6 Cost-Effective Moves the Minnesota Vikings Should Make This Offseason
The Minnesota Vikings have turned the page on the 2013 season, attempting to put behind them an ugly year that provided no clarity at quarterback and produced the worst defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed (30).
Unsurprisingly, owners Zygi and Mark Wilf relieved Leslie Frazier of his head coaching duties. Whether you liked him or not, something had to change to invigorate the listless club, and the Wilfs put general manager Rick Spielman in charge of replacing Frazier.
Over the span of several weeks, head coaching candidates came and went, and former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer eventually surfaced as the new face of the Vikings. For those unfamiliar with Zimmer, he has a slightly different style than Frazier.
Easily correctible mistakes may now be referenced in a slightly more colorful language.
With Zimmer came further housekeeping, as reports indicate that both offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams are out. Replacing them will be Norv Turner and George Edwards, respectively.
Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune also reports that Turner's son Scott will be Minnesota's quarterback coach, already meeting with prospective players at Senior Bowl practices.
With those moves, the Vikings offense will look much different than this past season and the same could be true for the defense. Zimmer and Edwards, who both worked under Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, may consider a hybrid scheme or complete overhaul in 2014.
Given the Vikings' current list of 20 free agents and $27.582 million in cap space, Spielman will need to make critical decisions that best utilize the team's financial situation.
With that said, we've highlighted six cost-effective moves that Minnesota should make this offseason, whether that involves signing or releasing a player, or restructuring his contract.
All contract details courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Sign CB Vontae Davis
Remember, "cost-effective" does not necessarily mean "cheap."
Money well-spent on a player of critical need also falls into this category. And cornerback Vontae Davis of the Indianapolis Colts is a perfect example of someone the Vikings should pursue this offseason.
Davis signed a five-year, $11.25 million contract in 2009, with a cap hit of $1.861 million in 2013. He recorded 46 tackles, 12 passes defended and one interception this past season.
According to PFF, the five-year defender ranked third overall among all cornerbacks who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps and was second in pass coverage.
Minnesota should choose to let free-agent corner Chris Cook walk and target the external market for a replacement.
The oft-injured Cook has never recorded an interception or a forced fumble during his four seasons with the Vikings. In 2013, he defended three passes in 12 games.
Put Davis opposite of Xavier Rhodes in the Vikings' new-look defense, in addition to a healthy Harrison Smith, and the secondary should fare better than 31st in the league in passing yards allowed.
Restructure LB Chad Greenway's Contract
For players under contract in 2014, Chad Greenway has the second-highest cap hit at $8.2 million, behind only Adrian Peterson with $14.4 million.
Given Greenway's performance in 2013, that price tag may no longer be warranted. While he led the team in tackles for a sixth-straight season with 134, his pass coverage and run defense were lacking compared to the NFL.
For outside linebackers in a 4-3 defensive scheme, via PFF, Greenway ranked 34th out of 35 players. His run defense was 31st and his pass coverage ranked dead last.
While releasing the veteran would be a drastic move, Spielman should consider restructuring Greenway's contract in a way that either defers non-guaranteed money to his final season in 2015 or involves an outright pay cut.
Release DT Letroy Guion
Nose tackle Letroy Guion is under contract for one more year with Minnesota, contributing a potential cap hit of $4.5 million. Based on how his contract is structured, the Vikings are only on the hook for $500,000 of dead money if they let the six-year veteran walk.
This is not a coin-flip situation. The front office should choose door No. 2.
Guion has never performed up to the level of an elite 1-technique tackle—or even above average, for that matter.
In 2013, he ranked 60th out of 69 defensive tackles, via PFF. He was dead last among 85 tackles the previous season.
The Vikings have a serviceable option with Fred Evans, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. Spielman should use the cash savings on Evans and target a nose tackle for the future in the upcoming draft.
Sign CB Marcus Sherels
Marcus Sherels will be a restricted free agent in 2014, coming off a modest $630,000 contract in 2013. He recorded 46 tackles, seven passes defended and one interception.
More important was Sherels' contribution as a punt returner, racking up an average of 15.2 yards per return, including an 86-yard touchdown.
The Vikings could choose to submit a qualifying offer for Sherels, which provides the right of first refusal. This means the team could match any offer from a competing team and retain the Minnesota native.
Depending on the tier of the qualifying offer, the Vikings could receive a compensatory draft pick if they are outbid and decide to let Sherels walk—the lowest being the original draft round.
Since Sherels was an undrafted free agent, this would do the Vkings no good, and the price goes up for insurance of a second- or first-round pick.
When the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was ratified in 2011, the price for a qualifying offer and right of first refusal was only $1.2 million. That amount has gone up a minimum of 5 percent each year, making the offer $1.39 million in 2014.
This would be a little steep for Sherels, and the Vikings are best served negotiating between the league minimum of $730,000 and $1 million to sign him.
Release TE John Carlson
John Carlson made improvements for the Vikings in 2013, but the output versus his contract is still extremely misaligned.
In 2012, the former Seattle Seahawk signed a five-year, $25 million contract. In that season he played in 14 games and recorded just eight receptions for 43 yards and zero touchdowns.
He was given another chance this past season and produced at a near-identical rate to his 2010 season in Seattle. Carlson was able to put up 344 receiving yards for the Vikings on 32 grabs, including one touchdown.
Unfortunately, Carlson's season was cut short after his third concussion since 2011, causing the five-year veteran to contemplate his future.
If Minnesota keeps Carlson, he will contribute $5 million against the cap in 2014. If the team chooses to release him, there will be $3 million of dead money and therefore a savings of $2 million for the club.
This one will be a difficult decision, but given the financials and injury concerns, releasing Carlson will be the most cost-effective move.
Sign LB Arthur Moats
Considering the underperformance for the Vikings at linebacker, the team should aggressively survey the free-agent market to bring in an impact player.
Not to mention they will likely release Erin Henderson once rosters are unfrozen, after his second driving under the influence arrest in six weeks.
When scouring through free-agent linebackers, Arthur Moats of the Buffalo Bills stands out as an excellent option. The sixth-round draft pick from 2010 is coming off a four-year, $2.47 million contract.
With 54 tackles in 2013, Moats ranked as the 12th-best inside linebacker among 55 players, via PFF.
New defensive coordinator George Edwards also coached Moats in 2010 and 2011, potentially setting up a reunion in Minnesota.
Even though the team has other young linebackers in Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, the four-year veteran from Buffalo would provide some stability in the middle of the Vikings defense, one that could be seeing some major changes in 2014.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.