This time of year drives me nuts, draft anticipation is building, free agency can’t come soon enough and the rest of the sports world is pretty stagnant until March Madness kicks off. I hate it, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who can’t get enough NFL anything. Today’s deadline for teams to designate a franchise player clears the way for the next date on the calendar, the March 13th start of free agency. With many holes on the roster, hopefully the Vikings’ brass is preparing to make a splash in this year’s market. Here’s a list of four players that Mr. Spielman and company ought to be discussing as they game plan their priorities for the free agent open season.
Pierre Garcon, WR
I’ve mentioned my opinion of Colts WR Pierre Garcon before and it hasn’t changed. Yes, he turned down 5 years and 35 million from the Colts and it’s rumored that he’s waiting to see where Payton Manning lands with the assumption being that he would like to join him. Don’t hold your breath on that folks. Manning even playing next year is in question, add Garcon to that equation and the combination is doubtful at best. Not to mention that Garcon wants to be paid like a number one receiver and isn’t in a position to wait for Manning’s health status to clear up. He’s going to have to jump at the first reasonable deal and as you’ll see at the bottom of the paragraph, the market has been set not much higher than the deal he turned down. While he’s no sure thing and I’m not convinced he’s a #1, he did catch 70 passes for just under 1,000 yards and 6 TDs while playing for a 2 win football team. Those are nice numbers even if many of them came in bulk versus the Patriots, Buccaneers and Chiefs. Can he become the next Bernard Berrian? Sure, but what we need to remember as Vikings fans is that our beloved team won 3 games and has unanswered questions at quarterback and offensive line in addition to receiver. Forget Vincent Jackson, Marques Colson or any other big name, proven receiver out there, they’re not jumping at the chance to join that question fest. Not to mention that the Vikings aren’t stupid enough to win a bidding war for their services to begin with when they have a roster full of holes. In reality, a player with a few question marks like Garcon, Mario Manningham or Stevie Johnson (who resigned with the Bills today for 5 years and 36.25 million) are the Vikings’ ceiling. Embrace it and hope they sign one of them.
Ben Grubbs, OG
While I would love nothing more than to steal Carl Nicks from the Saints, if he leaves that organization he will likely be the top player available in free agency and once again the Vikings aren’t exactly an attractive destination right now. If he were a restricted free agent and the Vikings had “poison pills” at their disposal it might be a different story, but the team’s chances of replacing Steve Hutchinson with the new best guard in football are slim to none. Next in line is the Ravens Ben Grubbs, who is a nice player in his own right. With Matt Kalil all but assured to be the Vikings selection at #3 in April’s draft and Charlie Johnson subsequently moving to guard, one might wonder if an upgrade at the other guard spot should be a priority. The fact that the Vikings have invested their future in Christian Ponder is all the reason I need for this to remain a priority. The team needs to put Ponder in the best position to succeed and protection plus weapons is the proven recipe for success. Unless the 34 year old Hutchinson can turn back the clock, the Vikings options of 31 year old, injury risk Anthony Herrera and wet behind the ears Brandon Fusco or DeMarcus Love pale in comparison to the 27 year old Grubbs.
Tracy Porter, CB
A cornerback, any cornerback! Ok, so I’m cheating a little bit on this one, but the Vikings need at the position is that great. Plus, there’s a pretty solid spread of corners that will be available from high end (Carlos Rogers, Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan) to solid (Terrell Thomas and Tracy Porter) to instant upgrade in the lowly Vikings defensive backfield (Richard Marshall). My guess is Mr. Spielman has his staff looking at a variety of corner options and if the team is willing to splurge on a position, this is it. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a strong push for Rogers, Carr, or Cortland Finnegan who surprisingly wasn’t tagged by the Titans, but in the end I’m not sure paying a premium price for a corner in a strong market is a smart move for a rebuilding football team. Enter the bounty collecting, I mean ball-hawking Tracy Porter. The Saints are in for a tough off-season in multiple ways. The bounty issue being one and the number of impact free agents they are likely to lose, the other. They were forced to place the franchise tag on Drew Brees last week after boning up negotiations, leaving Nicks, Marques Colston, Porter and to a much lesser degree Robert Meachem as good players they will have a tough time finding the finances to keep. It’s an understatement to say that Porter’s ball skills would bring a much needed boost to the Vikings secondary. Plus, wouldn’t it be fitting for the Vikings to play a part in kicking the Aints while they’re down?
Joe Mays, MLB
With EJ Henderson likely moving on and Jasper Brinkley having missed all of last season with a hip injury, the team could use another option at the middle linebacker spot. Broncos free agent Joe Mays flourished last season in the 4-3 defense and while he has yet to record a sack in his career, he ranks out pretty well versus his peers according to Pro Football Focus and is solid in coverage. D’Qwell Jackson will likely resign in Cleveland and former Lion Steven Tulloch will command a hefty price. The market gets thin and old quickly beyond that making the 26 year old Mays, who should come at a reasonable price, stand out.
I had intended to mention Titans safety Michael Griffin here as well, but he earned the franchise tag that many expected Finnegan to receive. This is no doubt another area where the Vikings could stand an upgrade, but I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if the team looked to strengthen the position via the draft with Griffin, the 49ers’ Dashon Goldson and the Raiders’ Tyvon Branch all being tagged. While there’s talent available beyond these three, the field is filled with question marks like the talented but oft-injured Laron Landry. With a number of good options available at corner, the Vikings would likely get more for their money at that position.
Follow Judson Coleman on Twitter @jacalope37