Hey all, this is my first fan post since I asked you all for help with my research two years ago. I thought I would join the fun and prepare a pre-free agency offseason plan for our beloved purple. This what I would do if given control of the Vikings (thank God it’ll never happen), and I welcome criticism and feedback in the comments, because I think I have some dissenting opinions. Finally as a disclaimer, I know little about salary cap structures and how to organize a cost efficient team, so my decisions are based on my knowledge that “we have some space but want to avoid overspending on anyone but an in-house superstar.” Hope you enjoy.
Let’s jump right in shall we? As a blanket statement, I don’t think the team is in such dire straits at some defensive positions like many of the esteemed members of the DN community. Instead, when we take a look at the (incredibly general) statistics presented by pro-football-reference, we rank near the middle of the league (14th) in points allowed. Of course stat-heads will point to much more descriptive statistics that paint a more accurate picture of the team’s true performance, but I’m not a stats guy, so I welcome these criticisms in the comments. But I digress. Continuing with our defensive assessment, we can see that the Vikings ranked 11th in rushing yards surrendered and 7th in yards rushing per attempt. Not exactly what you would call gashed. Considering that the worst stretch of games was against some of the best rushing teams (Arizona excluded), it seems less worthy of getting worked up over. On the other side of the ball, the team ranked a laughable 24th in yards surrendered to passing, but a more respectable 10th in passing yards per attempt. With that in mind, here’s how I would manage the offseason on defense.
It’s clear that the Vikings need some amount of help at DT, but as my argument alluded to above, I think it might be less than is commonly thought. With that in mind, I would look to replace either Fred Evans or Letroy Guion with a free agent. Neither seems to be particularly bad, but I think the Vikings will eventually need to see some starts from Christian Ballard to evaluate him as a potential successor to Kevin Williams. Therefore, one of Guion or Evans leaves in this assessment, and I’m going to lead toward Guion, as the free agent I’m bringing in will start.
I’m going to keep it realistic in this assessment, so unfortunately I won’t be having the Vikings signing Henry Melton, as many, myself included, would like. Instead, I would have the Vikings sign Sammie Lee-Hill. As Walterfootball.com accurately points out, Lee-Hill could start for a number of teams in the NFL. At 6-4, 329, Hill can fill the role of space stuffer, with occasional pressure on the quarterback. Detroit has capitalized recently on defensive tackles being the “best player available,” relegating Hill from prominent feature to rotational guy. For that reason, he may be acquired cheaply. Furthermore, I would like to see the Vikings pursue Randy Starks, though like Melton I don’t expect him to leave his team, so for now let Sammie Hill be the only addition at DT.
It’s been debated on the DN how we should address the DE position in the coming season or two, as all of our DE’s will be free agents after 2013. This is a tough situation, but I believe it would be foolish to move Jared Allen, the heart of the defense. The reason I feel this way is that Robison is barely the younger of the two, and is clearly a productive player, but his “ceiling” is likely lower than Griffen. Therefore, in one of the only trades I’ll mock, I’m sending him and our seventh round pick from Arizona to Dallas for their third round pick. Dallas may not be able to sign as many of their own free agents they want, and are also in need of players to make a smooth transition to the 4-3. Even if this pick is used on another DE, I think it will be a positive step for the Vikings. Another potential trade partner in this scenario may be Atlanta.
Here’s another conundrum. Prior to reading many DN posts about the play of our linebackers, I assumed Erin Henderson continued at least average play. Apparently that is not the case. With both he, Jasper Brinkley, and Marvin Mitchell becoming free agents, they won’t all be back. I expect the linebacker position to be addressed in the draft, but the Vikings have enough needs that one more linebacker won’t do. So Brinkley gets the nod on a one year “prove-it” deal. I can’t imagine he’ll be too sought after on the market.
In keeping with Rick Speilman’s strategy, Keith Rivers is signed as a free agent. He can’t seem to stay healthy, but the potential to fill a major gap is there.
Though cliché, I agree with the notion of never being able to have too many good corner backs. However, I don’t expect the Vikings to pursue a big money free agent, but rather spend an early pick in the draft on the best CB they can get.
2012 provided the best safety we’ve seen from the Purple in a long time. Harrison Smith looks like he could be a real force as he develops. Sanford was quality, if unspectacular, and well, you can’t have superstars at every position. He should be retained. This will keep an improved secondary together, hoping for more development from young stars and contributors.
On offense, the focus needs to be on wide receiver. Those who follow along on the comments on this site may have noted me as a Ponder supporter, but despite his strong finish to the year, we truly don’t know what his ceiling is. This offseason mock will focus on answering that question once and for all. I’ll attempt to have my cake and eat it too, maintaining some semblance of consistency while bringing in new talent. Minnesota ranked a dismal 31st in passing yards and 30th in yards per attempt. On the ground, well we all know how that went.
Having my suspicions about Webb confirmed is somehow more hollow due to the loss against the hated Packers. That said, Webb seems like a great guy, and it’s hard to judge him too harshly on one game. For that reason I would demote him to #3 on the depth chart. It’s also become public opinion that we need a veteran presence at QB, and for that, I think we all know in our hearts who will be signed: Rick Speilman’s boy Tyler Thigpen. Moving on.
Percy Harvin – pay the man. Here are my thoughts on Harvin: either A) he just wants his money, 2) he’s truly butting heads with Leslie Frazier, or D) he’s not thinking rationally. He wanted an expanded role and that’s exactly what he got, but hey, let’s give him another one. You’ll see that my mock draft places a premium on receivers, and I think that giving Harvin the opportunity to me a mentor and role model may calm him down. Or make it worse, but hey I’m optimistic. As the true veteran in the locker room, Harvin will be our primary receiver and he’ll know that the Vikings value him highly.
As for the rest of these guys… Ponder and Speilman have both said they want Jerome Simpson back. I don’t. Ditto for Steven Burton and Devin Aromoshodu. I would keep Michael Jenkins around as depth and ask him to negotiate his contract down slightly. Fresh faces and consistency in the form of Harvin, Jenkins, and Jarius Wright should make this unit better by leaps and bounds. Furthermore, after this season there will be no excuses for Ponder. Put up, or shut up.
Well, that’s enough of that.
But seriously, the other trade in this assessment involves Toby Gerhart (go figure). I don’t think the Vikings will get much for Gerhart, but I can’t see any scenario with him in purple in 2014 beyond the complete destruction of Adrian Peterson’s entire lower half. So I’m trading him to a team that always seems to be in need of running backs: Green Bay. I imagine they would like a tandem that includes Gerhart and scatback DuJuan Harris. In exchange the Vikings will receive their fifth round selection. And as a replacement, I would sign the shifty LaRod Stephens-Howling away from Arizona if possible, settling for the oft-injured Rashad Jennings from Jacksonville if necessary.
No longer do we need MOAR FULLBACK! The front office should meet Felton’s contract demands, as he has demonstrated the ability to take some pressure of Peterson like no one else on the Vikings offense.
Enough money was thrown at John Carlson that I don’t believe he will be shown the door. Perhaps an offseason to get fully healthy will do him well, and he can produce maybe half of what was expected this past offseason. Please, John. Ellison looks like he can produce in the future. Perhaps future contractors Chase Ford or Lamark Brown will be signed to act as a fourth tight end, but I won’t be signing any free agent tight ends, nor drafting one. I imagine the Vikings will remain in a holding pattern while they assess what Ellison and Carlson will truly provide down the road.
In this assessment, the Vikings will be retaining Geoff Schwartz. For a good portion of the season Schwartz was outplaying Brandon Fusco on limited snaps, and I would like to see him retained and perhaps given a starting role, replacing either Charlie Johnson or Fusco. Johnson, while not spectacular, was an improved player when kicked inside, and while he should be upgraded in the future, I won’t throw a tantrum if it’s not this spring. Joe Berger provides inside versatility, but I believe Fusco could supply that as well so I wouldn’t resign him, especially if the staff sees potential in Troy Kropog, whom they took steps to keep during the season.
Kalil needs no more praise, but Phil Loadholt put together what was likely his best season since ’09. Grading out as one of the league’s best run blockers, he improved in pass protection and in penalties, though they still are an issue. All things considered, the Vikings could do much worse at right tackle, and I would give him a contract extension as well.
Specialists (Chris Kluwe)
It’s hard to get a handle on this man, and he certainly had a sub-par season considering his talent. The Vikings signed T.J. Conley to a future contract and I imagine this will be a training camp battle to watch. Let the better punter win (which I believe will be Kluwe).
In-house free agents retained: Loadholt, Schwartz, Felton, Brinkley, Sanford, all RFA’s and ERFA’s.
In-house free agents not retained: Aromashodu, Simpson, Henderson, Mitchell, Berger
Outside free agents signed: Larod Stephens-Howling (RB), Keith Rivers (OLB), Tyler Thigpen (QB), Sammie Lee-Hill (DT)
And now to the draft.
1.23 – DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Hopkins is said to be polished, “strong at the point of the catch,” a crisp route runner, and speedy (though not blazing). Opinions on where he’ll be drafted are disparate, but some expect him to be the first receiver taken. He’s been likened to Roddy White, and if there are any receivers who can produce soon, it may be Hopkins and…
2. 55 – Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
A star at Senior Bowl practice, Patton is said to be a smooth receiver and a great leader. Not only has he produced at Louisiana Tech, he has drawn praise from some of the top defensive backs in the country. He looks like a fast riser this spring.
3.82 (From Dallas) – Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State
Top cornerback prospects will likely be gone, but Slay has also been moving up draft boards according to Tony Pauline. He has size like Chris Cook, only he seems to be able to come down with interceptions, notching five this year.
3.85 – AJ Klein, ILB, Iowa State
After putting on a good show at the East-West game, Klein looks like he’ll come off the board earlier than expected. He’ll be waiting in the wings if Brinkley struggles.
4.99 (From Detroit) – Everret Dawkins, DT, Florida State
Truthfully I don’t know much about Dawkins, but the need at DT is there it can’t hurt to load up on line prospects, which is why with the next pick the Vikings select:
4.117 – Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
A physical monster with motor issues, he blew up at the Shrine game as well. I think questions about why he didn’t produce this year after looking great the year before will keep him within Minnesota’s round four striking distance.
5.148 – Devonte Holloman, OLB, South Carolina
Holloman struggled to find a consistent position at South Carolina, but hey we’re on the buddy system here and he may provide depth at line backer.
5.152 (From Green Bay) – Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
Let the competition commence. Scott and Webb will battle for the third string position. Scott has been described as the QB “lying in the weeds.” With a slight frame and only one year of starting experience, it’s understandable why teams haven’t looked harder at him. But his strong arm and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect (now where have I heard that before…).
7.215 – Earl Watford, OG, James Madison
I know nothing about Watford. Purely a depth pick.