5 Moves the Minnesota Vikings Must Avoid in Free Agency
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is the man in charge of ensuring this organization doesn't go out and make cataclysmic decisions in free agency.
Coming off a 5-10-1 record in 2013, the Vikings are a team in desperate need of change. From the arrival of head coach Mike Zimmer to the introduction of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Minnesota sits smack dab in the middle of a brutal NFC North division looking toward the future.
Analyzing the impending free-agent market, it's time to check five moves the Vikings must avoid making if they want to put themselves in a position to succeed.
From being smart about spending their estimated $35 million in cap room to avoiding certain players already on the roster, it's now time to check out the list.
1. Re-Signing Charlie Johnson
Vikings offensive guard Charlie Johnson is one player Spielman and his staff absolutely need to stay away from this offseason.
The weakest link in an otherwise stout offensive line, Johnson has managed to finish the last three seasons registering a negative grade from the good folks over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Understanding that Johnson isn't getting any younger, Spielman would be wise to look elsewhere for another left guard. As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling described in his report on Johnson's future:
It would seem like the Vikings will probably move on at the position, either to get someone younger or someone who's able to clear bigger lanes for Adrian Peterson. The position would be an easy place for the Vikings to get younger and save some money.
Regardless if the Vikings stick with a guy like Jeff Baca, sign a free agent or use the draft to secure another lineman, there is nothing we've seen thus far that warrants Spielman re-signing Johnson.
2. Re-Signing Jared Allen
Without question, Jared Allen's tenure in Minnesota has been one incredible ride.
Over the time he's spent in the Vikings organization, Allen has accumulated 85.5 sacks, four interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 244 total tackles.
A dominant presence rushing the quarterback, Vikings fans will always have an undying respect for the work No. 69 put in on the field.
But like all good things, there comes a time when it's best to part ways. For Spielman and Co., that time is right now.
Discussing Allen's thought process entering free agency, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora wrote:
This will be Allen's last bite of the apple, his last chance to earn NFL money and last opportunity to get a ring. He's a realist about that. And as much as he has relished his time in Minnesota -- a team that's rebuilding, again -- landing somewhere with an opportunity to win now is a priority.
The biggest issue surrounding Allen's future with the Vikings isn't necessarily the money or even figuring out where the 31-year-old's head is at. No, the biggest issue comes by way of another "hometown" edge-rusher set to hit free agency named Everson Griffen.
Unlike Allen, Griffen is a 26-year-old defensive end with "fresh" legs. Though NFL.com's Marc Sessler reported that Coach Zimmer loves the former USC Trojan's "great first step," the Vikings administration chose not to use the franchise tag on Griffen.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the defensive end position, unless Allen can be brought back on a minimal deal, his illustrious career in Minnesota should be brought to an appreciative conclusion this offseason.
3. Overspending in a Diluted Free-Agent Market
The closer we get to March 11, the more diluted the free-agent market has become.
With each passing day, NFL teams are either inking their best players to long-term deals or dispersing the franchise tag to keep them around for at least another season.
If you look around the league, top-tier players like Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy has been tagged, while Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes reached an agreement to stay in South Beach—per the Miami Dolphins official Twitter account.
Spielman has to embrace what's going on and figure out the best way to broach a free-agent market that is losing marquee names by the day.
Understanding how Spielman has historically operated in free agency is a good way to grasp his plans for the future. Talking with Mark Craig and Master Tesfatsion of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last year, the Vikings general manager shared his feelings about process:
I’m not a real big believer in spending in free agency. We’re always going to try to build through the draft and continue to do that. Because I think that way you maintain a roster that can be competitive year in and year out. Not only on the field but also from a financial standpoint of staying within the cap and looking at the overall cash. I think you have a lot more success when you sign your own players as unrestricted free agents. Because you know them the best. And if you screw up signing one of of your own guys and he doesn’t pan out, then that’s a fault on you. I think it’s a little riskier when you go out and try to sign other team’s UFAs.
Whether that theory still holds weight coming off a dismal 5-10-1 campaign remains to be seen. But if the bulk of Spielman's ideology remains intact, the team should be able to avoid getting themselves into a cap nightmare this offseason.
4. Re-Signing Jerome Simpson
At 6'2", 190 pounds, Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson has the size needed to be an effective weapon lined up on the outside.
The question for Spielman becomes, with Norv Turner now in charge of the offense, is re-signing Simpson to another "prove it"-type deal even worth it?
ESPN.com's Ben Goessling makes a case for Simpson's return by noting that he "blossomed into an effective run-blocker under receivers coach George Stewart."
Still, with such a deep class of wide receivers floating around the 2014 NFL draft, Spielman has a chance to shore up the position with a mid- to late-round pick instead.
The main problem with Simpson is that you know exactly what you are getting: a guy with rangy athleticism and big-play potential, who more times than not falls into a pattern of mediocrity on the field.
In his seven-year career, Simpson has never broke the 1,000-yard receiving mark or caught more then 50 passes—granted, he wasn't always a "featured" wide receiver.
When you turn on the film and watch him operate on the field, Simpson rarely shows signs of being a consistent option.
Choosing not to re-sign Simpson would not only give Spielman a chance to draft another young wide receiver, but he potentially could land one with a much bigger upside.
5. Disbursing Big Dollars on a Veteran Quarterback
Heading into free agency, the only quarterback with significant starting experience left on the Vikings roster will be Christian Ponder.
A quarterback who can be described best as a lighting rod of controversy, Master Tesfatsion of Minneapolis Star-Tribune said, "Ideally, he (Spielman) said he’d like to have Ponder, a veteran and a rookie compete for the starting position."
Browsing the current market for a veteran signal-caller brings back nothing but diminishing returns. Guys like Michael Vick, Matt Cassel, Chad Henne and Matt Flynn are all salvageable options who are each plagued with their own set of issues.
If you go up a tier, divisional foe Josh McCown of the Chicago Bears is sitting there.
While you could put together a compelling case that his success was the product of Marc Trestman's offensive scheme, SI.com's Doug Farrar seems to think otherwise:
Yes, McCown’s a system guy — but that’s far from pejorative when you have the kind of season he had. On a team where the deep ball isn’t a major component, he could have an interesting renaissance.
Figuring out the best course of action to address the need for a veteran QB, Spielman would be wise to make sure that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a vested interest and constant dialogue throughout the process.
Turner's rich history with quarterbacks makes him the quintessential candidate to help restructure the dismal QB situation that unfolded in Minnesota.
Understanding what Turner brings to the table, Spielman said at the NFL combine:
We rely on everything, some outside stuff that I use, rely on Norv. He'll have a huge influence on what direction this quarterback goes. Ultimately, I'm the one that's going to get the final say on it. But no, that's why you hire people who are experts in their area, to get advice.
The one underlying theme that has to stay on the forefront of the search is that the Vikings absolutely cannot overpay for a veteran QB.
No matter who they bring in, the goal has to be to come up with an incentive-laden, low-term contract that benefits the organization's long-term agenda.