The first step is always admitting you have a problem.
Hello everyone, my name is Rick Spielman, and I need help in my secondary.
Everyone, together now: Hi, Rick.
Spielman’s first sign of repentance came on June 30, when the Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune reported that the Vikings were among the teams to show interest in Rams safety O.J. Atogwe, who has picked off 22 passes in six seasons.
Washington ended up giving the 30-year old ballhawk a 5-year $26 million deal, which, at this point, should cause gasps: Madieu Williams, who was 26 at the time, signed a 6-year, $33 million deal with the Vikings to do exactly what Atogwe has done throughout his career.
Who can blame the Vikings though? His Vikings career spiraled the second he had that neck injury in his first training camp with the team — he was hesitant in a sport where aggression is gold. He was lauded for his coverage skills in Cincinnati, but snagged just nine interceptions in 49 games, never more than three in a season.
He wasn’t one of those guys who the ball finds. Never had gaudy interception numbers like Atogwe’s eight he posted in 2007.
It’s useless crying over a lost Atogwe now. He’s a Redskin. But it looks like Spielman and Co. are finally interested in upgrading at a position that hasn’t had high-level performers since Dwight Smith and Darren Sharper each had four interceptions during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
And those weren’t even up-and-coming, let-me-stay-awhile, entering-their-prime free agent signings or homegrown stars. They were veteran rentals passing through Minnesota on their way to their next big paycheck.
Granted, that’s unfair to say about Sharper who tallied a ridiculous nine interceptions during his first season with the Vikings at the age of 30. He wasn’t over-the-hill just yet. And Smith wasn’t even 30 when he had two of the best seasons of his journeyman career.
Who was the last Vikings’ safety to play his prime in purple and gold?
Corey Chavous had an eight-interception year in 2003, and he spent just four seasons of his prime with the Vikings. His prime just wasn’t that special.
Robert Griffith has to be the last talented free safety, picked up 1994, he had his first big season in 1996, when he picked off five passes. He was, at one point, named a second team All-Pro and made one Pro Bowl as he snagged a modest 17 interceptions in his finals six seasons with the Vikings.
I know, that sounds greedy calling three interceptions per season modest, but can you blame me?
A ballhawking, game-plan intimidating safety can help a defense as much as a sack-artist, calf-roping defensive end. And with Fred Pagac’s new blitz-happy scheme ready to make up for the early absence of the Williams Wall and (maybe) Ray Edwards, opportunistic defensive backs wouldn’t hurt. Pagac won’t have a heart attack if he has to throw the sink at a quarterback if he has solid football players — maybe a ballhawk and an intimidator, maybe two ballhawks, you know, whatever Pagac and Leslie Frazier prefer in the cover-2 — back there as safety nets. Pun intended.
The Vikings need one safety when free agency starts; Tyrell Johnson, Hussain Abdullah and Jamarca Sanford can have a battle royale for the other spot.
Minnesota might have to settle on a hard hitter who has decent cover skills in free agency, as Atogwe might’ve been the only true ballhawk available.
Eric Weddle, a 5-11, 200 pound strong safety, is a sound tackler that Pagac could get creative with, and he still had two picks and 10 passes defended in 2010. He’ll be expensive, but he’s only 26 years old.
Then there’s the veteran, 30-year old Quintin Mikell, a disciple of the Eagles’ own blitz-happy scheme. And he’s another strong safety with some cover skills (3 ints, 15 passes defended).
LaRon Landry’s older brother, Dawan, a safety for the Ravens is available. He’s 28 years old and did have 111 tackles in 2010 and has flashed signs with five interceptions in 2006 and four in 2009.
Gerald Sensabaugh is another 28-year old, somewhat productive strong safety that can hit.
The enigma of the group is Raiders’ safety and previously labeled ballhawk Michael Huff. There’s been much said about his poor work ethic and many say his career year in 2010 (94 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions) was played with a new contract in mind.
Are any of these guys revving your engines?
Whoever Minnesota brings in, I can’t imagine they’re first three years with the Vikings going any worse that Williams’ did. But maybe none of these guys are the answer. Maybe the answer is signing a talented cornerback to insure that position from Cedric Griffin’s and Chris Cook’s injuries, and move Antoine Winfield to safety.
Something’s got to give back there. And hopefully this isn’t a conversation we’re going to have to have again in another few years from now.
Don’t take your nametag off just yet, Rick.