The NFL Combine officially gets underway Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. And while the hype of the event will center mostly around the 40-yard dash times, bench press reps and shuttle runs of the more than 300 draft prospects invited to participate, some of the most significant action of the week occurs behind the scenes as NFL general managers and front office personnel meet with agents to begin discussing the approach of free agency.
At this stage, league rules state that teams are only allowed to talk with the agents of their own players. So with the Vikings needing to make decisions on 10 unrestricted free agents who are scheduled to hit the open market March 12, here’s our quick update on where we think things might be headed.
Today, we look at the six offensive free agents.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman is fully sincere when he expresses his desire to retain continuity on the offensive line. Which makes Loadholt, the starting right tackle, a top in-house priority. But the Vikings don’t have full control of the situation. Loadholt and agent Gary Uberstine will almost certainly take a pulse on outside interest to get a feel for what kind of demand exists and what kind of asking price they can set. Loadholt has shown growth in his four seasons in the league. And he continues to be a mauler in the running game. The Vikings would certainly love to have him back. And he’d love to be back. But there are also business dynamics at play that will create some complexity.
The likely move: This one could get tricky. In some ways, it’s a bit of a surprise Loadholt hasn’t already re-signed. But that could be an indication that the tackle and his representatives believe there might be more out there for them than anything the Vikings have proposed to this point. Diminishing the Vikings’ leverage is the reality that there aren’t likely to be many top-tier replacement options for Loadholt on the free agent market or in the draft. And it’s hard to believe that Kevin Murphy, a practice squader in 2012, or DeMarcus Love, a sixth-round draft pick in 2011 who has yet to be active for an NFL game, would provide enough confidence for the Vikings to let Loadholt get away. Of course, there’s always the option of stamping Loadholt with a franchise tag or transition tag. But those options seem highly unlikely given the price of doing so for offensive linemen.
This should be the Vikings’ easiest decision amongst their in-house free agents. Last offseason, Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier were convinced Adrian Peterson could see a spike in productivity if he had a rugged and dependable fullback ahead of him. Then Felton came to town on a one-year deal, helped spark Peterson to a 2,097-yard rushing season and made his first Pro Bowl. The 26-year-old bruiser appreciates the opportunity he was given and the situation he is in and had made it very clear that he wants to stick around for a while. Which is exactly what the Vikings seem to want too. At this point, it’s simply a matter of Felton’s camp and the Vikings front office getting on the same page with Felton’s value and then setting the appropriate length of the next contract.
The likely move: Felton will almost certainly be re-signed. But it may not necessarily come before the free agent market opens. As a matter of business principal, Felton and his agent will listen to other teams to gauge an appropriate market value, then push the Vikings to deliver accordingly. Still, this deal should get done without many headaches.
Signed to a one-year deal worth approximately $2 million last April, Simpson had a 2012 run that was majorly disappointing. He missed the season’s first three games due to a league suspension, flashed promise in his Vikings debut Detroit, then suffered an odd lower back/leg injury that hindered him in Week 5, made him inactive in Week 6 and then limited him to 11 catches and 126 yards over the next seven games. Yeah, this isn’t what anybody had in mind a year ago. And as the season dragged on, the effervescence Simpson showed during training camp was replaced by a frustrated and somewhat testy deportment.
The likely move: It’s up to the Vikings to determine just how much Simpson’s back ailment contributed to his production struggles. If there’s a) a belief that a return to full health would significantly help the production spike; and b) a cheap deal that can be reached, don’t be surprised if Simpson is brought back for a second go-around. Keep in mind, the needed overhaul of the Vikings’ receiving corps will take more than one offseason to complete. And if you’re looking at the receivers who were on the active roster at season’s end, that’s a list that includes Simpson; Michael Jenkins (approaching his 31st birthday and a candidate to soon be released); Devin Aromashodu (also a free agent) and Stephen Burton (seven catches, 73 yards in his first two seasons.) You can’t start totally over at that receiver position and Simpson is probably worth another roll of the dice.
Understand this: Schwartz has made it very clear he has no intention of going into 2013 as a reserve. So unless the Vikings can find a starting spot for him, he’s as good as gone. Schwartz logged all his time in 2012 at right guard, sharing snaps with Brandon Fusco from Weeks 6-15. But Fusco, who has a big fan in Spielman, started the season as the undisputed starter and ended it that way too.
The likely move: Schwartz missed all of 2011 following hip surgery and then was derailed in training camp last summer by sports hernia surgery. He was decent in the time he played but still lacked the tempo the Vikings hoped to see him play with. As a result, he never did enough with his limited opportunity to stand out and overtake Fusco. There certainly should be opportunities elsewhere for Schwartz to start and he will be more than happy to chase whichever one suits him best. So his one-year stop through Minnesota is likely over.
Selfless veteran. Good teammate. Hard worker. These are all things the Vikings love. Problem is Aromashodu has never quite emerged as the consistent playmaker he seemingly has the potential to be. In two seasons and 31 games as a Viking, he has totaled 37 catches, 650 yards and one touchdown. He’s had only five games in Minnesota with more than two catches.
The likely move: Time to cut ties. Again, the Vikings coaching staff can talk all they want about Aromashodu’s crisp route running and intelligence and easygoing nature. But he just hasn’t delivered enough on game days. It’s time to search for new answers at receiver.
A smart and versatile lineman with eight NFL seasons under his belt, Berger proved to be a serviceable fill-in at both center and guard when called upon in 2011. In 2012, he wasn’t needed.
The likely move: Berger is one of those “Either way” guys. As in, if he’s back, OK. If he’s not, no big deal. The Vikings lucked out with the health of their o-line starters this past season. Berger certainly provides a bit of depth if he’s kept around. But it also wouldn’t be that difficult to find an equal or better replacement either.