After spending more than $22 million against the 2013 salary cap and $38 million in cash value for 2013 alone, the Vikings are nearing the end of their financial capabilities with outside free agency, at least without restructuring or releasing any of their more costly veterans.
But after signing two outside unrestricted free agents and six of their own unrestricted, it's time to take a step back after two weeks of free agency and see what they've done and the value they received.
Greg Jennings – The Vikings had several options at receiver entering free agency. There was deep threat Mike Wallace, who is expected to average between $12 million and $13 million dollars on his five-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, but after that Jennings received the next biggest contract among receivers, averaging $9 million per season, including a cap charge of $5 million in 2013 and $13 million in cash value, nearly one-third of the outlay. The only other true quality, proven receivers in free agency were Wes Welker (Denver), Danny Amendola (New England) and restricted free agent Victor Cruz, who would cost a first-round pick plus a contract hefty enough that the New York Giants wouldn't want to match it. In essence, the Vikings didn't want to pay the price on Wallace and settled for a receiver that is more reliable with his hands and routes and more versatile, but isn't quite the deep threat of Wallace. Ultimately, Jennings signed a five-year contract that could be worth up to $47.5 million, including $17.8 million in guarantees.
Matt Cassel – The Vikings had plenty of options when it came to veteran backup quarterbacks, but they were focused on Cassel and had to wait out the process for the Kansas City Chiefs to release him after they couldn't find anyone willing to trade for him and his scheduled $7.5 million price tag. After his release, the Vikings got him for $3.7 million this year and the option of a second year. In essence, this was a move made after the Vikings decided Joe Webb wasn't a viable backup option when he failed to produce in his playoff opportunity in Green Bay. None of the other free agent options were quite as proven as Cassel (despite his up-and-down performances with the Chiefs), and the Vikings were committed to Cassel instead of the Jason Campbells, Derek Andersons or Brady Quinns of the free agent world.
Phil Loadholt – Two tackles, Ryan Clady (Denver) and Branden Albert (Kansas City), received the franchise tag in free agency, essentially taking them off the market, and Jake Long, Andre Smith and Sebastian Vollmer were the next-best options. The Vikings may have overpaid for Loadholt, but when Chicago expressed an interest, it upped the price. Eventually, the Vikings agreed to a four-year contract that could be worth up to $25 million, including a $7 million signing bonus. It was a steep price to pay, especially considering a deep draft on the offensive line, but the Vikings wanted to keep consistency on the offensive line and acquiesced when teammates encouraged the front office to make the move.
Jerome Felton – Like Loadholt, the fullback definitely wanted to stay with the Vikings and the team's success running the ball last year helped show Felton's value. He made the Pro Bowl blocking for Adrian Peterson, which helped him earn a three-year contract that could be worth up to $7.5 million, including a $2 million signing bonus. He wouldn't have been easy to replace, and Peterson's longest runs came when Felton was on the field.
Jerome Simpson – The receiver was the insurance policy before Jennings was signed. It didn't take long for Vikings coaches and the front office to become enamored with Simpson's athleticism last offseason, but that never fully transferred to the regular season after a three-game suspension and nerve damage derailed his initial season with Minnesota. They were willing to give it another try and he signed a one-year, $2.1 million contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus.
Jamarca Sanford – Sanford took full advantage of his opportunity as a starter last year, giving them a viable starter for the next two years on a $5 million contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus. A year ago, there is no way they would have been willing to pay that price, but Sanford showed great improvement in his range and reliability, and in the grand scheme of things he could be viewed as a starter on the rise. Buffalo franchised Jarius Byrd and Ed Reed's price and age didn't match the Vikings' philosophy with that position, making Sanford a value signing.
Erin Henderson – There were a lot of pass-rushing options at outside linebacker, but no great options that fit the Vikings' 4-3 defense quite as well as what they already had in Henderson. He didn't cost a great deal, signing a two-year, $4 million contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus, so the Vikings stayed with what was familiar and experienced in their system, keeping some continuity in the linebacker corps knowing they would be moving on without Jasper Brinkley.
Joe Berger – Looking for someone that could play either center or guard and has experience in the system was important enough in a low-risk deal with Berger, who signed a one-year deal that could be worth up to $905,000.
Seth Olsen – Like Berger, Olsen offers the Vikings some flexibility on the offensive line if he makes the team. And, like Berger, it was a low-risk, $630,000 base salary on a one-year contract.
In addition to the unrestricted free agents, the Vikings tendered CB A.J. Jefferson with a one-year, $1.33 million offer that is likely to go unmatched by another team.
They also tendered all of their exclusive rights free agents to one-year offers – CB Marcus Sherels at $555,000 and OL Troy Kropog and S Andrew Sendejo at one year, $630,000 each. Sendejo already signed his tender.
Jasper Brinkley – The middle linebacker was viewed as the expendable starter from last year, the only one the Vikings lost. He ended up signing a three-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. It was a bit of risk letting the middle linebacker, the man making the defensive calls, leave, and now they could be relying on a veteran in that position.
Geoff Schwartz – The versatile offensive lineman was hoping to vie for a starting spot last year, but a sports hernia derailed that opportunity and the Vikings stuck with Brandon Fusco at right guard. Schwartz entered free agency intent on getting the opportunity to compete for a starting job again, and he may get that in Kansas City after signing a one-year contract.
Marvin Mitchell – The backup linebacker is still available, but he likely won't get much of a payday.
Devin Aromashodu – He never did get much separation from defenders and the Vikings will look to find better options at the bottom of their depth chart at receiver. Aromashodu remains available.
After spending nearly $40 million in free agency, the Vikings are nearly done there, but they used the open market to fill almost every immediate need (the exception being middle linebacker) and chose familiarity over some higher risk, higher reward options, continuing with the slow and steady improvement. The upgrades will come in the draft with 11 picks overall, including two in the first round and six in the first 120 selections.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Assessing the Vikings' free agent moves
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