Day one of NFL free agency is always the most frenzied, and it's my second favorite off season day of the year next to the first round of the draft. Teams with a lot of cap room throw money around like a Jeb Bush Super PAC trying to get half a dozen votes, average players make more money in one day than Walter White, and the more money you spend, it seems, the better off you did, at least according to a lot of folks. Because in free agency, Money Talks, isn't that right, Messrs. Johnson and Young?
Tailored suits, chauffeured cars
Fine hotels and big cigars
Up for grabs, all for a price
Where the red hot girls keep on dancin' through the night
The claim is on you
The sights are on me
So what do you do that's guaranteed
Hey little girl
You want it all
The furs, the diamonds, the painting on the wall
Come on come on, lovin' for the money
Come on come on, listen to the Moneytalk
Come on come on, lovin' for the money
Come on come on, listen to the money talk
And while the Vikings didn't make the big splash (although they were rumored to be flirting with a couple big names), they made some targeted moves that made the team better, at least on paper. And hey, with the rest of free agency and the draft still to come, the upgrades aren't over. But since the Vikings probably made their biggest moves yesterday, let's do a review and see how they turned out.
Blue Chip Stocks
Alex Boone, G: Boone was the big signing of the day, and one that provides an immediate upgrade to an offensive line that suddenly looks a lot better than it did last year. Boone provides quality and versatility, able to play either left or right guard, and has even played tackle as an injury substitution. It appears that Boone will be penciled in at left guard, which will allow Brandon Fusco to move back over to right guard, where he was much more effective. Alex Boone also went to Ohio State and would like to punch Clay Matthews in the face. He also called his former 49ers coach and current Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh clinically insane AND wanted to kick his ass, too. In an unrelated note, those last two sentences were pure football sex for me, so yeah, Boone is immediately like one of my top five players.
Alex Boone might be perfect.
Rob Brzezinski, Capologist Supreme: We devote a lot of digital ink in these parts to Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, either to praise him (for the most part) or curse him for the players he signs. Or do a ridiculous RickSpeak. I'm a Spielman fan, and I like what he's done since the Vikings ditched the Triangle of Authority and he became the full time GM, at least for the most part. But there's a guy in the Vikings front office that works below the radar and does the dirty work of contract details, and makes sure the Vikings always have a cap situation that favors them. And that guy is Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski.
Seriously, think back and tell me the last time the Vikings have had to cut a player purely because he had a cap number that was too high? I honestly can't, and that's all thanks to Brzezinski. Whenever the Vikings sign a free agent or re-sign one of their own players, it's a deal that balances giving the player a lot of money, but without putting the Vikings in salary cap Hell. And every year, the Vikings are in a favorable salary cap position to go out and get guys they need without having to worry about getting under the cap the next season. If we ever hear rumors about Brzezinski getting an offer to go elsewhere, pick up your phone and flood Winter Park, and plead for him not to leave. Brzezinski is one of the two or three best cap guys in the NFL, if not the best, and losing him would really, really sting.
Mike Harris, G: When news broke that Boone was going to sign with the Vikings, a lot of folks assumed (myself included) that Mike Harris was going to go elsewhere. It kind of felt like that would happen after Harris turned down an initial offer from the Vikings and wanted to explore his options in free agency. But when it was announced that he would be coming back, that was most welcome news. Harris was arguably the most consistent offensive lineman last year, with maybe the exception of Joe Berger, and gaining Boone while losing Harris would've been kind of a one step forward, one step back day. But with Harris back in the fold, the Vikings now have quality, depth, and a lot of competition for starting spots on the offensive line. When you add in Tony Sparano as the offensive line coach, I really like the direction the line is heading. I'm not ready to declare victory and call it a finished product, but I'm a lot happier with the line now than I was at the end of last season.
LB's Travis Lewis and Emmanuel Lamur: Neither of these guys are going to come in and start, but both players will provide depth to a good LB corps, and can be expected to contribute on special teams. They're not big time signings, but if a team wants to be a serious championship contender, depth is just as important as quality starters, and the Vikings addressed the depth portion with these two signings.
No one. Look, people love to make these knee jerk reactions about signings, contracts, and who the Vikings did or didn't get. I'm not on the coaching staff or in the front office (and again let me reiterate how thankful you should all be for that), so we're not privy to what the conversations about free agent players are. I'm not going to immediately proclaim someone a Fred Smoot-level bust the day after he was signed. I'm going to let it play out and see what happens, because Mike Zimmer and Spielman have earned some slack on personnel matters. If you guys want to bash a signing, go for it. I'm not going to, at least until it's proven that a guy is, in fact, a bust.
Buy: The Vikings needing an upgrade at safety. It's no secret that the Vikings are looking to upgrade the safety position opposite Harrison Smith. Mike Zimmer pretty much telegraphed it at the NFL Combine last month, so it was no surprise to hear that the Vikings were looking at former Bengals George Iloka and Reggie Nelson as free agency approached yesterday.
Sell: That upgrade being Michael Griffin. I don't come here to bash Griffin...but I'm not gonna praise him, either. I do think he's an upgrade from Andrew Sendejo, but I'm not sure he's the final answer, either. He's had some very good seasons, going to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2010, but his play has slipped somewhat in the last couple seasons. Of course, the optimist could say that he played on some really bad defenses, and a change of scenery with a coach that knows what he's doing with defensive backs might be just what the doctor ordered. That same optimist would use Terrence Newman as a perfect example of what a veteran thought to be over the hill inserted into a Zimmer defense is capable of. Of course, the pessimist could say he's a declining player north of 30, and the Vikings signed a guy on the cheap just to shut up the masses.
For me the Griffin signing was somewhat underwhelming based on who they were rumored to be going after earlier in the day, and if the Vikings add another guy or two either in free agency or the draft, I won't complain. Competition is never a bad thing, and we've got a ton of it now with the offensive line. Why not with the safety position?
Don Glover Quote Of The Day
Dad called last night, wanting an update. Our phone conversation follows.
Dad: So who did the Vikings sign?
Me: Got a really good offensive lineman, and also signed a safety and two backup linebackers.
Dad: What's so special about the lineman?
Me: He went to Ohio State and wants to punch Clay Matthews in the face.
Me: Clay Matthews, the Packers linebacker with the really long, blonde hair, number 52.
Dad: Oh, Goldilocks? Yeah, I want to punch him in the face, too. I like this new guy.
So all in all, it was a good first day. Not great, but far from terrible. They addressed their two biggest needs in the offensive line and safety, and they still have a lot of money under the cap to sign players to fill more needs.
Anyone who thinks that's a bad day should really re-assess, in my opinion. Why? Because the Vikings are coming off an 11-5 season, won the division, were a shanked chip shot field goal from winning a playoff game against the defending NFC Champions...and got better yesterday.
I am really struggling to see how it was a bad day, regardless of how you want to spin it.