Vikings free-agency tracker …
We're tracking all things Purple, starting with what's already happened and projecting what needs to happen as the Vikings work their way through free agency and the 2015 offseason. Here we go:
I. WHAT HAS HAPPENED
HELLO, NO. 1 RECEIVER?
WR Mike Wallace: The Vikings traded a fifth-round pick to Miami for Wallace and a seventh-round pick on March 13.
What it means: The Vikings have a potential No. 1-type receiver for the first time in years and they were able to offset some of his hefty cap figure ($9.9) by trimming $5 million in cap space with the March 14 release of receiver Greg Jennings, who was carrying an $11 million cap figure. Wallace’s size (6-foot, 195) isn’t prototypical for a No. 1 wideout, but he has proven he can make up for it by being one of the league’s fastest players — he ran a 4.33 at the ’09 scouting combine — and a guy who can separate from defenders. He led the league in average yards per catch (19.4) as a Steelers rookie in 2009 and increased that number to 21.0 in his second season. On the potential flip side, the Vikings also are getting a player who’s well known for being a moody malcontent. Will he be the playmaker the Vikings covet to help quarterback Teddy Bridgewater get to the next level? Or will he develop the kind of harmfully poor attitude that surfaced throughout his two-year stay in Miami? The Vikings were willing to take a gamble on it being the former when they discovered that it would only cost them a fifth-round pick. They came out of the trade with the same number of picks and still have the fifth-rounder they got in the Matt Cassel trade. This also means the Vikings aren’t pressured to pick a receiver with the 11th overall draft pick, although receiver remains a possibility.
DEFENSE GETS REINFORCEMENTS
S Taylor Mays and LB Casey Matthews: The Vikings agreed to terms with both on March 24.
What it means: After spending the first two weeks of free agency courting defenders, the Vikings finally secured the services of two of them on March 24. Mays played for head coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. He didn’t start for the Bengals, but under Zimmer he had a value reserve role as a sub-package defender and could reprise that role here in Minnesota. Matthews, the younger brother of Packers star outside linebacker Clay Matthews, played a few different linebacker positions during his time with the Eagles. It’s unclear if the Vikings see him as a middle linebacker — one spot they have long needed to fill — or if he will add more depth on the outside.
ANOTHER BACKFIELD BODY
RB DuJuan Harris: The Vikings signed the former Packers back on March 19.
What it means: We don’t think this move says a thing about the Peterson saga. They simply signed Harris, who rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries in 2014, to create more competition in the backfield.
WR Greg Jennings: Released Saturday (March 14).
What it means: Jennings was forming a chemistry with Bridgewater near the end of last season, but the addition of Wallace made Jennings expendable, particularly at his cap figure. Being forced to carry $6 million in dead money on Jennings will reinforce General Manager Rick Spielman’s philosophy not to overpay for players in free agency. Two years ago, when the Vikings were desperate for a receiver in the wake of the Percy Harvin trade, Spielman broke his own rules by overpaying an aging player coming off injuries. Injuries weren’t a problem for Jennings, but his production — albeit with some mostly undesirable QB situations — never matched his Purple payday.
QB Christian Ponder: Signed with the Raiders on March 13.
What it means: Not a thing for the Vikings, who wrote him off long ago as a mistaken draft day desperation reach during the 2011 NFL lockout. For Ponder, it’s a refreshing restart as a backup in Oakland, where he’ll be reunited with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who held the same position here when the Vikings made the playoffs in 2012.
MLB Jasper Brinkley: Last year’s starting middle linebacker signed with the Cowboys on March 13.
What it means: Not a whole lot. Brinkley was a limited two-down player who played 42 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago. If the Vikings wanted to keep him, they would have extended his deal before the start of free agency. At most, Brinkley was considered a fall-back possibility late in free agency after the draft. The Vikings won’t find a young, three-down, do-it-all middle backer in free agency and are unlikely to see any of them in the draft as well. But the position is not empty and besides, the Vikings have OLBs capable of manning the middle in passing situations. Audie Cole has played well enough in a pinch at multiple spots, including MLB, that he could handle the job. He might even win the job even if the Vikings add another middle backer. Michael Mauti also can compete for the job as well.
QB Matt Cassel: Traded to Buffalo March 10 along with a sixth-round draft pick for a fifth-rounder this year and a seventh-rounder next year.
What it means: In a perfect, uncapped NFL, the Vikings would cling to the sweet security of an intelligent, even-keeled 10-year veteran backup quarterback, especially one who already knows Norv Turner's complex numbering system. But the reality is teams don't always have the luxury — based on current and future cap considerations — of paying backup QBs $4.75 million while hoping they never see the field. Shaun Hill was signed to fill the same role, probably as sufficiently, for about $1.5 million less.
LG Charlie Johnson: Released Feb. 27 in a move that was expected. It saved $2.5 million against the cap, but this was a decision based on performance.
What it means: Re-signing interior backup Joe Berger on the first day of free agency reduces the desperation to reach for a starter in free agency. Berger is a nice worst-case scenario to fall back on as a starter. The Vikings let the top three guards, including Mike Iupati, sign elsewhere and had no interest in trading for Eagles guard Evan Mathis. They’ll continue monitoring the market and watch for players who might be released.
QB Shaun Hill signed: It’s not a re-signing, but it is a welcome back for the 35-year-old quarterback who got his start with the Vikings as an undrafted rookie in 2002. Hill’s only action in five years as a Viking was two kneel downs in his final game with the team. He signed a two-year deal.
What it means: Now entering his 14th season, Hill has the experience, the demeanor and — let’s face it — the more team-friendly cap figure to fit what the Vikings were looking for behind Bridgewater. Cassel was the better option, but was more expensive, which is why he was traded to Buffalo. Hill is 16-18 as a starter, including 3-5 a year ago in St. Louis. He beat the Broncos a year ago. And most importantly, he spent a year in San Francisco with Turner, so he knows the offense.
OL Joe Berger re-signed: The soon-to-be 33-year-old re-signed for two more years on March 10.
What it means: It’s a significant re-signing that continues Berger’s underrated but significant role as an experienced backup to all three interior offensive line positions. Berger is a center first, but can play either guard position at a winning level as well. Last year, he started nine games at right guard after Brandon Fusco was injured and Vlad Ducasse was ineffective.
RB Matt Asiata re-signed: The 27-year-old restricted free agent agreed to a one-year deal on March 9.
What it means: Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to be traded. But either way, this signing means the Vikings don’t have to waste free agency time and resources on the running back position. Asiata isn’t flashy, but he also doesn’t get near enough credit for being a sure-handed back who can pass protect and consistently gain ground at the point of attack. What he lacks in explosiveness, he makes up for in reliability on passing downs and goal-line/short-yardage situations. He also accounted for 10 touchdowns and was the primary reason the Vikings led the league in fewest fumbles lost last season.
DT Tom Johnson re-signed: Agreed on March 8 to a three-year, $7 million deal with $3 million guaranteed.
What it means: One of the most underrated players from the 2014 season has been secured before the start of free agency on Tuesday. A year ago, Zimmer identified his defensive line as priority No. 1. An aging line was given three new starters, four new backups and taught a new style of play. The result was a unit that keyed an impressive defensive turnaround. Johnson was a part-time player, but his role in the rotation was important. A career-high 6 1/2 sacks came in limited reps as an interior pass rusher in the sub packages. He’s 30, but he’s got at least a solid year left and could even take on more of a workload than he did last season. Johnson also has the skill set to slide outside, which gives Zimmer flexibility for his creative schemes.
LS Cullen Loeffler re-signed: Agreed to a new one-year deal on March 8 and will return for a team-high 12th season in 2015.
What it means: If Loeffler hadn’t been re-signed, the Vikings likely would have headed into the season with an unproven long snapper, possibly a rookie. That’s how Loeffler got the job as an undrafted rookie in 2004. In 11 seasons, the only blemish on Loeffler’s resume was the botched punt snap that led to a game-losing safety in the closing seconds at Miami a year ago. One mishap in 11 seasons shouldn’t — and didn’t — overshadow Loeffler’s full body of work.
II. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
1, Sign a No. 2 quarterback (Shaun Hill signed) 4, Search hard for No. 1-type WR (Trade for Mike Wallace) 8, Replenish interior pass rusher role (DT Tom Johnson re-signed) 9, Re-sign OL Joe Berger (Berger re-signed) 10b, Don’t forget the long snapper (LS Cullen Loeffler re-signed)
2, Find a starting left guard: If there's one priority that would rank ahead of backup QB, this is it. The idea is to come out of free agency and head into the draft with a team you'd be satisfied playing a game with. Right now, the Vikings don't have a left guard that fits that description, although Berger is a nice worst-case scenario to fall back on. David Yankey could become that guy. But that's not good enough. The Vikings, however, have exercised patience so far. They’ll continue monitoring the market and watch for possible cuts down the road.
3, Add a middle linebacker: With Brinkley having signed with Dallas, the Vikings at least need to come out of free agency with another option to compete at middle linebacker. Matthews could be that guy, but since we haven’t heard from Zimmer about his plan for Matthews, we’ll hold off on scratching this one off the list.
5, Keep looking for an upgrade at strong safety: The Vikings tried to upgrade this position in free agency a year ago, but had to settle for Robert Blanton, a player with durability issues that visibly annoyed Zimmer, as the starter. Blanton played every snap of the first 12 games. But an injury late in the 13th game caused him to miss a game. Once healthy, he lost his starting job to Andrew Sendejo, further solidifying the belief that Blanton and Sendejo are only stopgaps alongside free safety Harrison Smith. Mays may end up being the best option, but he doesn’t appear to be the significant upgrade the Vikings need. Maybe that will come in the draft.
6, Once again, more cornerbacks needed: The Vikings are getting better at finding talented cornerbacks. Xavier Rhodes has a Pro Bowl and possibly All-Pro ceiling. However, the Vikings are still struggling when it comes to finding enough corners to win a fight with Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings admitted that Captain Munnerlyn is better suited as an inside nickel back in passing situations. So that means they're looking for a starter. But Josh Robinson, while improving, still hasn't proven himself worthy of becoming a trusted starter. The Vikings, who had veteran Terence Newman in for a visit on March 16, would be wise to continue exploring the cornerback market in free agency and the draft as well.
7, Find a left end for D-line rotation: Robison is on the wrong side of 30, Wootton is a free agent who isn’t expected to return and who knows what to expect of 2014 rookie Scott Crichton, who had an invisible 2014 season. Depth was a huge part of the D-line's turnaround last year. Time to restock the shelves. The Vikings missed out on Michael Johnson, but viable options still remain.
10, Look for a more experienced swing tackle: Frankly, I wasn't quite sure where to put swing tackle on the list. Or even if it belongs on the list. The Vikings believe they have something in Antonio Richardson, an undrafted rookie a year ago. And they like Carter Bykowski. And they have re-signed restricted free agent Mike Harris, who did OK stepping in for the injured Phil Loadholt for an extended period last season. Richardson looks the part, so if his knees hold up – a big if – and he keeps getting in shape, maybe he's a find. Don't know anything about Bykowski, a late-season pickup, and Harris has promise. But given last year's struggles with Loadholt's injury and Matt Kalil's ineffectiveness, it wouldn't hurt to snoop around some more seasoned tackles in free agency.
Other potential needs:
A, Some protection against AP leaving (Asiata re-signed and DuJuan Harris added) B, Will Greenway get cut? (Nope, he agreed to take a pay cut and will be back in 2015) C, What if Jennings is a cap casualty? (Spot filled by Wallace trade)