Rick Spielman has made it clear that the Vikings won’t be overly-aggressive in free agency but instead will sit back and see if any interesting things materialize.
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Translation: Don’t look for the Vikings to pursue any big name free agents, but don’t be surprised if they go after a lesser-known player who might be a particularly good fit in Mike Zimmer’s system.
Scouring the free agency list for such potential low-risk/high-reward players leads us to one intriguing name from the Cleveland Browns, DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard.
A 2011 2nd round pick out of Pitt, Sheard busted out of the gate in his rookie season by recording 8 1/2 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. The sky seemed to be the limit for Sheard but a couple of things hindered his growth and led him becoming expendable in Cleveland.
The main issue for Sheard was his role in the Browns’ defense. After playing defensive end his first couple seasons, Cleveland decided to switch Sheard to 3-4 outside linebacker. The move did not work out the way Cleveland expected and last year Sheard slumped to a career-low total of 2 sacks. Despite his ineffectiveness as a pass rusher, Sheard maintained a high level of play against the run (as his +8.2 overall PFF grade attests).
The second problem for Sheard has been health. He played just 13 games in 2013, and in 2014 he was limited by a late-season foot injury. It’s not believed that the foot injury will cause him any problems down the road.
Sheard is almost certain to be leaving Cleveland after his underwhelming, injury-plagued season in Mike Pettine’s system. A few things may make Sheard an attractive free agent target for the Vikings at defensive end.
One, Sheard is a very strong run defender. In fact he is probably a better run defender than he is a pass rusher at this point. The Vikings last year struggled in run defense, particularly on the left end of the line where Brian Robison was consistently man-handled.
Mike Zimmer himself pointed out that Robison was not a natural fit in his scheme, and one could easily see Robison’s struggles in run situations. A player like Sheard would instantly upgrade the Vikings’ run defense and allow them to employ Robison as more of a situational pass rusher, which would better fit his skills at this point.
The second point in Sheard’s favor is his age. At 26, it’s very possible that his best years are still ahead of him. He was once a second round pick so you know the physical talent is there, it’s just a matter of finding the right system and giving him the right coaching. A switch back to his natural position could unleash this guy’s skills as never before.
The third point, and this is always important when looking at a potential Rick Spielman target, is the price tag. His weak production last season, plus the injury issue, puts Sheard firmly in the bargain bin area.
Don’t be shocked if the Vikings do look to a player like Sheard to give them a quick upgrade on the defensive line without having to break the bank. Run defense was a big weakness for this team last year and you can bet Mike Zimmer doesn’t want to sit back and leave that unaddressed. Sheard’s run defense skills could make him very attractive to Zimmer. And it would certainly be better for both the team and the player to see Brian Robison’s role reduced. Nothing personal, but Robison’s days as an every-down player are over.
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