Note: For the next three weekdays, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ draft on the blog and with an Access Vikings video you can find on this website. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post each day through Thursday.
The issues: The Vikings have a lot of uncertainty here, the most glaring issue being the status of Sidney Rice. Rice has four accrued NFL seasons but it’s unknown if he will be a restricted or unrestricted free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement. His status is the key to any discussion involving this position group.
What they have: Let's start with Rice. The Vikings placed a first-round tender on him in the event he becomes restricted, meaning they would receive a first-round pick if they declined to match an offer from another team. However, if Rice ends up unrestricted, there is a good chance he will sign with another team.
The Vikings have had talks with Rice’s agent Drew Rosenhaus about a new contract, but Rosenhaus reportedly said his client will test the free agency waters.
The Vikings face a dilemma because they won’t know whether Rice will be restricted or unrestricted before the draft. If he leaves in free agency and they don’t add a wide receiver in the draft, the wide receiver position suddenly has major problems.
Percy Harvin is a dynamic playmaker any time he has the ball in his hands. Coach Leslie Frazier said he wants Harvin to play an even bigger role in the offense under new coordinator Bill Musgrave this season.
Bernard Berrian is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, which fueled speculation that he would be a candidate to be released this offseason. Frazier, however, said he expects Berrian to return. Berrian, who is scheduled to make $3.9 million in base salary this season, caught only 28 passes for a 9.0-yard average and no touchdowns last season.
The Vikings need more help at that position. Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are not expected to return. Greg Camarillo caught only 20 passes last season after arriving in a trade. Jaymar Johnson, who missed last season because of a broken thumb, has one career catch. The team signed Juaquin Iglesias off the Bears practice squad late in the season and Emmanuel Arceneaux from the CFL after the season.
As far as tight ends, Visanthe Shiancoe is entering the final season on his contract and is looking to rebound from a season that didn’t meet expectations (47 catches, 530 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Jim Kleinsasser, 34, is entering his 13th season and still does the dirty work as a blocker. Jeff Dugan is a utility man, playing tight end, fullback and on all the special teams units.
The team wants to get younger at this position after losing Mickey Shuler on waivers to the Dolphins last season.
What they need: They need clarity on Rice’s situation. The team wants to re-sign Rice, but will he leave in free agency if he is unrestricted?
Rice became a Pro Bowl receiver and big-play target down the field in 2009, finishing with 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, he missed the first nine games last season after having hip surgery in training camp. Rice’s injury history -- he had knee problems in 2008 -- raises questions about whether the Vikings should give him a lucrative long-term contract.
The Vikings need Berrian to return to his 2008 level when he led the league in yards per catch average (20.1). He never clicked with Brett Favre as his quarterback and hamstring injuries bothered him in 2009. Frazier met with Berrian after the season and laid out his expectations.
“We’ve got to get him back in the fold and get him to where he’s a major contributor to our offense and we’re going to need him this next season in a big way,” Frazier said. “I talked to him just about that. How important it’s going to be for him to step up and be a featured player in our offense in order for us to get to where we want to go as an organization.”
They need to find more production elsewhere too, especially if Rice leaves. Shiancoe hopes to pick up the slack in Musgrave’s new offense. His numbers dipped from 2009 when he caught 56 passes and 11 touchdowns. Shiancoe expects to have a big role in Musgrave’s system.
The Vikings likely will try to add a tight end in the mid to late rounds to inject some youth at that position. Kleinsasser, Shiancoe and Dugan are age 30 or older.
Conclusion: The Vikings need to solidify their receiver group but the uncertainty surrounding Rice’s situation makes that difficult. Either way, they need to find more playmakers, which could come through the draft or free agency. If Alabama's Julio Jones is still available at No. 12, he would be hard to pass up. Jones is projected by many to go in the Top 10 though.