For teams that finished last season with a losing record, like the Minnesota Vikings, now is the best time of the offseason. Unlike Seattle, fans of the Vikings don't need to worry about how they are going to keep the team together as other teams attempt to pick off free agent after free agent.
There's plenty of speculation on who the Vikings are going to select with the eighth pick in the draft—or whether they make a deal to move up or down in the first round. It's fun to fantasize about quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel suiting up for the Purple next year—just don't count on that happening.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman has stated that the Vikings have a goal of 10 picks every year in the NFL draft. Currently with only eight picks, Spielman will need to do some wheeling and dealing in order to add another two draft picks.
The Vikings have plenty of holes to fill at quarterback, linebacker, cornerback and on both sides of the line. Here are some trade scenarios that Spielman could pull off before the draft in order to improve the team.
Currently the Minnesota Vikings only have one quarterback under contract—Christian Ponder, the team's first-round draft in 2011. In three seasons, Ponder has a 14-20-1 record as the starter. His 10-6 record in 2012 is sandwiched by a couple of seasons where he only won two games.
In his first press conference as the Vikings' new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner indicated the team will be looking to add a young quarterback. While most people assume that the Vikings will obtain that quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft, there's always the possibility of signing a free agent or trading for one.
A report from Ben Goessling of ESPN speculates about the Vikings acquiring Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. Going from one backup quarterback to Tom Brady to another makes sense. Unlike Ponder, who relieved veteran Donovan McNabb after six games in 2011, Mallet has had the honor of standing on the sideline and watching one of the best quarterbacks over three seasons.
In those three seasons, Brady has led the Patriots to a 37-11 record in the regular season—the most wins of any quarterback over that time. Unfortunately during that time, Mallett has seen action in only four of those games.
Since Mallett has only thrown four passes in his career, the Vikings might be able to acquire him for a reasonable price. A third-round pick in 2011, perhaps the Vikings can acquire him for a couple of draft picks in this year's draft.
According to Alex Hampl from Sports Illustrated, Jay Gruden, the new head coach for the Washington Redskins, wasted no time naming his starting quarterback—Robert Griffin III. Gruden has indicated that there will be no competition at quarterback for the upcoming season.
According to ESPN, Kirk Cousins, who started the final three games for the Redskins last season, is open to a trade that will give him an opportunity to start. A fourth-round draft pick in 2012, Cousins is six months younger than Ponder, who entered the league in 2011.
In December, Drexel Perry from Yahoo! Sports identified the Minnesota Vikings as one of five potential landing spots for the 25-year-old. A fourth-round draft pick of the Redskins in 2012, Cousins has a 1-3 record as a starter with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight games. If the Vikings were to acquire Cousins, they must believe that Turner can work some magic that will turn Cousins into a serviceable starter.
Last week, I outlined five possible trade scenarios for the Minnesota Vikings with their eighth pick in the draft. One of them was to trade the pick to Tennessee for the 11th pick in the first round, plus a third-rounder and seventh-round selection.
That would give the Titans a very good chance at drafting outside linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA. With the 11th pick, the Vikings would have a very good chance of still selecting one of the top defensive ends available—after Jadeveon Clowney is selected either first or second by Houston or St Louis. They would also be able to add the top cornerback in the draft, having their choice of either Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State or Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State.
This deal makes sense, as it would give the Vikings a total of 10 draft picks.
Spielman seems to value draft picks more than free agents. In a report from the Star Tribune, Spielman indicated the goal is to have 10 draft picks each year. That many picks allows him to turn over the roster quickly—something else he seems to like to do.
As a player approaches the age of 30, the odds of parting ways with the Vikings increases dramatically. This year it looks like the Vikings will say goodbye to defensive end Jared Allen (31) and Kevin Williams (33)—both free agents for next season.
Another player who needs to be looking over his shoulder is linebacker Chad Greenway, who turned 31 in January. A two-time Pro Bowler, Greenway has led the Vikings in tackles every year since 2008. He will cost the Vikings $8.2 million against their salary cap this season—second only to running back Adrian Peterson's $14.4 million.
The best bet might be to trade Greenway to a playoff-contending team looking to shore up the linebacker position. One potential team could be the Arizona Cardinals. Their best linebacker from last season was Karlos Dansby, who will be a free agent. They may also be looking for a possible replacement for John Abraham, who turns 36 in May.
The problem is that Greenway's base salary, at $6.4 million, is the eighth-highest among linebackers, and Spielman and the Vikings will need to sweeten the deal. Perhaps they could package a couple of linebackers for a mid- to late-round draft pick. They have three from the last two drafts under contract in Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti and Audie Cole.
It's a long shot that the Vikings would trade away the best linebacker on the roster. With a cap hit of $8.2 million, and only $3.4 million in dead money, the Vikings can pick up almost $5 million in cap space by releasing him—an option outlined by the Daily Norseman in an article earlier this month.
If the Minnesota Vikings really wanted to increase their cap space, Spielman would look for possible trade destinations for running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikings signed Peterson to a seven-year, $96 million contract before the 2011 season. This season, his contract will count $14.4 million against the salary cap.
Last month in a report from Pro Football Talk, Spielman indicated that "Adrian's not going anywhere." Of course last year from the NFL Scouting Combine, Spielman made similar comments about former wide receiver Percy Harvin as reported by the Sporting News. Less than a month later, Harvin was dealt to the Seahawks, and the rest is history.
Of course, comparing the situations for Peterson and Harvin is like comparing apples and watermelons. Harvin was a headache for head coach Leslie Frazier and a distraction to the team, while Peterson has been a model teammate.
Still, if Spielman, who loves to make deals as evidenced by the draft-day deals he's made the past couple of seasons, is made an offer he can't refuse, Peterson could finish his career elsewhere.
Already the franchise leader in career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, Peterson has nothing left to prove in Minnesota. It makes sense to trade him to a potential Super Bowl contender while he is still productive. One point working against any deal—besides his $11.75 million base salary—is the fact he will turn 29 next month.