Before Rick Spielman was named GM, the Vikings were usually big players in free agency. They paid top dollar for guys like Steve Hutchinson, Chester Taylor, Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams, and Brett Favre. They also made a big trade in 2008 to acquire Jared Allen, and it took the Vikings to within a whisper of the Super Bowl in 2009.
But since then, Rick Spielman has slowly used the draft to re-build a Vikings roster that was being overcome with age, declining play, and lack of depth. As players like Favre, Taylor, Williams, and Hutch left they were replaced with Christian Ponder, Toby Gerhart, Harrison Smith, and Matt Kalil.
So I wasn't expecting, nor was I really wanting, a huge move in the early hours of free agency. The Vikings needed to get a wide receiver or two, maybe an interior defensive lineman, and maybe a linebacker.
Instead, what happened was that the Vikings traded their most versatile offensive player the day before free agency and turned a position of need into a position that is now critical. Then they stunned the players and fans alike by cutting Antoine Winfield, who has been in many ways the heart and soul of the Vikings defense for almost a decade.
Rick Spielman has earned some credit over the last couple years the way they have managed to replenish a seriously depleted roster and making the playoffs last year, but like Chris said, the Winfield move was hard to understand, based on other possibilities that the Vikings might or might not have looked at.
And as we sit here heading into the first weekend of free agency, the Vikings have lost two of their most important players, and re-signed in house free agents...and have yet to make a move on a wide receiver.
Said, woman, take it slow
It'll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience
Said, sugar, make it slow
And we come together fine
All we need is just a little patience
Your Stock Market Free Agency Report of Patience follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Signing Greg Jennings. Jennings becomes almost a must-get at this point based on the Harvin trade going down. If they sign Jennings, they can address the rest of the receiver depth early in the draft, and it won't be as bad as we thought it could be. Assuming it goes down that way, the Vikings would have a receiver corps of Jennings, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, (insert name of 1st and/or 2nd round draft pick here), and the intriguing case of Greg Childs. I think it's a deeper set of receivers than last year, even without Harvin. But miss out on Jennings...
Antoine Winfield, CB: Gonna miss you, 'Toine. You were the ultimate pro and team player. You were a leader on and off the field, and the defensive secondary will not be as good without you. Wherever you land will be a lucky team, and I hope to make it to the new stadium when the Vikings put you in the Ring of Honor.
The Seattle Draft Picks: I'll get over the Percy Harvin trade, eventually. I'll get over it a lot quicker if the Vikings can take that extra first round pick and next year's third round pick and get some solid guys with it. I understand that this isn't 2005 and that the front office leadership making the decisions are different, but this is eerily similar to then. Malcontent #1 receiver wears out his welcome and is traded to the West Coast. This can go from blue chip stock to junk bond in the blink of an eye, though, depending on what happens with these extra picks.
Matt Cassel, QB: I was pretty harsh on Twitter when I first heard about the Matt Cassel signing. But admittedly, that was out of a lot of ignorance on my part. When Cassel has been surrounded by talent, he's done okay. In 2010, he had a very strong running game (Jamaal Charles ran for 1467 yards and Thomas Jones fan for 896) and a true #1 WR in Dwayne Bowe, Cassel was a Pro Bowl QB. When he had a bad line and no weapons, KC was worse than the 2011 Vikings. But most importantly, he is a veteran who can come in and play if needed, and it won't be an NFL horror show.
Phil Loadholt, T: When the Harvin trade was announced the day before free agency began, I was okay with it based on the compensation the Vikings got. When word broke out that Chicago was going to make a big push for Loadholt, I was going to be more upset with the Vikes if they had lost him then when they traded Harvin. Why? Well, the Vikings finally had a decent line in 2012, and losing Loadholt would have really been a setback. With big Phil back in the fold, the Vikings have two of the youngest and most talented tackles in the fold, and both are signed through 2016.
Jerome Simpson, WR: I'm just not a fan of this signing. I was willing to give Simpson a chance last year, but he was nothing but Bernard Berrian 2.0. And at least with Berrian, he had over 900 yards receiving his first year with the team. Simpson did nothing to show he was any kind of the deep threat the Vikings were looking for, yet he was re-signed...and he got a raise. LOLWUT, I believe the kids are saying on the Internet these days.
Buy: Trading Percy Harvin. I don't like it, but I understand it. Harvin wanted out, and it seemed obvious that he wasn't going to sign a contract extension to stay with the Vikings. His relationship had deteriorated to the point that he was going to be a pain in the ass and a distraction, so the Vikes moved him. A lot of fans have griped that the Vikings have let good talent get away without any compensation in the past, so this time they got a first round pick and a third round pick next year instead of nothing at all. Under the circumstances it was about the best deal Minnesota could hope for, and I think it's a good deal.
Sell: Cutting Antoine Winfield. I don't like it, nor do I understand it. We've gone over the circumstances, so I'm not going to rehash them, but it still sucks. The way this situation was handled by Spielman and the Vikings was a bush league maneuver, if reports from Tom Pelissero and Dan Wiederer are even more than 50% accurate.
Buy: Signing Brian Urlacher. Urlacher is 35, has had significant injury issues the last few years, but he's still an upgrade over Jasper Brinkley. If the Vikings do sign him, I'll be happy. Not because I feel the Vikes are getting a long term answer at middle linebacker, but because I will be able to buy my brother, an ardent Bears fan, a Vikings Urlacher jersey. It will be the best gift ever.
Sell: Panicking Over The First 48 Hours Of Free Agency. In recent years, the Vikings have been patient in free agency, and the last real big signing was Brett Favre in 2009. From the time Brad Childress took over in 2006 until he was fired in 2010, the philosophy was to fill a lot of weaknesses in free agency, and it was successful in the short term. When the Super Bowl run fell short in 2009, that model was unsustainable, and the Vikings switched gears towards the draft and mid to lower level free agents. They have a couple needs which they need to address, but look for the guys they think will be long term playmakers at WR and LB from the draft.
Don Glover Quote Of The Week:
Me: Dad, the Vikings cut Antoine Winfield.
Dad: Is Spielman drunk?
Me: He might be.
Dad: Our GM is drunk AND stupid. Great.