The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the receivers.
Get excited: Disclaimer: we had to search long and hard to find substantive reasons to get excited about what happened with the Vikings’ receiving unit in 2012.
But we can offer you the following:
a) When Percy Harvin was healthy and fully engaged in the season’s first half, he was widely touted as an MVP candidate. Through Week 8, Harvin had a league-best 60 catches for 667 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a major threat on kickoff returns, evidenced by his 35.9 yards per return average and his 105-yard score in Detroit.
b) After Harvin sprained an ankle in Week 9 in Seattle, an injury that ultimately ended his season, rookie Jarius Wright made the most of his newfound opportunity. After being inactive for the Vikings’ first nine games, Wright’s first career reception was a 54-yarder against the Lions in Week 10 followed two plays later with a 3-yard touchdown grab. In the Vikings’ playoff-clinching win in the regular season finale, Wright had an 8-yard TD grab, an odd 17-yard catch to aid another TD drive and delivered the longest reception of the Vikings’ season, a 65-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up a key go-ahead touchdown against Green Bay. Wright’s flashes were eye-catching. And his humble, team-first attitude was impressive.
c) With all the credit that deserved to be spread around with Adrian Peterson’s remarkable 2,097-yard rushing season, the solid blocking of the Vikings’ receivers made a significant difference, a buy-in that was probably under appreciated. Said receivers coach George Stewart: “These guys all know that Adrian Peterson is here. And Coach Frazier said it from Day One: ‘We will win with our run game.’ So what I’ve loved most about this group of receiver is that they’re all unselfish. If they catch a ball, great. If they have to block for Adrian, great. And for a coach to have a bunch of unselfish guys, especially at this position, is gratifying.”
So there’s that, right?
And yes, we’re acknowledging again that our “Get Excited” reasons took some thinking. So let’s move on.
Keep an eye on: With plenty of cap room, the Vikings will be able to freely explore the free agent market in March in search of aid to bolster their downfield passing attack. Greg Jennings will be a free agent after spending the first seven seasons of his career in Green Bay. The other marquee names that could eventually be available include Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace.
But to be clear, before dishing out big money for a free agent receiver, the Vikings will have to come to a resolution on how they will handle Harvin’s future. They’ll need to either offer Harvin a long-term contract extension, a lucrative deal that would likely hamper any hopes of spending additional big money on guys like Jennings, Bowe or Wallace. Or they can open their ears to possible trade offers for Harvin. Or, in the worst case scenario, they can do nothing and ask Harvin to play out the final year of his rookie deal for a $1.55 million salary, a move that would be quite risky if there’s hope of keeping the mercurial receiver happy long-term.
As free agency goes, it may be more likely for the Vikings to explore a few second-tier options – guys like Donnie Avery or Brandon Gibson if they become available. And then with the No. 23 pick in April’s draft, the Vikings should have plenty of options to land a young and promising talent. Keep tabs on Baylor’s Terrance Williams, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins and Cal’s Keenan Allen in the coming months. They could all be intriguing possibilities.
Reason for worry: With Harvin placed on Injured Reserve in early December, the Vikings finished the season with an active receiving unit of Wright, Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, Jerome Simpson and Stephen Burton. Aromashodu and Simpson are both set to become free agents in March with few promises that they’d be back for another season. Even if either or both of those guys is re-signed, it’s unlikely that would come before free agency opens.
Jenkins will turn 31 in June and while he is a smart and dependable veteran, he has clearly lost a step. And for all the belief in Burton’s potential, he contributed five catches for 35 yards in his second NFL season.
In other words, with or without Harvin, the Vikings receiving unit is in need of a major overhaul that will likely take more than one offseason to complete.