It was one tweet on Tuesday night that made the announcement. With that tweet, and assumingly a conversation before that, Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton announced that he had declined his option for the 2015 NFL season and plans to become a free agent when the new league year begins. That move kicked off what will surely be a flurry of transactions between now and the end of March that will shape the Vikings roster for years to come.
Looking ahead at the rest of the Vikings restricted and unrestricted free agent class, I began to ask myself, who would be the biggest loss from these potential free agents?
Most of the list is made up of players like Josh Samuda and Dom DeCicco, but looking towards the top of the list above, sorted by salary, you’ll see a handful of players with more recognizable names.
Before we get to the top, let’s sort through the mid-range options. In this range we’re talking Joe Berger, Vladimir Ducasse and Mike Harris. Funny enough, we’re looking at all offensive linemen and all guys who we had a decent opportunity to see last year after all of the injuries.
At 32 years of age, Joe Berger will likely bring the highest price tag and highest priority among the middle group due to his flexibility and what he has proven on the field. Berger, the team’s backup guard and center has been with the Vikings since 2011 after being waived by the Dolphins midseason. The team will likely have to put some priority on Mike Harris as well given their lack of depth at the tackle position. Harris got some run last year due to injuries and proved adequate but did not overly impress. Odd man out here, Vlad Ducasse.
Moving up a tick, we see Christian Ponder, Jerome Felton, Corey Wootton, Cullen Loeffler, Tom Johnson and Jasper Brinkley. Felton already announced his decision to leave, the writing is on the wall for Ponder so that leaves four other names for us to sift through and determine who would be the biggest loss for this team.
The man who ended Brett Favre’s career, Corey Wootton, doesn’t have a whole lot to hang his hat on after a 1 sack, 11 tackle season for the Vikings last year. With Shamar Stephen and Sharrif Floyd holding down at the nose, Wootton’s opportunity would be backing up Linval Joseph. But the current pricetag of $1.7 million might be a bit high.
Cullen Loeffler is an odd situation. First off, he’s a long snapper. It’s an integral position but high paid veteran long snappers are few and far between. Loeffler is the longest tenured Minnesota Viking so he would likely take a bit of a “hometown” discount but even if he were to walk, even at a specialty position he would be understandably replaceable.
And then there were two, Tom Johnson and Jasper Brinkley.
Johnson, 30 years old, signed with the Viking leading up to the 2014 season. It was a good kickoff campaign for Johnson who finished the season with 6.5 sacks. Filling in on the end when a breather was needed, Johnson’s value was duly noted after an uneventful year from Brian Robison. Relatively inexpensive in 2014 ($845K), Johnson will likely see an uptick in pay if he is retained.
On the other side of the conversation is Jasper Brinkley. On the surface, it was a quiet season for Brinkley who has never been known to make the flashy plays but has long been a solid run-stopper up the middle. The perfect fit for a Mike Zimmer defense, Brinkley affords the Vikings the ability to focus on their upgrading their outside linebackers this next season without focusing too much attention on the interior. That is, IF they re-sign him…
With a decent chunk of change to play around with, the Vikings should be going hard after both of these players, but it would be my opinion that Jasper Brinkley would be the biggest free agent loss if he somehow slips away.
Getting past the fact that Brinkley was a starter and Johnson was a backup last season, if Brinkley walks, the defense falls apart faster than if Johnson exits. While Anthony Barr has taken over responsibilities wearing the green-dotted helmet, the middle linebacker spot is still an essential leadership role that determines who your squad lines up and where they go once the ball is snapped. At 29 years old, there’s still some tread on the tire and for this system, he is the perfect stop gap up the middle without a big name option out there.