The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2012 season with an astounding turn around from a 3-13 2011 season to a 10-6 playoff 2012 season in what was touted as a “rebuilding” season by the newly promoted General Manager Rick Spielman.
Spielman said all along that his intention was to build from within via the draft and grooming current players with potential as the headed into the 2012 offseason. This meant that veteran players would not be assured of their positions entering their contract years. The team held true to this theory with letting MLB E.J. Henderson walk via free agency and released veterans QB Sage Rosenfels, K Ryan Longwell, G’s Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, NT Remi Ayodele and CB Cedric Griffin to replace them with younger, cheaper players through either free agency, promotion or the draft.
While the Vikings indeed tasted some success in 2012, Spielman stated that not much would change entering the 2013 offseason. The team would continue to build through the draft and develop their current younger talent that fit within the future plans and wouldn’t necessarily break the bank on higher priced free agents. Again, these words rang true as the Vikings let WR Devin Aromashodu and MLB Jasper Brinkley walk via free agency, traded disgruntled WR Percy Harvin and released over-priced veterans CB Antione Winfield and WR Michael Jenkins. The team did address some needs via Free Agency with the signings of WR Greg Jennings, QB Matt Cassel and but focused primarily on the re-signings of their own players like RT Phil Loadholt, FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, CB A.J. Jefferson and SAF Jamarca Sanford among others.
So the Vikings are only hours away from the 2013 NFL Draft with 11 total draft picks and still have plenty of needs to address.
The most glaring would be the starting Middle Linebacker spot unless you buy into the Erin Henderson to MLB talk, then a starting Outside Linebacker becomes the bigger need. After that they have a lot of depth/potential starter needs like DT, NT, WR and CB plus OL, RB, DE to name well, a lot.
The 2013 NFL Draft has been described by many as average with very few impact, star players available with a greater value in its depth at numerous positions in rounds 2-5. In trying to decipher “Spielman-Speak” is nearly impossible but the team has to be looking past the current roster needs and into the 2014 season and beyond.
Of course the Vikings have no idea where they will pick in 2014 and but this is a make or break season for a lot of players and probably some coordinators/coaches. The 2013 team will be led by 2011 first-r0und draft pick Christian Ponder who enters his third season with the Vikings. Spielman has said all along that the team wouldn’t cast any major judgements on the young QB until the third season, so the time is now. While the team certainly isn’t planning for a Ponder collapse the thought has to be in the back of their minds. This theory would seem to be backed up with the signing of veteran QB Matt Cassel to be the backup. If Ponder stumbles to lead this team and they fail to make the playoffs or even worse finish with a losing record, the trickle down effect could be great. If Ponder loses the job at some point in 2013, the Vikings would only be on the hook for his fully guaranteed which is only $3.2m if they released him. Of course a trade would be ideal but trading a failed QB seems easier said, then done.
On top of this being the key year for Ponder, the Vikings currently have 22 players that are due to be eligible for free agency in 2014, so the rebuild may still be happening this time next year.
It isn’t as if these potential free agents are borderline practice squad players that many fans wouldn’t notice if we let them go. These are all players who are very likely to make or at least challenge for the final 53 roster spots in 2013 and beyond. With only 53 active roster spots and 22 players that could be free agents that is 41.5% of the roster that has the potential to be turned over in 2014. While Spielman’s track record would show that many of these players could/will be resigned, the volume of players is a little staggering and leave the GM the option to hit the restart button on certain position groups if they don’t produce in 2013.
Here is a list of the 2014 potential Vikings free agents. Hopefully I got them all correct.
QB Matt Cassell (player option)
QB/WR Joe Webb
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (exclusive rights)
RB Toby Gerhart
RB/FB Matt Asiata (exclusive rights)
WR Jerome Simpson
LG Charlie Johnson
G/C Joe Berger
T Trop Kropog
G Seth Olsen
DE Jared Allen
DE Brian Robison
DE Everson Griffin
DE George Johnson
DT Kevin Williams
NT Fred Evans
LB Tyronne McKenzie (RFA)
LB Larry Dean (RFA)
CB Chris Cook
CB A.J. Jefferson
CB Marcus Sherels (RFA)
P Chris Kluwe
The Vikings could look at these players that could be leave via free agency and draft their replacements in the 2013 Draft. Positions like DE, DT, RB, NT, CB could have just as high a priority as MLB/OLB and WR in this draft for the Vikings.
While it could seem counter-productive, the Vikings could also look to jump back to the 2014 Draft which in my opinion has the potential to be a much more talent rich draft class at the top of the draft compared to the 2013 draft class. With potential stud players like DE’s Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Tuitt, QB’s Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, WR’s Marquis Lee and Sammy Watkins, DT Louis Nix and Anthony Johnson, OLB CJ Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and Anthony Barr the Vikings could look to move back and build with these potential franchise-changers.
The other theory that could be in play in reviewing the current list of potential defensive free agents is a defensive scheme switch. If the Vikings truly wanted to consider a switch to a 3-4 base defense, the 2014 offseason would seem like the perfect opportunity to do it. Having multiple early picks in 2014 would give them the flexibility to make a change to a 3-4 defense and get a new QB or at least replace some potential free agents. Some of the aging players that fit the 4-3 and/or Tampa 2 scheme like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison and Fred Evans could all let go via free agency. A switch to a 3-4 defense could mean that Leslie Frazier and/or Alan Williams would not be returning. Instead of getting a long-term contract after such a successful season, Frazier only had his contract option picked up for 2014, so buying out that one season wouldn’t seem to be a hold up if the team decided to go in another direction.
As of today, the Vikings have only $90m tied up in 2014 contracted players. That would leave them with around $33m in CAP space to either spend on our 2014 internal free agent class or pursue other free agent options and sign that draft class.
All this said, I am a Vikings fan and hope that the team improves on its 2012 season, wins the North title by sweeping the division and is in the hunt for a Super Bowl title that has eluded us for too many years. If that doesn’t happen it would seem that GM Rick Spielman is set to go in a few different directions if he and ownership so choose to do so.
Regardless, I will be intently watching the process unfold over the next three days via the draft and into the offseason.