Vikings Armchair GM: Free Agency Edition

Hey, maybe this CCNorseman guy should just run the Vikings, eh? - USA TODAY Sports

The Daily Norseman offers up another complete off-season plan, with an in-depth look at the Vikings in-house free agents, outside free agent targets and a mock draft.

Free Agency is nearly upon us and some teams are already getting their rosters and cap space in order. NFL teams were able to begin releasing players immediately following the Super Bowl on February 3rd and could begin placing the franchise tag on players on February 17th, but the Vikings of course didn't choose to tag anyone as the franchise tag deadline came and went on March 3rd.  Teams can begin contacting free agents on March 8th and can then sign free agents starting on March 11th.  So, we're just under one week away from the feeding frenzy of free agency.  Even though this is typically Mark's territory, I figured I'd take a stab at another offseason plan too.

The Vikings have made a few roster moves already since February 3rd, by releasing Erin Henderson, signing UFL and CFL linebacker Simoni Lawerence, releasing John Carlson, and tendering Matt Asiata.  And they previously signed a slew of futures/reserves players back in January to add training camp depth.  But the next big roster decision the Vikings have in front of them is free agency.  So this off-season plan will start with the Vikings own free agents.  Like I did in my ridiculously early edition of Vikings Armchair GM about halfway through last season, I will be taking a ruthless approach to free agency using Pro Football Focus grading to help make the decisions for me.  And now that we have the full 2013 season in the books, I will only be keeping those free agents that scored 0 or higher in PFF 2013 season grades.  And I will also be using PFF ranks for determining contract value.

First off, according to overthecap.com, the Vikings currently have the 5th highest available cap space to sign free agents and draft picks, estimated to be just over $37 Million.  They can increase this number by restructuring current contracts as well as cutting current players under contract.  But before we deal with that, we need to take a look at the Vikings in-house free agents.  Below is a table of all of the current players set to become free agents at the start of the new league year on March 11th.  Included is their 2013 season Pro Football Focus overall grade and rank, as well as last year's cap number.  The 2014 cap number is a projection made by yours truly.  Again, I based this projection on their PFF ranking and current 2014 cap numbers.  In other words, for projected starters, if a player was ranked as the 30th best player by Pro Football Focus, then I gave them a contract with a cap value roughly equal to the 30th highest 2014 cap number for that position.  Backups generally received the veteran minimum salary.

2014 Vikings Free Agents

Name and Position

Resign Status

2013 PFF Grade

2013 PFF Rank

2014 Cap

2013 Cap

DE Jared Allen

No

-4.0

61 out of 93

n/a

$17,063,956

DT Kevin Williams

Yes

7.3

30 out of 151

$2,185,000

$5,000,000

OG Charlie Johnson

No

-5.4

103 out of 144

n/a

$3,850,000

WR Jerome Simpson

No

6.8

35 out of 216

n/a

$2,100,000

QB Josh Freeman

No

-10.8

59 out of 70

n/a

$2,000,001

LB Erin Henderson

No

-0.6

58 out of 125

n/a

$1,750,000

DT Fred Evans

No

-0.5

83 out of 151

n/a

$1,750,000

CB Chris Cook

No

-8.0

184 out of 199

n/a

$1,305,000

RB Toby Gerhart

No

3.0

38 out of 140

n/a

$1,013,150

LB Desmond Bishop

No

1.0

23 out of 94

n/a

$850,000

DE Everson Griffen

Yes

4.7

19 out of 93

$6,000,000

$765,000

OG Seth Olsen

No

n/a

n/a

n/a

$670,000

WR Joe Webb

No

-6.7

208 out of 216

n/a

$653,129

OT J'Marcus Webb

Yes

2.7

41 out of 128

$730,000

$630,000

PR Marcus Sherels

Yes

4.3

11 out of 250

$730,000

$630,000

C Joe Berger

No

0.6

19 out of 64

n/a

$620,000

LB Marvin Mitchell

Yes

0.3

32 out of 94

$855,000

$605,000

LB Larry Dean

Yes

0.0

38 out of 94

$645,000

$555,000

RB Matt Asiata

Yes

-2.2

115 out of 140

$570,000

$480,000

Total Cap Hit:

$11,715,000

If you look very closely you'll see a few players with high ranks by Pro Football Focus that I did not choose to resign.  I am sort of breaking my own rule, but there are exceptions to deal with.  First, Jerome Simpson performed very well last year and is arguably deserving of a contract equal to what he had last year if not even a little more.  However, I chose not to resign him because of continued off-the-field issues.  There is the chance that another NFL suspension is looming for him.  Better to just dodge the bullet by not resigning him, especially with Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright beginning to emerge as weapons at wide receiver.  Also, Toby Gerhart performed very well last year and is deserving of being resigned, however I chose not to resign him.  His performance last year (and over the course of the last several years) puts him on track to earn an equal amount as last year if not a little more, assuming he continues to be a backup.  Most analysts assume he might be looking to start somewhere and would therefore be looking to cash in a larger contract as a starter.  Minnesota wouldn't be willing to pay him much more than he is currently making to remain a backup and since they just tendered Matt Asiata the team appears to be making plans to not have Gerhart around anyway.  I would expect him to earn a contract with a cap hit more in the $3-4 Million range, similar to what BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Steven Jackson earned last year.  So for that reason, he won't be resigned in this offseason plan even though his PFF grade and rank are deserving of being resigned.

Some of you may question my decision to resign Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean and Matt Asiata due to their low PFF grades, but I chose to resign them because they performed essentially as league-average options last year, and this plan gives them all a veteran minimum deal (and since the Vikings already tendered Asiata, I'll just go with it).  Our depth at linebacker is perilously thin right now, so I am keeping Mitchell and Dean for depth although I acknowledge that with a new regime they could just as easily be allowed to go to other teams.   Marcus Sherels is a bit of a wildcard.  As a punt returner, he received truly elite grades from Pro Football Focus and is kept on primarily for those abilities, but as a cornerback he had a somewhat mixed year.  While it was an improvement over an otherwise abysmal 2012 campaign, Sherels can't be relied upon as an every week starter at cornerback.  It's possible that the team moves on from Sherels in 2014, but because of his high marks from PFF as a returner, he is kept on in this offseason plan with another veteran minimum deal.  Lastly, I am keeping Kevin Williams in this plan and asking him to shift to nose tackle.  He played a few snaps at nose tackle last year and actually performed quite well.  While he was vocal about not wanting to play nose tackle last year, he may find the market for a 34-year old 3-technique under-tackle is all but gone.  If he still wants to continue to play in the NFL, he'll have to accept a role as a backup/rotational tackle or make the transition to nose tackle.  Either way, he's taking a pay cut in 2014 that is more in line with his performance from last year.  This may be a tough re-sign, but in this fantasyland we keep Kevin Williams!

So, I've now spent $11,715,000 to resign our in-house free agents, and our available cap space is now a shade over $25 Million.  Next up is to look at those players who are either aging, injured or who vastly underperformed their contract and are in need of restructure or outright release.  I've identified three such players based on PFF grades and cap numbers from Spotrac.  Those players are identified in the table below, complete with the cap implications of making each type of contract move.

Vikings Contract Restructures and Terminations

Name and Position

Status

PFF 2013 Grade

PFF 2013 Rank

2014 Cap

New Cap

Cap Change

LB Chad Greenway

Restructured

-19.4

93 out of 94

$8,700,000

$5,300,000

+$3,400,000

DT Letroy Guion

Released

-7.6

140 out of 151

$4,300,000

$300,000

+$4,000,000

LS Cullen Loeffler

Released

-5

1131 out of 1188

$1,270,000

$125,000

+$1,145,000

Total Cap Gain

+$8,545,000

By making these cuts and restructures, I have made up most of the money spent on our in-house free agents and our cap number is back up to $33.8 Million.  Now comes the fun part: signing free agents from other teams.  The following table includes all of my major free agent targets, along with a few notes as to why they would be a good fit for the Minnesota Vikings.

League-Wide Free Agent Signings

Name and Position

2013 PFF Grade

2013 PFF Rank

2014 Cap

2013 Cap

DE Michael Johnson

25.9

4 out of 93

$9,000,000

$11,175,000

Notes: Only 27 years old, worked with Mike Zimmer in the past, potential replacement for Jared Allen and elite marks from PFF despite a low sack total

CB Alterraun Verner

9.5

12 out of 199

$8,500,000

$1,454,785

Notes: Only 25 years old, plays on the right side, coming off his rookie deal and has been solid for years; has worked with new Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.

OG Shelley Smith

7

23 out of 144

$3,000,000

$575,000

Notes: Only 25 years old, and can play RG or LG and has started 16 games the last 2 years with consistently good marks from PFF

QB Matt Cassel

-5.2

49 out of 70

$5,000,000

$3,700,000

Notes: Cassel has chemistry with the Vikings receiver already and has had some success in the past.  He would make for an excellent bridge QB while we groom whichever QB we draft.

Total Cap Hit: $25,500,000

Based on recent rumors from Pro Football Talk about Alterraun Verner not getting the franchise tag, and Michael Johnson also not likely to receive a contract extension, these are my top 2 free agent targets.  Why would I target Michael Johnson and also resign Everson Griffen, when Brian Robinson was already given a contract extension mid-year in 2013?  Simple: added depth and insurance.  We had a rock solid rotation of defensive ends the past couple of years with Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen.  It remains to be seen if Griffen can live up to his potential as an every down starter at defensive end and bringing in a 27-year old veteran in Michael Johnson who is familiar with Mike Zimmer would provide insurance and rotational depth.  When you also factor in the age of Brian Robison, signing Johnson to a multi-year deal ensures the Vikings have top talent at defensive end for the next few years and would help soften the blow of losing Jared Allen.  In addition, if Mike Zimmer wants to utilize some hybrid 3-4 looks with our defense, Everson Griffen would make for an excellent rotational depth player that could play 3-4 outside linebacker and rush the passer or drop into coverage.  That's something that I'm not sure Michael Johnson can do.

I've been a fan of Alterraun Verner the past couple of years, and even though the Titans are reportedly discussing a contract extension with Verner, time is running short.  He would be a perfect fit opposite Xavier Rhodes and he excels in both man and zone coverage.  Shelley Smith is my "under-the-radar" signing.  He's been the primary backup at guard behind Harvey Dahl in St. Louis, and has seen a lot of starts the past couple of years while Dahl has been dealing with injuries.  According to Pro Football Focus Smith has been pretty good too.  In 10 starts last year he had 5 "green" games and only 1 "red" game which is a huge improvement over his -5.5 overall grade from the 2012 season where he started 6 games.  He was a 5th round pick in 2010 of the Texans and after landing on IR in 2011 he was cut.  St. Louis signed him in 2012 and he's been an ascending player the last 2 years.  This could be a proto-typical Rick Spielman under-the-radar, high upside signing.  The idea is to sign Smith as a starter, but it's possible that Jeff Baca is ready to make the jump to starting left guard.  If that happens, Smith's versatility and experience as a backup would be valuable as well.  Either way making it a camp competition between Baca and Smith would be a smart move.

Matt Cassel expressed a desire to return to Minnesota immediately after the season, and I can't blame him for voiding his contract.  He knows the Vikings want him to be the starter, and he also knows they don't have a lot of options at QB.  This is purely a business decision and the Vikings were expecting him to void his contract.  With so many QB-needy teams out there, if the Vikings want to keep him they'll have to give him a raise as he has rumored to have already gotten some interest from the Houston Texans.

After signing those four big names, the Vikings are left with only $8,330,239 in cap space, which should be just enough for my draft day plans.  I'm sure the Vikings will continue to bring in competition as they build their training camp roster to a full 90 players, but I'm not going to attempt to project a full 90-player roster.  So the last piece of the offseason plan puzzle is the draft.  There are still two positions I haven't adequately addressed with this offseason plan: quarterback and linebacker along with a host of backup/depth options.  It just so happens that we'll be in prime position to address both.  So what follows is yet another quick and dirty mock draft with no trades, but following the consensus rankings.

Vikings 2014 Mock Draft

Round 1, Pick #8: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Round 2, Pick #40: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Round 3, Pick #72: QB Jimmy Garapolo, Eastern Illinois
Round 3, Pick #96: DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
Round 4, Pick #104: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Round 5, Pick #136: C Bryan Stork, Florida State
Round 6, Pick #168: CB Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame
Round 7, Pick #200: LS Marcus Heit, Kansas State


After all that excitement, here is a ridiculously early 2014 53-man roster projection based on the above offseason plan.

2014 Vikings Depth Chart Projection

Offense

QB

Matt Cassel

Christian Ponder

Jimmy Garapolo

RB

Adrian Peterson

Matt Asiata

Zach Line

FB

Jerome Felton

WR

Greg Jennings

Cordarrelle Patterson

Jarius Wright

Rodney Smith

Greg Childs

TE

Kyle Rudolph

Rhett Ellison

Chase Ford

C.J. Fiedorowicz

ROT

Phil Loadholt

J'Marcus Webb

ROG

Shelley Smith

Jeff Baca

C

John Sullivan

Bryan Stork

LOG

Brandon Fusco

LOT

Matt Kalil

Defense

LDE

Brian Robison

Justin Trattou

DT

Shariff Floyd

Kelcy Quarles

DT

Kevin Williams

Chase Baker

RDE

Michael Johnson

Everson Griffen

WLB

Anthony Barr

Marvin Mitchell


MLB

Michael Mauti

Audie Cole

SLB

Chad Greenway

Gerald Hodges

Larry Dean

LCB

Xavier Rhodes

Marcus Sherels

Bennett Jackson

RCB

Alterraun Verner

Josh Robinson

Jason Verrett

FS

Harrison Smith

Andrew Sendejo

Robert Blanton

SS

JaMarca Sanford

Mistral Raymond

Special Teams

K

Blair Walsh





P

Jeff Locke





LS

Marcus Heit





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