This NFL offseason has been difficult for GM Rick Spielman and first-time head coach Leslie Frazier.
With a roster full of their own pending free agents, the Minnesota Vikings must look to fill key holes in their roster. The Vikings will try to retool an aging (and often injured) defense, while trying to find it's identity on offense.
They did a good job addressing some needs in the draft. Most notably, quarterback. But the Vikings still have a lot of work left to do.
And should the lockout end anytime soon, here are some under-the-radar free agents the Vikings could consider signing...
After two impressive back-to-back seasons in Cleveland (2008/2009), Eric Wright's 2010 season was underwhelming to say the least...
He seemed to not have elite speed and was burned by receivers regularly. If that wasn't bad enough, Wright ended his 2010 campaign on injured reserve after setting career lows in tackles (36) and INTs (1).
But at age 25, he still has plenty of time to get back to the way he played in the beginning of his career.
Minnesota has two starting cornerbacks returning from knee injuries (Cook, Griffin). Their best secondary player? Antoine Winfield—and at age 34, he only has a few years left.
Asher Allen is a third year DB who could use the competition from a guy like Wright. (Don't look for Brandon Burton to be any more than a dime package and special teams player in 2011.)
Acquiring a guy like Wright would bring much-needed youth and depth to a weak Minnesota secondary. He would come relatively cheap and the potential would be huge for the Vikings.
After slapping the franchise tag on their top linebacker—Chad Greenway—the Vikings will look to ink him to a lucrative contract, thus solidifying the ROLB position for the next six to seven years.
But Ben Leber, the Vikings LOLB, is a pending free agent. And at age 32, the Vikings need to decide which older veterans will stay or go.
Enter Manny Lawson. At age 26, Lawson is younger than Leber and has a beast-like frame (6'5", 240 lbs).
Lawson could be dominant in run support, but he also has the speed and height for coverage.
He most likely wouldn't be very expensive, so he'd be easier on Wilf's wallet, and he could even play DE if the Vikings got in a jam.
Oh yeah, and his former head coach would be his position coach in Minnesota.
I know what you're thinking..."Who the heck is James Hardy?"
Well, Hardy is a 6'5" 220 pound wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. To date, he hasn't done a whole lot in his career—but he was a second-round pick by the Bills in 2008 and has shown the flashes of talent.
Hardy, who's 24, is a physical specimen. He possesses decent downfield speed, ideal height and great leaping ability. Sound familiar?
And if Sidney Rice does "explore his options" during free agency, he most likely will not return to Minnesota. The Vikings cannot afford to get into a bidding war with another franchise to retain him, and someone will offer him more money.
Although Hardy is still under contract, he'll most likely be cut from the Ravens once the lockout is lifted. But given the chance, he could become a dominant weapon for the Vikings.
After all, Rice was a second-round pick who needed a few years to, flourish...
Those are just some options for head coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman to "ponder" this offseason.
But, if Minnesota is smart in free agency and they resign key contributors, the Vikings could be a very surprising team in 2011.
Please share your thoughts below...