Free agency begins on Tuesday, but you know the NFL. Nothing begins until there is some sort of buzz designed to hype the actual beginning of something.
So, for the second straight year, the league presents the three-day "legal tampering" period that kicks off at 11 a.m. today. This replaced the illegal tampering period that became too difficult to hide when multiple multi-million deals kept being announced .008 seconds after free agency opened.
Be careful over the next three days. Agents typically
manipulate dictate the story anytime teams with millions of dollars are chasing after players hoping to make as many of those millions of dollars as possible. And I'm not sure if you realize this, but agents don't always deal in non-fiction.
This year, team's have a record $133 million salary cap. And that number is expected to keep climbing. So a lot of players are about to be overpaid.
The Vikings are believed to have more than $35 million to spend even after agreeing to re-sign Matt Cassel. (Yeah, we bought the non-fiction tale that he was Houston-bound). The Vikings still need a quarterback in the draft, but for the purposes of free agency, scratch Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and any other QB off your list.
Here is one person's list of the Vikings free agency needs in order:
Defensive end: The Vikings don't have a starting right end on their roster. Free agency is the best place to get one by either re-signing Everson Griffen or chasing after Cincinnati's Michael Johnson.
Nose tackle: Again, the Vikings don't have a starter on their roster. And they need a Big Pat Williams-esque monster to set the middle of what was a pushover defense a year ago. The Giants' Linval Joseph would look real good.
Weak-side linebacker: I'd put this ahead of middle linebacker because this is the one linebacker spot where the current projected starter -- second-year pro Gerald Hodges -- is the least known comodity. The Vikings liked the guy enough to draft him. But we really don't know whether he can play anything but special teams. Of course, the market for UFA linebackers is weak, so don't get too excited.
Cornerback: This is a weakness, obviously, but I put it this low because the Vikings at least have Xavier Rhodes, a potential star, and Josh Robinson, who's still a work in progress and might develop into a good backup some day. But make no mistake, this is a high priority.
Middle linebacker: Not sure how the new coaching staff feels about Audie Cole and Michael Mauti. But given the state of the UFA linebackers, I'd stick with these two and look toward the draft. Restricted free agent Vincent Rey of Cincinnati wouldn't cost the Vikings a draft pick because the Bengals put the lowest tender on him.
Guard: Again, this could be a higher priority depending on what the new staff thinks of second-year guard Jeff Baca. Baca is a project, but the Vikings took him in the sixth round last year. With Charlie Johnson not expected back, Baca would be the starter on the left side. Right guard Brandon Fusco also hasn't taken the league by storm, but the Vikings have too many other needs to worry about him at this point.
Strong safety: Love Jamarca Sanford for his hard-working, overachieving mentality and locker room leadership. But if the Vikings can pair Harrison Smith with another top-shelf safety like a T.J. Ward, that would change the Vikings' defense immediately.
Wide receiver: There's prototypical talent (Cordarrelle Patterson), experience (Greg Jennings) and under-the-radar potential (Jarius Wright). But the Vikings could use more quality depth.
Backup running back: Not a priority in free agency because good backup running backs can be found late in the draft or among the rookie free agent pool. But worth shopping for at least.