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Craig: What's left after 21 franchise tags are assigned?

  • Blog Post by: Mark Craig
  • March 6, 2012 - 11:37 AM

Funny how a record 21 franchise tags can take a significant lump of hysteria out of NFL free agency.

But never fear. This is the NFL. There's always enough hysteria to keep the American workforce distracted during business hours.

So even though the field of hole-plugging star players has been greatly reduced by franchise tags and recent re-signings, a hole-filled team such as the Vikings can still find a difference-maker when free agency begins a week from today.

The Vikings are expected to be about $10 million under the salary cap. They'll create even more space -- probably on Monday -- when they release aging and/or ineffective veterans who don't fit the current -- and obviously overdue -- youth movement. So going after one specific difference-maker shouldn't be a problem financially.

Receiver and cornerback are the likely areas of focus for the Vikings in free agency. Those also are two areas that were weakened by franchise tags and re-signings. Receivers Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe and DeSean Jackson were tagged, while Buffalo's Stevie Johnson signed a five-year, $36.25 million deal. Cornerback Brent Grimes also was tagged.

Here are three players to keep an eye on:

1, Brandon Carr, CB, Chiefs: If the Vikings weren't picking so high in the first round (third overall), the no-brainer selection would be LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Cornerback is the team's No. 1 weakness, and it's magnified by having to play Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler six times a year. But corner typically isn't a position one fills with a top-five selection. When the Chiefs opted to tag Bowe instead of Carr, they exposed a 25-year-old cornerback coming off his best season. He's the perfect target for the Vikings as they hope to rebuild with younger players. A 6-foot, 207-pound corner that can play press coverage or zone, Carr would grow with the Vikings as they embark on a turnaround that could take at least two or three years to complete. Carr, who had four interceptions last season, is just entering his prime.

2, Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans: He just turned 28, so he's not as attractive for a team in the midst of a youth movement. But if the Vikings believe he can hold up past his 30th birthday, Finnegan is the kind of physical cornerback who would fit the Tampa 2 scheme. He also has 15 career interceptions. For Vikings fans unsure of the term, an "interception" is when the other team throws the ball and your team catches it.

3, Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: At 29, he's older than the Vikings would like, especially with the long-term deal  that it's going to take to land him. Chances are that age also will steer Jackson away from the Vikings and into the arms of another receiver-starved team that's considered closer to competing for a division title and a Super Bowl (did someone say "Da Bears"?) But if you're the Vikings and you're coming off last season, it's hard not to make a run at the top No. 1-caliber receiver on the board. Jackson is a 6-5, 230-pound proven deep threat. His career average per catch over seven seasons is 17.5 yards.

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