5 Big Splashes in Free Agency the Minnesota Vikings Could Realistically Make

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

5 Big Splashes in Free Agency the Minnesota Vikings Could Realistically Make

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    When it comes to making a splash in free agency, the Minnesota Vikings will have their work cut out for them.

    In the midst of trying to create a new culture in Minnesota, it will be up to general manager Rick Spielman and first-year head coach Mike Zimmer to find the right guys who can help this team get better.

    As much fun as it would be to go out and load up on all sorts of talent like it was Madden 25, Spielman and his staff have to make sure they spend the organization's money wisely.

    With an estimated $24.4 million in cap space to work with, the Vikings will have to do their due diligence and figure out exactly how that money should be effectively distributed.

    Scanning some of the biggest names this free agency, it's now time to examine five ways the Vikings could realistically make a splash this offseason.

    All stats and free agency info provided by NFL.com unless noted.

    All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless noted otherwise.

Sign Carolina Panthers DE Greg Hardy

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    The most explosive pass-rusher set to hit free agency in 2014 is Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.

    Hardy, who apparently attended Hogwarts at one time in his life, is coming off of a brilliant 2013 season. Finishing with 15 sacks and 39 total tackles, the hard-hitting defensive end was Pro Football Focus' third-ranked 4-3 defensive end.

    Putting up those kinds of numbers, you'd assume the Panthers will do everything possible to retain the services of their war-paint infested pass-rusher. But as Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said during a press conference on January 14, when it comes to his team's salary-cap situation, the Panthers are "cap challenged."

    Being "cap challenged" doesn't help when you have a 25-year-old breakout star looking to get paid. Assuming the Panthers don't use the franchise tag on Hardy, he would be able to hit the open market.

    If that happens, the brass in Minnesota has to take notice. Coming off back-to-back seasons where he managed to post double-digit sacks, Hardy's proven that he's a tour de force who can dominate at the line of scrimmage.

    With defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen set to hit free agency, head coach Mike Zimmer would have to be ecstatic if they could find a way to land Hardy as a replacement.

    From his top-notch closing speed to his supreme athleticism and relentless pursuit, Hardy is exactly the type of player who would give this defense a serious jolt of energy.

Sign New York Giants DT Linval Joseph

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    Linval Joseph might not be a household name, but the 323-pound defensive tackle is a guy who would make quite the splash if he ended up rocking a purple and gold uniform.

    A criminally underrated football player, Joseph quietly finished the 2013 season grading out as PFF's 21st-best defensive tackle.

    If the goal is to add a player via free agency who can violate the pocket and help bolster this team's run defense, then signing Joseph makes a ton of sense for the Vikings.

    Registering a positive 8.0 grade when it came to stopping the run, PFF ranked Joseph slightly ahead of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in that category. Between his stellar work on film and the impressive numbers he continues to put up, there's no way Spielman can overlook that kind of production.

    On a hunt to infuse quality personalities into this locker room, Joseph fits the bill. As Dan Graziano of ESPN.com put it, the former Eastern Carolina product is "a good, well-liked teammate with a strong understanding of the (New York) Giants' principles and priorities."

    Going out and spending money on a player like Joseph is exactly the type of forward-thinking this team needs to implement if they want to contend in the NFC North.

Sign Arizona Cardinals ILB Karlos Dansby

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    Sometimes the best free agent signings are the ones you least expect.

    When the Arizona Cardinals brought linebacker Karlos Dansby back to the desert for the 2013 season, no one really knew how big of an impact he would have. Well, 112 tackles, 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and 19 passes defensed later, the 32-year-old veteran showed everyone he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

    Making a return trip to the free-agent market this offseason, this time you can be sure teams will be more inclined to pursue Dansby's services.

    Although he told Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com that he "would love to come back" and play for the Cardinals, Odegard mentioned that Dansby is "likely test the market."

    If you're Spielman or Zimmer, landing a beast like Dansby to step in and fill the middle linebacker position makes perfect sense.

Sign Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson

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    Out of all the names featured on this list, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson is one guy who has a pretty good chance of finding his way over to the Vikings.

    Playing for Coach Zimmer while he was the defensive coordinator of the Bengals, Minnesota's rookie head coach told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com that he has a "ton of respect" for Johnson.

    Explaining to Hobson in further detail about what he loves about the former Georgia Tech standout, Zimmer said:

    He’s very conscientious, he plays extremely hard. He’s one of these guys that we’ve build up into what we’re looking for here, the kind of guys that we want, the kind of personalities, the kind of caring about one another in the locker room. I can’t say enough good things about him.

    Ranked as PFF's fourth-best 4-3 defensive end in 2013, the 6'7" Johnson is a guy who has made a career getting after opposing quarterbacks.

    At just 26 years old, making Johnson an essential part of Zimmer's new-look defense would be a nice way to make a statement in free agency.

Sign New England Patriots CB Aqib Talib

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    No matter where he ends up playing next season, New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib is going to be one of the most polarizing names to hit the free agent market in 2014.

    Despite being a formidable talent when healthy, Talib's tenure in the NFL has been tumultuous, to say the least.

    As Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times highlighted in 2012, Talib battled major character issues during the time he spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    While he figured out a way to clean up his act under the guidance of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, no general manager knows for sure what the future holds for Talib. Talking with Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, the 27-year-old cornerback acknowledged that despite being drafted in 2008, he's only "really been in the NFL since November of 2012."

    A statement like that is hard to decipher if you're a general manager. Does that mean Talib has matured since arriving in New England, or is the "Patriot Way" the only thing that can keep Talib's career afloat?

    Still, if he finds a way to vanish from New England and ends up hitting the open market, his above-average skill set will warrant a lucrative contract.

    Allowing 75 receiving yards or more just three times by PFF's count during the 2013 season, Talib would serve as wonderful addition to a Vikings defense that allowed 287.2 passing yards per game.

    At the end of the day, if Spielman wants to go out and make a major splash in free agency, signing Talib to a long-term deal would definitely do the trick.