Labor peace – yes, it’s coming…eventually – will bring with it a new salary cap of $120 million. Thanks to several very large contracts handed out during the first five years of Zygi Wilf‘s ownership, the Vikings will find themselves $5 million over that cap, and needing to cut salary. One player almost certain to be cut loose as part of the salary dump is Madieu Williams, who in 3 years with the Vikings has proven himself to be a marvelous humanitarian and a mediocre safety.
To be fair, Williams’ struggles have not been entirely his own fault. A neck injury in camp during his first year with the team caused him to miss 7 games. In the 9 games he did play that year, he was actually not half-bad, intercepting 2 passes and notching 42 tackles.
But things only went downhill for Williams after that flash of effectiveness to close out 2008. By 2010 he had become perhaps the worst member of a defensive backfield riddled with bad players. His year came to an abrupt end when, in the legendary TCF game against the Bears, he suffered a concussion (not related to the rock-hard turf). Sadly, his most memorable moments in 2010 all involved him taking bad angles on ball carriers and generally not looking like he knew where he was supposed to be much of the time.
We all assume Williams’ disappointing Vikings career will end with him being cut. This assumption is based not only the reality of the cap situation, but on the fact that no one in the organization, to my knowledge, has in any way indicated an interest in keeping him. Leslie Frazier has talked about bringing back the underperforming Bernard Berrian and the aging Pat Williams, but Madieu Williams? Even the ever-positive Frazier is not touching that one.
So, when the Vikings do cut Williams, what are they going to do about a replacement? Going into the season with a safety tandem of Jamarca Sanford and Husain Abdullah doesn’t sound that appealing despite each man’s obvious enthusiasm. Ideally, those two guys and possibly Tyrell Johnson would duke it out for one spot, and a veteran with at least a little history of success in the league would hold down the other.
Well it just so happens that, in a Monday posting on NFL.com, Pat Kirwan threw out three names that could be on the Vikings’ safety wish-list. Let’s look at each of them in brief:
Dashon Goldson With 4 years under his belt, the 49ers safety would be an RFA under the new rules. His youth and potential make him appealing; he wouldn’t just be a veteran fill-in guy but a possible long-term starter. The two things that I see coming up in scouting reports on him are “good range” and “ability to play free or strong safety depending on the defensive scheme,” both good qualities. And he called the Niners’ defensive signals last year so you know he has leadership ability. The downside on him is that, in four years, he’s managed only 5 picks, including just 1 in 16 2010 starts. The Vikings as we know are trying to become more of a ball-hawking defense, and Goldson would not necessarily help in that regard, though the potential for improvement is certainly there. Oh, and he’s a heckuva dancer.
Roman Harper I know what you’re thinking. The Seattle playoff game last year. The whole Saints secondary looked awful and Harper looked the most awful of all. Harper would basically be Frank Walker/Lito Sheppard all over again, only at safety. Please, for the love of all that’s good and decent, no Roman Harper. Well no one said he would be ideal. His coverage is weak and, like Goldson, he’s not a ball-hawker. However, he is still relatively young, and he would certainly be an upgrade over Madieu in the tackling department. He’s even a guy who you could bring on the safety blitz occasionally (we know how Fred Pagac likes blitzing). I don’t know that I would favor him over Goldson but I would certainly take him over any safety currently on our roster (not saying much, I realize).
Michael Huff Yes Huff’s practice habits leave something to be desired (just ask Warren Sapp), but comparing him to JaMarcus Russell? Is that quite fair? At least Huff has shown improvement since his rookie year, despite his lack of intensity on the practice field. 2010 was certainly his most solid statistical year: 94 tackles, a career-high, 3 picks and 3 forced fumbles. Some cynics would suggest this output was more a result of his wanting to get a big free agent payday than some sudden uptick in his passion for the game. Okay, let’s be honest: He’s Ray Edwards at safety. Physically talented but not always there mentally and overall inconsistent in his performance. Actually he’s probably worse than Ray; I’ve never heard anyone complain about Ray’s practice habits. As a guy who’s slammed Edwards and other turds, it’s hard for me to advocate signing a guy like Huff. He made Warren Sapp want to puke, for gosh sakes.
But hold the fort kids, those aren’t the only safeties the Vikings might have to choose from. A few days ago Tim Yotter of FSNorth threw out three more names to look at. In the interest of thoroughness, let’s also consider this trio of candidates.
Donte Whitner The Vikings have had success bringing in former Buffalo Bills defensive players. Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield anyone? Okay that observation is utterly meaningless. Here’s what does matter about Whitner: He had 140 tackles in 2010. That tells me two things: One, Whitner is a good tackler. Two, the Bills front-7 is God-awful so their DBs have to make all the tackles. Tackling is the main thing with Whitner. We know he can do that. But – and I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here – can he produce turnovers? With only 5 picks in 5 years, the answer would seem to be no. There just aren’t a lot of Darren Sharpers out there these days. Unless you count Darren Sharper who sadly is 103 years old.
Eric Weddle Speed, good but not great. He tackles though – just like everyone on this list – and does make some nice plays like this one and also this one. He’s still pretty young at 26 and you wouldn’t have to break the bank to get him. You wouldn’t be signing a potential Pro Bowler with this guy but you would be adding a smart safety with some decent skills.
Dawan Landry Our old pal from earlier in the post, Pat Kirwan, thinks the Ravens need to keep Landry because he complements Ed Reed so well. Hey, I’ve got an idea: How about the Ravens keep Landry and let us have Ed Reed? A guy can dream can’t he? Here’s the knock on Landry: He seems to be declining as a player ever since taking a knee to the head against the Browns. That’s what this one guy says at least. I don’t know if there’s anything to that, but I do know that Landry seems to fall firmly in the “solid-but-by-no-means-spectacular” category. I’m always a little leery of going after complementary players off great defenses anyway. Sure he’s learned from the best but maybe also his flaws have been covered up by all those great players around him. I sure as heck wouldn’t overpay for this guy.
Those are just the six guys I’ve seen tossed out there by the media in the past few days. Obviously not all those guys will be available. Whitner, for instance, looks like he’ll be snapped up by the Patriots or perhaps the Colts. Weddle is being mentioned in connection with the Dolphins. A couple of those guys, I assume, will be re-signed by their teams. Also, I don’t know how aggressive the Vikings mean to be in pursuing a replacement for Williams. I expect they will be – they did go after A.J. Atogwe earlier this off-season – but you never know.
Dang, I’m ready for free agency to start. How about you?