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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Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick 2 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: Z. Wheeler 11
Milwaukee - WP: Y. Gallardo 5 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: D. Price 0
Arizona - WP: W. Miley 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 4
Washington - WP: T. Roark 4 FINAL
Miami - LP: B. Hand 3
Oakland - LP: J. Hammel 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 8
Pittsburgh - LP: J. Wilson 5 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Machi 7
LA Angels 0 Top 5th Inning
Baltimore 4
Seattle 0 Top 6th Inning
Cleveland 2
Chicago WSox 0 Top 3rd Inning
Detroit 6
Toronto 4 Top 5th Inning
Boston 0
Colorado 1 Top 2nd Inning
Chicago Cubs 0
NY Yankees 1 Bottom 1st Inning
Texas 1
Minnesota 1 Top 2nd Inning
Kansas City 0
Atlanta - A. Wood 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke
St. Louis - J. Kelly 9:10 PM
San Diego - J. Hahn
NY Giants 8/3/14 7:00 PM
Buffalo
Toronto FC 0 2nd Half 30:00
D.C. 2
Colorado 0 1st Half 5:00
New England 1
Vancouver FC 7:30 PM
Chicago
Red Bull New York 8:00 PM
Real Salt Lake
Winnipeg 7/31/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Toronto 8/1/14 6:00 PM
Montreal
Brt Columbia 8/1/14 9:00 PM
Calgary
Saskatchewan 8/2/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/7/14 7:30 PM
Winnipeg
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pm
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pm
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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