Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings' patience will be tested by top cornerbacks

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: March 11, 2014 - 8:56 AM

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a first-year NFL head coach trying to quickly turn around a 5-10-1 team that's built around a once-in-a-generation running back who also happens to be a soon-to-be 29-year-old running back.

So we'd all probably understand if he went into the free-agency signing period acting more like a kid going through the checkout counter at Toys R Us. But so far, the new guy sounds like he buys into the more restrained approach that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman usually follows, particularly during the initial high-priced first wave that will begin at 3 p.m. today and last about two days.

“We’ve got a lot of holes to fill, but we want to be smart with how we use the money,” Zimmer said. “We don’t want to go crazy in this thing.”

Three days ago, the Vikings top two needs in free agency were a starting defensive end to replace Jared Allen and a quarterback to serve as a temporary bridge to the future. Those needs were met when the Vikings re-signed Everson Griffen and Matt Cassel.

So you can scratch Bengals high-priced defensive end Michael Johnson off the list of players who could make the Vikings lose that patience early in free agency. Johnson is unliked to show up here when the Vikings have already given the starter's money (five years, $42.5 million with $20 million guaranteed) and role to Griffen.

The Vikings' new top priorities heading into free agency are at nose tackle, left guard, weak-side linebacker and cornerback. But not necessarily in that order.

Yes, the Vikings don't have starters at nose tackle, left guard or weak-side linebacker. But the cornerback position looks extremely bleak behind Xavier Rhodes. Chris Cook is likely to move on via free agency and Josh Robinson didn't prove himself as a first-year starter before being injured last season. Plus, even if you think Robinson will develop, NFL teams need three top corners to operate effectively on defense.

So if there's any position that tempts Spielman the way Greg Jennings did last year when the Vikings were in a serious pickle at receiver, it's cornerback. And the top ones in free agency aren't cheap.

The Vikings already have reached out to Titans free agent corner Alterraun Verner, a 25-year-old rising star who played under Jerry Gray, the former Tennessee defensive coordinator and now Vikings defensive backs coach. 

Other top corners available are New England's Aqib Talib, Denver's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Indianapolis' Vontae Davis.

The Vikings should have more than $25 million of cap space left after the deals for Cassel, Griffen and middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley are calculated. So it's possible they could target Verner or another top corner and pull it off.

Of course, they'd have to lose some of that patience Zimmer was preaching last week.

“I think if we go out and spend a whole bunch of money now, we’d be upset two years from now because some of them didn’t work out,” Zimmer said. “So we’re going to be real diligent in how we approach this and making sure that not only is it best for next year, but best for the long run, too.

“Everybody sees that Maserati and they want to go buy it and you know you probably shouldn’t. You should probably buy a Ford F-150, like I got. Because if you get the F150, you can keep building the pieces you need. So I think we have to be smart about it.”

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