Preparing for the offseason, Rick Spielman told us that he and the Vikings front office have kicked off their three-phase offseason evaluations. The first step of that process is removing yourself from the human element of things and analyzing each players 2014 performance. From there, you highlight the needs on your team before moving on to steps 2 and 3, free agency and draft analysis.
Coming out of phase number one, Spielman shared with us last week that he and his staff have highlighted Eight Specific Needs as they prepare to step into free agency and the NFL Draft.
Spielman went on to say that some of the needs are very obvious, while others are a bit more specific and maybe not clear on the surface. With that said, it's time for us to do what we do best during the NFL offseason and speculate to discover Rick Spielman's Eight Specific Vikings Needs.
Let's whip through the obvious ones first…
1. Left Guard Upgrade
It's almost a certainty that the Vikings will part ways with Charlie Johnson this offseason. Johnson will be 31 years old the next time he takes the field. With a $2.5 million cap hit scheduled in 2015, Johnson brings with him one of the worst season performances of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson finished the season with a -12.1 rating but it was likely much worse than that. Whether they choose to go a different direction through free agency (expensive) or the draft (cheap), there are options to upgrade at the left guard position.
2. Wide Receiver Upgrade
The options to upgrade at the wide receiver spot are a little more plentiful, but they are integral at the same time. Whether you look to restructure Jennings, add through the draft or free agency, or maybe you're comfortable with the progress that Cordarrelle Patterson is making with his secret mentor, something needs to happen.
Looking across the field of wideouts on roster today you see a possession guy in the form of Greg Jennings or Jarius Wright, a deep guy in Charles Johnson (assuming he continues to progress), what you're really missing is a big-bodied red zone threat for Teddy Bridgewater to lean on. The Vikings have been said to have had interest in both free agent Demaryius Thomas and have been linked to DeVante Parker through the draft.
3. Cornerback to play opposite of Xavier Rhodes
Xavier Rhodes took some major strides for the Vikings this season. Not only was he making splash plays, but he began to shadow top receivers no matter what side of the field they lined up. Big steps for the Vikings top cornerback. The downside of this? When Xavier matched up against the number one wide receivers, savvy quarterbacks would look the other direction and target the wide receivers paired up with Josh Robinson. When it wasn't Robinson, it was Munnerlyn with the same story. Munnerlyn was brought in to play to nickel corner spot and was forced to play the starting role. For Robinson, though he took some steps forward, he's a backup cornerback in this league. Body position was something he just couldn't wrap his head around and body size will always be something that works against him. For Rhodes to have his full effect on the field, the Vikings need to find a serviceable corner to put on the other side. This is Zimmer's forte so pay attention this offseason to disgruntled free agents looking for a new start.
4. Bolster Linebacker Depth
The full effect of this was felt towards the end of the season, but the Vikings were feeling the lack of linebacker depth all season long, mainly on special teams. With injuries to Watts and Mauti most of the season, the Vikings were left with just Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges to fill backup roles and play special teams. Neither of them had tons of experience on the kick return and the loss of Larry Dean was felt in the form of Cordarrelle Patterson's low kick return numbers. Back to the defensive side of the ball. It's clear that Chad Greenway has dropped maybe a half step, Jasper is a bandaid in the middle offering temporary relief but not long term. Outside of Anthony Barr, the future of your linebacking corps looks bleak. Kill two birds with one stone this offseason and grow your depth at LB.
5. Sort out the running back position
With maybe the most obvious need for the Vikings we'll round out what we'll call the obvious needs for this team.
Whether it's Adrian Peterson, the tandem of Jerick McKinnon/Matt Asiata or someone through free agency or the draft, you need to develop some sort of an attack on the ground to help Teddy in the backfield. If you read my article last week about Jerry Jones, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant, you know my choice is to go after a free agent RB and clear cap space with Adrian's contract. We'll have to wait and see what Rick's choice is going to be.
6. Safety Opposite Harrison Smith
For some of the more astute fans this may not be an under the radar take, but Robert Blanton has become a liability to this team. The reason why it's not completely obvious lies within the nature of the safety position. Sometimes, you can blatantly see Blanton take a bad angle or miss a tackle. Other times, without knowing the scheme, an error from Blanton gets blamed on the cornerbacks when in reality it was Robert who made the wrong move.
Mike Zimmer doesn't appreciate when defensive players do not do what they are supposed to. If they miss a tackle or make a physical mistake, that's one thing. But when it's a mental mistake and the player tries to take things into their own hands and doesn't run the scheme, there's no patience from the coaching staff. Sendejo didn't seem up to snuff when he filled in a few games for injury so this will go down as an offseason need for the team.
7. Nickel Corner Back
Is it already time to cut ties with Captain Munnerlyn? After the Captain demoted himself to a Private this season due to poor play, the question has to be asked. Spielman and Zimmer brought Munnerlyn in at a pretty penny under the thought that he would fit the system perfectly. Now that Spielman knows the scheme better and Zimmer is feeling things out, maybe Captain doesn't fit after all? Maybe you scrap that money and go shopping again. There are some options out there if you don't have faith in a bounceback year from Munnerlyn.
Here comes the outside of the box take of the day, but will the Vikings look to replace the longest tenured player on roster, longsnapper Cullen Loeffler this offseason? Believe it or not, this doesn't have anything to do with the lone bad snap of Loeffler's season in Miami, but more so his contract. At $1.135 million, Loeffler was the highest paid longsnapper in the league in 2014. With the average salary for a longsnapper landing just over $700,000, this would be a spot where you could reasonably clear a little cap space without taking too much of a hit with production on the field.
Today, the Vikings have about $10 million to play with in free agency but could reasonably get that number to about $19 million with a few cuts and restructures. Sprinkle in that Peterson contract and you're talking north of $30 million. That's a good chunk of change to address some of these eight needs the team carries in to 2015.