The Vikings have been hamstrung the last couple years in free agency by their precarious cap situation, but this offseason they have lots of dollars coming off the books and will be able to spend…if indeed Rick Spielman wants to spend.
One area Spielman could target when free agency opens March 11 is the secondary. The Vikings were absolutely brutal in pass defense in 2013 and desperately need an infusion of DB talent.
One name already surfacing in free agency rumors is Alterraun Verner, the Pro Bowl cornerback from the Tennessee Titans.
Verner became a hot topic in Minnesota upon the hiring of Jerry Gray as defensive backs coach. Gray is familiar with Verner from his time as DC in Tennessee and indeed helped develop Verner into one of the game’s top cover corners.
Will Verner follow Gray to Minnesota? It makes a good connect-the-dots sort of story. But there are other reasons to be intrigued by Verner beyond his connection to the new defensive backs coach.
First off, there’s the talent. Rotoworld ranks Verner as the third best free agent cornerback available, behind Brent Grimes and Aqib Talib. PFF ranks him 6th. He’s already a polished player but at 25 there is still room for him to grow. Many will argue he’s already one of the two or three best corners in the league, and he could still get a lot better.
Verner is exactly the kind of free agent Rick Spielman prefers to target: developed enough to pay immediate dividends but young enough to have lots of upside in the long term.
The thought of pairing a player like Verner with 2013 first round pick Xavier Rhodes is very appealing. Those two guys plus Harrison Smith would give the Vikings two thirds of a potential top-of-the-line secondary.
It’s hard to see the downside on pursuing Verner. But pursuing a guy is one thing, landing him is quite another. The Vikings, if they do go after Verner, will not be the only team seeking his services.
Cornerback is a premium position in the NFL, and cornerbacks of Verner’s age and skill are highly coveted. Bidding for Verner will likely get really ferocious really fast.
The Vikings have one possible advantage in the presence of Gray, a coach with whom Verner is familiar. Mike Zimmer’s presence is surely also a positive given Zimmer’s reputation. Disadvantages include the stadium situation and questions about the Vikings’ ability to contend right away.
But of course in the end these things mostly come down to money. Is Rick Spielman willing to go high on Verner, a guy who could be targeted by some big spending teams? Or will Spielman lose out on Verner the same way he lost out on Pierre Garcon two years ago?
Spielman will presumably have more freedom to spend this offseason, but having the freedom to spend doesn’t mean you should spend.
Spielman’s fiscally responsible approach to free agency was never really tested in past seasons because the Vikes were up against the cap anyway. This offseason will see a true test of Spielman’s alleged principles.
If he goes nuts and overpays for free agents, then we’ll know his “prudent approach” was just a bunch of PR baloney.