Since Zygi Wilf became owner of the Vikings (well, actually before, but we'll get to that in a little while) the Purple and Gold have usually been major players in free agency. We can go back to the Mike Tice regime and see big time free agents signed on an almost annual basis.
They've usually been pretty good signings, adding good to great players at positions of need, and those players have played well as a Viking.
But as noted latter day Minnesota philosopher Bob Dylan has said...the times, they are a changin'.
And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'll try to 'splain, after the jumpy jump.
You know, as Vikings fans, we've never won it all, but we've been pretty spoiled to have decent to pretty good teams most years, and free agency was always looked at as a place to get one or two more guys to fill out the roster and make a playoff run. Mike Tice slowly worked towards that goal from 2002-2005, adding players like Corey Chavous, Chris Claiborne, Darren Sharper, Pat Williams, and Antoine Winfield. And I have to say that for the most part, Tice did a really good job to get free agents to sign here when Red McCombs was in his 'get blood frrom a turnip' stage at the end of his ownership. It's pretty impressive when you go back and look at some of the guys he convinced to come here. But that's another post for another day.
Brad Childress continued that by bringing in guys like Steve Hutchinson, Chester Taylor, Ryan Longwell, and of course, Brett Favre. When you throw in the 2008 draft day trade for Jared Allen, you could argue that no team has been as successful in addressing short term needs as the Vikings have been for the better part of this decade.
And the goal was to have a legitimate Super Bowl level team, which we saw in the fun of 2009. And I honestly though 2010 was going to be just as good, as everyone was coming back except Chester Taylor. Yeah, not so much.
But when you get a lot of high impact players that way, your window for success is narrower, and when it comes time to pay the Piper, it's usually a steep price, which the Vikings are currently paying.
I had no problems with the approach Brad Childress took in building the team when he became coach. He addressed some serious issues quickly and the team improved dramatically, getting agonizingly close to the Super Bowl. But the downside is that if you don't win it all, the rebuilding that always happens is that much more painful, and the decline is usually pretty dramatic. See 2010 and 2011.
The thing about building a roster like the Vikes did is that you can't keep doing that, because of the economic landscape of the modern NFL. Under the old CBA, it was actually smarter, at least in some respects, to get proven commodities in free agency as opposed to try and trade high into the draft, as the first 5 or 6 picks were just too cost prohibitive. But with the new CBA and the rookie wage scale, we're starting to see the blowing up of the infamous draft value trade chart, because you can now trade up and get great prospects that you won't have to py through the nose for.
And even before the new CBA rules, free agency was still an expensive proposition in regards to the salary cap, and one of the reasons the Vikings aren't in a salary cap purgatory is because of Rob Brzezinski, one of the best capologists in the league. He's been able to give the Vikings room to maneuver year after year with deft contrct structuring, and as a consequence, the Vikings find themselves in a position to add some talent in free agency, yet still have anough money to sign all 10 draft picks, if they don't trade any.
But relying on free agency after a couple of down years is a bad idea, because let's face it, top tier free agents aren't coming here. You can't sell the "we're just a couple guys away" story, because the Vikings aren't. The guys that the Vikings used as that solid foundation--Taylor, Hutch, Winfield, Favre--are either gone or one or two years from gone, and they need to be replaced. And although they have money to make deals, they'd really have to overpay to get the top tier FA's to come here right now, and that would be bad in the long term. We're not Washington, fergodsakes.
So that core group of guys need to be replaced through the draft. Because what attracted those free agents to Minnesota in the first place were solid core guys from, you guessed it, the draft--Jim Kleinsasser, Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, hopefully Christian Ponder and Matt Kalil, etc.
One of the first really smart things Minnesota did was to end the revolving door at quarterback by drafting a guy that will hopefully be around for a decade. This year, they'll need to address the offensive line and defensive backfield. Hopefully Chris Cook's issues are behind him and he can turn his life around and become an asset.
Last year, I think most of us were in favor of 'blowing it up and starting over', and the Vikings are doing just that. Now, I give you that there are a lot of needs to be addressed, and it can't be done in one draft.
But it can't be done in one free agency, either. We can't demand to 'blow it all up', yet gripe and complain when we hit the detonate button on the C4 charges.
So, let's put the pitchforks down, throw some water on the torches, and let the front office execute the plan they've developed.
And if the plan fails, in a couple years we'll execute the front office. Or maybe just call for them to be canned instead.