With the combine in the books and free agency close at hand, I thought I would update my off-season plan. In the last installment, I operated under the assumption that Harvin was going to be traded this off-season, but now it’s anybody’s guess. The latest rumors have us going after Mike Wallace, so a trade of Harvin is still a possibility. Like before, my thoughts on team needs have not really changed at all: WR and LB top the list, but with DT and CB a close third and fourth. I would add OG, QB, S and TE to the list as positions to improve depth as well.
We’re only days away from the start of free agency, and the latest figures have us about $17.5 Million under the salary cap after Michael Jenkin’s release. So, with that in mind, here’s my updated plan:
In-House Free Agents
OT Phil Loadholt: Peterson wants him back, and that’s enough for me. He wasn’t given the franchise tag, so a contract in the neighborhood of $6-8 Million/year is probably where he’ll land.
FB Jerome Felton: It may end up being too much money for a blocking FB, but I agree with Spielman’s thoughts from earlier in the off-season, this is a no-brainer move. The guy helped clear the way for Peterson’s 2K season, and made the Pro Bowl as a result. I’d like to see him in Purple for a while longer. Hopefully a deal worth about $2 Million/year gets it done.
OLB Erin Henderson: We’re kind of stuck at LB, and there aren’t a lot of better options in free agency. I think he sticks with the Vikings for a few more years out of necessity, but we’ll look to upgrade this position down the line. Targeting Henderson for $4 Million/Year
Also Resign Cheap: Jerome Simpson, AJ Jefferson, Marvin Mitchell, and Troy Kropog. There is nothing flashy here, but they provide specific skills and depth for cheap, plus they know the team and the scheme. Nothing higher than $1 Million/year here, and most of them will be under that.
Outside Free Agents
Despite media reports that the Vikings are interested in Mike Wallace, I think Spielman sticks with his 2012 mold of laying low in free agency. We’ll sign a couple of decent depth options, but not overpay for anyone. So, with that in mind, here are a couple options:
WR Early Doucet: This would be a low-key signing, but Doucet is a role-player who would add depth to a depleted WR corp. He was released by the Cardinals for cap concerns, but has averaged 28 catches for 298 yards the past 5 years with some pretty abysmal QB play. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft and is 6’0”, 212 and has 4.5 40 speed. He’s not going to blow anyone away with that speed, and lacks the size and leaping ability to be a red-zone threat (hence he would be a good #2-3 WR on most depth charts), but he runs solid routes, and has good hands and is an excellent blocker in the run game. He could fill the possession role vacated by Michael Jenkins. I think a 2-year deal worth about $2.5 Million/year would get it done.
QB Tyler Thigpen: This is a pretty common theme I’ve seen in a lot of off-season plans, but I think it makes the most sense. A former Viking draft pick that Spielman likes, he’s gotten jerked around by the Vikings for years, but will finally get a shot to compete for the backup role. He’s now a veteran who brings with him experience on several different teams, including a long stint as a starter in Kansas City. We can likely sign him for $2 Million/year.
(alternate options: Bruce Gradkowski)
So, after signing all these free agents, we would likely spend a pretty sizable chunk of our cap space, if not almost all of it. I could see us signing a few bottom of the barrel WR and LB to compete in camp as well.
Other Pre-Draft Moves
Cuts: Letroy Guion to save us another $3 Million/year
Extensions: Sign Harvin to a 5-year $40 Million contract (roughly $8 Million/year)
Ok, so after a lot of fuzzy math, we now have very little cap space left (just enough for the draft!).
Round 1, Pick #23: TRADE DOWN
We’re going to trade down here with San Francisco who wants to move ahead of Seattle and Green Bay to grab CB Xavier Rhodes. San Fran has a bevy of picks at their disposal and a need at CB. We get their #31 pick as well as their round 2 #34 overall (from Kansas City).
Round 1, Pick #31: DT Kawaan Short, Purdue
It was very tempting to go WR here, but we’ve got another pick coming just a few spots later, and the more I pour over the available options, the more I think we’ll have a good option for one in the 2nd round. Meanwhile, Short was the team captain for Purdue and has the versatility to lineup all over the D-Line. He would be a day 1 starter alongside Kevin Williams, and could eventually transition over to replace him down the line.
Round 2, Pick #34 (from Arizona): WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
At 6’0” he’s not going to be a big red-zone threat, but he’s got good acceleration off the line, awesome hands and is a willing blocker in run-support. He could eventually be the outside presence we need opposite Percy Harvin.
Round 2, Pick #52: LB Kevin Minter, LSU
It’s tough to say where Minter will land, and it’s certainly possible to just swap Patton and Minter in the mock in terms of placement. But with Arthur Brown shooting up draft boards after the combine and Ogletree and Te’o still in the mix ahead of him, I see Minter as a 2nd round guy. But he’s still a solid pick that could come in and contribute day one. He was LSU’s captain on a very good defense and some say he compares to Takeo Spikes.
Round 3, Pick #85: FS DJ Swearinger, South Carolina
He’s got average height, but he’s a big hitter. He has played both free and strong safety, and his good performances as a spot duty at corner against big receivers suggests he has the potential to cover NFL tight ends in coverage well. He projects to be a day two pick. He would be a formidable tandem with Harrison Smith.
Round 4, Pick #119: OG Earl Watford, James Madison
He’s a small-school standout who has prototypical size for a guard in the NFL. He would provide instant competition at the guard spot, and could eventually replace either Charlie Johnson or Brandon Fusco, but provides insurance and depth in the short term.
Round 5, Pick #150: WR Aaron Mellete, Elon
This small school prospect is a prototypical mid-round selection with upside. His size and speed combination and good hands are attractive, and he compares to recently cut Michael Jenkins.
Round 6, Pick #181: OLB Eitienne Sabino, Ohio State
There’s a chance that this guy is drafted earlier than the 6th round, but I’m going with the CBS projection on this one as a “5th/6th” round pick. He’s got a connection to Rick Spielman, as Spielman’s late father “Sonny” helped coach him in high school. He also broke his fibula last year after playing in only 8 games, but up to that point was having a promising career notching 107 tackles and 4 sacks in 20 games.
Round 7, Pick #199 (from Arizona): TE Zach Sudfield, Nevada
He’s got almost identical size to Kyle Rudolph, and had a very good senior season catching 45 balls for 598 yards and 8 TDs. The downside is that he battled injuries during a 6-year college career that included 6 surgeries and a missed 2008 season. Perhaps the injuries are behind him, but a 7th round flier on a guy with incredible athleticism and size/strength combo would be too good to pass up.
Round 7, Pick #215: CB Melvin White, Louisana-Lafayette
Another small school prospect, his tall, lean frame makes him a “tweener” and he could project to safety, but teams like the Vikings that rely on press or zone coverage might like his upside outside. His height and vertical make him a strong jump-ball defender, and he’s a sound tackler.
So, taking all those off-season moves into consideration, here is the Projected Roster :
QB: Ponder – Thigpen – Webb/MBT
RB: Peterson – Gerhart – Asiata
WR: Harvin – Patton – Doucet – Wright – Simpson/Mellette/Childs
TE: Rudolph – Carlson – Ellison – Sudfield
OL: Kalil – Johnson – Sullivan – Fusco – Loadholt – Kropog – Love – Watford
DE: Allen – Robison – Griffen – Reed
DT: Williams – Short – Ballard – Evans
LB: Greenway – Minter – Henderson – McKenzie – Cole – Mitchell – Dean/Sabino
CB: Cook – Winfield – Robinson – Jefferson – Burton – White
S: Smith – Raymond/Swearinger – Blanton