Minnesota Vikings: Which Defensive Free Agents Could End Up in Minny?
I've always been a firm believer that offense sells the tickets and defense wins the championships in the NFL.
On top of that, new head coach Leslie Frazier is a defensive-minded coach, being promoted from the defensive coordinator position.
Taking all of this into mind, don't you think the Vikings defense deserves a little more attention? I do, especially because of how it struggled in 2010 and only seems to slip further.
Here's a look at each spot on the Vikings defense for 2011. Where applicable, I will include a free agent that the Vikings might look at to improve in a specific area.
Please feel free to leave comments and questions.
It's no secret that the Vikings have always had a strong defensive line. Running against the Vikings has never been an easy task, and their pass rushers aren't too shabby either. In 2010, though, it seemed that this area slowed a little bit. The Vikings have a lock at one side of their defensive line, but some questions at the other.
He is not only one of the highest-paid Vikings, but one of the highest-paid defensive ends in all of football. Allen is relentless, dominant and lightning fast, everything a defensive coordinator could want in his blind side rusher. Allen is a no-question starter in 2011.
Edwards started opposite Jared Allen for the last two seasons. He is entering his fifth NFL season as a free agent. He is one of the biggest question marks for the team this offseason. Edwards' status depends solely on the creation of a new CBA.
If the league chooses (or is forced to honor) the 2010 rules, Edwards becomes a restricted free agent and will likely be forced to remain with the Vikings for at least another season. Should the league create new rules for free agents, Edwards has probably played his last down in purple. In this case, if the Vikings want to keep him, Edwards will come with a big price tag. He told the team that there is no way he would return to the Vikings for a smaller contract than Brian Robison received.
While Edwards is arguably the team's biggest question mark this year, the Vikings would not be at a huge loss if Edwards were not to return. If he did, however, I don't think anyone would question his starter status.
Robison has backed up Ray Edwards for the last few seasons since the Vikings drafted him out of Texas in 2007. The Vikings signed Robison to a three-year, $14.1 million contract at the end of the last league year. This high figure was not offered to starter Ray Edwards, so this tells me that the Vikings see something in him.
In the last few years, Robison has shown some great potential, but he has never had a full workload. I think that if Edwards does not return to the Vikings, Robison will hold the starting roster spot. I don't know if Robison will be able to handle the full workload of being a starter, so I think that the Vikings will rotate in some other ends.
Griffen is a long shot to start. Not only has he not shown much on the field, his run-ins with the law have this USC product in the wrong kind of spotlight. Griffen was regarded as a first-round talent when the Vikings picked him up in the third round of the 2010 draft. I think he is a complete bust, on and off the field. I don't see him getting much playing time unless it's through rotation.
The Vikings drafted Ballard in the fourth round of this year's draft. At Iowa, Ballard was a starter at DT and considered a late first-round talent. It was an absolute steal to get him in the fourth round, providing he doesn't become the next Everson Griffen. Even though Ballard has traditionally played DT, his size and speed give him the potential to give him some reps at end as well. I think that Ballard could see some time through rotation at end, but at the same time, he could potentially start at DT.
Notable Free-Agent Options
The Vikings have some decent depth on their defensive line, particularly at end. I don't have any free agents on my radar for the Vikings at this position.
Defensive tackle is an area of concern for the Vikings. They will bring back perennial Pro Bowler Kevin Williams, but could lose the other half of the Williams Wall—Pat. They definitely need to work in some younger players at this position because even if the Wall returns, they will be suspended for the first four weeks of the regular season for the StarCaps incident. Here's a look at the Vikings DTs.
The six-time Pro Bowler is pretty much guaranteed a starting spot. Because of suspension, however, he will likely miss the first four games of 2011.
Pat Williams is a three-time Pro Bowler, but his age has definitely limited him the last couple of years. Williams is a free agent heading into 2011. The Vikings may offer him a small contract, but it remains to be seen whether he will play in Minnesota in 2011. If he returns, I think he will continue to start, but he will see a significant drop in his playing time. I don't think the Vikings will bring him back, and will promote from within at this position.
As I said in the previous slide, Ballard has some serious potential at DT. This fourth-round pick could definitely be in a position to start should Pat Williams not return in 2011. Ballard would rotate a little more than Kevin Williams, but I think he could start nonetheless. I think that given the suspensions to the interior of the Vikings defensive line, Ballard will start the season in a starting position. Whether he finishes the season as a starter is another story.
Kennedy is a solid backup for the Vikings, but I don't think the 31-year-old has the ability to hold down a starting spot. He will get roughly the same playing time he saw in 2010.
Guion could be in a position to start at some point in his career, but I don't know if that's this year. Even though Guion still has a lot of work to do, I think that he is in the best position to start in place of Pat Williams should he not return. Guion is young and has good size. He could end up as a long-term option for the Vikings, but for this year, I see him competing with Kennedy and Ballard for playing time.
Notable Free-Agent Options
Dallas Cowboys DT Marcus Spears, Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris
Both could be solid short-term options for the Vikings. Spears may re-sign with the Cowboys, but if he doesn't, the Vikings may explore this option.
Tommie Harris was cut by the Bears and may have something to prove in 2011. He could also come cheaply at his age.
The Vikings have one of the best linebacker cores in the NFL. Two of the three starters in 2010 were named to the Pro Bowl and I think that those two roster spots are locked down, but with Ben Leber being a free agent, the Vikings could start a new weak-side OLB.
This Iowa product has been everything the Vikings could want out of their 2006 first-round draft pick. I want to go on record saying that Greenway is the most underrated OLB in the NFL. He is great at stopping the run, can tackle in the open field like it's nobody's business and he can get to the quarterback. He has the strong-side OLB spot locked down for years to come.
Leber is a free agent going into 2011 and I don't see him getting re-signed for two main reasons. Firstly, because of his age. Leber is 32 years old and his best snaps are definitely behind him. His age has become more and more apparent in recent seasons. He struggles in pass coverage and does not possess the run-stopping ability that his partner Greenway does.
Secondly, his large previous contract could keep the Vikings from re-signing him. His previous contract was a five-year deal worth $20 million. He will likely be willing to take a large cut to keep playing, but I don't think it will be enough because of how lackluster his play has been. His stats continue to diminish with each new season so I think the Vikings will either promote from within or look to free agency once it re-opens.
E.J. Henderson's little brother Erin is my "most likely" pick to start at weak-side linebacker should the Vikings not bring in a veteran. Erin has played well in a limited role and is definitely deserving of an increase in playing time. I don't know for certain if he is deserving of a starting role, but wouldn't the thought of two brothers playing next to each other on the same defense be a cool story?
I am salivating at the thought of that chemistry on defense. Having that chemistry on defense could be a huge boost of confidence for the whole team and for fan morale. I would love to see baby Henderson start on the weak side, but do the Vikings share my sentiment? That's anyone's call at this point.
This undrafted player from San Diego State has been a great asset for the Vikings on special teams. He was even selected to the Pro Bowl in 2009 as a special teams player. Unfortunately, that's the only value I see in him for the Vikings. I think he will continue to get the low number of reps that he has, but at 29 years old, I don't see him getting into a starting role.
Onatolu hasn't improved much since the Vikings picked him up in 2008. With new linebackers coach Mike Singletary, that could change, but I don't see it as enough for him to start anytime soon.
The Vikings selected Homan in the sixth round of this year's draft out of Ohio State. The young player has some serious potential, especially with coach Singletary around. Unfortunately for Ross, I think he's a little too raw to start his rookie season. I think he could get some decent playing time, but won't be ready to compete for a starting role until at least his sophomore season.
Notable Free-Agent Options
Carolina Panthers LB Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers LB James Anderson
Davis has had ACL injuries in the past and could come at a nice price if the Vikings are willing to take a chance on him. Anderson, on the other hand is coming off of a very good year and could be harder to bring in. In 2010, Anderson recorded 130 tackles and four sacks. He would be an incredible complement to this already-strong linebacker core.
The Vikings are pretty well off at MLB. They have a Pro Bowl starter and a very capable backup. There should be no change at this position in 2011.
Henderson has been a strong piece of the Vikings defense since he joined the team in 2003. The veteran was selected to the 2010 Pro Bowl and has shown that he can overcome even serious injury. He's got the starting gig locked down.
Brinkley stepped in while E.J. Henderson rehabbed his fractured tibia from 2009. He showed that he could be a starter at some point, but his struggles in pass coverage will limit him. With Mike Singletary coaching the linebackers, Brinkley could eventually succeed Henderson for the starting job. For now, though, he will continue to back up E.J.
Notable Free-Agent Options
Since there are only two MLBs on the Vikings roster, they may choose to add some depth at the position, but I don't see them bringing in any high-profile players this offseason.
Cornerback is a huge area of concern for the Vikings. The only quality CB that can seem to stay healthy for the Vikings is 33-year-old veteran Antoine Winfield. The Vikings have made some moves in the last two drafts to bring in some talent at CB, but it remains to be seen if their efforts have paid off.
The Vikings have eight corners on their active roster, but that includes two newly drafted players. They will also lose two veterans in Frank Walker and Lito Sheppard to free agency.
I think that even at 33 years old, Winfield is the obvious pick to start at one of the corner slots. He's been selected to the Pro Bowl the last three seasons and has been the only consistent piece to the Vikings struggling defensive secondary. He starts, no question.
I think toward the end of his career, the Vikings may move Winfield to safety just because of their struggles with that position. Winfield in arguably the best tackling corner in the NFL, and could excel in the Vikings Tampa 2 scheme.
Griffin was the Vikings' second-round pick in 2006. He has started for much of his career with the Vikings, but because of injury, could lose some playing time to younger players. In the last two years, he has had issues with both ACLs and missed much of 2010. If he is ready to go this fall, I think he should have no problem getting right back into his starting role, but then again, he doesn't have much competition.
Cook is in sort of the same boat as Griffin, except with Cook there hasn't been much to see. He was the Vikings' high pick in 2010 and Minnesota doesn't have much to show for it. He frequently gets burned in press coverage and has serious durability issues.
Cook had two meniscus tears in his rookie season and he will really have to compete in training camp to prove that he wasn't a wasted pick for the Vikings. I see him having a moderate role in the Vikings defense in 2011, but I question his ability at CB; a switch to safety could be beneficial for both the Vikings and the injury-prone Cook.
Asher Allen showed the Vikings in 2010 that he was not ready for the responsibility that comes with being a starting NFL CB. He repeatedly got burned in man coverage in 2010, and showed no poise whatsoever. He has shown a little potential in nickel coverage, so he could compete with Chris Cook or some other younger players for time there.
Fun Fact: Asher Allen is a cousin of Dallas Cowboys great WR Michael Irvin.
The Vikings drafted Burton out of Utah in the fifth round of this year's draft. He shows some potential, but is far too raw to be considered for a starting role. He could develop into a long-term option for the Vikings with proper coaching, but for 2011, I see him competing for a role in nickel and dime packages.
Raymond was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the Vikings. He is listed as a safety on their active roster, but at USF, Raymond played more corner than he did safety. I think that while Raymond, who I will discuss more on the next slide, could have some serious potential at safety, he might still find himself playing a little cornerback in 2011.
Notable Free-Agent Options
Oakland Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha, NY Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, Baltimore Ravens CB Chris Carr, Pittsburgh Steelers CB William Gay
This is definitely an area that the Vikings may look to improve through free agency. They will need to improve their coverage to compete with the likes of Greg Jennings and Calvin Johnson.
Asomugha would solve so many problems for the Vikings, they could simply take teams' No. 1 options out of the game, leaving the Vikings pass rush to resume dominating QBs like it did only two years ago.
Cromartie could do essentially the same thing, but he is not as attractive as Asomugha at corner. Cromartie could potentially re-sign with the Jets, but if not, the Vikings simply must pursue him. Carr and Gay would both be formidable options, an added veteran presence would be great for the younger corners.
After the draft, this was the only position, on offense and defense, that was relatively left unaddressed. Yes, the Vikings used a sixth-round pick to bring in USF safety Mistral Raymond, but with how essential the safety position is to the Vikings Tampa 2 defense, they need to address this major woe. The Vikings safety play has been absolutely atrocious since the departure of Darren Sharper. Something needs to be done.
Abdullah showed some promise in 2010, though he struggled to stay healthy the whole season. He was given the starting job and played relatively well. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be given the same opportunity in 2011. He is hands down the most capable safety on the Vikings roster.
Abdullah is a restricted free agent, but I don't see him leaving the Vikings either way. The way I see it, he will be the starter, unless the Vikings bring in a veteran free agent.
Williams needs to not be a Viking in 2011. The free safety has been an absolute embarrassment to defensive backs everywhere. Not to mention, he is sitting on a six-year, $33.75 million contract that he is only halfway through. He is one of the remnants of the Brad Childress era, and a head-scratcher at that.
In 2010 he only recorded 50 solo tackles, one interception and one pass defended. For a backup, that might be a decent year, but with the kind of money he is making, and the kind of playing time he is offered, those numbers should be much higher. The Vikings won't be able to trade that contract off to another team so they need to just cut Williams, and I think they will. I don't think Williams will start a game for the Vikings in 2011.
Johnson is the biggest bust on the current Vikings roster. He is a restricted free agent and I don't see him back with the team in 2011. Here's why. The Vikings used a second-round pick on Johnson in 2008, and in 2010 Johnson recorded a total of seven tackles, zero passes defended and zero interceptions. He's not worth the wasted roster space and Frazier knows that. No way he is a Vikings in 2011, let alone starts.
I don't think the Vikings expect much out of Jamarca Sanford, whom they drafted in the seventh round of 2009. Sanford has spent most of his NFL career on the Vikings practice squad, and I see him doing much of the same in 2011. He may see the field here and there, but I don't see any significant playing time for him.
That's not to say that I don't want to see him do well—I would love to see him become a great player—but I'm just saying that no one expects much from him.
I wanted to end on Mistral Raymond. His story is very inspiring. The adversity that he has overcome to get where he is today is staggering. Other than Christian Ponder, there is no rookie that I want to succeed more than this USF DB.
He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the Vikings and could, at some point, be an answer at either CB or S for the Vikings. His versatility is perhaps what makes him most valuable. He is a hard hitter and a sure tackler. He has good field vision and a solid vertical.
Though he is a little raw, I think Raymond could be in a position to get some serious playing time. I posted one of his highlight videos at the top of this slide. Hopefully, other Vikings fans are as excited about him as I am.
Notable Free-Agent Options
San Diego Chargers S Eric Weddle, Green Bay Packers S Atari Bigby, Philadelphia Eagles S Quintin Mikell, New Orleans Saints S Darren Sharper
Whether Raymond and Abdullah can be solid players for the Vikings or not, I think they simply must bring in a veteran presence at safety. Before the end of the last league year, I was sure the Vikings would pursue either Colts safety Bob Sanders or Rams safety OJ Atogwe, but both signed with other teams. Basically, anything is better than what we have at safety—some changes need to be made here.
In conclusion, the Vikings still have a lot of the major pieces in place to be a contender on defense. They have many great players that make up a still-feared defensive force in the NFL.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier made it known that players would have to compete for starting jobs and no one was guaranteed their spot. Creating some competition in training camp is just what this defense needs—some inspiration along with some added pieces could make them great.
The Vikings' revamped offense should have no problem selling the tickets, but can a revamped defense win them a championship?