In the last two mock offseasons I covered here, we started off by trading Adrian Peterson and also trading down several times to acquire more picks. That's no more realistic than not trading at all (in fact, probably less realistic), so why not look at how the Vikings roster shapes up without any trades?
While this raises the specter of Adrian Peterson's 2017 contract ($18 million cap hit in 2017), it does present us with a completely different set of options for Minnesota in free agency and the draft. While we don't net the second-rounder I predict (and one the Vikings may really want), the bigger impact could be on the cap, which itself may not matter: both previous offseason plans could have easily left more space than Adrian cost.
Still, we have to be somewhat diligent about the rest of our cap space, and the biggest cap-saving moves we can make involve Matt Kalil ($11.1 million hit) and Mike Wallace ($11.5 million hit). After that, the biggest cap hits are players we likely wouldn't touch: Everson Griffen ($8.2 million), Phil Loadholt ($7.8 million) and Kyle Rudolph ($7.3 million).
Using Spotrac's estimated cap space, the Vikings have $23.8 million after applying the Top 51 rule, so we'll start there. Retiring Austin Wentworth adds $600,000.
That gets reduced when we add the $10.5 million for rookies and a buffer, so we're at $24.4 million (after cutting Mike Wallace). Our FAs and re-signings last time cost $44 million, but we don't have to find a right tackle and left tackle this time, and we'll probably be a little less aggressive about finding starting-quality players in general.
I think we should extend Kalil, like we did the first time I did a mock offseason. That will give us somewhere between $8 million and $4 million of extra cap space, and I'm thinking it'll be easier to get him down to $4 million a year, and therefore free up $7 million.
A lot of people are concerned about guaranteeing a number of years for Matt, but honestly I don't think that's much of an issue or concern. Aside from the fact that the guaranteed amount will always be low enough to cut without having to worry about dead space (aside from the year you sign him), pushing signing bonus money into roster bonus money allows you to suck up any signing bonus (which would be small) into year one without having to worry about prorating him.
So, let's say it's a three-year contract worth $12 million, giving him—if he lasts three years—more than if he doesn't sign a deal at all (the Vikings have a very credible threat of cutting him, so he'd likely take it regardless). He may be more willing to sign it if he gets a year-three escalator for year-two snaps, which wouldn't bother me to include.
We're extending Harrison Smith again, and I really think he's getting the amount I predicted in the first offseason, something to the tune of $9 million a year. But a few people insisted he'd be closer to $10 million so that's what I did.
Cutting Wallace, retiring Wentworth, extending Kalil and extending Smith gives us $27.7 million after the rookie pool and buffer are taken into account.
It's getting a little tight; if we make the same moves as last week without Cordy Glenn and Joe Barksdale, we're right up against the cap—and that's without the second-round pick from the Peterson trade giving us a "free" (already accounted for in the cap math) player. So, we'll likely have to sign one more player, but without having to get a starting-quality running back, that player won't be as expensive.
I'm also OK changing up things just a little bit and not re-signing Greenway. Ride off into that sunset.
That leaves us to re-sign Mike Harris, Terence Newman (once again, at safety), Rhett Ellison, Adam Thielen, Marcus Sherels, Matt Asiata, Kenrick Ellis and Justin Trattou. Together, they cost $13.4 million, leaving us with $14.3 million.
Buying From the Bargain Bin
Before we get into free agency, let's assume some players get franchise-tagged. On average, it seems like seven players get franchise-tagged every year under the current CBA, and we'll take the final seven players in this list of likely tags. They are Kirk Cousins, Sean Smith, Cordy Glenn, Muhammad Wilkerson, Eric Berry, Josh Norman and Von Miller. I'm going to assume that Alshon Jeffery, Trumaine Johnson, Kelechi Osemele, Tashaun Gipson, George Iloka and Travis Benjamin get re-signed to long-term deals.
Between free agency and the draft, we'll need to add a quarterback, three running backs, two receivers, two tight ends, two tackles, one guard, one center, one defensive end, two defensive tackles, four linebackers, three cornerbacks, three safeties and a punter. This is what we look like before free agency:
You can see why we'd want to add some linebackers. Still, with about 19 rookies to add, that's only six spots—mostly depth—to fill in free agency.
I'm getting bored of adding Sterling Moore, Bryce Brown and James Hanna. I've restricted myself away from Iloka, too. For what it's worth, those four players fit the Vikings profile very well, so it kind of sucks not adding them. Still, there are a number of moves the Vikings make that go outside their normal moves—both Tom Johnson and Matt Asiata are good examples of that.
I'll once more sign Nigel Bradham ($3.5 million) and kick Kendricks to WLB on base downs. I'm also interested in bringing in Tyrunn Walker ($585,000), and Robert Turbin ($585,000). That's three of the six free agents I've committed to signing and only one pseudo-starter.
I'm kicking the can on Robert Golden, because as intrigued as I am by him, there's more interesting moves to make at safety this time around.
That brings us to the other two signings from last time, George Iloka and Rueben Randle. Iloka's gone, per the above assumed re-signings, so we're "stuck" with only Randle. I'm very comfortable with that, but it means we either have to sign a free agent safety or draft one despite having fewer picks than last time.
We'll also only be able to clear up about $2.2 million from the Top 51 rule with six free agents, as opposed to nearly $4.7 million last time. This gives us an effective FA budget for this last player of $8.8 million. That's not a bad budget for one or two players, but it does highlight how tight things have gotten (again, we already have a buffer).
In 2012 and 2013, there weren't a ton of big-money free agent safeties hitting the free market. In 2012, Reggie Nelson signed for $4.5 million on average (the top contract at the position), and in 2013, LaRon Landry ($6 million), Ed Reed ($5 million) and Glover Quin ($4.7 million) were the top contracts.
Then, things got dumb. Jairus Byrd ($9 million), Donte Whitner ($7 million), T.J. Ward ($5.6 million), Malcolm Jenkins ($5.4 million), Antoine Bethea ($5.3 million) and Mike Mitchell ($5 million) highlighted the FA class, while 2015 saw Da'Norris Searcy ($5.9 million), Nate Allen ($5.8 million), and Marcus Gilchrist ($5.5 million) headlined the class.
In 2014 and 2015, Earl Thomas ($10 million), Devin McCourty ($9.5 million) and Aaron Williams ($6.5 million) signed extensions before hitting free agency. Byrd famously didn't work out, but aside from him and Nate Allen, there aren't a lot of busts. Donte Whitner was overpaid and T.J. Ward received more hype than his level of play warranted, but his contract matches his performance to a large extent.
If we want to target a young athlete, then 26-year-old Nate Ebner makes sense. Though his 40-time (4.53) isn't fantastic, his mind-boggling three-cone (6.59 seconds), strength (23 reps) and explosion scores (39-inch vertical leap, 10'8" broad jump) put him in rare company for a safety. At 6'0" and 202 pounds, he's also not small—something Zimmer seems to care about.
It does mean he'd only be a depth/special teams signing and that the Vikings would have to get a starter-quality player to compete with Harris, Exum and Newman, but I'm not opposed to that. He'd get the minimum and incur only $580,000 in cap space as a result (he's only played 49 snaps in the last two years).
On the other hand, the Vikings could take a run at 27-year-old Eric Berry, 32-year-old Reggie Nelson, 29-year-old Walter Thurmond or 31-year-old Eric Weddle.
With over $8 million in cap space, it's possible to get one of those players.
Instead of Ebner (who I'll keep in mind for a later mock offseason) or a big name like one of those four, I'll go after 27-year-old Isa Abdul Quddus, a safety who has played well in the last two seasons and is more athletic than the average safety. He's better in run defense than pass coverage but isn't a slouch there.
A special-teams only player in the first four years of his career, Quddus proved to be a quality starter when he played instead of James Ihedigbo after a slump the Lions were going through. He had some issues against Green Bay, but did well in all of his other games. With the right coaching, he could definitely be a starter over Exum and Harris and if not, would be a special teams ace.
My guess is that he'd be had for at most $4 million, and likely less. We'll spring for that, draft a safety in the mid-rounds if available and have a long, protracted competition at safety over the offseason. I cannot imagine anybody would be disappointed to hear that Harris, Exum, a new draftee or Newman won the competition, and they shouldn't be disappointed if Abdul-Quddus does either. He played very well.
Finally, I'll look for a young offensive lineman to compete with Shepard, Easton, Kerin and so forth, along with potential draftees. Jeff Allen from the Chiefs is only 26 and he could probably start right away, but given that we've re-signed Harris, I'm not so sure that's a smart use of resources. Plus, we only have $5.4 million to spend.
Originally, I figured I would sign Mike Adams, but spending all year on the PUP list means he didn't have one of his contract years activated, meaning he's not a UFA. This leaves me to decide between two 26-year-old OL: former Panthers guard Amini Silatolu and former Bills/Cowboys/Lions/Bears tackle Jordan Mills, a restricted free agent. I don't expect him to be re-signed, and I don't think four teams accidentally misevaluated him but he showed significant signs of improvement throughout his career.
While he was one of the worst right tackles in the NFL in 2013 (like Harris in 2012 or Clemmings in 2015), he put in a reasonable, if below-average performance in 2014 and improved beyond that in 2015, making him in my eyes, a young player with potential who has shown consistent development. If he does not improve any more, he is at least an above-replacement player, which is hard to find on the offensive line.
We could probably offer him the league minimum and incur the requisite cap hit.
So, this is where we're at:
Honestly, I'd like to trade down in the second or third round to get another pick because I have a reasonable plan for nine picks but I'll have to give something up with only eight picks. In a no-trade offseason, that's too bad but we'll figure it out. Bradham could be a long-term solution, so I might be able to defer when it comes to linebacker but I'm not comfortable with thatâhe seems like he'd basically be what Chad Greenway was last year, but betterâbetter than the majority of backups, but not quite a starter. Bradham is a superflex player that can play all three linebacker positions, so I see him as a specialized subpackage and goal line ‘backer as well as the first player to come in during injury.
We have picks 23, 54, 86, 118, 148, 162, 208 and 212.
Once again, I'll be using Drafttek's mock draft to figure out availability. Again, stop telling me you don't like a mock because a player will or won't be available (which isn't the same as generally commenting on availability, I suppose). That's their issue, not mine.
With Pick 23, I'll take Michael Thomas, WR from Ohio State. He goes pretty late in this mock (in fact, he goes after the next Vikings pick), but given that I'm soured a bit on Josh Doctson as a first-round wide receiver and that Michael Thomas seems to be securing himself more and more as a first-round kind of player, I'm OK doing something that by this mock is kind of poor strategy but in the real world is probably fine.
For what it's worth, CBS has him graded in the low 1s, high 2s. Rotoworld has him as their 15th player, though NFL.com has him in the 41-45 range. Mel Kiper had him 25th in his December big board, and so did Todd McShay. Both have moved him down since then, but for the moment I think he may be worth it even if most of the third-party rankings don't have him there.
CBS Scouting Report:
STRENGTHS: Well-built frame with ideal height and muscle definition for the position. Natural hands to attack the ball away from his body, showing usually terrific hand-eye coordination. Reliable in 50/50 situations, using his body strength and powerful hands to establish body position and out-physical defensive backs.
Strategic route-runner and very deliberate in his patterns, using his footwork to get defenders leaning and commit their hips. Athletic toe-tapper along the sidelines. Strong strides to accelerate and pick up speed as he goes. Determined leaper to highpoint.
NFL bloodlines - uncle (Keyshawn Johnson) is a former No. 1 overall pick and 11-year NFL veteran. Reliable production the past two seasons despite limited opportunities.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks above average start/stop athleticism to easily create outside of the route. Cornerbacks can match his burst and vertical speed, limiting his ability to consistently separate. Mechanical at times in his movements, lacking ideal lower body fluidity. Strong hands, but will have some focus drops, thinking too much about his surroundings.
Good pop as a blocker, but doesn't consistently sustain. Wasn't asked to run a diverse route tree in Ohio State's offense. Had trouble picking up the offense early in his career. Not a proven deep threat. Consistent production, but wasn't asked to be a workhorse receiver (only two career 100-yard receiving games).
IN OUR VIEW: Thomas isn't the fastest or most explosive, but he is a good-sized athlete and detailed route-runner with little wasted movements to create spacing at the stem. Although he will need time to adapt to a NFL playbook, he projects as an ideal No. 2 wide receiver at the next level due to his savvy footwork, body control and ball-skills to be a reliable possession target.
Sounds like the kind of player the Vikings need. I've done cursory work on him and Doctson and have begun changing my minds on both of them. I'll have a few receiver scouting reports up ready to go soon.
With Pick 54, I'll take linebacker Kentrell Brothers from Missouri. I really don't care that much about the 4-3 nickel/base arguments because of how often two-down players are picked in the first round (linebackers, defensive tackles, tight ends, even edge players—much less in the second. Brothers can play both inside linebacker and weakside linebacker and this can allow the Vikings to figure out who fits best where, with Eric Kendricks possibly going inside with Brothers on the field and outside with Bradham on the field.
More likely, Brothers is in the middle because his build is better there, but having two players capable of both roles is just fine to me. CBS' scouting report:
STRENGTHS: Looks good on the hoof with proportionate body thickness. Processes action quickly with above average instincts for the position. Smart pre-snap, recognizing formations and anticipating play calls. Reliable play speed and quick to work through the trash.
Excellent at coming to balance on the move and breaking down to be a dependable open-field tackler. Finds that balance between patience, aggressiveness and staying alert. Physical player and uses his aggressive hands to stack-and-shed. Lateral agility as a blitzer.
Impact player on special teams coverages - three blocked kicks in 2015. Excellent timing with a knack for the big play with five interceptions and four forced fumbles over his career. Durable and tough, playing through pain - started 40 straight games over the past three seasons. Highly productive with 120-plus tackles each of the past two years, leading the nation in tackles per game (12.7) in 2015.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks ideal height and arm length, requiring help at times to finish tackles. Not an explosive mover with only one gear in pursuit, limiting his chase speed and overall range. Lacks the secondary burst to recover after a false step.
Overaggressive tendencies, biting on fakes and abandoning his cover responsibilities. Heavy feet and tight joints show up in coverage. Needs to be a more reliable finisher in small spaces like the pocket.
IN OUR VIEW: Brothers plays with above average recognition skills and anticipation to beat blockers to the contact point, but for his high tackle production, he also misses several tackles due to his lack of ideal speed and length. However, he's able to compensate for his average athleticism due to his competitive nature and superb instincts to be a tackling machine.
Drafttek made a mistake here, by the way. They have Brothers going to the Packers in the second round right after the Vikings pick and in the third round to the Bengals right after the Vikings pick. We'll just assume he's gone the first time instead of around the second time.
Here in Round 3, it's possible that one could develop buyer's remorse, what with De'Runnya Wilson right there. But we didn't know. We missed out on safeties Karl Joseph (who, as predicted, rose from the Drafttek 10.1 mock we worked off of two weeks ago—and so did Harlan Miller from last week) and Keanu Neal. The other safeties aren't super great, but I like, for pick 86, DeAndre Houston-Carson again. CBS' scouting report:
STRENGTHS: Looks the part of a modern day NFL defensive back with broad shoulders, a tapered middle and long limbs. Fluid athleticism, including quick, light feet and loose hips to change directions. Accelerates smoothly, possessing NFL-caliber speed.
Showed impressive awareness in making the transition from cornerback to free safety as a senior, displaying the vision, range and ball-skills to potentially remain at this position. Locates the ball quickly and plays with a highly aggressive brand of football, charging toward the line of scrimmage in run support.
Physical hitter. Possesses an explosive closing burst to spark big collisions and rips at the ball when others are near.
Good awareness for zone coverage, showing burst to close on routes caught in from of him. Good patience in off-man coverage, forcing receivers to commit before turning his hips, putting him in excellent position to make plays on underneath routes. Shows very good hand-eye coordination to pluck passes outside of his frame, timing his leap and/or get-off rushing off the edge well to create interceptions or to block kicks. Good vision to set up blocks with the ball in his hand.
Durable performer. Four-year starter.
WEAKNESSES: Obvious level of competition questions. A better hitter than tackler at this point, too often relying on the force he generates with his collisions to knock ballcarriers down rather than wrapping up securely.
Leaves his teammates in vulnerable positions with over-aggressive pursuit angles, creating cut-back lanes for ballcarriers to exploit. Simply faster than most of the competition he faced and could struggle with well-run double-moves from more explosive athletes.
IN OUR VIEW: FCS players had better dominate at their level to earn NFL attention and that is precisely what Houston-Carson did for the Tribe, starting for four years and recording an eye-popping 293 tackles, 10 interceptions and nine blocks.
He possesses the length, fluidity and competitiveness to return to cornerback in the NFL. His range and vision are intriguing at safety but if he is to remain there, Houston-Carson must show more reliability as an open-field tackler.
With pick 118, I'm picking guard/tackle Rees Odhiambo of Boise State. There's not a ton available on him, and he was injured (again) this year, but he's an interesting guy. His play looks pretty good at first glance and he can move people in the run game. His medicals will be key, but for now he's good and available. CBS:
Odhiambo is quick off the snap and finishes through the whistle with strong hands and toughness. He does a nice job keeping his feet squared with his shoulders to mirror in space and, despite bending at the waist too often, Odhiambo stays balanced to anchor at the point of attack.
And something from SB Nation sister site, Field Gulls:
A new discovery for me while researching this piece is Boise State's LT Rees Odhiambo. Listed at 6'4"/305, though he looks solid at LT, both draftscout (#103 overall) and my viewing says that this is a really good LG prospect. I love this guy's run-blocking, and his size is more appropriate for guard.
Rees shows good lateral movement with his feet, and the strength in his hands to latch on and redirect defenders out of running lanes. It doesn't hurt that he helped block for the nation's 5th highest rusher, either.
With pick 148, I'm selecting Le'Raven Clark from Texas Tech, despite his poor Senior Bowl showing. CBS Scouting report:
STRENGTHS: He sets up quickly and has the wide base to engulf rushers, using patience and quickness in his stance to counter in pass protection. Has the wide base, moldable frame and lower body flexibility required to start in the NFL, showing terrific knee bend and weight transfer in his kickslide.
WEAKNESSES: In Texas Tech's offense, he lines up primarily in two-point stance and is asked to retreat off the snap, which creates some technique issues in his transition to the NFL. Clark has a bad habit of playing too upright and prefers to catch rushers, but his foot quickness and instincts are a solid foundation, whether he stays at tackle or returns to guard in the NFL.
He needs to do a better job gaining proper angles as a run blocker and locking out with his punch to control the point of attack instead of simply absorbing rushers into his body. Clark allows the defender to dictate the point of attack too often, but that's how he's coached so his performance during the pre-draft process will be important.
IN OUR VIEW: With his workable frame and lower body flexibility, Clark has a draftable skillset, but it's tough to get an accurate read of his pro ceiling due to the Texas Tech offense. Groomed at left tackle in the Texas Tech offense, Clark was asked to retreat off the snap and his technique faces a learning curve under pro coaching. Once his upper body mechanics catch up, Clark projects as a NFL starter at tackle or guard.
So now we basically have two T.J. Clemmingses—and one for each side of the OL. I needed to pick players that I thought would fit Sparano's more man-heavy approach to blocking, so I had to get rid of a lot of good players that seem system specific. I think within those constraints, grabbing Odhiambo and Clark worked out really well.
With pick 162, I'm selecting running back C.J. Prosise from Notre Dame. What a steal. What a damn steal. CBS:
STRENGTHS: Well-distributed body mass with the desired physical ingredients. Able to absorb and maintain balance through congestion, picking yards after contact. Refuses to go down, showing the body strength and leg drive to fight forward.
Fluid lateral agility in his cuts and controls his momentum well, shifting his weight without slowing. Follows and trusts his blockers to weave through traffic. Natural at resetting his vision on the move. Patient run style to quickly scan and go. Speed to be a big-play threat and eliminate pursuit angles when he hits the turbo button. Has a fifth gear downfield to separate from the secondary. Strong stiff arm and runs with physical finish.
Natural receiving traits and experience, displaying reliable focus and hands as a pass-catcher. Stand out on special teams coverages - earned the Notre Dame Special Teams Player of the Year honors in 2014. Highly productive in 2015 (his first season at running back), averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 11.8 yards per reception.
WEAKNESSES: Upright runner with inconsistent pad level, presenting a large target for tacklers. Hesitant at times and still learning the difference between patience and being indecisive. Will get himself in trouble with too much east-west. Tends to slow at the contact point, bracing himself for hits.
Lacks ideal experience at the running back position and still learning techniques at the position. Lacks nuance in pass protection.
Wasn't a return man at Notre Dame. Ball security needs addressed (five fumbles in 2015). Durability was an issue in his one season at running back, missing almost all of Notre Dame's final five games - entered concussion protocol with a neck/head injury followed by a high left ankle sprain (Nov. 2015).
IN OUR VIEW: A safety and wide receiver his first two seasons, Prosise proved to be a quick study at his new position in 2015, running with natural vision, feel and athleticism. Although he's still developing his run tempo, pad level and instincts, especially between the tackles, Prosise has sharp cutting ability and ball-skills to impact the offense in several ways.
Prosise isn't a running back by trade and that shows at times, but he's a very encouraging prospect who should continue to get better with added reps at the position.
A former receiver and safety, we now have a bigger (and less athletic) version of Jerick McKinnon: a running back new to the position but with the instincts and physical capabilities required for the position, with only technical coaching left to do. And with better hands.
We want to get that special-teams undersized athletic linebacker. There aren't a lot of those, and the guy we got two weeks ago (Deion Jones) rose dramatically. At pick 208, we're left with a safety/linebacker hybrid (kind of like Larry Dean, Dom DeCicco and to some extent Brandon Watts) Travis Blanks of Clemson. There aren't too many scouting reports of him, but at 212 pounds, he hits hard for a safety and plays at a high speed, too. He has the frame to bulk up despite entering college at 190 pounds.
There aren't any scouting reports of him, but from what I can see, he has instincts and takes on blocks surprisingly well for his size—though does more to set the edge and redirect the runner with run fits than he does to defeat blocks and attack the running back himself. Blanks looks like he has issues shedding blocks, but he doesn't tend to lose that much ground from what I saw, even against fullbacks. He's got great lateral agility and fluid hips and is disciplined within the scheme. His tackling angles also seem on-point.
I'd like to see more open-field tackles from him to get a better gauge of who he is, but right now he's a seventh-round pick in a February mock draft. Honestly, with Kamalei Correa here, I'd prefer him but I already had one repeat pick in this mock and I'll abstain from having two.
At pick 212, I'll take Taveze Calhoun, a preseason favorite for a Top 100 selection. I'm not sure why he dropped (I'm sure we'll hear) but he had some reported immaturity problems earlier. From what I understand, he hasn't displayed those issues this year, but we don't know for sure and I'm not incredibly plugged in. There's a great preseason scouting report of him on NFL Mocks, which has a lot of positives and a few negatives, including some easy whiffed tackles.
The UDFAs that were signed, below:
- QB, Matt Johnson, Bowling Green
- RB, Marshaun Coprich, Illinois State
- WR, Dom Williams, Washington State
- TE, Sean Price, South Florida
- TE, Jake McGee, Florida
- OC, Jake Brendel, UCLA
- DT, Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech
- DE, LaMichael Fanning, Jacksonville State
- LB, Travis Feeny, Washington
- CB, Morgan Burns, Kansas State
- CB, LeShaun Sims, Southern Utah
- S, Trae Elson, Mississippi
- P, Tom Hackett, Utah