I wrote my first off-season plan back in December and the first item on my wish came true when the Vikings hired Mike Zimmer. A lot has been written about what path the Vikings should travel to rebuild the team and many believe the team would be foolish not to take advantage of the upcoming crop of talent at CB in Free Agency. While I acknowledge our secondary requires an infusion of talent, my plan for free agency will focus on the defensive line as I believe improved play on the d-line will have a ripple effect on our LBs and DBs.
Step 1. Rebuild the Defensive Line. The Vikings are in dire need of a run-stuffing, double team commanding NT. Before the season started Sam Monson of PFF wrote about the lack of a true NT on the roster. He stated that a solution to fill the void for the Vikings could be to move Kevin Williams to NT which could extend Williams' career. Many of us jumped on this bandwagon when Williams was forced to sub at NT due to injury and played well this past season. I wouldn't be opposed to bringing him back on a team-friendly contract, but I believe the Vikings must prioritize NT when free agency opens.
Linval Joseph will be the prize at NT when free agency opens. Initially, I wanted Joseph to be our number one priority this off-season, but he will likely be overpaid due to his being the top guy at his position. We should be able to find a sufficient upgrade at this position with guys like Paul Soliai, Pat Sims, or even Kyle Love. Whatever happens, Letroy Guion should be gone
or at least should be moved back to his natural position.
With Jared Allen sure to be gone, I was tempted to say the Vikings should make a strong play for Michael Johnson due to his previous connection with Zimmer, but Johnson and Brian Robison play the same position and I'd be leery of paying huge money for a LDE. Instead of pursuing Johnson, I'd like to see the Vikings re-sign Everson Griffen while also making a strong play for a solid veteran pass rusher like Justin Tuck. A high upside, developmental pass rusher should also be added in the draft.
Step 2. Upgrade our Secondary. The Vikings should resign Chris Cook. I know Chris Cook has struggled to stay on the field and has yet to net an INT, but he should come cheap and would provide some much needed depth in the Vikings secondary. As far as CB goes, Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Shaun Prater, and Chris Cook are the only players I would bring back, but who knows maybe Zimmer and company can work their magic and turn Robert Steeples or Kip Edward into household names. As far as free agents go, Vontae Davis and DRC would be my top targets, but I think they will costs too much. I prefer for the team to target CB early in the draft. I personally believe it's better to draft and develop talent at the high cost positions than to overspend in FA.
As far as Safety goes, we could survive another season with who we currently have on the roster, but I would love to see us add a veteran with proven leadership into the mix. Over The Cap lists Antrell Rolle as a potential salary cap casualty and I think Rolle and Harrison Smith would be a great pair for the Vikings.
Step 3. Improve the Offense. With Christian Ponder being the only QB under contract, it's painfully obvious that we need to do something about the QB position. Ponder should be traded to whomever will take him for whatever they'll give us. It's not fair to Ponder or his teammates for management to send him back on the field in a Vikings uniform. I'd like to see the Vikings sign a veteran QB to start next season while the QB or QBs we draft are given time to develop. Matt Cassel whose already familiar with the organization or Jason Campbell whose already familiar with Norv's offense are names that come to mind. I know neither of these guys is very good, but the Vikings aren't going to win the Superbowl next year and our young QBs will need some time. This plan is about building for the long-term and a little suffering in the short-term may be required.
After QB, we'll need to find a viable replacement for Charlie Johnson and some complimentary players at WR and RB. Geoff Schwartz already said via Twitter he's not coming back, Jon Asamoah primarily played RG, and Shelley Smith performed well in limited reps according to PFF. The pickings seem rather slim in the free agent guard market so the draft or Jeff Baca seem to be the most likely replacements at the moment. Finally, I'd take a flyer on Kenny Britt at WR. He's immensely talented but has had off the field issues so he should come cheap (see Jerome Simpson if looking for precedent). I'd look for a RB in the later rounds of the draft or during the later waves of free agency. The RB position has been devalued and talent can be had on the cheap.
Coming out of free agency, my key acquisitions will be Paul Soliai, Everson Griffen, Justin Tuck, Antrell Rolle, Kenny Britt, and Jason Campbell.
Step 4. Find Value in the Draft. I used first-pick.com to test my draft strategy. I traded the 8th pick with Baltimore for the 16th pick in Round 1, the 15th pick in Round 2, and the 14th pick in Round 3. This gets us to the 10 picks Rick Spielman so desperately desires and yes I know Ozzie Newsome is unlikely to be fleeced in this manner. First-Pick is far from perfect, but I didn't want to just pick names off the CBS rankings like I usually do.
- Round 1: Pick 16 - Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
- Round 1: Pick 32 - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (I traded my original 2nd and 3rd round picks and swapped 7th round picks with SD to secure this trade).
- Round 2: Pick 15 - Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State - I missed out both my CB targets in Round 2 (Kyle Fuller & Lamarcus Joyner) so I opted to plug the hole on the left side of the Vikings O-line.
- Round 3: Pick 14 - Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson - The pick is based purely on Breeland's upside. Daniel Jeremiah ranks Breeland as his 42nd player in his new Top 50 list and calls him "a tall, fluid cornerback with good recovery speed."
- Round 4: Pick 6 - Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois - Cleveland gave me the 6th and 27th picks of the 4th round for SEA's pick. I moved back and was still able to acquire my consolation prize for Lamarcus Joyner. Jimmie Ward had a great week at the Senior Bowl where he showed great versatility.
- Round 4: Pick 8 - Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech - Developmental QB with a ton of upside and limited risk at this point in the draft. If Norv can work his magic with this kid, the sky is the limit. I'm in the camp who thinks the Vikings should draft or pick up an UDFA developmental QB every year.
- Round 4: Pick 27 - Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh - The top senior wide coming into the season who tumbled down many draft boards due to his shoulder injury. Street is a great value pick at this point in the draft.
- Round 5: Pick 8 - James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech - Explosive pass rusher who needs to add some size and work on his pass rushing technique. Gayle will likely perform very well at the combine and could be gone before this slot.
- Round 6: Pick 8 - Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech - I was torn between Exum and Terrance West with this pick, but I expect West to be long gone by Round 6. Exum is coming off injury but could be a great player if he can regain his previous form. He's a physical corner who also has experience playing safety.
- Round 7: Pick 25 - Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma - Not much to say about this pick. Our front office seems to like picking up linemen late and developing them into starters.
I know a lot of these have been posted recently, but please reply with your thoughts and suggestions.