NFL Free Agency 2011: Can the Minnesota Vikings Land Any Big Names?
The Minnesota Vikings have been spenders in free agency over the last few seasons. With a new head coach and in the midst of a complete overhaul, the Vikings face their biggest challenge of the last decade.
The Vikings failed to develop a franchise quarterback while the rest of the team simply ages. Going into the 2011 season, the Vikings could have as many as nine starters over the age of 30.
The team is facing an offseason that features 22 total free agents that could leave the team. The biggest names of the Vikings' class include: Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Chad Greenway, Pat Williams, and Ryan Longwell.
The team cannot afford to keep all of their free agents, but with guys like Albert Young, Fred Evans, and Hank Baskett, it is easy to see where their free agency priorities should lie.
With the loss of their third-round pick, the Vikings need to place some faith in this year's free agent class. Where will they start and what will they address?
Quarterback, safety, and offensive line are the three biggest areas of need. The Vikings will have money to spend after Favre's massive $20 million contract walks out the door.
Who Should They Resign?
Will Rice's questionable offseason hip surgery hurt his value?
Here's the list of the 22 free agents for you: Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Albert Young, Nafahu Tahi, Sidney Rice, Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett, Jaymar Johnson, Ryan Cook, Pat Williams, Fred Evans, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Erin Henderson, Lito Sheppard, Frank Walker, Husain Abdullah, Eric Frampton, and Ryan Longwell.
It is safe to say that many of these names played themselves out of Minnesota including Greg Lewis, Albert Young, and Lito Sheppard.
The aging defensive tackle Pat Williams wants a Super Bowl and stated after the season that the Vikings will need to rebuild. In other words, Pat Williams + desire to win Super Bowl - rebuilding phase = goodbye Pat.
Of the free agents, Greenway, Rice, and Longwell need to be given extensions. Their value to the team cannot be measured. Rice has some of the best hands in the NFL, Greenway is a monster tackler, and Longwell is as automatic as they come.
Safety Husain Abdullah proved to be the lone bright spot in a pass defense that lost two of their top three cornerbacks before the season began. He played extremely well considering it was essentially his rookie season on the defensive side of the ball. Keep Abdullah and cut Madieu Williams. Williams is terrible and will be lucky to ever see an NFL field again.
Defensive end Ray Edwards will command a lot of money, too much money I'm afraid. The Vikings will probably let Edwards walk and let Everson Griffen assume the starting role after the rookie displayed some serious athletic ability. I think the best thing to do would be to franchise Edwards and see if a team is interested in a third round pick for the talented Edwards.
Think about small contracts for Jackson (since he will be the most capable backup quarterback, sadly), Pat Williams, Robison, and Leber. Consider bringing back Henderson and Frampton as special team players and let the rest test the free agent waters.
Target Players: Safety
Abdullah was a surprise for the Vikings in 2010
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The Vikings are supposedly running into a rebuilding phase. In reality, all the team needs is a quarterback to be successful again. Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook will be back in uniform next season and should provide a huge boost in pass defense. Cutting Madieu Williams will also improve this aspect.
The Vikings had undrafted players and late round picks starting at cornerback for much of the season and quietly improved their overall ranking from 19th in 2009 to 10th in 2010. The defense will be much better with Griffin back.
However, safety remains the concern. Husain Abdullah played very well for the Vikings. After starting the season off pretty slow, the inexperienced Abdullah had one of the best seasons of a Vikings safety since Brian Russel and Corey Chavous combined to intercept a total of 17 passes in 2003. The bar wasn't set real high for Abdullah, but I think he played well enough to earn a starting gig for the Vikings in 2011.
Safeties are hard to come by in the NFL and the 2011 offseason doesn't feature much at the position.
Quintin Mikell is an older strong safety for the Eagles, but has been vital to his team's success. While the Vikings probably don't want to see anymore Philadelphia castoffs, Mikell may be worth a look.
Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely by the NFL earlier in 2010 and won't be back until the end of September in 2011. Still, the guy is a great safety and appears to have his head on straight after entering a rehab clinic for his drug abuse. The Vikings have taken risks before on players of his nature and came out big winners. Jackson is very young and could become a great safety in the NFL.
The biggest name at safety is a bit of a surprise. He'll likely command a heavy penny, but Champ Bailey is worth every cent. Bailey is in all likelihood leaving Devner and has publicly stated he wants to play safety to prolong his career. Getting a future Hall of Famer who still is one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL would be huge, but age is again a factor.
Target Players: Offenisve Line
Hutchinson is one of several aging offensive lineman for the Vikings
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31, 33, 26, 31, and 25.
Those are the ages of the Vikings' offensive line if they all start in 2011. The members include Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera, and Phil Loadholt.
Hutchinson has battled injuries over the last two seasons and his play has declined to mediocre. McKinnie is a decent left tackle and nothing more. Center John Sullivan is flat out terrible and should be replaced for 2011 along with right guard Herrera. Loadholt will be entering his third year, but still makes costly penalties and seems out of rhythm for much of the game.
Simply put, the Vikings need an overhaul at the position.
Good news for the Vikings, this free agent class could be rich with talent.
Pro Bowl caliber players set to hit the market include tackles Tyson Clabo, Jammal Brown, and Willie Colon. The guards include Carl Nicks, Logan Mankins, Harvey Dahl,and Davin Joseph. The most note-worthy name at center is easily Ryan Kalil.
Whoever is available, the Vikings should target. Kalil would be fantastic to start at center. His play would elevate the rest of the offensive line. Any of the guards from this class would be fantastic, but it appears that Mankins is the only legitimate candidate.
The Vikings have underperformed in this strong area of need over the last two seasons. An upgrade here upgrades the entire offense. The Vikings must address this need in order to have any shot at reclaiming the NFC North in 2011.
Target Players: Quarterback
Is Kyle Orton a future franchise quarterback?
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The biggest area of need for the Vikings is also the most important component to any championship football team.
The free agent quarterback class of 2011 has some huge names on it, but most will be back with their old teams.
Peyton Manning and Michael Vick headline a strong quarterback class that will see a sharp decrease in numbers before free agency actually strikes.
When free agency actually comes around, the pickings will be slim.
Some quarterbacks that could be cut include Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, and Matt Hasselbeck. I fully expect Hasselbeck to be back, but McNabb and Orton are intriguing.
Orton is a solid NFL quarterback that has played on some pretty bad teams. The talent level in Minnesota can make Orton a star. I'm all for the move if the Vikings want to move in this direction.
McNabb is the wildcard here though. The Vikings have a history of making old, washed out quarterbacks into good football players for a season. The list of names include Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, and Brett Favre. Why not try McNabb for a season and pair him up with the best running back he's ever played with?
If the two are not cut, there aren't any free agents worth considering. Although several may be on the trade block, none should be pursued. Yes, that means you too Kevin Kolb. Two games doesn't make a career.
Other Potential Impact Players 1
Can the Vikings finally land Jackson in free agency?
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The Vikings will have some holes in their linebacking corps if they cannot resign both Leber and Greenway. They need to choose one though. Losing two starting linebackers will hurt almost any team. Greenway is the obvious choice here.
Linebackers come and go in the NFL, so filling a hole left by Leber wouldn't be the hardest thing to do. Guys like Thomas Davis, James Anderson, Rocky McIntosh, Stephen Tulloch, and Ernie Sims are the big names that could hit the market.
All the players have a lot of football in them and any would be sufficient to replace Leber.
Wide receiver is an area of concern. When Sidney Rice went down, the entire corps fell apart. Percy Harvin had a great season, but is much better suited in the slot role that an outside threat. If the Vikings cannot resign Rice, they will be in trouble.
Vincent Jackson will be the prize free agent pickup for any team in 2011. The Vikings pursued Jackson before they wasted a third round pick on Moss (thanks Chilly). The guy is an athletic receiver that knows the game, but his attitude will keep many teams away.
Other free agents may include Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Santana Moss, Mike Sims-Walker, and...Randy Moss...sigh...
The Vikings need to find a receiver here. The need is huge since Berrian could be cut and the Vikings have no threat outside of Harvin.
Other Potential Impact Players 2
Can Everson Griffen prove to be the steal of the 2010 NFL Draft?
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The defensive line could look very different in 2011. With Pat Williams and Ray Edwards both on the verge of free agency, the Vikings could be in trouble if they cannot find suitable replacements.
I've already stated that Everson Griffen should take over for Edwards, but depth could be an issue if Brian Robison decides to walk. A starting caliber end is not necessary. Thus, guys like Mathias Kiwanuka and Charles Johnson may not be available, but reliable backups Mark Anderson, Jimmy Wilkerson, Jayme Mitchell (remember me?) could be on the Vikings' radar.
Defensive tackle may harder to replace. The Vikings have Jimmy Kennedy and Letroy Guion on their roster, but they could go out and find a starter to play alongside Kevin Williams. It's unlikely that whoever they sign will overtake Kennedy or Guion for the starting spot, but crazier things have happened in the NFL.
Brandon Mebane, Aubrayo Franklin, Richard Seymour, and Haloti Ngata are some huge names at the tackle position. While some may be better suited for the 3-4, the transition from 3-4 tackle to 4-3 tackle is easier than the 4-3 to 3-4.
If the Vikings decide to ignore the starting gig approach, Alan Branch, John Henderson, and Chris Hovan (again, remember me?) could be reliable backups.
Cornerback is a need, but the need will be filled when Griffin and Cook come back from injury. However, there is some random guy named Nnamdi Asomugha that will be a free agent. Any takers?
What to Do?
Head coach Leslie Frazier will have a tough first year ahead of him
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The Vikings need to resign Rice, Greenway, and Longwell. They should be automatic starters for the Vikings in 2011.
The Vikings lost a third round pick in the 2011 draft, so free agency could be a big thing in Minnesota in a few weeks.
There will be some big names out there for the Vikings to snag. Can they bring back the NFC North crown in 2011?
There are holes to fill, but none bigger than the quarterback position. With a potential lockout in 2011, many college stars may elect to stay for their final years. The draft will happen regardless, but the talent level will be significantly less than other years.
The Vikings need to remain competitive. They have so many pieces to the puzzle. I for one don't believe that this is a rebuilding year. That plan is for the future. If the team can get a franchise quarterback, everything else falls in place.