It only took one play for Mario Manningham to become a star. Now thanks to his acrobatic sideline catch in the fourth quarter against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Manningham has a chance to cash in big. And I don’t just mean with endorsement deals. It just so happens that Manningham is now a free agent. Some team out there is likely going to give him a large contract based at least partly on his Super Bowl heroics. That team probably won’t be the Giants, who already have Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. But for a team that’s thin in the receiver corps and could use a downfield weapon? Manningham just went from a nice option to a very intriguing one.
I can think of one team off the top of my head that’s desperate for a #1-type receiver: The Minnesota Vikings. They have a young QB in Christian Ponder who has shown the ability to throw the deep ball, but lacks a consistent target. A true downfield threat would not only help Ponder’s development, it would also open things up for Percy Harvin whose greatest potential impact is as a slot receiver running crossing patterns and other underneath routes. Manningham was not on a lot of people’s radar screens as a possible pick-up for the Vikings before the Super Bowl, but he certainly is now.
So does Manningham really make sense for the Vikings? Personally, I think there are other, better options out there. Considering what a big problem receiver was for the team in 2011, I think the position should be their #1 priority on the offensive side going into free agency (offensive line was a problem too of course but that can best be addressed in the draft by taking Matt Kalil or Riley Reiff). The way things shake out now, the Vikings should have some cap space to play with, enough to make a run at one of the big-name receivers at the top of the free agent list. That list starts with Vincent Jackson, a player who was widely rumored to be headed to the Vikings via trade in 2010 before Brad Childress went with Randy Moss. Jackson is a true #1 with a much more well-established reputation than Manningham and would represent a deep threat the likes of which the Vikings haven’t had since Moss was here the first time.
#2 after Jackson is Dwayne Bowe, the big receiver from Kansas City. Bowe’s red zone talents make him in some ways an even more attractive option than Jackson. Then there’s Robert Meachem who figures to be the odd-man-out in a year when New Orleans has a lot of big decisions to make with contracts. DeSean Jackson is another name people want to float out there but I’d be leery of bringing him in after some of the stuff he’s pulled in Philadelphia. Brandon Lloyd is an interesting name but it seems likely he will stay in St. Louis. Reggie Wayne figures to be available with Indianapolis going into full rebuild mode, but the question on everyone’s mind will be, how much of his success was due to Peyton Manning and how good will he actually be with someone else throwing him the ball?
All-in-all, this is a pretty good year to be in the market for a wide receiver. The Vikings ought to be able to find someone from among this class who can give them a genuine outside receiver to complement Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph and the running game. I would start at the top of the list by pursuing Jackson, then if that falls through, begin working my way down. If the Vikings do get all the way down to Manningham, who even with the great Super Bowl performance is still no better than #4 among this year’s free agents, I would consider it a bit of a disappointment. I certainly wouldn’t overpay for Manningham simply based on one great catch that everyone happened to see on TV, historic as that catch may have been.