7 Positions the Minnesota Vikings Can Afford to Overlook This Offseason
As Rick Spielman continues to speak with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine this week, we all get a better idea on where he sees this offseason going for his Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings general manager is the lead architect of the franchise and as Harry Truman once said, "The buck stops here."
And with that buck, there's a clear list of positions that need to be addressed this offseason and a group of positions that Spielman won't waste a second pondering (pun intended, always).
The positions listed in this slideshow are focused on the starters, but we will assess the backup options since injuries do happen. This is the NFL after all (not for long).
The seven slides are listed in no particular order
A position is pretty well locked down when it was addressed with a top-five selection in a recent draft and a four-year, $25 million contract.
The players in question—Matt Kalil (No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft) and Phil Loadholt.
Loadholt, 28, started off very slowly in 2013 after getting rewarded with his big deal but eventually picked up speed. He still is prone to getting beat by quicker defenders, but that can be a problem for a massive man like Loadholt (6'8" and 343 pounds).
Kalil, 24, burst onto the scene in 2012 and became a Pro Bowl player in his rookie campaign. Much like Loadholt, 2013 was a year of regression for Kalil. He started off slowly and picked it up as the season went on. The Vikings should still feel good about him as their left tackle of the present and future.
With stability like that at both tackle positions, the Vikings can rest easy. They lack proven talent behind their twin towers: Kevin Murphy and Mike Remmers are the lone players at the position under contract.
J'Marcus Webb is a free agent with more experience, but we'll see how inclined Minnesota is to retain his services.
With the strong health history of Kalil and Loadholt (Kalil hasn't missed a game in two seasons and Loadholt has missed two in five), the Vikings can feel confident that the anchors of this position will keep the ship in place.
It seems as if year after year, John Sullivan is regarded as one of the most underrated centers in the NFL and then is never rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod.
That isn't to say he's gone without recognition. In 2012, he was named to the first team all-pro by the Pro Football Writers and Pro Football Focus, which is nice for him.
The Vikings know the gem they have.
Sullivan, 28, and the Vikings agreed to a six-year, $25 million contract that keeps him in Minnesota through the 2016 campaign.
Since becoming the starter in 2009, Sullivan has missed three games.
Behind Sullivan there's a big ole question mark.
Jeff Baca, a sixth-round pick in 2013, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he could play center if needed, and Joe Berger, the backup for 2013, is a free agent.
It's expected the Vikings will re-sign Berger, but they could opt to let Baca run as the backup.
Either way, this position requires little to no attention this offseason given the stability of Sullivan.
When a first-round pick and 22-year-old becomes a phenom at his position as a rookie, then it's safe to say the position is locked up for as long as said player is on the roster.
In this case, there are other factors, too.
Cordarrelle Patterson was one of Minnesota's three first-round selections in the 2013 draft and was named the NFC's return specialist for this past season's Pro Bowl.
Patterson returned 43 kickoffs for 1,393 yards and two touchdowns and forced the opposition to reconsider its strategy for kickoffs.
The question with Patterson—as Minnesota pondered with Percy Harvin—is, when does he become too valuable to risk injury on kickoffs?
It won't be 2014.
Patterson, 6'2" and 220 pounds, is likely to start across from Greg Jennings as the split end in Minnesota's primary offensive sets in 2014, but Jennings will still be the "No. 1" receiver.
That role could become Patterson's by season's end as he continues to get a better grasp of the offense and develops a rapport with his quarterback, whomever that will be.
But, bottom line, he'll be Minnesota's kickoff return man in 2014. He'll be a stud. And the Vikings will be grateful to have such an explosive weapon on special teams.
No kick in the pants needed here.
Blair Walsh, 24, is one of the game's best kickers. And not only is he a standout kicker, but he consistently booms kickoffs out of the end zone, eliminating the opportunity for a return.
Talk about kicking two birds with one stone (too much?).
Walsh, like fellow 2012 rookie Matt Kalil, was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season and also was named to all-pro teams by the Associated Press, Pro Football Writers and Pro Football Focus.
That's what happens when a sixth-round draft (or anyone) choice drills 35 of 38 field goals, including a 10-of-10 effort on attempts of 50 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Walsh took the slightest step backwards (26-of-30 on field goals, 2-of-5 from 50 yards or more). But that's nothing to bat an eyelash at.
Walsh is entering his third year in the NFL, and most NFL teams would be grateful for his services, just like the Vikings are.
Very fittingly, the Vikings can punt on acquiring a punter.
Jeff Locke was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and replaced the controversial Chris Kluwe.
Locke didn't have the outstanding rookie campaign that Blair Walsh did, but Locke is still oh-so young (he'll turn 25 on Sept. 27).
His 2013 stats (44.2 yards per punt, 30.7 percent inside the 20-yard line and a net average of 39.2) aren't that far off from Kluwe's career averages (44.4 yards per punt, 31.8 percent inside the 20-yard line and a net average of 38.8).
Locke has plenty to build off of from 2013 and should have Vikings fans feeling good about their kicking game moving forward.
When Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe roamed the Minnesota sideline and the tight end position seemed set, the Vikings surprised many and addressed the position in the second round of the 2011 draft (Kyle Rudolph).
So it's not as if this is a lock. But the position looks tight.
Rudolph was supposed to take a large leap into the "elite" category of tight ends last season. But as Minnesota's quarterback merry-go-round continued to spin, Rudolph and the rest of the receivers were hurt by the inconsistency.
A broken foot ended Rudolph's season early, but he should be back and remain as one of the better options at his position. He finished with 30 receptions for 313 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. It's tough not to get excited about a tight end who's athletic and 6'6'" and 258 pounds.
Behind Rudolph, the Vikings have veteran John Carlson, the developing Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford.
Carlson was shut down midseason due to a concussion suffered in Week 14 but ended up catching 30 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown on the season.
He told The Star Tribune he wants to continue playing football, but time will tell if that's with Minnesota. The Vikings could save $2 million this upcoming season if they opt to cut him.
Ford showed potential as a receiver down the stretch as the Vikings played without Rudolph and Carlson. He caught seven passes for 43 yards in the season finale against Detroit and had two grabs for 55 yards in an upset of Philadelphia. He's a two-year vet at 23 years old and is under contract for 2014 at $495,000.
Ellison was drafted in 2012 to become the next Kleinsasser, and while he's not there, he's still growing.
And Jerome Felton's contract says a lot about how the organization feels about him and his future.
Felton, 27, signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract last offseason and is entrenched as Adrian Peterson's lead blocker.
The six-year vet hasn't recorded a carry and has just nine receptions for 72 yards to his name over the course of his two-year stay in Minnesota.
But that doesn't matter. It's his blocking abilities that earned him the fourth-highest average salary at the position.
And with Rhett Ellison able to do double duty as a tight end and fullback, Minnesota is more than OK at fullback.