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Now the question is: How many moves are left?
The Vikings reportedly will still have about $25 million in cap space after the Cassel and Griffen deals are on the books. Some of that needs to be set aside for draft picks. The rest will be a test of the Vikings' priorities and patience.
Here's what we know: It's becoming increasingly harder to win in the NFL without good play in the secondary. The Vikings have two defensive ends who are young, hungry and can sack the quarterback. But they finished in the upper half of the NFL (tied for 13th with 41 sacks) in 2013, and their defense was still dismal.
They must, must, must target a high-level cornerback in free agency. It's the one big-splash move that makes sense in terms of the money they have to spend and their most pressing need. Alterraun Verner is the name most often brought up. He could fetch $10 million a year as a 25-year-old corner with a strong track record in Tennessee. He played all 16 games in each of his four seasons. He had five interceptions last year as well as 22 total passes defended. Put him with Xavier Rhodes. Get full seasons from both. Add more depth in the draft. It doesn't solve all the world's problems, but it's a great start.
We can live with modest, patient approaches at other positions. Find a plugger at nose tackle. Find reclamation project and a late-round pick who can compete for spots at guard. Draft a playmaking linebacker early. But go get that playmaking corner and don't be afraid to splurge.
Jared Allen has told the Vikings he won't be coming back next season, which should come as no surprise given the team's commitment to Brian Robison and Everson Griffen as well as a general philosophy of moving toward youth.
Before Allen is officially gone, however, let's take one last quick moment to remember this: His six seasons in purple were not perfect -- no player is perfect -- but particularly given the massive expectations after the Vikings gave up a draft haul in a trade and signed him to a huge contract, Allen was everything advertised.
He had 85.5 sacks in six years here, which works out to roughly 14 per season and almost one per game. He played all 16 games every season here, which also should not be overlooked. He was a heart and soul guy when it came to getting the home crowd fired up, and from what we could see he was also a good teammate in the locker room.
Allen arrived at the perfect time, when a team looking to take the next step on defense was desperate for an impact pass rusher. He is leaving at the perfect time -- still productive, so he will get another contract, but just not the right fit anymore.
In short, Allen's six-year run with the Vikings was about as good as it could have been, with the exception of course of the team falling short of the ultimate elusive Super Bowl goal. He will be missed, and his level of achievement should not be forgotten.
NFL free agency starts in earnest Saturday when teams can start contacting players. By Tuesday, they can even start signing them.
What does it all mean? Well, it means a lot of money is about to change hands. And SI.com thinks those who buy on a couple of guys with local connections could regret it.
The site lists former Gophers WR Eric Decker as the No. 1 potential offensive "bust."
It lists Vikings DE Jared Allen as the No. 2 potential defensive "bust."
Eric Decker: Perhaps the most obvious candidate of all, really through no fault of his own. Decker is coming off a career-best 87-catch season, which sets him up to break the bank and claim No. 1 receiver money. The problem, of course, is that he’s not really a true No. 1 receiver — Seattle wiped him off the mat in the Super Bowl and even Decker recently admitted that (former?) teammate Demaryius Thomas is on another level by comparison. Decker will be the top WR available, assuming he does not re-sign with the Broncos. And that status coupled with his 24 TD catches over the past two seasons might encourage some team to deem him their go-to guy. His game may not be built for such responsibility.
Jared Allen: Allen has played every game since 2008 and averaged 14.25 sacks per season in that timeframe. In other words, he’s durable and still can wreak havoc in the backfield. His “bust” potential will grow exponentially, though, if a team asks him to take on more of a role than that of a pass-rusher. Allen, 32 next month, should not be counted on as an every-down force anymore.
Neither of those assessments is overly harsh, but we also see both players as remaining productive years into the future. So busts? Probably not.
All it really takes these days to start a news cycle is a well-timed 140-characters.
Adrian Peterson provided that with this tweet:
@MikeVick would intently make the vikings a playoff team!— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) March 6, 2014
Did he mean "instantly?" Maybe. Regardless, it's out there. And now we're thinking about it. On the surface, it doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. The Vikings figure to be in the market more for a veteran QB who can help groom a draft pick, not a guy with off-field baggage and injury history. Vick, meanwhile, is probably looking for a place where he is guaranteed to be a starter and where he has a chance to win. The Vikings have weapons, but their 5-10-1 record from a year ago doesn't exactly put them in elite territory even if we think they will be improved.
So the fit is wrong ... except when you consider past Vikings history. Their two best seasons of the past generation have come with castoff veteran QBs who had something to prove (Randall Cunningham in 1998, Brett Favre in 2009) .In both of those cases, of course, the Vikings were coming off playoff seasons the previous year.
The most intriguing thing in all of this will be to watch the Vikings' rebuilding effort and see how it matches up with the win-quick mentality of Peterson, who will be 29 in two weeks. We're not sure Vick makes the Vikings a playoff team, instantly or intently. But it could be important, at least, that Peterson believes it.
Most of Minnesota is locked in on the winter sports teams and their respective postseason pushes or the Twins and what 2014 might bring.
But for some reason, we've been thinking a lot about the Vikings lately -- specifically, how 2014 has the potential to be a lot like 2012. We were in ridiculously early on that 2012 bandwagon, writing on Jan. 6 of that year that the Vikings could win 10 games and sneak into the playoffs. It was one of the only things we've ever ended up being right about, so pay attention to this:
The Vikings are a legitimate threat to return to the postseason in 2014, and this is why:
1) They have building blocks in place. Offensively, they have weapons -- Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, etc. And their offensive line was top-10 in the NFL in both run blocking and pass blocking even during a rough 2013 season. QB play was obviously a disaster in both production and handling for much of 2013, but when they settled in and got competent play, they were basically a .500 team last season. The QB situation will not be as bad as it was last year. The Vikings will settle on a draft pick and a veteran. Between the two, QB play will be adequate and properly sorted out -- and that's a major upgrade from what it was in many games last year. Adrian Peterson won't replicate 2012. An NFL RB might never have that good of a season ever again. But QB play will make up for it.
2) Again, they weren't terrible last season. Their defense was terrible, QB play was largely terrible, and that led directly to 2 or 3 losses. They were actually above .500 (4-3-1) over the last half of the season. The season was a major disappointment because of the regression from 2012 to 2013, but it wasn't a bottoming out.
3) Why won't the D be terrible again? Two reasons. First, a new coach (and staff) with a defensive background will bring a schematic upgrade. Second, they have more than $30 million in cap space to play with, and we dare say 75-80 percent of what they spend should be on defense. Get a full year of Harrison Smith. Find one good to very good starter at each level of the defense (secondary, linebacker and D-line), supplement with depth through other free agents and the draft, and suddenly the D could go from the bottom to the middle, much as it did in 2012 before regressing last year.
4) The schedule. The 2012 Vikings got to play a soft schedule because of their 3-13 season in 2011. The 2014 schedule isn't quite as soft, but it's only the 21st-toughest in the NFL in terms of opponent winning percentage and only three NFC teams (none in the NFC North) have easier roads.
5) Special teams. Buried in a lost season during 2013 was another solid special teams effort. We can discuss the ramifications of allegations against special teams coach Mike Priefer in another forum. It is certainly nothing to be taken lightly. But if we're focused squarely on football here, Priefer's special teams units get results. It's why he still has a job, and it can help elevate an improving team.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
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