Minnesota Vikings Free Agency: Keep, Walk or Tag Options for Every Free Agent
In the National Football League, when a franchise finishes 5-10-1, it's a pretty telling sign that things need to change.
For the Minnesota Vikings, general manager Rick Spielman is the man in charge of making sure that change happens as soon as possible. Between finding the team's next head coach and deciphering between who to keep and who to let go on the current roster, Spielman's offseason is going to consist of lots of late nights spent in the office.
Taking a look at all of the current Vikings set to hit free agency, it's time to explore what the best move will be for each corresponding player on this list.
*All stats courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.
*All cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com unless noted otherwise.
*All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless noted otherwise.
Desmond Bishop, LB, UFA
When the Vikings signed former Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop last June, there was reason to be excited.
Playing the role of inside linebacker for Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme in 2010 and 2011 with the Packers, Bishop racked up 166 solo tackles and 54 assists on tackles to go along with eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Before sustaining a torn hamstring in the 2012 preseason, Bishop served as an integral piece of the Packers defense.
Fast forward to the 2013 season, when the productive Bishop was expected to compete at both middle and weak-side linebacker for the Vikings. Unfortunately, things didn't work out as planned.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bishop managed to play just 45 snaps this past season before suffering a torn ACL in the team's Week 6 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Needless to say, it was a disappointing and unfulfilling way for Bishop to spend his tenure with the Vikings.
Entering the 2014 offseason as an unrestricted free agent, Bishop will have to prove to teams that he is still healthy enough to compete after sustaining devastating injuries in back-to-back years.
If they don't want to take a chance on him again, the Vikings should go out and find depth at the linebacker position via free agency or in the 2014 draft. Coming off another brutal injury, it feels like the 30-year-old Bishop's best days are behind him.
Toby Gerhart, RB, UFA
At just 26 years old, former Stanford Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart has served as Adrian Peterson's loyal backup since being drafted by the Vikings in 2010.
Gerhart has missed just two games since he arrived in Minnesota and has proven to be a durable tailback oozing with promise.
Averaging a healthy 4.7 yards per carry in his brief NFL career, there's a good chance that Gerhart is going to be a hot commodity this offseason. Outside of his production on the field, what makes Gerhart so appealing is that he gas yet to sustain a heavy workload. The 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up has accumulated just 276 carries in four NFL seasons, meaning that Gerhart provides potential suitors with the ability to sign a "fresh" pair of legs.
At this point, bringing back Gerhart doesn't make much sense financially. Aside from the fact that Peterson is still around, having another talented running back is nothing more than a luxury. With so many needs on the defensive side of the football, that money could be spent in a much more efficient manner this offseason.
Everson Griffen, DE, UFA
One of the biggest free agents the Vikings have to deal with this offseason is defensive end Everson Griffen.
Griffen, a tremendous athlete and talented pass-rusher, has spent the last three seasons serving in a complementary role to Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Grading out this past season as PFF's 18th-best 4-3 defensive end, there's no doubt that the former USC Trojan is beaming with potential.
When you watch Griffen on tape, you can tell right away that he's a special talent. A gifted pass-rusher who explodes off the line of scrimmage, Griffen has the length and fluidity needed to be successful at the position.
The most fascinating part about his game is the fact that he can be used in so many different ways. Whether you stand him up or put his hand in the dirt, Griffen's athleticism allows him to rush the quarterback from just about anywhere on the football field. That type of raw versatility is exactly what this defense needs moving forward.
There's really no question that the Vikings have to re-sign Griffen to a long-term contract this offseason. Arguably the most talented pass-rusher on the open market, the 26-year-old Griffen told Greg A. Bedard of MMQB.com that he wants to finish his career in a Vikings uniform if the terms are right.
Josh Freeman, QB, UFA
One of the biggest moments this season for the Vikings came when Josh Freeman's agent Erik Burkhardt tweeted that his client was headed to Minnesota.
From Day 1, Vikings fans were intrigued by the prospect of having the former disgruntled Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback come in and try to become the team's franchise signal-caller. Instead, what they got was nothing more than a massive headache.
Starting just one game for the Vikings—in a catastrophic performance against the New York Giants—Freeman was banished to the bench. A mystery that may never fully get solved, Freeman's tenure in Minnesota was brief, to say the least.
It wasn't until the Vikings announced that former head coach Leslie Frazier would not be back for the 2014 season, that things got worse. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports, anonymous players for the Vikings criticized both Frazier and Freeman for the circus that took place in Minnesota.
To say the situation was a mess would be an understatement, from Frazier's delusions of grandeur regarding Freeman to the recently signed quarterback showing up late to team meetings.
With Frazier gone, it's time for the Vikings to cut ties with Freeman. Even though he's been blessed with all the physical tools needed to be a big-time quarterback in this league, Freeman's time in Minnesota is over.
Jerome Simpson, WR, UFA
At 6'2", wide receiver Jerome Simpson is a unique player.
However, despite having great size and an obscene amount of athletic ability, Simpson's production has never quite lived up to expectations.
Even though he finished the 2013 season with just 726 yards receiving and one touchdown, he actually played well. Haunted by a terrible quarterback situation, the former Cincinnati Bengals playmaker managed to generate a positive 6.8 grade from PFF.
Whether you take advanced statistics with a grain of salt or you live by them, the real issue here is that Simpson always seems to be getting into trouble. Although ESPN.com's Ben Goessling reported that Simpson would avoid jail time after pleading guilty to careless driving and a third-degree DWI charge from November, the problem is that he constantly puts himself in these situations.
For a franchise looking to build a solid core of reliable offensive players, Simpson's reckless behavior doesn't warrant him a spot on this roster.
Joe Webb, WR, UFA
Joe Webb, the former quarterback turned wide receiver, is set to hit free agency this offseason.
Converted to a wide receiver in 2013, Webb tried his best to provide this Vikings with a tangible asset that they could rely on. Instead, looking at PFF's metrics, Webb finished the 2013 season with a -6.7 grade.
Playing just 194 snaps, it looked like Webb never quite carved a role out for himself in the offense. Whether you blame that on offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's inability to call plays or the fact that he was surrounded by better wide receivers, it looks like Webb's services are no longer needed in Minnesota.
Chris Cook, CB, UFA
When the Vikings took Chris Cook in the second round of the 2010 draft, they knew they were drafting a young cornerback with great size and speed.
Pegged by CBS Sports as a player who had the experience needed to "surprise" people in the NFL, Cook's scouting report made sure everyone who read it knew about his history battling injuries while at Virgina.
Unfortunately, the injury bug continued to bite Cook throughout his tenure in Minnesota. Playing in just 34 games during the four seasons he spent with the team, Cook never could find a way to stay healthy.
This past season, Cook proved his issues were more than just injuries. When he was on the field, Cook graded out as PFF's 95th-ranked cornerback.
Struggling to stick with his assignments, PFF indicated that Cook gave up 557 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in the 12 games he played. No mater how you slice it, numbers like that are unacceptable for a starting defensive back in this league.
Larry Dean, LB, RFA
Considering that he mainly helped out on special teams, restricted free agent linebacker Larry Dean shouldn't be much of a priority this offseason.
The only bright spot hovering above Dean is that during the three seasons he has been in Minnesota, he hasn't missed a game.
If the team believes he can provide them with any sort of redeeming value on special teams, he may be worth bringing back. Outside of his ability to contribute on special teams, Dean isn't a player worth keeping around.
Kevin Williams, DT, UFA
There's no doubt about it, the iconic Kevin Williams has been a staple of Minnesota's defense for the last 11 years.
At 33 years old, Williams has complied 463 combined tackles, 60 sacks and and seven forced fumbles over the course of his illustrious career.
Although at this point in his career there are question marks surrounding his long-term value, Williams managed to finish the 2013 season with 39 combined tackles and 3.5 sacks. That was good enough to net him a positive 7.3 grade from the good folks over at PFF. That grade ranked him above younger defensive tackles like Nick Fairley of the Detroit Lions and Corey Peters of the Atlanta Falcons.
It's tough to gauge what's going to happen with Williams this offseason. Since he's shown that he still has the ability to produce on the field, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy's fate will ultimately come down to what style of defense the Vikings implement next season.
Williams told Chris Tomasson of The Pioneer-Press that he would like to retire in Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with the next head coach's philosophy.
Marvin Mitchell, LB, UFA
Despite flashing a few positive moments on film, Vikings linebacker Marvin Mitchell should be considered nothing more than a backup at this point in his career.
As it stands right now, the Vikings are a team looking for answers at the linebacker position. Whether you point to Erin Henderson being arrested earlier this month for suspicion of drunk driving for the second time in just six weeks or the overall lack of experience this linebacking crew has, GM Rick Spielman and his staff have their work cut out for them this offseason.
If both sides can agree on a low-key deal, it might be worth bringing Mitchell back due to his experience in Minnesota. The problem is that there are plenty of other routes the Vikings can take in order to fix their woes at linebacker.
Charlie Johnson, G, UFA
If you could pick one player who the Vikings should not re-sign this offseason, that player would have to be offensive guard Charlie Johnson.
One of the weakest links on Minnesota's offensive line, Johnson consistently has been abused at the line of scrimmage since arriving in Minnesota in 2011.
Finishing the last three seasons with a negative PFF grade, the Vikings would be wise to go out and spend their money finding a suitable replacement for the below-average guard.
Marcus Sherels, CB, RFA
Even though he's listed as a cornerback on the depth chart, the real value that Marcus Sherels provides the Vikings comes by way of special teams.
Finishing the 2013 seasons as the eighth-best punt returner in the NFL in just 22 attempts, Sherels racked up 335 return yards and one touchdown. Those are tremendous numbers when you consider that an elite punt returner like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown finished with just 74 more yards, despite getting 10 more attempts.
Only 26 years old, Sherels will have a chance to get better at cornerback. But even if that doesn't work out, it's hard to come across a big-time return man in the NFL.
J'Marcus Webb, LT, UFA
Claimed by the Vikings to add some depth to their offensive line back in September of 2013, left tackle J'Marcus Webb served his purpose this season.
According to PFF, Webb managed play just 108 snaps in five games last season. Aside from allowing quarterback Christian Ponder to be sacked against the Dallas Cowboys, nothing about Webb's game really stands out on film.
The Vikings should save their money and find themselves another offensive tackle with more upside this offseason.
Fred Evans, DT, UFA
Fred Evans is a name that may not grab the attention of your average football fan, but most Vikings fans are aware of the value he brings to the table.
Serving as a quality rotational piece for Minnesota's defensive line, the 30-year-old Evans will hit free agency looking to make his next move.
Odds are because of his age and lack of statistics, Evans will warrant a miniscule salary while navigating the open market. If that turns out to be true, whoever lands Evans would be getting themselves quite the bargain.
Look, we all know Evans isn't the type of player who's going to blow you away with his crazy strength or outrageous speed, but he is exactly the type of player the Vikings need on their roster next season. Spending the past seven seasons with the club, Evans clearly understands the dynamics of the Vikings locker room. Beyond that, the durability and experience he brings to this defense is also huge.
Matt Asiata, RB, RFA
Don't look now, but Vikings tailback Matt Asiata made quite the name for himself at the end of the 2013 season.
Filling-in for an injured Peterson and Gerhart, Asiata racked up 166 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the two games he started.
With Gerhart set to hit free agency, Asiata has proven he at least deserves a chance to go out and compete for a roster spot in 2014.
Joe Berger, G
Offensive guard Joe Berger's role in Minnesota was to provide the club with a sense of stability on the offensive line.
During his three years in Minnesota, Berger has helped out and started nine games. A 31-year-old 305-pound lineman who understands this offense, Berger's value in free agency shouldn't be anything astronomical.
At this point, re-signing Berger makes a lot of sense. The experience he has had working with the current offensive line makes him worth bringing back next season.
Matt Cassel, QB, UFA
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel lands on this list because, entering the 2014 offseason, he gets to decide whether he wants to stay with the team or pursue greener pastures.
Starting nine games this past season, Cassel finished the year completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. While the 31-year-old veteran at times provided a spark, his performance overall wasn't anything to celebrate.
If he decides to stick around, there's little doubt that Cassel would serve as a solid interim option for the team while the Vikings go out and find their quarterback of the future.
Jared Allen, DE, UFA
A bonafide legend in Minnesota, defensive end Jared Allen has truly given his all to this franchise.
Since joining the team in 2008, Allen has obliterated quarterbacks to the tune of 85.5 sacks. A pass-rusher with an uncanny ability to disrupt the pocket, it's safe to say that Allen's tenure in Minnesota was more than anyone could have hoped for when he arrived as a free agent from Kansas City.
Despite all of the fantastic memories he has provided for this franchise, the 31-year-old Allen is about to hit free agency looking for a new contract.
At this point, Allen's play on the field isn't worth the money he's going to seek. Even though he finished the 2013 season with 11.5 sacks, Allen still managed to generate a -4.0 grade from PFF.
Heading into the latter stages of his riveting career, the Vikings and Allen just don't seem like a good fit for each other anymore.
Realizing his days with the purple and gold machine may be over, Allen took the time to reflect on six "amazing" years with ESPN.com's Ben Goessling.