It’s been a few weeks since I last did a mailbag, and with the official start of free agency a few days away, today seemed like a great day to reach out to my friends on Twitter for some questions.
Of course, not long after I asked for some, our friends at the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bears were shopping wide receiver Brandon Marshall. So that led to roughly 4,000 variations of “Is Brandon Marshall going to be a Viking?” This attempt at getting an answer was easily my favorite.
So since Marshall is #trending on social media, I’ll start with a quick take on him before digging into some more pertinent questions as the Vikings prepare for free agency to open Tuesday.
@mattvensel What draft pick would you give for Marshall?
— kyle (@kstroud87) March 5, 2015
While Brandon Marshall is still a productive player at age 30, particularly when playing the Vikings, I don’t think it would make much sense for the Vikings to try to acquire him through a trade. For starters, they aren’t a player away from contending, so giving up draft picks and paying Marshall the big bucks due on his contract would be too costly for this rebuilding team. That’s just my opinion. Maybe the Vikings will think differently. Plus, Marshall has a history of wearing out his welcome wherever he plays. With head coach Mike Zimmer trying to change the culture inside Winter Park, bringing in a potentially disruptive player in Marshall could present more challenges.
@mattvensel Any vets on the chopping block before FA starts?
— Rob Newinski (@MauerMVP) March 5, 2015
We’ve already seen the Vikings part ways with two veterans. Guard Charlie Johnson was due to make $2.5 million, but his release had more to do with his performance than the money. The trade of quarterback Matt Cassel to the Bills freed up another $4.75 million, plus the Vikings scored some draft assets. The two players left to keep an eye on are outside linebacker Chad Greenway and wide receiver Greg Jennings. GM Rick Spielman said Monday that the Vikings want Greenway to finish his career with the Vikings, but there is no way he returns at his current salary. I would like to think that if the Vikings choose to cut Greenway, they would do it this weekend so he gets a chance to get the best deal possible. He has earned that kind of treatment with his play on the field and his class and generosity off of it. As for Jennings, I would be a little surprised if he was flat-out released. But his $11 million cap hit does not match his production, so it would make sense for the Vikings to approach him at some point about bringing his salary in line with his play.
@mattvensel any news on Tom Johnson re-signing?
— BITW (@BITWLFC33) March 5, 2015
Last time I checked in about Johnson, I was told that he was prepared to test the open market and see if he could get the multi-year contract, salary and role he covets, though he doesn’t necessarily need to start. This is how business is typically done with lower-tier free agents such as Johnson, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and reserve guard Joe Berger. The Vikings have talked to their agents about coming back, but they might not be able to find middle ground until the frenzied first few days of free agency go down and the marquee free agents sign and set the market. For what it’s worth, I still think Johnson coming back to Minnesota makes the most sense for both parties. The journeyman defensive tackle had a career year under Zimmer in 2014 and the Vikings could really use another season of that kind of production from Johnson as a sub-package interior pass rusher.
@mattvensel Any FA LBs make sense for Zim?
— NFC North Bar Room (@AldoBarkeeper) March 5, 2015
Zimmer is on the record as saying that he doesn’t think this is a particularly good class of free-agent middle linebackers (he said the same thing about the draft, too). Now Zimmer doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary to find a middle linebacker who can play all three downs, but it certainly is his preference. One name to remember is Rey Maualuga, who was a solid but unspectacular player for Zimmer in Cincinnati. Maualuga started at middle linebacker for the Bengals and was at times an every-down defender for Zimmer. He’s not great in coverage by any stretch, but he would be an upgrade over Jasper Brinkley in that area. At what cost, though? If the Vikings are just looking for a two-down thumper, it might make more sense to bring back Brinkley to be a part-time player. Another name to remember is Mason Foster, who flashed three-down potential for the Buccaneers before Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier brought the Tampa Two defense back to Tampa Bay in 2014.
UPDATE: Not long after I posted this mailbag, the Bengals announced that they have re-signed Maualuga to a three-year deal. So disregard everything I just wrote about him.
@mattvensel Where do the Vikings go for a running back if AP is moved? Draft or free agency?
— Lane Goos (@LaneGoos) March 5, 2015
I wrote at length about the offseason plan at running back a couple of weeks ago, so I kindly ask you to click this link and give it a read. But to give you the Cliff’s Notes version, the Vikings don’t plan on spending for a free-agent running back. Instead, they will look to find another running back in the draft. The question is, will that player ending up spelling Adrian Peterson or replacing him?
@mattvensel Are the vikings better off picking a CB, WR, or OL with the #11 pick?
— Michael Rivers (@logansdad34) March 5, 2015
It’s fun to think ahead to the draft, and I’m certainly guilty of it, too. But we won’t get a good idea of which direction the Vikings might go with their first-round pick until after the first few weeks of free agency. I agree that right now the offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback are probably the team’s biggest needs. But if the Vikings make a splash with a free-agent signing like, say, Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati, suddenly the line will become a lower priority. All that said, the Vikings pick 11th overall. When you’re drafting that high, you should probably take a best-player-available approach unless you have two similarly-graded players and one of them plays a need position.