As the Vikings prepare to close the book on the 2011 season Sunday, they do so with numerous needs. Between now and April's draft, several roster changes will impact where the heat is (and where the team is cool).
In what will be a recurring story throughout the offseason, Viking Update takes a look at the heat associated with specific positions within the team. Which need to be addressed? Which ones are effectively set for next year? This is our temperature gauge of where the roster hot spots are.
Quarterback – Heading into free agency and the draft, there is absolutely no reason (that can't be stressed enough) that the Vikings need to take a QB in the draft. If they don't re-sign veteran Sage Rosenfels for the No. 3 spot again, bring in a veteran after the draft. Rosenfels was brought in for a reason – to be a peer/mentor/coach to Christian Ponder. Joe Webb is one of the more valuable players on the roster. He's going nowhere. It would seem the three players that will occupy 2012 roster spots are already on the team. Temperature Reading – Minus-1.
Running Back – A lot depends on the status of Adrian Peterson, but it can be counted on that he and Toby Gerhart are in the mix. For most of the season, the Vikings have only had four running backs on the roster, including Lorenzo Booker and fullback Ryan D'Imperio. Caleb King and recently-signed Jordan Todman are also in the mélange of backs that will be the fill-ins during the All Night period (as opposed to All Day) without Peterson. Impressions may be made and it should be noted that, for all intents, Jim Kleinsasser was one of the best blocking fullback/H-back hybrids in the league. Without him next year, either D'Imperio has to raise his game or the Vikings may be looking for a new pure blocking fullback. Temperature Reading – 4.
Wide Receiver – Percy Harvin is a lock. Michael Jenkins is probably close. Beyond that, it is anyone's guess who stays and who goes. Devin Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo are both free agents. Don't be shocked to see the Vikings use a high draft pick on a speed receiver with size. Temperature Reading – 9.
Tight End – Kyle Rudolph is the only "established" TE under contract for next season. Jim Kleinsasser is retiring. Visanthe Shiancoe is an unrestricted free agent who may or may not be back. Unless Mickey Shuler or Allen Reisner show something, this may be a position the Vikings address in free agency, but probably not until deep into the final day of draft weekend if Shiancoe is re-signed. Temperature Reading – 4.
Offensive Line – This is a group that may see marked upheaval between now and July. Charlie Johnson is an adequate left tackle, but not overpowering. Both guard positions are question marks. Steve Hutchinson isn't getting any younger and Anthony Herrera has a growing injury history that has taken him out of the lineup too often. The only sure things at this point are John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. Aside from them, all bets are off. Temperature Reading – 7.5.
Defensive Line – Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison are locks to be back. Remi Ayodele didn't get his name called often enough to make fans forget Pat Williams, so if the Vikings are in search of a pure nose tackle, they may look to the draft to find one they can develop. The wild card may be Everson Griffen, who has showed amazing versatility as a hybrid DE/LB. There are depth concerns, but the core of the defense seems strong enough for the D-line not to be a front-burner concern. A disruptive DT in free agency could fill the draft need for the defensive front. Temperature Reading – 6.
Linebacker – Chad Greenway is a borderline Pro Bowler, but the big question currently is the disposition of the Henderson brothers. E.J. and Erin are both starters, but both are free agents. If one or both isn't re-signed, this becomes a high priority position that may need to be addressed both in free agency and the draft. Temperature Reading – 7.
Defensive backs – Where do you start? The best player of the group is 35 and injury prone. Cedric Griffin has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and Chris Cook's next football action might not be in the NFL. When training began, it looked as though the Vikings were set at cornerback. Now it looks like they may have none of the top three on the Mankato depth chart. Safety was improved simply with the subtraction of Madieu Williams, but with Husain Abdullah's concussion count (four and counting) and numerous injury/performance questions, safety becomes an issue as well. The Vikings may have to pay through the teeth in free agency and commit one of their top few picks to the secondary just to get to a point where it's not a glaring weakness going forward. Temperature Reading – 10.
Specialists – The team already had Chris Kluwe under contract and re-signed Ryan Longwell and Cullen Loeffler during the season. The position is set upon the return of Cullen Loeffler. Temperature Reading – 0.
As the 2012 roster starts to take shape, we will revisit our temperature rankings. But, heading into the final game of the 2011 season, the reality of the Vikings is that there are only 17 players that are currently seen as being close to locks to be on the 2012 roster. Considering that the Vikings were bragging up returning all 22 starters just 16 months ago, it's a testament to how quickly the thermometer of NFL success and failure can swing.
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.