Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has found the team's coach of the future in Mike Zimmer. The two must now put their heads together in order to rebuild the team.
The Vikings followed up a trip to the playoffs in 2012 with a 5-10-1 season in 2013. The team was outscored by a total of 91 points on the season and was never very competitive, losing seven games by 10 points or more.
However, the team still has Adrian Peterson and some very promising young players such as Harrison Smith, Matt Kalil, Cordarrelle Patterson and Xavier Rhodes. Because of them, there is plenty to be optimistic about.
The team will soon enter a very crucial free-agent market as they look to build a contender prior to the opening of their new stadium in 2016. Surrounding the aforementioned players with the right pieces could determine Spielman's future in Minnesota's front office.
The Vikings have cap room available and need to be aggressive dealing in the market.
Here is a look at five players that should be on their radar.
It would be shocking to see New England let Julian Edelman get away, especially after losing Wes Welker following last season.
Edelman had an excellent season, catching 105 passes and keeping the New England passing offense going. Only three players had more receptions in 2013.
Still, New England has never been known for handing out big contracts. Because of that, Minnesota should see if they can land him.
Edelman would give the Vikings a dependable slot receiver who can move the chains on third down. Regardless of who plays quarterback in Minnesota next season, having a receiver like this would be huge.
It's not likely for the Patriots to not give Edelman whatever he wants, especially given their current situation at wide receiver. But Minnesota must send out feelers to see if they can land him.
The Vikings could use a strong presence in the secondary and few players in the NFL play the enforcer role better than Donte Whitner.
Whitner has become one of the league's feared hitters in the game. The former first-round pick also has good ball skills.
In 2013 with the 49ers, Whitner had 73 tackles, two interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
By comparison, Minnesota safety Jamarca Sanford did not have a single interception and only had one pass defensed. He was not very good in coverage, either.
Whitner would be a huge upgrade for the team.
Donald Brown was an afterthought in Indianapolis when the season started. He ended up being the best running back on the team at season's end.
Despite the team trading for former first-round pick Trent Richardson, Brown was the running back the team had to lean on down the stretch.
Brown proved he could provide a solid spark off the bench and could do the same in Minnesota, spelling Adrian Peterson.
If the team decides not to bring back free-agent running back Toby Gerhart, Brown would be an excellent replacement. In fact, Brown might be an even better fit.
In 2013, everyone threw on Minnesota. Its ability to defend against the pass was incredibly bad.
The Vikings finished the year ranked No. 31 in pass defense, giving up an average of 287.2 yards per game and a league-high 37 touchdown passes. They allowed nine passing plays that went for 40 yards or more.
This makes upgrading the secondary of extreme importance for the team and there will be plenty of options available at the cornerback position on the open market.
These players include Vontae Davis, DeAngelo Hall, Tarell Brown, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Brent Grimes, to name a few.
But the player the Vikings should target is Alterraun Verner. In 2013, Verner established himself as one of the best coverage guys in the NFL. He recorded five interceptions and 23 passes defensed.
The 25-year-old stands to rake in a big pay day, but the Vikings shouldn't shy away from the price tag.
Pairing him with Xavier Rhodes would give the team a solid duo at cornerback for years to come.
Michael Johnson becoming a member of the Minnesota Vikings would make a lot of sense.
Jared Allen is scheduled to hit free agency this offseason. If the Vikings are unable to bring him back, they will have their work cut out for them in order to replace the 14.25 sacks per season that he has averaged in his time with the team.
The Bengals likely won't try to retain him after placing the franchise tag on him last year. Though he will be one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason, Minnesota would have to be a front-runner for one reason—Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer was Johnson's defensive coordinator in Cincinnati and would probably love nothing more than to have the player follow him to Minnesota.
This signing would give the Vikings a trio of Johnson, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen at defensive end. That should be enough to replace Allen.