What We've Learned About the Minnesota Vikings After the Start of Free Agency

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2014

What We've Learned About the Minnesota Vikings After the Start of Free Agency

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    The Minnesota Vikings plunge into free agency got underway this past Tuesday.

    With an estimated $26.2 million dollars in cap space to throw around, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had more than enough money to go out and make a splash this offseason.

    One thing we've learned so far about Spielman and the Vikings, is that they understand the situation they're in and are dedicated to rebuilding this team the right way.

    It's easy to look at John Elway and the Denver Broncos and ask the question, "why can't that be us?"

    For obvious reasons that include Peyton Manning and a trip to the Super Bowl last season, Elway's spending spree is indicative of a general manager trying to capitalize on a shrinking championship window.

    Unlike the Broncos, the Vikings are a team in the midst of a complete overhaul. 

    With Mike Zimmer running the show and a roster full of holes, Spielman doesn't have the luxury of going out and blowing stacks of moola on just a few players.

    Examining the moves, decisions and strategy Spielman has made so far, it's now time to dive in and check out what we've learned about the Vikings after the start of free agency.

1. Matt Cassel Is the Short-Term Solution

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    You have to give him credit, Spielman stuck to his game plan when it came to addressing the quarterback situation.

    Before free agency kicked off, Master Tesfatsion of StarTribune reported that, "Ideally, he (Spielman) said he’d like to have Ponder, a veteran and a rookie compete for the starting position."

    With Ponder still on the roster and Cassel now re-signed, that plan is falling into place. Cassel's return to the Vikings is a good move in the interim.

    With offensive coordinator Norv Turner now calling the plays, Cassel's previous stints with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs makes him the most experienced option to guide this offense.

    Cassel's never displayed a big arm, but when breaking down the veteran QB's skill set, ESPN's Ron Jaworski (h/t Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com) mentioned: 

    Cassel is at his best in a managed offense that features run personnel, run formations and the play action pass game. Play action primarily gives the quarterback either-or to find reads. Cassel is very good in that system.

    With Turner mentoring him and Adrian Peterson lurking in the backfield, Cassel will at least be able to provide this offense with a sense of stability.

    The decision to go after a young signal-caller in the upcoming draft doesn't make much of a difference at this point. Either way, Spielman's short-term solution seems to be Cassel, and that's fine...for now.

2. The Defense Is Getting Younger

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Concentrating on the defensive side of the ball to kick things off, Spielman delved into his pocket and lured former New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph to Minnesota.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the five-year deal Joseph signed is worth $31.5 million. Spending money on a productive, 25-year-old isn't a bad way to round out Minnesota's defensive line heading into the upcoming season.

    Re-signing Everson Griffen to a five-year deal—NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported the deal was worth $42.5 million—Spielman made sure that head coach Mike Zimmer has enough firepower to be effective in the trenches.

    As it stands right now, the Vikings new-look defensive line consists of Brian Robison and Griffen manning the edges, while second-year defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd plays alongside Joseph on the interior—assuming the Vikings stick with a 4-3 alignment.

    The average age of this line? Just 25 years old.

    Watching the Seattle Seahawks young defense dismantle the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, proves that the old adage "defense wins championships" still holds clout.

    Even in a league dominated by high-octane aerial attacks and uptempo offenses, having a grind-it-out defense can propel an NFL franchise into contention.

3. Spielman Isn't Signing "Standout" Names

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Even with a generous amount of cap space to work with, Spielman was cautious when it came to signing some of the bigger names floating around the open market.

    Standout cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Aqib Talib found new homes rather quickly, landing big-time contracts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos, respectively—per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, who reported Verner's deal, and ESPN's Adam Schefter, who relayed details on Talib's contract.

    When Schefter reported that Darrelle Revis signed a one-year deal worth $12 million with the New England Patriots, all of the sudden, the "elite" defensive backs vanished from the market. Spielman's decision to not pursue any marquee names in free agency shouldn't come as a huge surprise. His mantra has always centered around using the draft to build a contender.

    Still, seeing names like Verner, Talib and Revis land elsewhere had to be disheartening for fans who watched the Vikings defense give up 287.2 passing yards a game in 2013.

    Luckily, there is a sign of hope on the horizon.

    Ben Goessling of ESPN.com tweeted that former Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has scheduled a visit with the team.

    Considering the 25-year-old has already surpassed the frenzy that took place on March 11, the timing couldn't be any better. The former Panthers defensive back graded out right alongside Verner at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for his 2013 season.

    Though it's hard to project the salary Munnerlyn will command on the open market, if Spielman can get him cheaper than some of the names who have already signed, it would be a great way to instantly improve the Vikings shoddy secondary.

4. Everson Griffen Made a Boatload of Cash

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Using a massive contract as the supreme bargaining chip, Spielman made sure defensive lineman Everson Griffen's future was with the Vikings.

    The five-year, $42.5 million contract—with $20 million guaranteed—is a ton of coin for a player who hasn't really been tested as a full-time pass-rusher.

    Using PFF's metrics to better understand his career, Griffen played just 717 snaps last season. To put that into perspective, that's 205 fewer snaps then freshly signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers edge-rusher Michael Johnson played last season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

    According to ESPN's Josina AndersonJohnson's contract is worth $43.75 million, with $24 million guaranteed. That puts him right around the same range as the deal Spielman tossed Griffen's way. While they are different players at heart, the two edge-rushers are both athletic freaks who have flashed glimpses of massive potential on the field.

    There's no doubt that the NFL's transformation into a quarterback-driven, pass-happy league means that talented edge-rushers are going to demand big money.

    But, without a ton of starting experience under Griffen's belt, the narrative now becomes whether or not Griffen is one of those guys who's worth all that loot?

5. There's Still More to Come

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Even with a slew of contracts already divvied out, the wheels of free agency keep on churning.

    According to Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com, former Chicago Bears standout Henry Melton will be talking with the Vikings front office about possibly joining Minnesota.

    After tearing his ACL in 2013, Melton's value on the open market may not be as high as it once was.

    If you put his injury on the back burner and look at what Melton accomplished during his last two full seasons in Chicago, you'd see right away that he is a difference-maker.

    Racking up 13 sacks and 50 total tackles in that time span, the sixth-year man out of the University of Texas managed to finish the 2012 season as the Pro Football Focus' seventh-best defensive tackle (subscription required).

    If a bargain can be reached that would provide Melton the opportunity to rotate into the Vikings defensive line, it might be time to start singing Spielman's praises from the rooftops.


    All NFL free agency information and stats courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.

    All advanced stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), unless noted otherwise.