Well, for what it's worth, the Vikings are on the rise but have hit the offseason nonetheless. If this year taught us anything, it's that judging a team's future based on their past can lead to some very surprising things. While it was, at least until the end, a pleasant surprise this year, a poor offseason can lead to a nasty surprise next.
Obviously much has been made about last year's successful draft and the amount that played into our playoff run. And now that this year's draft will be approaching, with our picks set and all, resident draft guru/ mad scientist MarkSP18 will be in fine form I'm sure in the coming weeks.
But first things first. Before we can even begin considering the draft, or taking a look at the general NFL free agency, we should be looking inside our own house first, as we have 14 of our own free agents coming up, and a few players entering the last year of their contract that might be deserving of extensions.
I'm going to focus here on just the outright free agents rather than the guys who would be due for extensions (or not) like Percy Harvin and Jared Allen. I have some trouble sometimes figuring out cap stuff; again, Mark usually does a far better job at that than I do, and I also know Arif has a pretty good bead on those things as well, so I will leave that stuff to my betters.
Let's start with the basic list. We have three categories here: unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents, and exclusive rights free agents. I'll review what the differences are after the list:
Unrestricted Free Agents:
FB Jerome Felton
WR Devin Aromashodu
WR Jerome Simpson
OT Phil Loadholt
OL Joe Berger
OG Geoff Schwartz
LB Jasper Brinkley
LB Erin Henderson
LB Marvin Mitchell
S Jamarca Sanford
Restricted Free Agents:
OL Troy Kropog
CB AJ Jefferson
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
CB Marcus Sherels
S Andrew Sendejo
OK, so. To briefly review in case you are a little hazy, an unrestricted free agent is someone who is free to ‘explore the market' and sign with the highest bidder, to put it slightly roughly. A restricted free agent is someone who can explore the market, but the team has the right to match any offers made by another franchise before that player is free to leave. Exclusive rights free agents basically aren't very free at all; they cannot even negotiate with other teams unless their original team decides to just let them go. Free agency starts March 2nd, but teams of course have the right to negotiate with their own players whenever they want. If you don't want to lose a player to Free Agency, you therefore should try and cut a deal before then, or you will have to use the franchise tag (or take the risk of them leaving).
To begin with, I'm not certain we should use the franchise tag this year if possible. Perhaps for Phil Loadholt if necessary. I was originally going to say Jerome Felton, partly because of his importance, but also because originally I figured that as a FB the associated cost would be low: however, as it turns out, franchise tags for fullbacks actually is included in the tag associated for running backs, which means he would receive $8,156,000. I'm pretty sure we can work a contract with him that won't cost that much.
So who should we keep and who should we let go? Let's start with the UFAs, the guys who can take off. Of that group, I would work to keep obviously Felton, Loadholt, Schwartz, Henderson, Mitchell, and Sanford. If the team really likes Berger's versatility as a backup I wouldn't be opposed to that either, and if the team believes that Simpson will regain his health and become a decent 3rd or 4th WR, I could be sold for the right price. Loadholt may get a lot of grief around these parts but he had a pretty decent season, and is a force in the run game. Schwartz obviously provides either great backup depth, or may even become the starter on our line. Henderson should stick around because we do need the depth at LB, and if we're going to ditch someone I'd rather prefer Brinkley goes. We can't replace both of them in one fell swoop, and even if we did, again, depth is important and Henderson has his moments. Mitchell and Sanford are both beasts on special teams, and Sanford is amazing for depth at safety- if he's not a starter there outright. I see absolutely no point in keeping Aromashodu around, and I think Brinkley needs to go too. (Although I think the whole blame for the 12-men in the huddle penalty is slightly overblown, but the point remains he just wasn't cutting it at his position all year.) Again, I'm on the fence regarding Berger and Simpson, and a lot of that would revolve around price.
As for the RFAs, I really don't see any point in not just letting them go. I don't think Kropog was ever even activated for a game. Jefferson was a stop-gap picked up in the middle of the season, and he played about as well as should be expected for that (which really isn't a compliment). I suppose in theory, if the price were right, the team might keep him around for depth, but if he's a starter next season I'm going to blow a gasket.
The ERFAs, which aren't even really free agents unless we let them become such, should stay. Sendejo and Sherels are obviously around for their ST skills, and that unit played well enough this year to not mess with it too much. Sherels in particular was solid on returns, his miff in the game-that-shall-not-be-mentioned aside. I don't want to see him as an actual, factual cornerback again though. That got ugly.
So there you have it. Of the 14, I would definitely try and keep: Loadholt, Felton, Schwartz, Henderson, Mitchell, Sanford, Sendejo and Sherels. I could be sold, price and intended role depending, on Simpson, Berger, and Jefferson. Aromashodu, Kropog, and Brinkley are goners in my book.
What say you, fellow Viking fandom? Of our in-house FAs, who would you keep and who would you let free?