General Manager Rick Spielman probably rained on the parade of Vikings fans who are hoping for a splash this offseason when he said yesterday that he expects the team to be patient in free agency.

“Once free agency starts we’ll probably lay in the weeds a little bit and see what happens,” he said.

Now, it’s understandable to be a little suspicious of general managers like Spielman this time a year. And after all, Spielman did leave himself a little wiggle room by saying the Vikings could open up the checkbook if “something unique pops up,” as they felt was the case with Greg Jennings in 2013.

But the Vikings are trying to build the foundation of a championship team through the NFL draft, as evidenced by the seven players they took in the first round the past three years. And while they are hoping for a return to the playoffs in 2015, I am sure that Spielman and the Vikings are aware that they aren’t one or two marquee players away from seriously competing for the Lombardi Trophy.

They also realize that overpaying for unknowns in free agency will make it trickier to keep core players like Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Teddy Bridgewater when their rookie deals are up.

“Not only are you planning for this year, but you also have to look into the future,” Spielman said.

So while the Vikings may surprise by pouncing on a top-dollar free agent next week, it seems more likely they target lower-tier guys, like they did last year with Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn.

In the spirit of that, let’s take a look at some of the top free agents that Vikings fans are clamoring for on Twitter and cheaper options who probably fit more in line with what the Vikings want to do.

Top-dollar free agent: Mike Iupati, G, 49ers

Lower-tier alternative: Clint Boling, G, Bengals

Someone is going to pay Iupati, a former first-round pick and a three-time Pro Bowler for the 49ers, a ton of money. But paying big bucks for a guard is tricky business (with a generational talent like Steve Hutchinson being an obvious exception). Instead, the Vikings could pursue Boling if they are looking for a physical guard who can help them get their power running game going again in 2015.

Top-dollar free agent: Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks

Lower-tier alternative: Davon House, CB, Packers

There was a lot of buzz about Maxwell at the NFL scouting combine. The Ringo Starr of the Legion of Boom, Maxwell is expected to have plenty of suitors and he could score a salary of more than $8 million per season. House, who was drafted a couple of rounds before Maxwell in 2011, was a part-time starter for the Packers, but he is young, he can run and he has some size, too.

Top-dollar free agent: Devin McCourty, S, Patriots

Lower-tier alternative: Ron Parker, S, Chiefs

Many NFL insiders thought it would be a formality that the Patriots would slap their franchise tag on McCourty. There is still a chance that he could return to the Patriots, but either way, he is getting paid. A cheaper gamble worth taking might be Parker, who like McCourty was a cornerback before being converted to safety. He doesn’t have the production of McCourty, but he has some potential.

Top-dollar free agent: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos

Lower-tier alternative: Kenny Britt, WR, Rams

Yes, the Broncos used the franchise tag on Thomas, but it’s the non-exclusive tag, meaning another team can sign him away if they are willing to cough up a pair of first-round picks, too. This ain’t fantasy football, so chances are that’s not happening. While Britt is nowhere near as explosive as Thomas, he is also 6-foot-3 with a similar build and would also bring value inside the red zone.

Top-dollar free agent: Rey Maualuga, MLB, Bengals

Lower-tier alternative: Jasper Brinkley, MLB, Vikings

I understand why I get asked about Maualuga all the time. He’s a name player who has ties to Mike Zimmer with the Bengals. With all due respect to Maualuga, he is a solid run defender but is nothing special. There don’t appear to be many, if any, quality do-it-all middle linebackers in free agency. So if you’re settling for a two-down thumper there, why not just keep Brinkley around on the cheap?

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