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.


Rick Spielman faces big decisions with potential roster moves

Posted by: under Roster moves, Vikings, Leslie Frazier, Anthony Herrera, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, E.J. Henderson, Leslie Frazier, Steve Hutchinson, Visanthe Shiancoe Updated: March 10, 2012 - 9:38 AM

Rick Spielman? As Michael Corleone? Take a look and we’ll explain.

 

 
As the Vikings’ new general manager, this is the line Spielman must have at the ready. Especially now, this weekend, when hard decisions must be made.
 
Free agency will open across the NFL on Tuesday at 3 p.m. To prepare for that open market frenzy, teams have already begun making significant roster moves. The Giants, for example, released veteran running back Brandon Jacobs on Friday. In Indianapolis, the Colts’ roster overhaul included the release of Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Melvin Bullitt and Gary Brackett.
 
Nothing personal. Strictly business.
 
So what should we be monitoring for Spielman and the Vikings as they make a series of important business decisions? Logic says that as Spielman moves forward with his promise to make the roster much younger, veterans with big contracts should be on alert for a call to discuss their futures. Here’s a snapshot look at the top four candidates for such calls.
 
Steve Hutchinson
Why a call may be necessary: Hutchinson is due to make close to $7 million in 2012 in the final year of his contract, a price the Vikings absolutely do not want to pay for a 34-year-old lineman with 11 NFL seasons of mileage on his odometer. So now comes the tricky part of negotiations. Just how much would Hutchinson have to restructure his contract for the Vikings to keep him around? And will he be amenable to taking a major pay cut? If not, the Vikings would have no choice but to release Hutchinson, who would then have to decide whether to find a new team or simply retire.
 
What could happen: There’s been widespread belief that the 2012 season will be Hutchinson’s last. And at 34 with six seasons under his belt in Minnesota, it’s hard to imagine he’d be all that ecstatic about starting anew someplace else for what could be nothing more than an eight-month tour of duty on the march to retirement. So now Spielman and the Vikings have to decide how low the price would have to fall for them to want Hutchinson back as a veteran leader on the interior of the o-line.
 
Cedric Griffin
Why a call may be necessary: Griffin had an awful season in 2011. He struggled mightily in coverage and his confidence seemed to dip substantially throughout the second half of the season, leading up to his outright benching in Week 14 in Detroit. By season’s end, it seemed clear that Griffin’s days in the Twin Cities were numbered, the veteran cornerback looking for a change of scenery and an escape from a situation that seemed to grow quite toxic through last year’s struggles.
 
What could happen: Due to make more than $4 million in 2012 with a contract that runs through 2014 Griffin should be set free. The environment in Minnesota soured too much at the end of 2011 for a second chance in ’12 to have much realistic value. Yes, the Vikings are low on depth in their defensive backfield at present and are still awaiting a verdict in the felony domestic assault trial of cornerback Chris Cook. But even keeping Griffin around as an insurance policy doesn’t seem to make much sense.
 
Anthony Herrera
Why a call may be necessary: Like Hutchinson, Herrera doesn’t fit the profile for the youth movement Spielman wants to enact. He’s played eight seasons and has provided the Vikings’ offensive front with an admirable measure of toughness and tenacity, a big reason he’s a favorite of head coach Leslie Frazier. But Herrera is due to make $2.65 million in 2012, another expense that would be worth chopping if at all possible.
 
What could happen: If the Vikings are dead set on taking Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick in next month’s draft, that means Charlie Johnson is likely to slide inside from left tackle to one of the guard positions. The Vikings also have starting guard candidates in Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco (a Spielman favorite). Chris DeGeare is also around to provide depth. Translation: from a financial standpoint, it certainly wouldn’t be prudent to keep both Hutchinson and Herrera around with the team in rebuilding mode. It also wouldn’t be a shock if both guards were thanked for their services and shown the door.
 
Antoine Winfield
Why a call may be necessary: Winfield is another long-in-the-tooth veteran with a hefty paycheck. A call to the talented cornerback with a request to restructure his deal wouldn’t be outlandish. But it’s certainly far from necessary.
 
What could happen: Likely nothing. Winfield has been around Winter Park often during the offseason as he continues rehabilitation from the season-ending collarbone injury he suffered in Week 9 in Green Bay. Frazier sees him as a smart and energetic veteran leader for a secondary that could badly use some smarts and energy. Winfield will likely be used often in a nickel role going forward with Frazier having no designs on converting him into a safety. And his value to the secondary was proven in the 11 games he missed last season
 
It’s also worth noting that the Vikings have 18 other players whose contracts will expire when the new league year begins Tuesday. Of that group, only five were significant contributors this past season – tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, linebackers E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson, safety Husain Abdullah and receiver Devin Aromashodu.
 
Odds are that Shiancoe and E.J. Henderson will both be allowed to test the open market and will likely move on. The Vikings would love to re-sign Erin Henderson and may try hard to get something done before Tuesday. They also have a difficult decision with Abdullah, who is a low-maintenance and intelligent defensive back but has had four concussions over the past two seasons. That gives the fifth-year safety a bright red stamp as a medical risk and the Vikings will have to negotiate accordingly.
 
Aromashodu? He too will be allowed to test the open market after a 2011 season in which he caught 26 passes for 468 balls. If the Vikings decide to ultimately bring him back for 2012, it will have to be at a reasonable price. But Aromashodu will not be a top priority for Spielman in the coming days.
 
It’s not personal. Strictly business.

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