Vikings Armchair GM: Ridiculously Early Edition

Huh, maybe I should just quit and let this CCNorsemen guy run the Vikings...lol, yeah right! - USA TODAY Sports

Vikings Armchair GM: Ridiculously Early Edition

So, here we are.  The trade deadline passed yesterday with no moves from the Vikings front office.  We are a 1-6 team and currently hold the #3 pick in the draft if the season ended today.  It feels like we were just in this situation a few years ago, but that's what happens when you miss on a QB in the first round I guess.  So, I think we can turn our attention away from the rest of the 2013 season and begin to look towards the future.  Since I don't trust my own scouting eye for talent evaluation, I decided to construct an off-season plan based solely around the player grades from Pro Football Focus.  The basic premise is this: starting with the Vikings players who will be free agents at the end of the year, we will attempt to resign only those Vikings players graded 0 or above by Pro Football Focus.  In other words, we're only keeping players that graded as "average" or "above average", because there's no use in keeping players that can't perform at least at an average level on the field.  Any impending free agents with a negative grade will not be retained.  Secondly, any players still on contract next year with an unusually high salary cap number, with no guaranteed money left on their deal AND who are performing in the negative will either be cut or have their deals restructured.  This plan will attempt to retain all players that have graded positively regardless, but may hold onto younger players with cheat cap hits who may also be performing in the negative.  That said any backup that hasn't seen the field so far in 2013 will be graded on any past performance including preseason games.

In looking at potential free agent signings from other teams, obviously we'll target only players in the green (although teams are likely to resign all of those kinds of players which might make this plan completely irrelevant).  To make a long story short, think of this plan as being what I would do if I were Rick Spielman and my player evaluation was limited to only Pro Football Focus.  It's worth pointing out that this is so ridiculously early that more than likely, none of this will be remotely possible once teams have assigned their franchise tags and extended players they like, not to mention that college players haven't even officially declared for the draft yet.  But I'm going to give it a shot anyway!  Fair warning, this is a long read.  So, with all that in mind, we'll start with the offense.

2014 Vikings Free Agents - Offense

Player

Status

PFF Grade

PFF Position Rank

QB Josh Freeman

Not Resigned

-10.8

56 out of 60

QB Matt Cassel

Not Resigned

-4.5

44 out of 60

RB Toby Gerhart

Resigned

2.6

28 out of 119

RB/FB Matt Asiata

Not Resigned

-0.2 (Preseason)

90 out of 180 (Pre)

WR Jerome Simpson

Resigned

4.0

29 out of 194

WR Joe Webb

Not Resigned

-1.1

143 out of 194

OT J'Marcus Webb

Not Resigned

-5 (Preseason)

193 out of 203

C Joe Berger

Not Resigned

-2.2 (Preseason)

85 out of 113

G Charlie Johnson

Not Resigned

-5.3

90 out of 112

It might be tough to convince Toby Gerhart to resign in a back-up role as he may be looking for an opportunity to start on another team.  But, we should still try to retain his services.  It was reported that the Colts tried to trade for Gerhart earlier this year, but were outdone by the Browns' Trent Richardson deal.  Nevertheless, no other team was interested in trading for him, so that might make it easier to resign him.  If we can't resign Gerhart we will have to draft or sign a backup RB regardless.  Jerome Simpson might also look for another team, but he wouldn't likely draw a ton of interest as he hasn't been producing on the field (QB to blame?).  I'm just spit-balling it, but we'll assume a cap hit of $6 Million to sign both of them (effectively doubling Gerhart and Simpson's current cap hits).  Josh Freeman is an interesting player to consider at this point.  If he can show a shred of competence now that he has been cleared to play after his concussion, then he might be worth resigning.  But following the guidelines I set forth, he wouldn't be resigned since his one game with the Vikings thus far was dreadful (all logical reasons aside).  Regardless, the Vikings will have gotten plenty of evaluation time with him viewing his practices over the course of the next couple of months.  So if he doesn't start again this year, then the writing will be on the wall.

Others Cut:

TE John Carlson - Has a high cap hit, his guaranteed money runs out after this season, and he's been in the red since he signed in Minnesota.

RB Jerome Felton - He currently has the 5th highest cap hit of all FB in the NFL, his guaranteed money is up after this season, and he's been in the red all year (plus he was suspended).  We've got a capable (and much cheaper) option in Zach Line waiting in the wings.

After reviewing everyone on our own team, that leaves us with the following roster on offense (practice squad players in italics):

QB: Christian Ponder
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Joe Banyard
FB: Zach Line
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison
WR: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen
OT: Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Kevin Murphy
OG: Brandon Fusco, Jeff Baca, Travis Bond
C: John Sullivan

After these moves, our team needs on offense boil down to this: Quarterback, Guard, Tight End, Running back and offensive line depth.  Getting a quarterback in free agency will be difficult as the only franchise level quarterbacks that haven't been extended yet consist of Jay Cutler and Michael Vick.  We could maybe flirt with the idea of Jay Cutler, but he would have to take a pay cut as his cap hit this year is over $10 Million.  It remains to be seen what Chicago's plans are for him.  He would be an upgrade over Ponder and Freeman, but not a significant one.  He could be a placeholder for a few years while we patiently develop a QBOTF, but I think our best bet would be to draft a QB early in the 2013 draft.  According to Spotrac, the players above (not including practice squad players) would have a combined 2014 cap number of $53.8 Million.

Free Agent Signings on Offense

OG Jon Asamoah, Kansas City

This is a guy coming off his rookie deal, is only 25 years old and he is the 2nd highest rated player on offense for the Chiefs.  Many of us here (MarkSP18 being the prime example) wanted the Vikings to sign Louis Vasquez last season.  We passed then, but we shouldn't make the same mistake twice.  Asamoah is an elite guard and would likely command a decent chunk of change.  He's graded out by PFF as a Top 5 guard in the league this season and was top 10 last season and will want to be paid like a top 10 guard, which means a cap hit in the $7-10 Million range.  Even better he plays on the left side and would be a significant upgrade over the departing Charlie Johnson.  This would be my major free agent target on offense this year.  As a consolation prize OG Matt Slauson of Chicago is having a great year on a 1-year contract ranked as the 18th best OG, and he plays on the left side too.  Slauson wouldn't command as much money and is playing with a cap hit of under $1,000,000 this year.  He's 27 years old and had a green grade with the Jets the last couple years too.

TE Clay Harbor, Jacksonville

There are a lot of free agent tight end options after this season, especially at the elite end of the spectrum with guys like Jimmy Graham, Dennis Pitta, Scott Chandler and Jermichael Finley all becoming free agents in 2014.  But with Kyle Rudolph under contract through the 2014 season and generally performing like a #1 tight end, we would likely look for more of a 2nd tier player to complement Rudolph.  Clay Harbor would be something of an under-the-radar type of signing as he's the #2 guy behind Marcedes Lewis.  He signed a 1-year deal with Jacksonville this year after spending his first 3 seasons with Philadelphia buried deep on their depth chart, and will be 27 when the 2014 season begins.  But he has looked decent as the fill-in for an injured Marcedes Lewis for Jacksonville and is more of a pass-catching tight end, ranked as the 19th best TE by Pro Football Focus (technically ahead of Rudolph).  He could be a decent backup option for Rudolph and give whoever's under center another pass catching outlet in two-TE sets.  His knock is blocking, but we have Rhett Ellison for that.  He would be dirt cheap too as his cap hit this year is $0.6 Million.  It would probably be generous to estimate a cap hit of $1 Million in 2014, and that would be a significant savings over John Carlson.  Other options include Bear Pascoe of the Giants and an aging Kellen Winslow of the Jets (both ranked just below Harbor and in the slight negative).  Signing Asamoah and Harbor would bring the offensive cap number for 2014 near $62 Million.  Next up is the defense.

2014 Vikings Free Agents - Defense

Player

Status

PFF Grade

PFF Position Rank

DE Jared Allen

Not Resigned

-2.3

59 out of 86

DE Everson Griffen

Resigned

2.2

24 out of 86

DE Justin Trattou

Resigned

0.2

33 out of 86

DT Kevin Williams

Not Resigned

-1.5

85 out of 125

DT Fred Evans

Resigned

2.3

44 out of 125

LB Desmond Bishop

Resigned

1.0

16 out of 77

LB Larry Dean

Resigned

0.5

18 out of 77

LB Marvin Mitchell

Not Resigned

-0.7

43 out of 77

CB Chris Cook

Not Resigned

-4.0

146 out of 168

CB AJ Jefferson

Not Resigned

-3.9

144 out of 168

CB Marcus Sherels

Resigned

3.9

19 out of 168

Of the six free agents we would retain, only Everson Griffen would need to be resigned for significantly more money, as he will want to get paid as a starter.  The others are mostly backups and/or special teamers.  Griffen is currently ranked as a Top 25 DE, so he won't command elite, Top 10 money ($8+ Million).  To put it in perspective we just extended Brian Robison (who is ranked higher at #10) and his cap hit for 2014 is $5.6 Million.  We should be able to get a deal done with Everson Griffen for no more than a $5 Million cap hit for 2014.  Fred Evans does see a decent chunk of playing time, but he could be had for essentially the same contract, or a slight upgrade as his role as a rotational player would be unchanged.  Dean, Sherels and Trattou are backup, Special Teams options and will be resigned for an identical cap hit.  Desmond Bishop however, would need to show he's healthy after the ACL tear, and it's more likely that his career in the NFL is simply over.  But following the guidelines, since he performed well in limited action we'll give him another shot and assume he eases his way back in as a backup, and hence has a similar salary.  Their combined cap hit total for 2013 of $4.12 Million would be upgraded to $5 Million for 2014.

Others Cut

DT Letroy Guion - With a top 10 team cap hit in 2014 of $4.5 Million (going up from $3 Million this year) and the 3rd worst grade on the Vikings defense by PFF (ranked 115 out of 125 overall among all DT), he's a target to be restructured or outright cut.  He's been bad for a couple years now, so I wouldn't hesitate to cut him as it's clear he's hasn't been developing or progressing, and his guaranteed money actually ran out after last season.  So in this plan he gets the axe.

LB Chad Greenway - This might come as a shock, but his guaranteed money ran out after last season too, and he will have the 2nd highest cap hit next year behind only Adrian Peterson at $8.2 Million.  He will be 31 next season and has the 2nd worst PFF grade on the Vikings defense (76 out of 77 overall among all LB).  He's been a steady presence on defense over the past couple years, but it seems clear that he's lost a step in 2013.  At the very least he will need to have his contract restructured if he's not cut outright.  Due to the complete lack of talent at the LB position we may end up being stuck with him next year too.  But in this plan, he gets a visit from the Turk.

That leaves us with the following roster on defense (practice squad players in italics):

DE: Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Justin Trattou
DT: Shariff Floyd, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Everett Dawkins
LB: Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop, Larry Dean, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole
CB: Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Shawn Prater, Robert Steeples
S: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo, Robert Blanton, Brandan Bishop

Our team needs on defense are all over the place with us needing a pair of DT, MLB, a pair of CB and depth at DE.  A strong case could be made for an upgrade at safety too.  In other words, we need all the positions!  While Erin Henderson has been improving at MLB the past couple weeks, this off-season plan assumes a move back to OLB for him, his more natural fit where he has succeeded the past two seasons.  Perhaps Michael Mauti or Audie Cole can take a step forward?  Maybe Desmond Bishop can come back healthy and make a shift to MLB?  We have some options already in house, but I think we could do better.  Fred Evans and Chase Baker are rotational, depth guys and we need a true starting level NT.  Even with Shariff Floyd moving into a starting role, we don't have a good backup option at the 3-tech spot.  With us not retaining Chris Cook, we would need a major overhaul at CB.  Robison and Griffen are more than capable as starters, but we need depth behind them with Jared Allen departing.  A case could even be made for improved safeties as well.  That's a lot of problems and holes to fill and we will need to attack both free agency and the draft to fix it.  All of the players retained and resigned above (minus practice squad) will have a total 2014 cap hit on defense of $26.5 Million and lots of money to spend.  Where to begin?

Free Agent Signings on Defense

CB Alterraun Verner, Tennessee

Alterraun Verner may not be a household name yet, but he will be soon.  He is the #2 ranked CB by PFF this season and has been a top 25 CB the past 3 seasons, including his rookie year.  He was a tackling machine for the UCLA Bruins and after being drafted in the 4th round by the Titans he has had an excellent start to a promising NFL career.  Many scouts pegged him as an ideal zone corner in cover 2 schemes, and he plays on the right side (same as Chris Cook).  He's young and will be looking for a big contract, and I think we should pay him.  His only knock is his size and lack of elite speed (how is that elite speed working for you Josh Robinson?), coming in at 5'10, but he has the highest coverage grade this season of any cornerback according to PFF.  He'll want to be paid like a Top 10 cornerback, and we would have to pay him with a salary that nets a cap hit north of $10 Million (we'll call it $11 Million).  But this is an elite player that would make a huge difference to our secondary.  The good news is, there are a TON of elite options at cornerback this year, all of them top notch.  So, if we don't land Verner, then we have a shot at younger, positively ranked guys like Aqib Talib (ranked 9th), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ranked 12th), and Tracy Porter (ranked 37th) who are all 27 years old or younger.  They all play on 4-3 defenses in schemes similar to ours as an added bonus.

CB Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina

Two cornerbacks?  Yes, we need a cornerback who can man the slot, and Munnerlyn is doing a fantastic job doing that when the Carolina Panthers are in the nickel, but he also plays on the outside.  He's the #23 ranked corner from PFF and is only 25 years old.  Plus, he has an awesome name (so he has that going for him).  He wouldn't command nearly as much as a guy like Verner, but he'll still be looking for more money than he's getting now, which is a cap hit of $1.1 Million.  For spit-balling purposes, let's assume we really want him and triple it and sign him with a cap hit of $3 Million for 2014.

DT/NT Linval Joseph, New York Giants

While the Giants have been a mess on both sides of the ball, the one bright spot on the defensive line has been Linval Joseph.  The Giants run a similar scheme as us, and he clocks in at 6'4" and 323 lbs.  He's a big boy and Joseph would be the elite run-stuffing nose tackle we've been missing for the past couple seasons.  After having an average first year as a starter in 2011, Joseph really turned it on last year ranking 21st in the league by PFF and has continued his ascent ranked #18 so far this season.  If we can't land him the good news is that there are lots of quality nose tackles set to hit free agency, like Vance Walker of Oakland.  He would fill a similar need and he's ranked almost identically as Joseph at #16 overall.  If we couldn't land one of those two good starters, then we'd be looking at younger lower tier options (but still good) like Clinton McDonald, Corey Peters, Sendarrick Marks or Nate Collins.  It is possible Joseph will want to be paid like a Top 15 tackle coming off his rookie deal, but that would require a cap hit in the $6 Million range.  And we should pay it.

After adding these free agents to our team, we've still got holes on defense, namely at MLB.  There aren't a lot of elite free agent options available this year, but Brandon Spikes of New England is probably the best choice, unless we wanted to go for an older veteran like Daryl Smith.  Like I mentioned above, it's also possible our MLB of the future is already on the roster.  Better yet we draft someone and have an open competition.  We would also need another defensive end, especially for the future, which we can find in the draft also.  Never-the-less, signing these three free agents to our roster combined with the players we already have would bring our defensive cap total to only $46.5 Million.  Our Special Teams Trio will command about $2.4 Million against the cap in 2014.  So, all three phases will give us a cap hit worth $112 Million, with about $1 Million in dead money factored in.  The base salary cap for the 2013 season was set at $123 Million according to wikipedia, and it hasn't been set yet for 2014, but it might get raised slightly (like it did from 2012 to now).  I am not sure what kind of cap allowance will be carried over from this year to next, but I'll spit-ball it to $125 Million cap for 2014.  Either way, we have to spend 90% of the cap and when you factor in the cost of 7-8 rookies coming out of the draft and a few practice squad and/or undrafted free agent signings, we should have no problem making that 90% under this plan.

Mock Draft

This article is getting insanely long as it is, but speaking of rookies, I couldn't go this far without throwing in a mock draft, could I?  Assuming we have the #3 draft pick, I came up with the following.  I also assume that Jacksonville will retain the #1 pick and draft Teddy Bridgewater, and that Tampa Bay will retain the #2 pick and take Marcus Mariota.  So, using CBS Draft Rankings as a guideline...here is a quick and dirty mock draft:

Round 1: DE Jadeveon Clowney
Round 2: QB Derek Carr
Round 3: ILB AJ Johnson
Round 3 (from Seattle): CB Jaylon Watkins, Florida
Round 4: C Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Round 5: OG Chris Burnette, Georgia
Round 6: QB Jimmy Garroppolo, Eastern Illinois
Round 7: DT Shamar Stephen, UConn

So, our 2014 Vikings Roster would look like this, with about $10 Million in cap space available to work out extensions for 2015 impending free agents Kyle Rudolph, Brandon Fusco and Erin Henderson.

Wildly Irresponsible 2014 Vikings Roster Prognostication

QB: Derek Carr, Christian Ponder, Jimmy Garroppolo
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Joe Banyard
FB: Zach Line
WR: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs/Rodney Smith
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Clay Harbor, Rhett Ellison
OT: Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Kevin Murphy
OG: Jon Asamoah, Brandon Fusco, Jeff Baca, Chris Burnette
C: John Sullivan, Tyler Larsen

DE: Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Jadeveon Clowney, Justin Trattou
DT: Shariff Floyd, Linval Joseph, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Shamar Stephen (practice squad)
SLB: Gerald Hodges, Larry Dean
MLB: AJ Johnson, Michael Mauti, Audie Cole
WLB: Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop
CB: Alterraun Verner, Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Shawn Prater
S: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton

LS: Cullen Loeffler
K: Blair Walsh
P: Jeff Locke

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