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Grading the Early Moves Made by the Minnesota Vikings so Far in Free Agency

Tim ArcandCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2014

Grading the Early Moves Made by the Minnesota Vikings so Far in Free Agency

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    So far, the Minnesota Vikings have made a pretty big splash in free agency with the re-signing of defensive end Everson Griffen to a five-year deal worth $42.5 million and the signing of former New York Giant defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Adam Schefter from ESPN.com tweeted the contract was worth $31.5 million over five years.

    The moves general manager Rick Spielman made before the beginning of free agency put the team in a position to make these deals. 

    The Vikings had approximately $41 million in cap space to spend. With a new head coach Mike Zimmer in place, it's time to start improving the roster. The focus needed to be on the defense that ranked last in the NFL in scoring last season.

    The improvements needed are not isolated to the defense. On offense, the Vikings need to find a quarterback as well as a starting guard. 

    Here's a look at the moves made so far by the Vikings in free agency. The grade is based on the need the move addressed as well as the impact on the salary cap. 

     

      

Waived Tight End John Carlson

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    When the Minnesota Vikings signed tight end John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract in 2012, it raised a few eyebrows. The Vikings had drafted Kyle Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 draft.

    In his first season with the Vikings, Carlson only caught eight passes for 43 yards. In his defense, he suffered from injuries that limited his performance.

    He restructured his contract in 2013, saving the Vikings some cap space. He had a good season with 32 receptions and 344 yards. It still did not match the 53 receptions he averaged his first two seasons in Seattle

    Carlson's cap number for 2014 was $5 million.  His release saves the team $2 million in cap space.

    Grade: A 

    The Vikings found an adequate backup in tight end Chase Ford, who caught 11 passes for 133 yards.   

Released Defensive Tackle Letroy Guion

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The day after the Minnesota Vikings released tight end John Carlson, they parted ways with defensive tackle Letroy Guion. At first it might have seemed like an odd move, especially since defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Fred Evans are free agents. 

    The past two years, Letroy Guion has started 28 games at nose tackle, averaging 14 tackles per season. Combined with Fred Evans, his backup, the duo has a total of five sacks since 2012.

    The run defense has also suffered, dropping from second in yards allowed in 2009 to 16th last season.

    Guion was due to make $4.3 million this season. By releasing him, the Vikings saved $4 million in cap space—money that can be used to upgrade the defensive line.  

    Grade: A+

    The Vikings saved a lot of money on a position that was struggling to produce—especially in light of a move that came after this one. 

Re-Signed Cornerback/Punt Returner Restricted Free Agent Marcus Sherels

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings announced March 7 that they had re-signed restricted free-agent cornerback Marcus Sherels. The report indicated that last season Sherels set the franchise record with a 15.2-yard average. His two punt returns for a touchdown the last two seasons also matches the franchise record. 

    Last season he also started a career-high four games on defense.

    An undrafted free agent in 2010, Sherels' deal is for two years and worth $2.2 million, according to a tweet from Ben Goessling of ESPN.  

    Last season as a backup cornerback, Sherels finished second on the team with seven passes defended.

    The deal keeps the sure-handed punt returner on the field for the Vikings, giving him the chance with another punt return for a touchdown to own the Vikings' record all to himself.

    Grade: A 

    It's a relatively small amount to retain the weapon Sherels has become on punt returns.    

Re-Signed Linebacker Larry Dean

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    On March 10, Pro Football Talk reported that the Minnesota Vikings had re-signed their other restricted free agent—linebacker Larry Dean. He made the team in 2011 as a free-agent rookie from Valdosta State. 

    Dean has made all of his contributions as a member of the Vikings' special teams. A tweet from Chris Tomasson states the deal is worth $1.05 million in 2014. 

    Grade: B

    Dean might not be the next Heath Farwell, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player for the Vikings in 2009, but he's not costing the team very much either. 

Re-Signed Quarterback Matt Cassel

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Matt Cassel was the best quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings last season. He earned the team's first win of the season in Week 4 against the Steelers in London. He finished the season with a 3-3 record in six starts. He also picked up the Vikings when taking over for Christian Ponder in a Week 13 overtime win over the Bears.

    NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported via Twitter on March 7 that Cassel and the Vikings had reached a two-year agreement. The deal is reported on NFL.com to be worth $10 million over two years.  

    In nine seasons, Cassel has a career passer rating of 80.5. He gives the Vikings some stability at the position for 2014. It also gives the team some flexibility at quarterback as they look for a long-term solution, perhaps through the draft.

    Grade: B

    Cassel is the best option for the Vikings right now, the problem is he has never put together back-to-back winning seasons.  

Re-Signed Defensive End Everson Griffen

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings made a big splash two days before free agency even began when they re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen to a five-year deal worth $42.5 million. 

    Although the chances were slim, the deal pretty much ended any chance of Jared Allen returning to the Vikings. As a backup over the last three seasons, Griffen has finished third on the team in sacks. A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Griffen has 17.5 sacks while making only one start.

    The Vikings really like what they have in Griffen. Buried behind starters Allen and Brian Robison, they tried Griffen at linebacker in 2013 in order to get him on the field more often.

    At 26 years old, Griffen takes over for Allen at the same age when he joined the Vikings.

    Grade: B

    It's a good move, but he's replacing Allen, who averaged 14 sacks over six seasons for the Vikings. The most sacks in a season by Griffen is eight in 2012.   

Signed Linebacker Jasper Brinkley

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    After leaving the Minnesota Vikings via free agency before last season, linebacker Jasper Brinkley has returned to the team. After the Cardinals released Brinkley on February 28, the Vikings reached out to him and agreed to a one-year deal. 

    A fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2009, Brinkley started 15 games at middle linebacker for the Vikings in 2012. He finished fourth on the team with 99 tackles. The signing of Brinkley provides another option at linebacker for the Vikings.

    Brinkley will be competing with Audie Cole and Mike Mauti unless the Vikings make another move at linebacker.

    Grade: B-

     

Signed Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The biggest splash made by the Minnesota Vikings so far during free agency has been the signing of defensive tackle Linval Joseph from the New York Giants

    According to a tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter on Tuesday, the Vikings and Joseph agreed to a five-year deal worth $31.5 million. 

    The release of Letroy Guion, freeing up $4 million in cap space, helped to pave the way to sign Joseph—so did Guion's performance. The past two years, Letroy Guion started 28 games at nose tackle and averaged only 13 tackles per season. Along with his backup, Fred Evans, who is a free agent, they have a total of only five sacks the last two seasons.  

    The run defense has also suffered, dropping from second in yards allowed in 2009 to 16th last season. 

    Joseph, a second-round draft pick of the Giants in 2010, has averaged three sacks and 33 tackles per season since becoming a starter in 2011. At 6'4" and 328 pounds, Joseph is bigger than Guion or Evans. An effective plug in the middle of the defensive line, Joseph gives the Vikings something they have not had since they parted ways with Pat Williams (6'3", 315 lbs.) in 2010.  

    Grade: A

    Along with Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd, the 25-year-old Joseph gives the Vikings three young starters on the defensive line.  

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