As a teacher, my students earn grades every second of every day. It’s my job to assess them, and determine what grade they have earned. So, why not take a stab at grading Rick Spielman and company at this ridiculously early stage of the off-season plan? After a mere 2 weeks of free agency, only 25 players remain on Silva’s “Hot 100 Free Agents” over at Pro Football Talk. Of the 16 free agents the Vikings had when free agency began on March 13th, they’ve resigned 5 of them, and signed 5 more from other teams. We have also released 4 other players this off-season that were previously under contract in 2011. And let’s not forget the 12 players that were signed to futures/reserve contracts before the free agency period even began. That makes for some pretty significant turnover of the roster, and we haven’t even had the draft yet. Unfortunately, the Vikings didn’t make any huge splashes in the first week of free agency, but they did make a few moves in the 2nd week. At this point, it should be obvious that we will be re-building the roster primarily through the draft rather than through free agency, but let’s take a look at the free agency moves a little more in depth, and assess how the Vikings have done so far to determine what grade Spielman and company have earned (cause that’s what teachers do) after the jump.
As I see it, we have two main goals for the offense this off-season: better protect Ponder in the passing game, and give him some weapons to throw to. We lost the following players from the 2011 squad (retirement, cuts, or let go): Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Jim Kleinsasser, Visanthe Shiancoe, Greg Camarillo and Lorenzo Booker. Those are some significant losses, especially in the blocking game. Seeing as how blocking was not our strong-suit last year, this is probably a good thing. So far, the Vikings have addressed the offense by signing the following guys:
Sage is our #3 guy, and Bethel-Thompson is camp competition or practice squad material. We’re set at QB with Ponder and Webb, so A+ here. We shouldn’t need to address this position in the draft.
With Adrian Peterson tearing his ACL last year, and Toby being banged up, we may not be as strong at RB as we thought. Sure, we’ve got Caleb King and Jordan Todman for camp competition and potential practice squad guys, and Ryan D’Imperio has done alright in the FB role as a converted LB. But with Kleinsasser retiring, why not bring in some additional competition and insurance in Felton and Hilliard? They were cheap, young and experienced; exactly the kind of free agents a re-building team needs. Even if we do seem to have a surplus of FBs, the Grade here is a B+. We shouldn’t need to address this position in the draft.
This is still a huge area of need. The Vikings apparently pursued Pierre Garcon in free agency, and failed. I don’t know why they didn’t go after anybody else. Maybe they did and lost out, who knows. But, losing Shiancoe and Kleinsasser is a significant blow to our TE corps, while replacing Berrian and Camarillo will be a piece of cake (since neither guy did much of anything last year anyway). I like the John Carlson signing as it fills a need, but it is apparent that the Vikings will be addressing WR in the draft. They have added a lot of training camp competition and potential practice squad guys, but not much else. Therefore, grade is a D for free agency (Carlson prevents this from being an all out F). Swing, and a miss.
So, last year, we had a pretty bad offensive line. Thankfully, we got rid of the old guys, but we’re still short a Left Tackle and one or two Guards. I love the Schwartz signing, but we need to do more. We have a lot of young guys waiting in the wings, like Brandon Fusco and DeMarcus Love, and maybe some of them get their chance to start this year. Or maybe, we’ll address this glaring need in the draft (Ka....LIL). So far, we haven’t done much in free agency, thus the grade is a C-.
Our goals on defense should be to rebuild the secondary, and improve the depth at LB. We also need to shore up the interior of the defensive line. We lost quite a few members of our 2011 defense: Remi Ayodele, Cedric Griffin, EJ Henderson (as of this post), Husain Abdullah (as of this post), Tyrell Johnson, and Benny Sapp (as of this post). Our secondary is in shambles, and our D-Line is still trying to find a NT to replace Pat Williams now that Remi Ayodele has been terminated (err, his contract I mean). We lack depth at LB and I have to wonder if Jasper Brinkley is really ready to step into a starting role at MLB, or will we be bringing back EJ Henderson.
Are we still trying to find a replacement for Pat Williams? Apparently, yes, we are, since we just cut Remi Ayodele. While I like Guion’s potential, he needs to step it up, and Evans is nothing more than a backup. It seems we are going to have to address this in the draft as well, since re-signing our own backups won’t likely get us a new starter on the inside. We’re set at DE, but NT is suddenly a pretty major need. Grade: F
Assuming Jasper Brinkley is truly ready to start at MLB and Erin Henderson takes a step forward, we could be in ok shape at LB. We still need some depth behind our starters however. Should one of them go down, we would be in a world of hurt. Resigning Erin Henderson was a step in the right direction, but I can’t help but think this is addressed further in the draft. Grade: C
This is another area of huge need for the team. The Bowman signing adds some much needed depth at CB, but is he really a starter? What if Chris Cook regresses from all the missed time last year? And, just what are our plans at safety? Will Abdullah be back? Notice all the question marks? What’s up with that? Grade: D-
The free agent signings the Vikings have made so far, have been excellent. We’ve signed young, value players at positions of minor need. We still have a decent amount of cap space left, but of the “Hot 100”, the only guys left that fit our mold (young, cheap, some experience and upside) and might be worth signing are:
The Vikings are not connected to any of those guys, but going after Hawthorne and Smith would do wonders to shoring up the defensive back 7, and would allow us to focus on some of the other holes in the draft. Something tells me that we won't be going after any of those guys though. Regardless, the Vikings have apparently been attacking free agency exactly as planned.
In any case, averaging all the grades above together (without any grade weighting) leaves me with an overall grade of C for free agency. That sounds about right. We’ll see if the Vikings front office makes any more moves in the next 4 weeks leading up to the draft to improve their grade. Their homework assignment is surely to continue to build the roster. We entered free agency with a ton of holes, and we continue to have a ton of holes. Most of the best free agents have already been signed, so at this point, our eyes should be focused on the draft. Where I’m sitting, our biggest needs after 2 weeks of free agency, in order are: LT, S, CB, WR, DT. Let’s hope our 10 picks in the draft are put to good use as they continue this "work in progress"!