I decided to jump into the offseason speculation by looking at each position of the Vikings offense and seeing how it can be improved through free agency. I started by listing everybody that was under contract for the Vikings this year and denoted their contract status for next year if they aren't under contract for 2011. Then I looked at a list of 2011 free agents and compared the two lists position by position to see where the Vikings can improve with what's going to be available. I gotta say that there is quality talent available at almost every offensive position this year and assuming a CBA gets done this is going to be a very interesting offseason. This might be a little early for a free-agency post but I was bored so if you're in the mood for some offseason speculation check out the rest of my post after the jump.
QB- Rhett Bomar
QB is the most important position on an NFL team and your guess is as good as mine as to what the Vikings will do to address this position. All we know so far is that Joe Webb is a work in progress with loads of potential and athletic gifts and we've got an unknown project in Rhett Bomar who's signed for 2 more years. That leaves one spot open on our QB depth chart that will either be filled by a veteran, 1st round pick, or a middle round pick. I'm going to go really light on the analysis for this position as there are many other posts devoted to the QB position and who we should acquire through the draft, free-agency, or via trade.
If we go the free-agent route Alex Smith is the guy that makes the most sense to me right now. He's not very old and has had periods of good play over his career and he shouldn't be averse to competing for the job on a reasonable contract. The trade route for getting a QB is a crapshoot as it's hard to gauge what other teams will accept for compensation and who is really available. Some interesting QBs who will likely be available via trade are Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb, Vince Young, and Kevin Kolb. All of them could be potentially good fits with our team but personally I think they'll cost too much to acquire in draft picks or actual salary compared to the benefits they may bring. That leaves the draft to get a QB. Everybody has a different opinion on who we should draft at QB and when. I'll say that I like Ryan Mallett if we draft a QB in the first round and I like Greg Mcelroy and Colin Kaepernick as middle round guys.
RB- Adrian Peterson
Notable Free Agents- Darren Sproles, Deangelo Williams
RB is the easiest position to discuss when it comes to the Vikings. We've got the best running back in the league and the only thing we need to do with Peterson is give him a large extension ASAP. Behind Peterson we have Gerhart who has improved over the season and is solid at spelling Peterson and is improving as a blocking back and receiver on third-downs. Last but not least we have Lorenzo Booker under contract for another season and he looks to be a bargain as he's looked good returning kicks, catching passes, blocking in protection, and is a decent runner as well. Basically even though there's a lot of talent at RB in this years free-agent pool I don't think the Vikings need to add anything to this position as this a great group that should be a strength of the team for years to come.
FB- Naufahu Tahi-FA
Ryan D'Imperio(futures contract)
The FB position is often overlooked but I believe it's still very important, especially if the Vikings are going back to being a run-first team like Leslie Frazier has indicated. I don't like Tahi and never have so I'm all for moving on to D'Imperio as he looked good in the pre-season. I'd also be very happy to go the free agent route and sign Vonta Leach or Le'Ron McClain to instantly upgrade the position with a pro-bowler. There's a good opportunity to upgrade both our run-blocking and pass-protection by signing one of these two quality fullbacks.
TE- Visanthe Shiancoe
Notable Free Agents- Kevin Boss, Zach Miller, Mercedes Lewis
I'm not sure what to do at the TE position. I like Shiancoe as a receiving option and Jim Kleinsasser has always been a great blocker. Both of our TE's are only under contract for one more year and both are starting to get fairly old, so as much as I like them both, I think one of them has to be released this year and it should probably be Jimmy K. The three free agent TE's I've listed above would all be great additions as each one is both good at blocking and catching passes. Zach Miller is probably the best of the three but Kevin Boss could be a great bargain in free agency.
WR- Sidney Rice-FA
Juaquin Iglesias(undisclosed contract)
Jaymar Johnson(futures contract)
Freddie Brown(futures contract)
WR is an interesting position to talk about as there are talent, holes, and contract issues to take into account. The first thing that needs to be done is to give Sidney Rice a new contract as he's very important to our offense and a young talent that we can't let walk. Harvin is thankfully going nowhere so the only worry with him are his migraines which will hopefully be less of an issue as he continually looks for better treatment options. Camarillo is a solid possession receiver who'll probably stick around as our # 4 guy. Then we've got Juaquin Iglesias(former third round pick) who's signed to a mystery contract that appears to run through 2011 so it looks like he's going to stick around as an interesting talent to develop. Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are free agents that add little to our team so I don't see any reason in bringing back either of them.
That brings us to Bernard Berrian and Jaymar Johnson as the last two receivers to talk about that were on the roster this year. I say we just save 3.9 million right now by cutting Berrian and giving Jaymar Johnson a cheap contract and every opportunity to replace our underachieving deep threat. Jaymar has shown flashes of talent in the past and has some return experience to go along with a good work ethic and great speed so I think we should keep him around. So my plan for the WRs leaves us with Rice, Harvin, Johnson, Iglesias, and Camarillo sticking around. This is a fairly solid group of 5 WRs in my opinion assuming that either Jaymar Johnson or Juaquin Iglesias develop their talent into decent production.
There is also some really good talent at WR in free-agency this year. I'd love to see us steal James Jones from Green Bay, sign Vincent Jackson, or pick up Mike Sims-Walker as any of these three would make this group potentially dominant. The most important thing to do though is resign Sidney and hopefully have enough cash left over to maybe chase another WR in free-agency. If the Vikings do decide to upgrade the WR position in free agency James Jones is my first choice for three reasons. One being that he's young and talented, two being that he'll probably be the best bang for the buck option, and three we get to steal a good young player from the Packers which is always fun.
OL- Bryant Mckinnie
Thomas Welch(undisclosed contract)
Seth Olsen(futures contract)
Cut them all! Seriously though, the offensive line needs to be improved dramatically and I'm hoping the Vikings make it priority #1 in free-agency and the draft. Alright, let's start with everybody's favorite LT Bryant Mckinnie. This is going to be unpopular but I say we just stick with him for now. He's not a top ten tackle or a bottom ten tackle but somewhere in the middle of the pack. His contract averages out to about 4.5 million over the next three years so it's not excessive and to be honest there aren't really any stand out replacements in free agency. Jermon Bushrod, Doug Free, and Jared Gaither are the guys that top the list and I'd argue that Gaither is the only one that could be an upgrade. I emphasize could in Gaither's case because although the guy is young and talented he didn't play at all this year with back issues and there have been reports out of Baltimore that make me question whether he's got the mental drive to be a hard working and dependable player. He could be a fantastic signing and replace Mckinnie, or he could be an expensive signing that turns out to be just as inconsistent and unmotivated as Mckinnie while also having the added bonus of back problems. I say we pass on Gaither as there seems to be a lot of risk involved with him.
Next on the line is Phil Loadholt who showed a lot of promise as a rookie but for some reason decided to do his best Ryan Cook impersonation this year by becoming a false-starting, hands to the face, and holding machine. That being said, the guy is a monster and is young so hopefully he improves and I say we keep him for now. At guard we have Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, and Chris Degeare. I don't know if Hutchinson is in decline due to age or if he's just been slowed by injuries. Either way I think we keep Hutchinson around and hope that he returns to form and if he doesn't we have Degeare as a guy I thought looked promising as his replacement.
That brings me to Sullivan and Herrera. These are the guys that I think are the biggest problem on the line and I believe that they contributed to making our tackles look as bad as they did. All year long we had problems with whoever started at center or right guard and often Loadholt and Hutchinson/Degeare were forced to help these guys which I think had a negative domino effect on our lines play. I think Herrera should be released and Sullivan should become a backup.
In my opinion the Vikings should go very hard after Ryan Kalil at C and either Davin Joseph or Chris Chester at RG. With a good center and right guard added to this line I believe our unpopular tackles will look much better and the line as a whole will become pretty solid again. I also think that a switch to man/drive blocking from our current zone scheme would do wonders for our monstrous tackles. I really hope at least one of the free agent lineman I've listed above get signed as I think spending money on the offensive line is the best and fastest way to improve the Vikings on offense.
The Vikings have seven free-agents on offense and I would argue that the only one that should be resigned is Sidney Rice. The other six free agents are backups that have underperformed and seem to add little value to the team. There are opportunities to upgrade almost every unit on offense through free agency and I'm hoping that the Vikings choose to upgrade the offensive line even if they ignore all the other positions on the offense.
As near as I can figure the Vikings have close to 43.5 million tied up in 2011 salaries for the 20 offensive players under contract ( this doesn't include the futures contracts or two contracts that were undisclosed). If we cut Berrian, Herrera, and Kleinsasser that number drops to about 34 million. Now this part involves some guesswork, (thinking the cap will be about 125 million if a deal gets done), but I believe the Vikings will be able to spend approximately 60 million on their offense so that leaves roughly 26 million to spend on upgrades and Rice.
My plan would be to spend that money resigning Rice(7 mil), signing Ryan Kalil(6 mil), signing Chris Chester(4.5 mil), signing Vonta Leach(3.5 mil), and signing either Kevin Boss or James Jones(4.5-5 mil). These are just guesses at what these free-agents would cost but I tried to keep the numbers realistic and the only player I see potentially getting paid more in 2011 salary is James Jones. If the Vikings do something similar to my free agency suggestions than the offense will be improved at almost every position other than QB.
I'm curious what everybody on the DN thinks of this years free agent crop, my assessment of the team, and if any of my ideas for free agency make sense. I'm also thinking of doing a similar post for the defense but there are twelve free agents, less obvious upgrades in free-agency, and I'm thinking it might just turn into a huge mess involving too many assumptions.
Anyway, hope you guys like this post as it's definitely the longest thing I've written on the site : )