With the 2012 season over for the Vikings, the focus of the Vikings' front office has turned to free agency. The team has several key players, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that are pending free agents.
It's unclear who the Vikings are going to target in free agency, but one element that seems clear is that, if a couple of the Vikings' vested veterans have their way, the team will be putting the band back together for 2013.
On the offensive side, the belief is that, coming off a Pro Bowl season, fullback Jerome Felton is likely to return. He has indicated he wants to come back to the Vikings, adding that he chose to sign a one-year deal with Minnesota rather than seeking out a potentially longer deal somewhere else because he wanted to play with a star running back like Adrian Peterson and prove his worth.
A few other players will be front office decisions as to whether they feel they are worthy of returning – WRs Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu and offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz and Joe Berger. But there is one name that stands out on that list – offensive tackle Phil Loadholt. He has started 63 of 64 games in his career with the Vikings and, while he has had his share of ups and downs with the team, he is viewed by Peterson as an indispensible part of the offensive line and he wants him back – to the point that he will make his feelings known to the front office and will do his best to coax his fellow Oklahoma Sooner to join him in his offseason workout program to prove his commitment to the team. Unlike Bryant McKinnie, Loadholt is prepared to show the team he's buying into their program and is willing to work hard to do it.
"I love it here," Loadholt said. "I want to be a Viking because I think we're heading in the right direction. We had a good season and there is room for improvement. We can be better. We made the playoffs this year and have the players here to take the next step next year."
It doesn't hurt when you have the team's franchise player in your corner. When asked if he would put in a personal good word with general manager Rick Spielman to re-sign Loadholt, Peterson left no doubt where he stands on the matter.
"I'll probably talk to them, just to get that guy in," Peterson said. "He's been improving each year. I'm going to keep my arms around him this offseason as well, just to make sure he's staying on top of this game and he's working out and he's doing the necessary things to make someone want to bring you back as well. So I'll have my toe in somewhere."
On the defensive side, things are much more pressing for the Vikings. Chad Greenway is under contract, but the other two starters (Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson) and one of the top reserves/special teamers (Marvin Mitchell) are all unrestricted free agents. Greenway was interviewed by the Vikings radio broadcast team of Paul Allen and Pete Bercich and asked about his feelings about where the Vikings defense can improve. After carrying the team in the final month of the season and playing more than their part in the 4-0 finish the Vikings posted to make the playoffs, he believes the Vikings are ready if they can sign their own players, not go outside the organization and break the bank on someone else's free agents.
If Greenway's art of persuasion has any impact, the Vikings will bring all three of them back rather than bring in players from the outside, but he knows that the NFL is a tough business and players do come and go every year.
"We feel good about who we have on this team," Greenway told KFAN. "Jasper and Erin are both free agents – guys who have really helped this team get to where we're at. Unfortunately, that's part of the business."
The one area of the defense that is set heading into free agency is on the defensive line. All of their top players – Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans – are all under contract. Greenway said that, with the familiarity and effectiveness of this group, the Vikings don't need to bring blitzes to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and they will be the catalyst to the improvement to the back end of the defense.
"The way Everson played down the stretch, the way Jared played, the way B-Rob injured played down the stretch – unbelievable," Greenway said. "Our D-line, Fred and Letroy played probably their best game the last game of the year. Kevin Williams is always good. We don't have a problem there. Those are the guys we need to have. We need to have those guys to keep getting better and better."
The only free agents the Vikings have in the secondary are safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerbacks A.J. Jefferson and Marcus Sherels. Sanford, a former sixth-round draft pick, has been one of the team's most improved players last year and Greenway thinks it would be a shame to let Sanford get away after the improvement he has made, especially over the last season.
"In the back end, how do you take something that was so much better than what we've had in previous years and say we need to fix it?" Greenway asked. "Jamarca Sanford I know is a free agent back there. He's a guy you have to have on your team. He can do so many things for you. Look what he does on special teams. He's unblockable. Then you put him on the field. From the safety standpoint, did anyone get better than him in a 365-day period? He went from playing, in his mind, average football to this year playing ridiculously good football – causing fumbles, turnovers, big hits."
In the end, the hard decisions of who stays and who goes will be made by Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and the money men in the front office, but if Greenway has his way, the Vikings will keep the band together for another U.S. Tour in 2013.
"What's wrong with it? Nothing," Greenway said. "If you have to bring (free agents) in, just bring (our) guys back. It's the people that make this thing go and we have the right people. We know that. Bring them back and give us another chance. That's the way I look at it. The pieces are here. No doubt about it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.