This offseason newly promoted Vikings general manager took mostly a bargain bin type of approach to free agency sans overpaying for tight end John Carlson. His pitch was that this was a rebuilding team where you’d get your chance at playing time with a shot at being part of the foreseeable future if the result were there. One pleasant signing of this past offseason has been fullback Jerome Felton.
The background on Felton is that he was a standout at Furman University who went on to become the school’s all-time leading scorer graduating in 2008. Scouts felt that he offered NFL teams versatility in having the agility to play tailback and the overall body strength to play fullback if needed. He went on to be a 5th round pick by the Detroit Lions being there for three years. Detroit then cut him during camp in 2011 where he also saw time with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts last season. So far over his Vikings tenure the results have been impressive.
A quick stat check suddenly reveals that Felton hasn’t carried the ball once this season, however he has been a major asset as a run blocker showing refinement driving opponents away from mostly Adrian Peterson and held up okay in pass blocking demonstrating the ability to pick up a blitz when needed. The results have been so good that he currently ranks as the best blocking fullback in 2012 by the respected Pro Football Focus. Quite the bargain for a modest one-year $700,000 deal.
The Vikings front office should also take into account that there will most definitely be a market for Felton this offseason from run oriented teams who possess a stud tailback. Just last offseason Vonta Leach hit free agency and had five teams interested in his services after he helped pave the way for Arian Foster rack up 1,616 yards in 2010. Leach went on to sign a three-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens for $11 million with $6 million being guaranteed making him the highest paid fullback in the game. Then in 2011 Leach was as impressive helping Ray Rice run for over 1,300 yards.
Now as to what the Vikings would offer Felton is up for debate. On one side of the spectrum Leach did have the All Pro feather in his cap going into the offseason of 2011 and had a five-year track record with the Texans. However Felton is also 4 years younger than Leach and finally has some solid game tape as to what he can do when given the right scheme. There’s no debate that he’s helped Adrian carry for a league leading 957 yards. Plus the Vikings have tinkered enough with fullbacks recently with the likes of Thomas Tapeh, Naufahu Tahi and Ryan D’Imperio.
Perhaps a contract offer of four years for $12 million with $5 million being guaranteed with a morality clause written in to prevent further drunken driving arrests while in a McDonalds drive thru would do the trick. I’m sure Felton would appreciate finding a home and we find investments that aid Adrian’s game to be sound ones.
Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig