Wednesday, we took a look at three of one man’s the many, many, many “Don’ts” in NFL free agency. (Never been a big fan of celebrating free agency’s big spenders, labeling them “winners” when they always seem to turn into regular season losers. Can I get an “Amen,” Daniel Snyder?!)
Today, let’s look at three of the “Do’s.”
Free agency Do No. 1:Fill in the holes to improve draft strategy.
A forgotten detail in the Great Christian Ponder Draft Reach of 2011 is the NFL was in the midst of a lockout. There was no free agency leading up to the draft. Brett Favre’s body and career finally was kaput. Tarvaris Jackson was a free agent. And, well, GM Rick Spielman thought it might be a good idea to field a team with a quarterback. So the Vikings took what they could with the 12th overall pick. And, remember, right after the draft, the lockout went back into effect. So at the time of the Ponder pick, no one knew what was going to happen with free agency. As it turned out, the Vikings signed Donovan McNabb. Or what little was left of him.
In a normal year, teams should use free agency to fill every hole with at least an acceptable starter or someone to compete for the position. The players don’t have to be superstars or even survive a competitive training camp (see: Derek Cox, Zack Bowman, Chris Carr). They just have to be there so that the team doesn’t have to reach on a draft pick based on position only.
The new CBA has made it easier to spend money in free agency. There’s a rookie salary cap, leftover room from past years can roll over and the cap keeps climbing significantly. This year, it’s expected to be above $140 million. The Vikings, even with Adrian Peterson counting $15.4 million, are about $18 million under the cap, and that could grow.
The Vikings’ top holes — not necessarily top needs — are left guard, middle linebacker, strong safety and cornerback. They do need an elite, big receiver who can run, catch and not be a high-maintenance jerk. But that’s not so much a hole as it is a more selective need.
Free agency “Do’s” No. 2: Need a lineman, get a lineman.
A small percentage of college linemen are able to make an immediate transition to NFL starter. Heck, the Vikings loved David Yankee a year ago when they got him in the fifth round, but found out he’d have to essentially red-shirt a full year before being strong enough to see the field for even one snap.
Yankee could be the answer at left guard. But no one wants to bet Teddy Bridgewater’s health on that. So even if the Vikings are targeting Iowa guard Brandon Scherff with the 11th overall pick, the Vikings still need to sign a capable starting left guard in free agency and let him compete with Yankee, Joe Berger and, who knows, maybe Scherff.
There are some guards out there. One should always keep an eye on guys with ties to the head coach or assistant coaches. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive guru, but he also knows Cincinnati guard Clint Boling from their time together with the Bengals.
The Vikings don’t necessarily have needs on the defensive line. But they’d be wise to re-sign Tom Johnson. Johnson was a classic under-the-radar signing that nobody talks about but ends up helping a team. The Vikings signed him to a one-year deal long after last year’s free agency period had begun. He ended up with a career-high 6 1/2 sacks as a part-time player. I considered him the most underrated player on the team, just ahead of Berger.
Free agency “Do’s” No. 3: You can never sign enough DBs.
Spielman subscribes to this “Do.” The DBs don’t always end up making the team, but they give the Vikings depth and competition, which helps.
The team needs to upgrade the strong safety spot next to Harrison Smith. Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo give it everything they have, but they’re limited in what they have to give.
I can’t see the Patriots letting Devin McCourty get away, but the Vikings are probably too conservative to be in the bidding war for him if he became available.
A Rahim Moore could be a possibility as the Vikings look to create more quality competition.
And, as usual, they’ll also be searching for corners. Xavier Rhodes is on his way to being a star player. Captain Munnerlyn is on he way to being a nickel package player only. And Josh Robinson is too risky to depend on as a starter.
Picking a corner high in the draft also is a possibility, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to cover one’s bet with an experienced free agent.
Meanwhile, at middle linebacker, free agency appears to be a much better avenue than the draft this year. Cincinnati’s Rey Maualuga looks like an intriguing possibility with his experience under Zimmer.