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.


Free agency: Plugging Purple holes on defense

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: March 5, 2014 - 7:06 AM

If you're getting overly excited about the start of free agency in three days, breathe deep and try to remember how ya felt when the Eagles were assembling that so-called "Dream Team" in March of 2011. Or when the Dolphins won the spring last year, only to translate it into one more actual win on the field in the fall. Or how Daniel Snyder used to be listed among the "Free Agency Winners!" every time he'd throw money at an Albert Haynesworth.

Nevertheless, there are some quality players to be found. And, for this morning's post, we'll dip into Zygi Wilf's wallet and try to plug some holes on a defense that will need more than new coach Mike Zimmer's mind to climb out of last place in points allowed.

The Vikings' defense has craters to fill at all three levels. Here are four players who would appear to fit two of those levels:

Defensive line:

DE Michael Johnson, Bengals: The no-brainer for the Vikings and Zimmer, the former Bengals defensive coordinator, to pursue with vigor. Johnson is 27. His best years are ahead of him. He's 6-7, 260, plays the run very well and can rush the passer.

NT Linval Joseph, Giants: Rumors suggest the Redskins are circling their NFC East rival's up-and-coming interior lineman. The Vikings should join the hunt. Their defense hasn't been the same since Big Pat Williams got old and retired. Joseph is 25 and he's a load at 6-4, 323.

Linebacker:

The pickings are slim. And too old in NFL years. Not a big fan of free agents on the wrong side of 30, so guys like Karlos Dansby (32) and Daryl Smith (32) don't register much here. The Vikings will have to lean on their pro scouts to come up with someone younger and under the radar who fits their new scheme. Otherwise, from this viewpoint, it appears any significant help has to come via the draft or the development of Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.

Secondary:

CB Alterraun Verner, Titans. Another no-brainer, even if you think Josh Robinson has some value. This team has been cornerback-starved for far too long. Or at least as long as it took Chris Cook's first contract to expire. Verner will be a popular guy in free agency because he's 25, a cornerback and knows what he's doing. Vikings DB coach Jerry Gray also coached him in Tennessee.

SS T.J. Ward, Browns. You never like to chase players who were discarded by other teams. But at least in this case, it's comforting somewhat to know that as a rule of thumb the Browns generally don't know what the heck they're doing. Pairing Ward, one of the upper-shelf safeties in the league, with Harrison Smith would give the Vikings quite the presence on the back end. And anyone who watched the Seahawks dominate and intimidate the Broncos in the Super Bowl knows how big a deal that is.

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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