Conventional wisdom says the Vikings probably won’t make a huge splash in free agency when teams can begin signing outside players on Wednesday. They’ve become a draft-and-develop organization, using mid-level free agent signings to bolster rather than overhaul.
Throughout their history, though, the Vikings have signed some high-impact free agents. Not all of them were splashy moves, but many of them turned out to be good ones. Let’s take a look at the best of the best.
Note: Trades obviously don’t count (so no Jared Allen, Warren Moon or Mike Merriweather). Neither do undrafted free agents (like John Randle) who signed with the Vikings out of college. Cris Carter was a waiver claim. He’s out, too.
That leaves me with this list of the best 10, in descending order — most of whom were signed within the last dozen years. Thanks to all the Twitter folks for recommendations:
10) Visanthe Shiancoe: Signed a five-year contract worth roughly $18 million in 2007. While that was a somewhat hefty sum for an unproven player, Shiancoe proved to be a solid target. His best season was 2009, when he caught 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 TDs. The Vikings would take that kind of production from a tight end any year.
9) Randall Cunningham: He was signed off the street, essentially, prior to the 1997 season after being out of football in 1996. But there’s no denying Cunningham’s impact in 1998, when he threw 34 TD passes with just 10 INTs for the 15-1 Vikings.
8) Ryan Longwell: The kicker was signed away from the Packers prior to the 2006 season. He kicked for the Vikings for six seasons, making 86 percent of his field goals in that span and solidifying a position that had been unsteady for several years.
7) Jack Del Rio: Signed away from the Cowboys by the Vikings in 1992 as a Plan B free agent — the final year of that system of free agency before the modern system took over following a lawsuit. Del Rio, a linebacker, played his final four seasons with the Vikings. He topped 150 tackles twice and made it to the Pro Bowl in 1994.
6) Chester Taylor: The Vikings scooped him away from Baltimore in 2006 with a four-year deal worth about $14 million. In his first season with the Vikings, the running back rushed for more than 1,200 yards. In his final three seasons, he gave way to Adrian Peterson but functioned as an exceptional change of pace back, receiver and blocker. Taylor averaged 40 receptions a year in his four Vikings seasons.
5) Linval Joseph: Signed a five-year deal worth $31 million in 2014 ($12.5 million guaranteed) and has lived up to the deal by becoming a force in the middle of Mike Zimmer’s defense.
4) Steve Hutchinson: The Vikings paid big money for the guard in 2006, dishing out a seven-year, $49 million deal to get him away from Seattle. He ended up playing six very productive seasons here, anchoring the Vikings’ offensive line.
3) Pat Williams: Signed with the Vikings in 2005 and ended up being half of the Williams Wall for the next six seasons. He was a brilliant run-stuffer and made three Pro Bowls in his time here; the Vikings should hope Joseph’s career with Minnesota plays out much the same, production-wise, as Williams’ did.
2) Brett Favre: In terms of sheer impact — graded on a “wins over replacement” kind of curve – Favre in 2009 has to be considered one of the organization’s best free agent signings. Like Cunningham, he almost got the Vikings to the Super Bowl with his MVP-esque performance in 2009.
1) Antoine Winfield: Signed a six-year deal in 2004. The Vikings gave him a five-year extension in 2009 that included $16.1 in guarantees. Winfield ended up playing nine seasons in purple. He was popular. He was productive. People hated to see him go. He was everything you would want in a free agent.