Welcome to the new league year for the NFL. All day long there should be signings, rumors of signings, trades, moves that didn’t take place, player movement galore and a lot of excitement for fans if their team is active. I am hoping for the Vikings to make at least one move (well, several) that we can sink our teeth into. Start the countdown to 3 p.m.
I am still smiling at the move the Vikings made last month—signing former Green Bay Packer tight end Brandon Bostick. It’s not a crucial signing for the fortunes of the franchise, but it is significant on other levels.
Bostick became the face of Packers fans’ misery when he bobbled the onside kick in the NFC Championship game, leading to the Green Bay loss to Seattle. Did he make a mistake that eventually led to the loss (like a lot of Packer mistakes that day), yes, but no career should be made or lost on one play.
The fact that he was receiving death threats on his twitter feed as a result made it even more crucial that he be taken out of his situation in Green Bay, and where better to go than Green Bay West: the Minnesota Vikings. Hopefully he can revitalize his career and become a decent backup to Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota.
But as the new league commences, just which players are on the Vikings’ free agent wish list? On Sunday there were ESPN reports of the Vikings being interested Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer (who may now be headed to Houston) and Arif Hasan broke news on Vikings Territory that the Vikings plan to pursue Denver safety Rahim Moore.
The Star Tribune’s Matt Vensel reported that the Vikings reached out to free-agent safety Taylor Mays (who once played for Zimmer in Cincinnati), and they reportedly have interest in Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
Even more interesting, the Vikings reportedly reached out to the representation for San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, according to the Pioneer Press, but it’s possible the Vikings heard the asking price and then looked elsewhere. We will learn more on those stories as the day progresses.
The Vikings have also reportedly been negotiating with journeyman quarterback Shaun Hill, who has made several stops around the NFL (St. Louis, San Francisco and Detroit), including his first one in Minnesota. Hill would fit in nicely in the backup role to Teddy Bridgewater, which was vacated by the trade of Matt Cassel.
The Vikings did re-sign three of their own free agents—defensive tackle Tom Johnson to a three-year contract and one-year deals for long snapper Cullen Loeffler and running back Matt Asista. But they still have plenty of holes to fill. I see those holes as (in no particular order) offensive line, backup quarterback, wide receiver, secondary, linebacker and defensive line--and running back if Adrian Peterson doesn’t return.
So who would I like to see the Vikings target and announce will be the next new NFL vet in Purple? I doubt the Vikings would spend a lot of stupid money right out of the game for big names like Ndamukong Suh (who is reportedly headed to Miami for around $114 million and $60 million guaranteed). I believe the Vikings will be more measured and get value for their free agent dollars.
For me, the biggest offseason concern has been the offensive line, made even more so by the release of guard Charlie Johnson and the potential loss of Joe Berger (there are reports that he and the Vikings are not close on a contract)--which makes the Iupati news intriguing. I’ve long thought the Vikings should take a lineman with their first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, but I have backed away from that a bit, thinking wide receiver might be the way to go in the draft. Therefore, the most pressing need is a guard to replace Johnson (plus retaining Berger for depth) and the player I have my eye on is Cincinnati guard Clint Boling (who is the number three player on Hasan’s Vikings Journal free agent round up).
On Monday, the Pioneer Press reported that the Vikings were making a big push for Boling, and that Boling had reciprocated the interest. And that is great news if the Vikings eventually move on Boling on Tuesday.
There are other guards on the board that will garner more attention (Iupati from San Francisco, who is rumored to be heading to Arizona and Orlando Franklin from Denver, who apparently will sign with San Diego), but they will also attract a bigger contract. Boling is a good player, brings youth and power to his position and could be provide great value in the free agent market.
Boling is coming off his fourth season in Cincinnati (and certainly Zimmer is familiar with him blocking his former defensive line while with the Bengals). Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade on the 2014 season of +4.1—which is an upgrade over Johnson at -12.1, right guard Vladimir Ducasse -14.1 and even Berger at 3.3. Here’s what PFF had to say about Boling:
“A key cog in the Bengals’ offensive line since his sophomore season in 2012, Boling turned in his best season as a run blocker this season though his pass protection failed to match his first two seasons as a starter. From their impressive Week 11 victory in New Orleans, Boling earned a run block grade of +1.5 or higher in five out of six games. Prior to that he had only earned a single game run block grade that high twice in his career.
“If Boling can pair that run blocking form with his pass protection from 2012 and 2013 then Boling will be a guard on the rise over his next contract. However, if he moves away from Cincinnati and the Bengals quick release offense then his pass protection will come under greater scrutiny.”
Boling has the skills for both run blocking and pass blocking, and Vikings quarterback Bridgewater has shown the ability to adjust to whatever kind of protection he receives. Boling would provide an immediate upgrade and perhaps even help left Matt Kalil (who some speculated suffered from playing next to an aging Johnson at times last season) to take a step forward in his development.
Boling is coming off his four-year rookie contract with a cap hit of $1,551,362 last season. He’s likely looking to at least double that salary and if he plays his cards right should get more—certainly he will have other suitors. Johnson is $2.5 million off the cap, so the Vikings should expect to pay a decent amount more for a free agent at the position. I would like to see them do it and get a youthful player with some veteran experience without breaking the bank--and Boling is the guy.
A splash on the offensive line early in free agency with a player who is a proven run blocker might even excite Adrian Peterson enough to consider returning to Minnesota next season. Then again, maybe not. But I would still enjoy seeing the upgrade on the offensive line.