Ranking the Minnesota Vikings' Free-Agent Moves
The Minnesota Vikings have been extremely active since the start of free agency, making a significant splash in upgrading the roster for new head coach Mike Zimmer. As expected, the emphasis has been on a defense that finished dead last in the NFL in scoring against and 31st against the pass.
General manager Rick Spielman, who has preferred to build the team through the draft with 29 picks the last three years, has addressed every need the Vikings had heading into the offseason. From the transcript of a conference call Spielman had with the media on Friday on TwinCities.com, he had this to say about the recent moves made by the Vikings:
We are trying to be aggressive as we can, trying to hone in on specific guys that we know can come in and help our ball club and I think by the activity that we’ve done so far it’s by no means the end of what we’re going to do. We’re going to continue to monitor the market and work through the next couple of weeks, but it gives us the flexibility that we’ll need heading into the draft where you have to hone in and say you have to take this position. It’ll give us an opportunity as we develop our draft board to take the best available player
By plugging many of the holes the team had through free agency, the Vikings can really focus on adding depth through the draft. There won't be as much pressure for this year's draftees to become instant contributors. It also gives Spielman a lot more room to maneuver in the draft with the ability to trade down and receive some extra draft picks.
Here's a ranking of the moves the Vikings have made since they could negotiate with their own free agents. The order was determined by how each move either, improved the current roster by addressing their most pressing needs, or helped to set up other moves.
Note: All references to player contracts and cap hits are from Spotrac.com unless noted otherwise.
No. 15: Re-Signing of Left Guard Charlie Johnson
Darren Wolfson, contributor to 1500ESPN, tweeted on Saturday that the Minnesota Vikings re-signed left guard Charlie Johnson to a two-year deal. The deal was also reported by TwinCities.com to be worth $5 million.
Looking at the positive side of this move, the offensive line remains intact for the third consecutive season. The downside is that the Vikings could have done better. According to WalterFootball.com, Johnson was the 19th-best guard on the free-agent market. He fared a little better on the ranking from CBSSports.com, coming in at 11th, but the message is the same—there were better guards available.
No. 14: Re-Signing of Linebacker Larry Dean
The Vikings re-signed linebacker Larry Dean to a two-year deal worth $2.0 million. Dean made the roster as a rookie free agent from Valdosta State in 2011.
According the Vikings official website, Vikings.com, in three seasons Dean has made a total of 27 tackles as a special-teams player on kickoffs. This does nothing to upgrade the linebacker position as Dean has never started on defense.
No. 13: Re-Signing of Nose Tackle Fred Evans
In seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, nose tackle Fred Evans has a total of three sacks and 99 tackles. Signed mainly as a backup, he has started only six games in his career.
It's a low risk signing at one year for $1 million. With three new starters projected to open the season on the defensive line, it does little to improve the roster.
No. 12: Re-Signing Backup Offensive Lineman Joe Berger
The re-signing of offensive lineman Joe Berger to a one-year deal worth $985,000 makes a little more sense than the Fred Evans signing.
The Minnesota Vikings retained Jeff Davidson as the offensive line coach from last season. Davidson knows exactly what he has in Berger, who has filled in at three different positions along the offensive line. In three seasons with the Vikings, the eight-year veteran has made nine starts.
No. 11: Signing Linebacker Jasper Brinkley
The Minnesota Vikings agreed to a one-year deal for $830,000 with linebacker Jasper Brinkley. The move reunites the team with their starting middle linebacker from 2012. That season he started 15 games and finished fourth on the team with 99 tackles according to the Vikings website.
A fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2009, Brinkley broke into the starting lineup with the departure of E.J. Henderson in 2012. It's a low-risk move by the Vikings. Hopefully this is not the end to upgrading the linebacker position.
Brinkley became available after the Arizona Cardinals released him in February. The move came after he only started three games last season after signing a two-year deal before the 2012 season.
No. 10: Re-Signing of Running Back Matt Asiata
An exclusive-rights free agent, the Minnesota Vikings were able to retain running back Matt Asiata with a one-year deal worth $570,000.
Asiata made the team as a rookie free agent in 2012. Last season he started two games when both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart were down with injuries. Asiata proved that he is a capable backup.
Asiata was very Peterson-like in his two starts in helping the Vikings win both games. In Week 15 against the Eagles, he rushed for three touchdowns despite only gaining 51 yards on 30 carries. Two weeks later in Week 17, he showed his other Peterson imitation by gaining 115 yards with only 14 carries against the Lions.
The problem is those two games account for 166 of his 175 total rushing yards over two seasons. With the departure of Gerhart to Jacksonville, the signing of Asiata becomes that much more important—as an insurance policy. There haven't been may carries for Peterson's backup when he is healthy.
No. 9: Signing of Cornerback Derek Cox
The signing of cornerback Derek Cox to a one-year deal for $730,000 has the potential to be a great move. It all depends on which player the Vikings get—the one who intercepted 12 passes in four seasons with the Jaguars, or the one who struggled in San Diego last season and was released.
The deal is worth far less than the four-year, $19.8 million contract he signed with the Chargers a year ago.
In 2012, Cox led the Jaguars with 11 passes defended and four interceptions. According to a report from U-T San Diego, the Chargers benched Cox three times during a game last season.
It's a great move in the fact it addresses the team's greatest weakness—it's pass defense. Mike Zimmer is known as a coach who likes players that have something to prove, and Cox fits that description.
Here's hoping it doesn't follow the same path as the previous signings of Chris Carr and Zack Bowman in 2012 or Jacob Lacey last season, and he actually makes a contribution to the team.
No. 8: Restructuring of Contracts
Sometimes a good move is one that allows for more moves to be made.
This past week the Minnesota Vikings restructured the contracts of linebacker Chad Greenway, safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton. Overthecap.com (h/t TwinCities.com) reported Greenway's new deal on Friday reduced his base salary in 2014 from $6.5 to $5.5 million. The story also reported that Felton's deal was reduced by $500,000.
In a separate article (again h/t TwinCities.com), it was reported that Sanford's base salary was reduced from $2.45 million to $1.7 million.
The moves provided an additional $2.25 million in cap space.
No. 7: Re-Signing of Wide Receiver Jerome Simpson
Hopefully, the third time is the charm for wide receiver Jerome Simpson. For the third straight year, he signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings. A report from Derek Wetmore on 1500ESPN.com did not provide any details except that the deal is for one year.
Simpson had a career high with 726 receiving yards—one more yard than he had in Cincinnati in 2011. He also caught his first touchdown in two seasons with the Vikings. No doubt it helped Simpson's case that new head coach Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati while Simpson played for the Bengals. Zimmer knows what kind of guy Simpson is in the locker room.
His average of 15.1 yards per reception was second on the team to Jarius Wright who averaged 16.7 yards.
No. 6: The Re-Signing of Punt Returner Marcus Sherels
The Minnesota Vikings re-signed restricted free agent Marcus Sherels to a two-year deal worth $2.2 million. His hit to the 2014 cap number will only count $900,000.
Last season, Sherels' 15.2-yard average per punt return was the highest in franchise history for any player with more than eight returns in a season. He is also tied for the career record with two punt returns for a touchdown. In 2011 and 2012, he also split kick-return duties with Percy Harvin, averaging 27.1 yards per kick return.
The rookie free agent from the University of Minnesota made the team in 2010. Last season he also started three games at cornerback as injuries depleted the position. He finished second on the team to cornerback Xavier Rhodes with seven passes defended.
No. 5: The Release of Nose Tackle Letroy Guion and Tight End John Carlson
The Minnesota Vikings freed up a total of $6 million in salary cap space with the release of nose tackle Letroy Guion and tight end John Carlson.
The release of Guion saved the Vikings $4 million against the cap with only $300,000 in dead money. The move was a no-brainer. A fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2008, Guion started 28 games over the last two seasons. The last four seasons, he has recorded a total of five sacks. He averaged only 26 tackles the last two seasons.
The release of Carlson comes after the two sides could not agree to a restructured deal for 2014. This came after restructuring his contract last season. He was originally signed to a five-year deal for $25 million in 2012. He leaves the Vikings with 40 receptions and one touchdown.
The moves helped to make another, bigger move possible.
No. 4: Re-Signing of Defensive End Everson Griffen
A lot of people are very excited about the signing of defensive end Everson Griffen. The Minnesota Vikings inked Griffen to a five-year deal worth $42.5 million that will count $8.2 million against the salary cap in 2014. That's less than half of what Jared Allen counted against the cap in 2013.
In four years with the Vikings, Griffen has 17.5 sacks. His best season came in 2012 when he recorded eight sacks. As the main backup to Allen and Brian Robison the last two seasons, Griffen has finished third in sacks on the team.
He has some big shoes to fill taking over for Allen, who has averaged 14.25 sacks per season for the Vikings.
No. 3: Re-Signing Quarterback Matt Cassel
The biggest need for the Minnesota Vikings from 2013 was addressed when they re-signed quarterback Matt Cassel to a two-year deal worth $10 million. He will count $5.75 million against the Vikings' salary cap in 2014.
The deal gives the team some flexibility to find a long-term solution at quarterback, and it prevents them from reaching for another quarterback in the draft with the eighth pick in the first round.
In the Vikings' quarterback carousel last season, Cassel was the most consistent option. He finished the season with a 3-3 record with 11 touchdowns. The Vikings bounced him all the way down to the third-string quarterback on the depth chart as they tried to make it work with Christian Ponder.
This probably had a lot to do with Cassel opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent.
No. 2: Signing of Nose Tackle Linval Joseph
The Minnesota Vikings made a huge splash in free agency when they signed a huge man. When they agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million deal with nose tackle Linval Joseph, they plugged a hole in the middle of their defensive line. It's a hole that has existed since the Vikings parted ways with Pat Williams in 2010. Since then, the Vikings' run defense has gone from ninth in the NFL in 2010 to 16th last season.
At 6'4" and 328 pounds, Joseph brings size to help stuff the running game. Starting 46 games for the Giants the last three seasons, he has averaged three sacks and 56 tackles.
The addition of Joseph gives the Vikings a projected front four that includes Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd and Brian Robison. Even with Robison turning 31 in May, their average age will only be 26 years old.
The Vikings Top Free-Agent Move: Signing Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn
The biggest deal made by the Minnesota Vikings so far this season is the signing of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. They agreed to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million and addressed their biggest need on defense. Last year the Vikings ranked 31st against the pass and gave up a league-high 37 touchdown passes.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Panthers in 2009, last season Munnerlyn led Carolina with 12 passes defended and returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns. With 41 starts the last three seasons, he has averaged 63 tackles per season.
Built very much like Antoine Winfield, Munnerlyn brings exactly what the Vikings need at cornerback. As Paul Charchian of LeagueSafe.com tweeted, the Vikings got a great deal for a top cornerback. According to WalterFootball.com, Munnerlyn is ranked as one of the best free-agent cornerbacks in 2014, placing just ahead of Alterraun Verner.