The Vikings have been awfully quiet since the beginning of free agency last Tuesday. So far they’ve opened their wallets only once, shelling out $25 million over 5 years for John Carlson (and even that contract gives the Vikes an out after two seasons). Most assumed the Vikes’ #1 target would be a wide receiver to stretch the field, but here we sit almost a week into the process and I’ve yet to hear of a single receiver being seriously mentioned in connection with the Vikings. The only visit lined up for next week is with Geoff Schwartz, an offensive lineman.
So what gives? Obviously the Vikings have elected to take a wait-and-see approach on free agency. This meant bowing out of the early feeding frenzy entirely, letting other teams fall all over each other giving huge contracts to the Vincent Jacksons and Robert Meachems of the world. I would’ve loved to see Jackson in purple, if for no other reason than that it would’ve removed one major weapon from the Ponderpologist arsenal of excuses, but pursuing him clearly didn’t fit with the Rick Spielman plan.
If you were paying attention to Spielman’s words, it was really no surprise that the Vikings let the first tier receiver free agent train roll right on by them. But now we’ve gone through the second tier guys too and the Vikings still haven’t moved. Mario Manningham was thought to be an option but even he was too rich for the Vikings’ blood (thankfully, since I always believed signing him would be a mistake). As of Saturday, the last guy on the board who looked like a viable deep threat was Brandon Lloyd, and lo and behold he went to New England.
Our only conclusion is that the Vikings never intended to address their receiver need through free agency at all, otherwise they would’ve at least been in the mix on one or two of these guys. The Rick Spielman master plan is to pick-and-choose lower-cost free agents to fill specific needs and try to find future stars in the draft. Zygi Wilf’s reticence to spend with the stadium situation still up in the air may or may not have played a major part in Spielman devising this plan. Would having a stadium deal in place before free agency have encouraged Wilf to remove the handcuffs from Spielman financially? We’ll likely never know the answer.
And then there’s Leslie Frazier. A year ago he had a strong say in personnel decisions, and used this power to advocate for Donovan McNabb. We know how that turned out. This year Frazier is more-or-less a spectator, with Rick Spielman now wielding full GM power. One has to wonder how Frazier feels about the low-spending plan. Is he down with the whole thing or does he wish the Vikings would open up the pocket book at least a little and help out his guys?
Frazier would never come right out and say so of course, but I do think he might be miffed by the Spielman approach. I detect at least slight rumblings of discontent in his remarks to Sid Hartman on the matter. Frazier was asked if he believes in the idea of willingly tolerating near-term mediocrity in the hope of ultimate success. He gave the kind of answer you’d expect a coach to give coming off a 3-13 season.
“Somebody else will be sitting in this seat if I look to the future,” Frazier said. “I have to get our guys ready to have a good season next year. We need to have a good year.”
Having a good year won’t be easy with the current receiver corps of Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Who The Hell Knows. Frazier is acutely aware of this situation, maybe even painfully aware. Frazier told Hartman, “We still want to find a wide receiver that can really threaten the field vertically. We also want to improve our secondary along with our linebackers, also.”
Frazier then remembered the company line he was told to mindlessly repeat during the media coaching sessions. “We’re going to look to do that, we’re going to look to upgrade our team,” he regurgitated. “We may do it through free agency, but we’re definitely going to do it through the draft, as well.” Then perhaps a glimmer of rebellion in his next statement?
“We’re still looking at some players in free agency,” Frazier proclaimed. “It’s not closed, we’re still looking.”
Imagine this scenario: It’s Christmas. You put off your shopping until the last second and now there’s nothing left in the stores but the stuff nobody else wanted. Will the kids still love you if you come home with some bargain bin crap from last holiday season? Leslie Frazier knows how this hypothetical procrastinating loser Christmas shopper feels. How depressing is this list of the best remaining receivers?
1. Mike Wallace. RFA with a 1st round tender. Who wants to essentially trade Matt Kalil for Mike Wallace?
2. Danny Amendola. RFA with a 2nd round tender. Who wants to give up a second rounder for Danny Amendola?
3. Early Doucet. Not a deep receiver.
4. Derek Hagan. Not fast. Has bounced around a lot.
5. Braylon Edwards. Braylon starts with “B”. So does “baggage.” So does “Berrian.”
All of a sudden Mario Manningham doesn’t look so bad.
Of course Rick Spielman can still have the last laugh in this. He can find himself a great receiver in the draft and plug that kid right in and have him explode on the scene the way Randy Moss did once upon a time. But is anyone here banking on Spielman’s ability to identify such a phenom in, say, the second or third round? Cause I don’t think the Vikings are going to pass on Matt Kalil in favor of Justin Blackmon. I know some people want to connect the dots that way, especially with Schwartz, who can play offensive tackle, being brought in for a visit, but forget it. The Vikings will take Matt Kalil unless he dies between now and the draft.
Unless you’ve slurped down the Spielman Kool Aid like it’s some kind of magic elixir promising eternal happiness, you must be at least a little bit concerned about what this team will be in 2012. Spielman’s going to have to hit multiple home runs in the draft, along with a few triples and doubles, for their record to markedly improve. Count me among those who are deeply skeptical of Spielman’s ability to muscle up in the talent evaluation department and go deep. Maybe the Vikings will get better somewhere down the road, but the way things stand now, 2012 is shaping up to be another miserable slog. And at the end of it they will probably have a new coach. Which, some would argue, might not be a bad thing.