We've spilled a lot of digital ink regarding the draft in recent days and months, but with free agency just a couple of weeks away, the Vikings will have an opportunity to address some needs before they start calling out names at Radio City Music Hall. GM Rick Spielman has used a strategy I like to call 'targeted free agency'--he gets guys the team needs, but doesn't go after the flashy guy at each position.
Unless, of course, you believe Mike Wallace's dad.
With needs at QB, DE, DT, LB, and CB, and a lot of room to work with under the predicted salary cap of $132 million, Minnesota should be a major player in free agency this year. Rotoworld has published a list of the top free agents at each position, so let's see if there is anyone that might be targets for the Vikings once the free agency period opens up.
1. Michael Vick
2. Josh McCown
3. Matt Cassel
4. Josh Freeman
The crop of free agent QB's looks really...depressing...yeah, that's the word I'm looking for, and there's been some love for Michael Vick around these parts. Sorry, but I'm not a Vick fan at all. And this is before you even get to his past legal issues. Vick's got a big arm, but he's not the athlete he once was, and he's only had a completion percentage above 60% once in his career. Since he got out of prison and came back into the league in 2009, he has not played a full 16 game schedule, playing 1 (but he was the backup behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb), 12, 13, 10, and six games. Signing Vick guarantees you have to play your backup, and in every season where he's had double digit starts, he's had double digit fumbles.
Minnesota has to get a QB in free agency, though, and the guy that makes the most sense out of this list is Cassel. Even though he opted out of the second year of his deal, I still think he re-signs with the Vikings. Reading the tea leaves, both NORV! Turner and Rick Spielman have spoken in terms of when he comes back as opposed to if, so I expect Cassel to be wearing purple in 2014.
1. Greg Hardy
2. Michael Johnson
3. Lamarr Houston
4. Michael Bennett...(no, not THAT Michael Bennett)
5. Arthur Jones
6. Everson Griffen
7. Jared Allen
First things first, regarding Vikings players. I would argue that priority nuumber one on Rick Spielman's free agency list of things to do is to get Everson Griffen re-signed. Right now, they're still negotiating, but I think they'll get a deal done. As to Jared Allen, his agent and the team have had 'constructive talks', and it seems it's not out of the realm of possibility for Allen to be back. If it's for the right price, I wouldn't mind. Even though he's getting up there, Allen still posted 11.5 sacks last year.
The big rumor out on the street is Bengals DE Michael Johnson and the Vikings having mutual interest. It makes sense, since Johnson played for new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, he would be a younger, and probably cheaper signing than Jared Allen. He only had 3.5 sacks in 2013, but had 11.5 in 2012, and is only 27. The big name free agent in this class, though, is Carolina DE Greg Hardy, but all indications are that the Panthers are getting ready to place the franchise tag on him, which will effectively take him off the market.
1. Henry Melton
2. Linval Joseph
3. B.J. Raji
4. Jason Hatcher
5. Randy Starks
Rotoworld has Kevin Williams down at number nine, and I think he's a longshot to come back. I haven't seen anything about him regarding the Vikings and returning, but who knows at this point. Of all these guys, two names pop out: Henry Melton and B.J. Raji. Melton seems like the prototypical Spielman free agent target--past producer in the NFL, but has some injury baggage. But when you add in the fact he got busted for a DUI in December, he seems to have too much baggage, so yeah, probably pass on him. Raji, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense. I've only seen his name mentioned with the Vikings in passing, and not from anything I would consider a real credible source, but...the Vikings have had a recent history with signing former Packers, and at over 330 pounds, he would be that big, run stuffing DT the Vikings haven't had since Pat Williams.
1. Donald Butler
2. Karlos Dansby
3. Brandon Spikes
4. Daryl Smith
5. Jon Beason
6. D'Qwell Jackson
I really like Donald Butler, but San Diego would be stupid to let him walk. If I'm a betting guy, they'll franchise him if they can't get a deal worked out before free agency starts. I'd love to get Karlos Dansby, and althought the Cardinals have made a multi-year offer to him, Minnesota has a lot more room under the salary cap...which means a lot more money. If Dansby turns down the offer and hits the market, I don't think Arizona could afford a franchise tag on him, and the Vikes could be in good position. That said, I've seen nothing that ties Dansby to Minnesota in terms of free agency rumors. Brandon Spikes' Achilles Heel is pass protection, which was also the biggest problem for the Vikings linebackers in 2013. Daryl Smith was a guy that intrigued me last off-season, but age and injury were a big concern. He put the injury questions behind him with a solid season in Baltimore, but he's 32 going on 33, so he would be a short term answer at best.
Another Spielman-type guy is Jon Beason. He's 29, he's put up good numbers, but he's got an injury history, too. It doesn't seem like the Giants are going to go all out to re-sign him, so if you put a gun to my head and tell me Dansby is off limits, Beason is the guy I would think the Vikes would likely target. Unless, of course, they make a play for D'Qwell Jackson. Next to Dansby, I think he would be the best, and most realistic option, but like Floyd, age is a factor here, Jackson would be a realtively short term answer.
1. Brent Grimes
2. Aqib Talib
3. Alterraun Verner
4. Vontae Davis
5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
These are only the top five guys according to Rotoworld, so keep in mind there are a lot of different directions the Vikings could go. One option would be to keep Chris Cook, who they have down as the #12 free agent CB. It seems the Dolphins are going to make every effort to keep brent Grimes, as are the pats with Talib. Both teams are in fairly good shape salary cap wise, so I really don't see either of those guys as viable targets.
OH HAI ALTERRAUN VERNER U WANT PLAY WITH MINNESOTA? Verner is probably going to be the most hotly pursued free agent CB, especially since the Titans announced they have no intention to franchise him. He's only 25, had a breakout season in 2013 with five interceptions and 23 passes defended, and the Vikings can afford him. And although I've beat to death the 'Spielman likes productive but injured guys' angle, he's also opened the wallet for big time players when warranted.
So with a lot of money, and a lot of needs, Minnesota should be able to take care of some serious business come free agency. I think the position with most options available is cornerback, and signing more than one guy at that position wouldn't surprise me, But that's just me.
What do you guys think?