The Minnesota Vikings have a few needs to address this offseason. If the new CBA will only require four years of service to determine Unrestricted Free Agency, the Vikings currently have roughly 20 free agents on their roster.
They addressed a couple of these needs in the draft, at least depth-wise. Other than Christian Ponder, the Vikings don't have really any rookies that are expected to start this season.
Which means the Vikings will likely add key players, once the Lockout is finally lifted and NFL Free Agency can began.
New Head Coach Leslie Frazier will have a roster of players he may not feel fit to start, or others that he feels have what it takes to become stars. I believe that General Manager Rick Spielman and Frazier will vastly improve this Minnesota Vikings team during Free Agency.
Some of you may disagree with the picks I have here. That's fine, I'd love to hear your thoughts on who should make the team, start or who should be signed. Leave your thoughts below.
Now I'd like to present a position by position slideshow of who I believe will start for the Minnesota Vikings in 2011.
The Minnesota Vikings made a great move in the right direction by drafting Florida State signal-caller Christian Ponder in the 12th spot of the 2011 NFL Draft. Leslie Frazier's new regime has made it clear that they feel like a move had to be made in order to start a new era in Vikings history.
Whether it's the right move (which I think it is) or not, a move did have to be made. But with the Lockout still in effect and not likely lifted until midway through July, Ponder has had little time to work with his teammates and really receive the coaching needed to succeed right away.
So the Vikings will most likely make a move for a veteran this offseason. They have already been linked to Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton, but if you draft a guy like Christian Ponder to lead your franchise, you pick a guy he can learn from.
Bulger, like Ponder, is extremely cerebral. He someone that understands the game, learns quick and is able to recognize what he sees. Marc doesn't have a cannon, but he's extremely accurate and excels in an offense similar to what Ponder ran at Florida State.
Marc Bulger could start the season for the Vikings, allowing Christian to learn and not have the pressure of starting right away. However, Bulger is smart enough to realize that at some point during the 2011 season Ponder will make his start for Minnesota—and spark a new era for the franchise.
Marc Bulger, QB Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $3.25 million
Since being drafted in the first round in 2002, Bryant "Mount" McKinnie hasn't really lived up to his name. Don't get me wrong, the guy is mammoth physically (6'8" 345 lbs), but his play hasn't really been that of a "super-star."
Franchise left tackles are hard to come by and McKinnie has certainly been that for the Vikings. But his recent performance over the last couple seasons—along with his age and salary—could very well render him expendable this offseason.
He still has another three years left on his $48 million dollar contract, signed in 2006.
And McKinnie will at least get paid for 2011.
Granted, he hasn't performed great in recent seasons, but McKinnie made the Pro Bowl in 2009 (although maybe he shouldn't have) and he swears he's made some changes.
In fact, he's been working out with Venus Williams in an effort to shed some extra weight off of his frame, in an effort to be a tad quicker. McKinnie knows he could very well be cut this year, and he will perform.
Bryant McKinnie, LT Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $4.9 million
Drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round (17th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft, left guard Steve Hutchinson has been incredible. Not only has he been to seven Pro Bowls, but he's been named to five All Pro Teams.
The Minnesota Vikings signed the star offensive lineman from the Seahawks in 2006 to a seven year, $49 million deal. So Hutchinson still has three years remaining on his contract.
Even though he ended last season on Injured Reserve for the Vikings, Hutchinson insists he's in the "best shape of his playing career."
I find that hard to believe considering he's entering this season at 34 years old. Nevertheless, Hutchinson has proved to be extremely durable during his 10 year career, missing only five games since 2002.
I believe Hutchinson will be back on track in 2011 helping anchor Minnesota's line and protecting it's Quarterback.
Steve Hutchinson, LG Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $6.68 million
After releasing long time Viking Matt Birk, the Center position for the Vikings has been in flux. The former coaching regime believed Notre Dame C John Sullivan had what it takes to replace the perennial Pro Bowler, and drafted him in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
So far, Sullivan hasn't shown enough promise to cement himself atop the depth chart.
The Vikings ended the 2011 NFL Draft by taking Center Brandon Fusco out of Slippery Rock. This could have merely been a move for depth, but I believe the Vikings are sending a signal to incumbent John Sullivan.
After an up and down 2009 performance, Sullivan never really got his footing in 2010. Struggling with a calf injury most of the season, Sullivan didn't show the strength needed in the run and pass game for the center position. This is especially important when facing defensive tackles like Suh, Raji and Adams twice a year.
That being said, I do still see Sullivan eventually being replaced by Fusco sometime during the 2011 season. But much like Ponder's situation, Fusco isn't able to receive the needed coaching during the lockout. So I believe veteran John Sullivan will start the 2011 season.
John Sullivan, C Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $550,000
Incumbent starter Anthony Herrera has had a decent career with the Minnesota Vikings. He displays great run-blocking strength and is quick enough to block in the open field. But last season Herrera tore his ACL and was placed on Injured Reserve for the Vikings.
He still has one year remaining on his contract, but with his age, salary and now injury concerns, I expect Herrera to be demoted to a backup role for depth purposes.
Remember, he can play both guard positions and the Vikings were even considering him at center (while Sullivan recovered from his calf injury during the preseason). He was replaced last season with the rookie out of Wake Forest, Chris DeGeare.
Herrera has good strength for his size (6'2" 314 lbs), but DeGeare is a beast in the run game. Not to mention he would provide much needed mass at the position, starting next to undersized C John Sullivan. DeGeare stands at 6'4" and weighs 330 pounds. He needs some work in his pass-protection, but provides excellent size and youth to an aging offensive line.
But DeGeare impressed enough of the coaching staff last season to warrant his rise to the top of the depth chart.
Chris DeGeare, RG Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $405,000
The Offensive Line took some heat last season for it's poor play, but I think that had more to do with injuries surrounding it's starters. Linemen Hutchinson and Herrera were placed on injured reserve, while C John Sullivan was hampered by a calf injury nearly all season.
Right tackle Phil Loadholt also struggled with a shoulder injury. The matter was taken care of after the season and I suspect Loadholt to improve upon his "Sophomore Slump".
It's worth noting that after Loadholt was selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, he went on to have an impressive rookie campaign—and helped protect quarterback Brett Favre on his way to the NFC Championship Game. Loadholt has also started every game since being drafted.
I believe that strength and athletic ability will reappear this season. Loadholt will not be unseated at RT, even with the recent drafting of T DeMarcus Love out of Arkansas in the sixth round (that has more to do with McKinnie, I'm sure).
Loadholt is a great "up and coming" cornerstone to this Minnesota Viking offensive line. I see a breakout season for the third year player.
Phil Loadholt, RT Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $480,000
The Vikings have a very underrated receiving corp, but if Sidney Rice leaves via Free Agency, things could look grim for Minnesota.
Rice had a breakout year in 2009 and is looking to "test Free Agency" once the new CBA is agreed upon, and he'll most likely be an unrestricted free agent. Personally, I do not see him staying. I want him to, but someone will overpay for him (much like another receiver already on the roster).
Bernard Berrian was signed in 2008 during Free Agency to an extremely generous contract. He produced well in 2008, parts of 2009 and then fell off the map in 2010. Hardly worth the money he was paid.
But if Sidney Rice does depart, do not look for Berrian to be released. Instead, look for him to capitalize. Berrian has all the tools to be a terrific deep-threat receiver, and Leslie Frazier said he had a "good talk" with Bernard before the lockout. The Vikings could look to restructure his contract.
Percy Harvin has proven to be a difference maker for the Minnesota Vikings. Much like Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL Draft, Harvin slid to the Vikings because of character concerns in 2009.
Other than the occasional migraines, Harvin has become a stellar possession receiver who will go over the middle. He also shows the ability to perform out of the "Wild-Cat" and is even a Pro Bowl Kick Returner. Folks, Harvin will have a stellar 2011 season, no matter who is at quarterback.
Finally, we come to our last starting wide receiver...Randy Moss. That's right, I think Moss will be signed by the Vikings this offseason.
It's true, Moss had a very poor 2010 season, but he still has enough gas left in the tank. Much like Rice, Moss is a scary red-zone threat (even at age 33). The 6'4" freak had seven incredible seasons for the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2004, and during his brief return in 2010 connected instantly with young stud Percy Harvin.
Moss indicated he would "welcome a return" to Minnesota if the situation is right. Well Randy, it is. Return to the Vikings where your career began and help a WR needy Vikings team while mentoring young up and coming stars. Moss would come cheaper than Rice and is also a fan favorite.
1. Bernard Berrian, WR (outside) Minnesota Vikings - restructured contract
2011 Salary $1.95 million
2. Percy Harvin, WR (slot) Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $2.2 million
3. Randy Moss, WR (outside) Minnesota Vikings - signed to 3 year, $12 million deal in 2011
2011 Salary: $3.75 million
He may not have been a terrific head coach, but Brad Childress did have a keen eye for talent. Some of that may have more to do with General Manager Rick Spielman, but I'll give Childress the benefit of the doubt.
Signed by Minnesota from the New York Giants in 2007 to a head-scratching 5 year, $18.2 million contract, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has done nothing but impress since becoming the starter.
His 2007 season wasn't great, but he was utilized more as a run-blocker and pass-blocker than as a pass-catching TE.
In 2008 with quarterback Gus Frerotte at the helm, Shiancoe exploded with 596 yards and seven touchdowns.
In 2009, with QB Brett Favre performing at the top of his game, Shiancoe again gained 560+ yards and 11 touchdowns. Even in 2010, with problems under center, "Shank" still gained 530 yards and two touchdowns...and a few that were taken away.
With the addition of new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Shiancoe should have a great 2011 campaign. Entering the season at 31 years old and in the final year of his contract, Shank will look to produce in order to receive a lucrative contract next season.
Even with the recent drafting of Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Shiancoe will often be utilized this season (as well as Rudolph) in Musgrave's "quarterback friendly" two-tight end formations.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $3.1 million
I wanted to put this slide last because we all know who will be the starting running back for the Minnesota Vikings in 2011 (and hopefully for the remainder of his career)...Adrian Peterson.
Since being drafted "late" in the seventh overall spot in the 2007 NFL Draft, Peterson has solidified himself as one of the (in my opinion THE) greatest running backs in the National Football League.
In just four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson has run for a total of 5,782 yards and 52 touchdowns—while being named to the Pro Bowl in each season. "All-Day" has had 1,200+ yard seasons in each consecutive year. 2011 should be no different.
At Fullback, the Vikings have a decision to make. Incumbent starter Nafahu Tahi is a pending free agent, and while I think he is a great team-player, he is a bad starting FB. The Vikings already have a very capable FB on the roster, he's just in a different position.
No, not running back Toby Gerhart, but TE Jim Kleinsasser. Kleinsasser was originally drafted as a FB by the Vikings 11 seasons ago, and recently signed a three year extension to remain with the team. With the addition of young stud Kyle Rudolph and Shiancoe already entrenched atop the depth chart, Kleinsasser could be expendable.
I think he most certainly can make the switch back to FB and remain on the team as a capable run-blocker and pass-catcher.
Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $10.72 million
Jim Kleinsasser, FB Minnesota Vikings
2011 Salary: $3 million
There you have it. That is my prediction for the Minnesota Vikings' 2011 starting offense.
Just to summarize, I think the Vikings will sign these offensive free agents in 2011:
QB Marc Bulger - 1 year, $3.25 milion
WR Randy Moss - 3 years, $12 million
What do you think? Who would you like to see the Vikings pursue this offseason and who will start where? Leave your thoughts below.
Next segment we'll look at the 2011 starting Defense.