Craig: Free agency moves have set Vikings up for draft

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2014 - 12:44 AM

Free agency plugged some major holes and left clear priorities for the draft.

The Vikings used the first week of free agency to reduce their desperation at quarterback and give their defense a fighting chance on third downs.

The former buys time and affords the team better draft judgment, knowing that Matt Cassel, while not ideal in age and consistency, is far better than overreaching for the wrong quarterback for the second time in four years.

“I think that was a huge piece to this whole thing,” said General Manager Rick Spielman, referring to the March 8 re-signing of Cassel. “That got us going in the right direction.”

With Cassel on board, the Vikings shifted their attention to a defense that ranked last in points allowed (30.0 per game) and 31st in total yards (397.6) and passing yards (287.2). And as anyone who followed the team last year knows, the root of all that rot was a 30th-ranked third-down defense that allowed teams to convert at a 44.2 percent clip.

Re-signing end Everson Griffen and adding nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn adds three starters under the age of 27 to a defense that had grown too old. Joseph and Munnerlyn are instant upgrades. Griffen is supremely talented and versatile, but belief that he’s an upgrade in 2014 still requires a leap of faith that he’ll be better entering the prime of his career than Jared Allen was near the end of his.

Munnerlyn, 25, was so sold on the direction of this defense that he predicted a top-10 ranking once Spielman and new coach Mike Zimmer are finished restocking. And that’s saying a lot considering that Munnerlyn was present for perhaps the most embarrassing defensive performances of the 2013 season.

It was Week 6 and the Vikings were coming off a bye week and their first victory of the season. And they were at home against a Panthers team that also was 1-3.

Final: Panthers 35, Vikings 10.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton posted a career-high 143.4 passer rating while the Panthers went 7-for-12 (58 percent) on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth down.

Munnerlyn shrugged when asked about what he saw in the Vikings defense that day.

“It was just in the back end [of the defense],” he said. “I think we’ve just got to make more plays on the ball, and I think that’s why they signed me. I’m sure they’ll sign more guys or bring some more guys in. But it’s just making plays on the ball and getting off the field on third down. That’s the key.”

The Vikings took the inability to get off the field on third down to a comical low not long after the Panthers left town. On Oct. 27, the Packers converted 13 of 18 third downs (72 percent) and two of two fourth downs while going the entire game without a punt.

After the Vikings won their next home game to improve to 2-7, then-coach Leslie Frazier was asked, jokingly, what was going through his mind when his defense finally stopped someone on third down.

Frazier smiled, pumped both arms above his head and said, “I was like, ‘hooray, hooray, hooray.’ ”

Despite going 4-3-1 in the second half of the season, Frazier was fired before he could reap the personnel upgrades from the past week and going forward.

Joseph, a run-stuffer with deceptive pass-rushing skills, is the team’s first legitimate nose tackle since Pat Williams was setting the tone for the league’s best run defense. And for those who don’t think a gap-eating nose tackle helps on third down, let us point out that third-down situations are set up by what happens on first and second down. For example, 11 the Packers’ 18 third-down situations last Oct. 27 were 3 yards or fewer. They converted nine of them.

Munnerlyn, meanwhile, has the same skill set that Frazier was pleading for behind the scenes when Antoine Winfield was interested in coming back during the early-October bye last year. Like Winfield and no one the Vikings had in 2013, Munnerlyn is adept at starting outside and then sliding over the slot receiver in the nickel defense. A huge piece to any third-down defense.

Having filled all the major holes they had entering free agency just a week ago, the Vikings appear better defensively and most certainly are in position to stay true to their draft board come May.

That’s good because the last time they weren’t able to do the latter was 2011, when the NFL lockout prevented free agency from starting before the draft. With Brett Favre retired and no viable options to replace him, the team ended up taking Christian Ponder 12th overall. And that, the Vikings discovered, is a good enough reason to avoid being boxed in on draft day.

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Cleveland 4 Suspended
Kansas City 2
Baltimore - W. Chen 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - M. Pineda
Kansas City - D. Duffy 6:05 PM
Cleveland - C. Carrasco
Seattle - J. Paxton 6:07 PM
Toronto - J. Happ
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt 6:08 PM
Detroit - K. Lobstein
Pittsburgh - F. Liriano 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Houston - N. Tropeano 7:05 PM
Texas - D. Holland
St. Louis - A. Wainwright 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - T. Wood
Arizona - J. Collmenter 7:10 PM
Minnesota - R. Nolasco
LA Angels - C. Wilson 9:05 PM
Oakland - J. Samardzija
San Francisco - J. Peavy 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - D. Haren
Colorado - T. Matzek 9:10 PM
San Diego - E. Stults
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Buffalo 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Green Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Tennessee 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Carolina 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Detroit 9/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Tampa Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Miami 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 9/28/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Atlanta 9/28/14 3:25 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 9/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 9/28/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Ottawa 2 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Ottawa 5:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 0 2nd Prd
NY Rangers 0
Detroit 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Washington 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
St. Louis 7:30 PM
Dallas
Anaheim 8:00 PM
Colorado
Colorado 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Los Angeles 9:00 PM
Arizona
Arizona 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
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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 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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