The Free Agency period is now well over a week old and the Vikings have made some pretty substantial moves so far. With a healthy amount of cap space remaining, they are likely to continue to bring in depth and competition at every position. But, some of our biggest roster needs have now been filled with new and shiny free agents. As we turn our attention back towards the draft what are the Vikings biggest needs, and what is the state of the roster after free agency? We'll go through every position group, starting with the offense.
Quarterbacks: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder
Re-signing quarterback Matt Cassel was a major win for the Vikings this offseason, as it doesn't necessarily force them to take a quarterback with the #8 pick in the draft. If the right person is there though, they shouldn't shy away from grabbing the next signal caller of the future for the Vikings. Matt Cassel is only on board for 2 more years and Ponder is only under contract for 1 more year. Both of them could arguable be called "backup-level" talent. In the short term they will work, but neither of them is the answer in the long-term. We'll need to address this position in the draft not only from a competition stand point, but because we literally don't have enough quarterbacks.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Bradley Randle
The Vikings re-signed Matt Asiata, and as a #3 depth option last year he was serviceable. Joe Banyard and Bradley Randle have been practice squad stars, but nothing more to this point in their careers. Both Banyard and Randle are smaller, speedy, pass catching options that could potentially fulfill a need in Norv Turner's offense that a guy like Darren Sproles used to during his days in San Diego. It remains to be seen if Asiata can be relied upon in the same way that Toby Gerhart was to spell Adrian Peterson. While Peterson has shown no signs of slowing down, it's worth mentioning that he turns 29 years old tomorrow. It's fair to wonder how many more productive years he'll have left. The Vikings would be wise to invest in a reliable backup running back sometime in the very near future, potentially one that can take over for Adrian Peterson in a few years.
The Vikings seem pretty well set now at wide receiver, and at the very least their top 4 receivers are in place. It will be an interesting battle between Smith and Thielen for the #5 spot, and there is always a chance the Vikings bring in some more competition. It's also fair to point out that Jerome Simpson is on another 1 year deal and Greg Jennings is now 30 years old. The Vikings will have to begin planning for the future with more long-term receiving options. But in the short-term, things look set.
Tight Ends: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford
The Vikings have typically only had three tight ends on the final roster, with the #3 guy serving as more of a blocking H-back option. Rhett Ellison serves that role, and Chase Ford filled in as a pass catching option quite nicely last year when both Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson sustained injuries. The Vikings cut John Carlson this offseason after he was never able to live up to an oddly large contract, but if Chase Ford can prove he's a worthy fill-in they could be set. It all depends on what they think of Kyle Rudolph who is in the final year of his rookie deal. If the Vikings draft a tight end with a high draft pick that would signal the end for Kyle Rudolph, but I expect the Vikings to work out a contract extension with the former Notre Dame product if he has another solid year.
Does the re-signing of Charlie Johnson to a 2-year deal remove the need of offensive guard? On the one hand, they will be returning all of the starters from one of the top performing offensive lines in the league last year. On the other hand, they retained the weakest link as well. I continue to think that depth along the offensive line is shaky at best. Rick Spielman says he likes to keep 8-9 offensive lineman on the final 53-man roster, and we've got maybe 6-7 good options right now. I would not be surprised to see the Vikings draft another offensive lineman this year, and preferably someone that could take over at left guard in another year or two. Is Jeff Baca already that guy? As a 6th round draft pick, it's fair to wonder.
The defensive line has just seen a major facelift with Jared Allen, Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams all likely departing, and Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson being brought in as free agents. Everson Griffen and Shariff Floyd will likely be elevated to full-time starters as well. It remains to be seen if the Vikings will retain a 4-3 scheme or transition to a 3-4 scheme, but if nothing changes this group of players seems built for the 4-3. The starters appear to be set with solid rotational guys in Fred Evans and Tom Johnson. The Vikings could use some improved depth at defensive end, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings spend a mid-round selection on a defensive end, but this group looks improved, and much younger.
If there was one position group that I felt the least confident about, it would be linebacker. Chad Greenway recently turned 31 years old and agreed to a paycut after several underwhelming years. Our other starters from last year are no longer on the team as we cut Erin Henderson and haven't re-signed Marvin Mitchell. Look, it's so bad that we actually resigned Jasper Brinkley who at this point is the projected starter at middle linebacker. This is the same Jasper Brinkley who is essentially a 2-down run-stuffing linebacker who is bad at tackling that we let go to the Cardinals last year. After that we're looking at mostly unproven options in Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Audie Cole and Larry Dean. I don't know what the Vikings are doing at this position, and it kind of looks like they don't have a clue either. I would love to see the Vikings address this position early and often in the draft. Perhaps guys like Mauti and Hodges surprise us though. I suppose it would be worth it to give them a shot as starters this year if we are unable to find better options in the draft.
Cornerback has been a dumpster fire for the Minnesota Vikings for a long time, outside of Antoine Winfield. The Vikings were smart to let Chris Cook go, and I hope that Captain Munnerlyn can fill some of the void left by Winfield...we sure missed him last year. Rhodes looks like the real deal on the outside, and I'm hopeful that one of the following guys can step up: Josh Robinson, Derek Cox or Shaun Prater. I would not be surprised to see the Vikings roll with this depth chart next year. Munnerlyn and Rhodes can play on the outside in base sets, with Munnerlyn sliding inside to the slot in the nickel with Robinson playing outside (his more natural position). Hopefully Cox, Prater and Sherels will provide depth and special teams play. I hope the Vikings draft another cornerback for added depth, but after signing Munnerlyn and Cox, it doesn't seem nearly as pressing of a need as it did last month.
Getting Harrison Smith back healthy should improve our secondary a lot. He was sorely missed through much of last season. But I thought that Andrew Sendejo looked serviceable and provides some good depth. Look, Jamarca Sanford isn't great, but he performs at a league average level, which is fine. His contract restructure is full of incentives, so if Sanford is ever going to improve this is the year. Could we stand to upgrade sooner or later? Yes. But it's not a pressing need, and I would be surprised to see the Vikings draft a safety in the top half of the draft.
Special Teams: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Cullen Loeffler
There's nothing really wrong with this trio, but if we're looking for criticisms, it's easy to find. Jeff Locke didn't have the greatest rookie season, especially after extremely high expectations as a 5th round draft pick. I'm hopeful that he can turn it around this year. Cullen Loeffler is not getting any younger, and graded out very poorly on special teams by Pro Football Focus. I wonder how much longer he will remain on the team with over a $1 Million against the cap connected to a long snapper. All that said, I'd be surprised if there is any shake-up here and the Vikings will likely stick with this trio for the short-term.
Boiling It All Down
So where does that leave us? Well, the two most obvious needs that the team still has are at linebacker and quarterback. After that, it's not as clear. The Vikings need added depth at a slew of positions: guard, defensive end, cornerback, and even running back. But for the most part, the Vikings have proven starters at every position save linebacker, and the good news is that they are in prime position to get one of the best linebackers in the draft who could come in and start right away at pick #8. I like the depth the Vikings have at wide receiver, defensive tackle and safety, and I would be surprised to see the Vikings address those positions in the upcoming draft. There are much more pressing needs to address in my opinion. What do you think? What are the Vikings biggest needs now that the first big feeding frenzy of free agency has passed?