Minnesota Vikings Free Agents: What Will It Take to Keep Key Vikings?
The Minnesota Vikings will soon go to the table with the team's 2015 free agents to try and hammer out deals to bring back a number of them. What types of numbers come from those negotiations can only be speculated on for now.
General manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the Minnesota front office have 10 players headed toward unrestricted free agency and four headed toward restricted free agency. Spotrac provides a comprehensive list. Seven of those players held significant roles at different points in the 2014 season, but none stand out as pillars to the on-field operation.
Those who are set to become unrestricted free agents will have full freedom in the market. Restricted free agents have a more convoluted process. Minnesota will submit an offer sheet if it wishes to retain one. Without an offer, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. With an offer, that player can negotiate with other teams, but the Vikings will have a chance to match.
On top of the players whose deals will end in 2015, we can make a fair assumption that one of the team's expensive veterans will be shown the door. Minnesota is then likely to move back into play for him. Let's start there and then move to four more free agents to project what kind of money Minnesota may have to cough up.
The Vikings finding a way to bring down Chad Greenway's salary seems like a formality at this point. He will not play in 2015 on the $7 million salary he is set to rake in. Releasing him outright voids all of that money, and the Vikings could go back to the table on a short-team deal.
Quotes from Greenway, jotted by Aj Mansour of Vikings Journal, might mean that number comes down to a reasonable level for the Vikings.
I’m playing next year...Hopefully here but if it’s in the Canadian Football League, I’m still playing...[My family] plays a big role. My daughters are big-time Vikings fans. It'd be a change if that happened. We make every decision based on our family. It won't simply come down to money or business. It'll come down to what's best for the family and stay consistent with those decisions.
Mutual interest likely exists. Greenway has been a Viking for his entire career and is rooted in the Midwest. Minnesota could still utilize his veteran leadership defensively.
A one-year deal makes the most sense. The veteran linebacker turns 32 before next season, and his play is steadily dropping off. Salary may be trickier to predict. Greenway will already make the $1.7 million guaranteed from his previous contract. If the Vikings really want him back, they will have to pony up at least $2 million more than that.
Matt Asiata is the restricted free agent who will require the most thought from Minnesota. The cheapest tender Minnesota can apply to Asiata will be about $1.5 million in 2015. If the Vikings don't think Asiata is worth that figure, they can let him hit the open market.
After being tendered, Asiata could then negotiate elsewhere. Another team valuing the depth back higher than the Vikings do seems unlikely. Minnesota continuously showed its loyalty to Asiata in 2014 by giving him big workloads over backs who often held more potential on a down-by-down basis.
The Adrian Peterson situation is the elephant in the room. Minnesota needs to have some idea of where the star back factors into the 2015 equation before making its decisions.
At $1.5 million, the Vikings might let Asiata go regardless. If the team believes Asiata is likely to return to Minnesota on a smaller salary than that (he made $570,000 in 2014), then the risk of losing him may be small enough that the chance should be taken. That seems to be the most reasonable conclusion. Asiata's skills are too replaceable for that kind of money.
Three players who struck one-year deals with the Vikings before 2014 should be back on the team's radar this time around. Tom Johnson is the best of them.
Johnson was 3-4 defensive end with the New Orleans Saints before signing in Minnesota, so his previous deal was of the prove-it variety and was only worth about $845,000 after bonuses. With frequent pressure as a sub-package rusher in 2014, the Vikings are surely happy with where Johnson stands. The right price would bring Johnson back into town in a heartbeat.
Age and schematic limitations will be a hindrance on Johnson's side of the bargaining table. He turns 31 before the 2015 season, so his future value figures to be less than it was this season. Johnson also has no starting potential as an undersized defensive tackle who struggles against the run. While his rotational role is important, the smaller snap count he needs to be successful limits his earning potential.
Johnson should fetch no more than a $1 million salary. As they did in 2014, the Vikings could bring him in on a lower salary but include bonuses and other incentives for performance.
Jasper Brinkley was also in on a one-year deal in 2014. His return to Minnesota may have gone better than expected. His fit in Mike Zimmer's defense makes much more sense than his fit in Leslie Frazier's did. He was tasked with too much in coverage during his last stay in Minnesota. This time around, Zimmer and the Vikings narrowed his focus and shrunk his snap count.
Brinkley is another free agent whose age will play a big factor. He turns 30 before the 2015 season. Like Johnson, Brinkley was hardly a starter on the defense. He played the "Mike" LB spot in the base defense, but Minnesota spent more time in the nickel than any other package. His two-down role limits his value greatly.
In order to return to Minnesota, Brinkley's numbers will surely need to drop again. The team will value the talented youth it has in the LB ranks in Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges. Brinkley was a decent enough stopgap player in 2014, but he is not a player the Vikings want to build around moving forward. Minnesota may not wish to bring him back at any realistic price.
The final target Minnesota should have its eye on is another aging veteran who could be valuable depth. Joe Berger was certainly that in 2014. When the Vikings had losses along the offensive line, missing both starting guards at one point, Berger filled in admirably.
His situation writes just like Johnson's and Brinkley's did, though. Berger is even older, turning 33 in May. Minnesota must pay for what it projects in 2015 and beyond, not necessarily for what occurred in 2014. Berger's play is expected to take a step back. His ability to start and be successful for a long period of time is unknown as well. Berger is valuable depth along the OL, but little more.
He too was on a cheaper deal in 2014, making $920,000. Optimally, the Vikings would bring Berger back on another one-year deal for similar money. The veteran lineman can hardly expect his salary to sharply rise as his age keeps creeping up.
Berger could be lured away by the draw of a starting gig elsewhere, though, if indeed one exists for him. The Vikings have reasons to bring him back otherwise.
Salary information via Spotrac.