the Vikings a young trio to develop, including second-year corner Josh Robinson, who has not played as well this season as he did in his rookie season.
The Vikings should consider Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. According to Walter Football, Gilbert is the second-best cornerback for 2014.
Because he's projected to be drafted in the first two rounds, the Vikings will have a tough decision on what to do with their first-round pick. A lot will depend on where they end up in the draft order and the number of underclassmen quarterbacks who declare for the draft.
One strategy would be not to reach for a quarterback—like they did when they drafted Christian Ponder at No. 12 in 2011—and use the pick on a cornerback.
In four years at Oklahoma State, he has 11 interceptions and 30 passes defended. As pointed out by Walter Football, in 2011 Gilbert intercepted the top three quarterbacks drafted in 2012—Stanford's Andrew Luck, Baylor's Robert Griffin and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill.
Defensive End: Looking for a Free Agent
With Jared Allen most likely leaving as a free agent, linebacker Brian Orakpo of the Redskins might fit as a replacement pass-rushing specialist. There will be a lot of teams pursuing Orapko in the offseason, and the Vikings will have to outbid them for his services.
Orakpo, the Redskins' first-round draft pick in 2009, has averaged 9.25 sacks per season—excluding 2012 when he was limited to only two games due to a torn pectoral muscle. He leads the Redskins with 8.5 sacks this season.
The problem will be trying to convince Orakpo that he would fit in the Vikings' defensive scheme. Fortunately, the Vikings have needs both at defensive end and outside linebacker.
Defensive End: Taking a Peek at the Draft
In last year's draft, the Minnesota Vikings hoped to find a long-term replacement for Kevin Williams at defensive tackle. They used their top pick to select Sharrif Floyd from Florida.
Now they need to look for another defensive lineman to replace Jared Allen, who is going to be a free agent next season. According to NFL Trade Rumors, Allen is the 39th-best overall free agent for 2014. Anyway you look at it, there will be a huge hole to fill.
Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy could fit the bill. Murphy led Division I football with 13 sacks this season. The senior has 23 sacks in the last two seasons and two interceptions. At 6'6" and 260 pounds, he's very close to Allen's size.
According to NFL Draft Scout, Murphy is the second-best defensive end in the draft. He is projected to be a first-round pick.
Of course, if the Vikings did choose to select Murphy in the first round, it would be because they had another option at quarterback.
Wide Receiver: Kicking the Tires on a Free Agent
In 2014, wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Joe Webb will both be free agents. There's no reason for the Minnesota Vikings to re-sign either of them.
It took 25 games with the Vikings for Simpson to finally catch a touchdown pass. He was almost the offense's equivalent to cornerback Chris Cook, who in four seasons has yet to intercept a pass.
Simpson has shown some flashes of becoming the downfield threat the Vikings were hoping for, but it's time to move on. They have given his starting spot to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, and his off-the-field issues make it not worth it to keep him around.
Decker is the highest-ranking free-agent wide receiver in 2014. The Vikings would score a big coup by signing the home-state player and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher.
An argument could be made that Decker is only so productive because Peyton Manning throws him passes. In his first full season as a starter, with quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton throwing the ball, Decker only averaged 2.8 receptions and 38.3 yards per game.
Those numbers have improved dramatically with Manning to 5.3 receptions and 72.7 yards per game—numbers similar to what Percy Harvin had in 2012 with the Vikings. No one would confuse Decker with Harvin, but he would be a huge improvement at wide receiver for the Vikings.
It may take a lot to lure Decker away from Denver, one of the best offenses in the NFL. Even though Minnesota may be home, there's no fun in losing. Perhaps the lure of possibly being the top wide receiver on the roster may be enough to sign him.
Wide Receiver: Looking at the Draft
According to Walter Football, the draft class for wide receivers in 2014 is not that strong. Including underclassmen, there are only two players who are projected to be top-20 picks—sophomore Mike Evans from Texas A&M and junior Sammy Watkins from Clemson.
That might actually work in the Vikings' favor. With more pressing needs than wide receiver, they can look to add another player in the second or third round of the draft.
One player who might fit the bill is Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt. This season, he led the Commodores with 107 receptions for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. His closest teammate only caught 41 passes for 703 yards.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Matthews would bring another big body to the Vikings' receiving corps. In four seasons at Vanderbilt, Matthews finished with 256 receptions for 3,617 yards and 22 touchdowns.