Greetings Norsemen! I understand that many of you are perplexed as to why the Vikings were not bigger players in free agency despite the number of holes they have. Rick Spielman, the Vikings GM, has said that he wants to build through the draft rather than sign one or two players to big contracts.
This is a respectable strategy, but the problem is that while the Vikings have had some good drafts, they have failed to find long terms starters at the wide receiver and defensive back positions in the later rounds. As you all know, these two areas are among the three biggest needs that the Vikings currently face along with the offensive line. Hopefully Matt Kalil, the highly acclaimed left tackle out of USC, can help with the latter problem (assuming that they pick him with the 3rd overall pick).
So with 20+ million dollars of cap room (after cutting guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera along with cornerback Cedric Griffin) what did the Vikings do?
First, they targeted Minnesota native John Carlson, the former Notre Dame and Seattle Seahawks tight end. Carlson missed all of last season due to injury, but had a very productive first two seasons with 106 receptions for 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not too shabby. However, he had a very lackluster third season with 31 receptions for 318 yards and only one touchdown. Carlson got a 5 year, 25 million dollar deal from the Vikings. While this seems steep, there is also a clause where the Vikings can release him after two seasons if he fails to produce, at which point they would only pay him 11 million dollars. If he can play at the level that he did his first two seasons, he will will be a nice complement to fellow Notre Dame alum Kyle Rudolph who looks to be the Vikings starting tight end next season. Having two good pass catching tight ends will greatly aid second year quarterback Christian Ponder in his development.
Geoff Schwartz is the second player that the Vikings have acquired so far this offseason. Another player who missed the 2011 season (due to a hip injury), the former Carolina Panthers offensive guard/tackle was the starter for the entire 2010 season. Signed to a 1-year deal, Schwartz will be given a chance to start at the right guard position (and hopefully at right tackle as well).
Zach Bowman is a name some Vikings fans might be familiar with as he was previously on the Bears’ roster. Bowman had a very successful 2009 season as a starter in which he was responsible for 66 tackles while picking off six passes and deflecting ten. Bowman was also given a 1-year deal. With Chris Cook coming back and Antoine Winfield returning for a 14th season, Bowman will have a great opportunity to compete for minutes. At this point, second-year Brandon Burton seems to be Bowman’s only competition for that third spot.
So what do all of these signings have in common? Well, it’s giving players the opportunity to not only earn playing time, but a fatter check next season. All of these deals can be considered “good-value” signings as every one of these players could end up being a big contributor to this football team. The Vikings also decided to re-sign Erin Henderson to a one-year deal which will give him the chance to prove himself worthy of a big contract extension after having a very solid 2011 season.
No, we did not get Vincent Jackson or Carl Nicks in free agency. While they would have helped this team by becoming instant starters, they would also have taken up a lot more cap space that will be needed down the road to re-sign guys like Percy Harvin and Chris Cook.
Besides, I honestly believe that other than the right tackle position, the offensive line is in better shape than we think. If they draft Kalil, you instantly have the left tackle and center positions locked up. For the two guard slots, there is a huge number of young players who will be battling for starting jobs.
In terms of wide receiver, there are many options out there in this draft. It would not surprise me to see the Vikings draft two this year, especially with the addition of two conditional 4th round draft picks. The team was reportedly interested in former Colts wideout Pierre Garcon but given the amount of money that he is slated to make, it makes sense why they didn’t pursue him more aggressively.
With free agency almost over now, the Vikings are unlikely to make any more notable moves. The only other fit out there that I can see would be middle linebacker David Hawthorne who has been a very productive player for the Seattle Seahawks for the past three seasons. However, if he wants a contract similar to the one the Cleveland Browns gave D’Qwell Jackson (5 yr/42.5 million) then expect the Vikings to turn the other way. In the case that he would accept a deal that Spielman finds even slightly respectable, I’d expect him to be in purple in no time. He’d be a great fit, and the Vikings desperately need a presence in the middle of their defense.
It is far more likely that they will just continue to bring in players for depth purposes and then look towards the draft in order to find a couple starters as well as players to compete with the aforementioned free agents.