For some Vikings observers, the last two weeks have provided frustration and confusion. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, "What the hell's going on out there?"
"Out there," in this case, is at Winter Park. Despite entering free agency more than $20 million under the salary cap, the Vikings haven't hosted a true No. 1 receiver. They haven't even hosted a No. 2 type, with receiver-return man Ted Ginn Jr. being the only outside receiver that was known to truly be on their radar. While Ginn was more valuable as a return man, when he re-signed with the 49ers for a one-year contract, it left Vikings fans with very little to be excited about.
There was no Cortland Finnegan or Brandon Carr added to the defensive backfield, not even a LaRon Landry. There was no Vincent Jackson and not even a Pierre Garcon added to stretch an opposing defensive backfield.
So what exactly has new general manager Rick Spielman accomplished with free agency? He has plugged a few holes by signing underrated tight end John Carlson to a four-year deal and given competition to the guard position with the one-year contract of Geoff Schwartz.
The re-signings may have been just as important with Erin Henderson inking a one-year contract and then signing defensive tackles Letroy Guion for three years and Fred Evans for two before dumping a player that never fit and never produced – nose tackle Remi Ayodele. He never came close to adequately filling Pat Williams' enormous shoes.
And the failed and expensive Ayodele experiment may have been the impetus to the direction the Vikings have trended during this free-agent period – short, no-risk contracts while overhauling the roster.
Schwartz could very well end up being the starting right guard for the Vikings in 2012, but he didn't cost them much. The maximum value of his contract is $1.5 million, according to 1500 ESPN, but the signing bonus was only $150,000. The total value of the contract is almost $2 million less than what Anthony Herrera would have cost the Vikings against the salary cap if he hadn't been cut.
Meanwhile, Charlie Johnson, while offering the Vikings some insurance at left tackle if they don't draft their starter there, could easily slide inside to play left guard. His cap hit for 2012 is $3.85 million, but that is still $3.15 million less than what Steve Hutchinson would have cost the team.
By releasing Ayodele, the Vikings simply admitted their mistake last year and moved forward. Guion signed a somewhat similar deal as Ayodele – both of them were three-year, $9 million maximums – but there are two differences. The Vikings know what they are getting in Guion, who at the very least appears to have more upside than Ayodele, and they structured Guion's deal differently. Ayodele had a $3.565 million signing bonus. Guion's is reportedly less than half that, at $1.5 million, and he's only due $950,000 in base salary this year, meaning either he performs or the Vikings could sever ties before his salaries escalates to $2.45 million in 2013 and $3.95 in 2014.
There was even less risk with Fred Evans, who will likely back up up Guion on the nose. He has base salaries of $700,000 and $1.45 million the next two seasons.
Besides the five-year, $25 million deal that the already-established Carlson signed, the Vikings have very little commitment tied up in the contracts they signed so far. There is little doubt their free-agent foray has generated very little excitement among the fan base, but give them credit for two things – they have addressed some of their needs for the short term with reasonable deals for serviceable starters. Between Schwartz, Carlson, fullback Jerome Felton, Guion and Henderson, they may have added five starters in free agency. And, in what may be a philosophical shift, they admitted a recent blunder with Ayodele and moved on quickly, something that didn't happen soon enough with Bernard Berrian, who ran away with far more money than he did touchdowns.
Additionally, one-year deals for running back Lex Hilliard and receiver Devin Aromashodu, each of whom will have to compete for a roster spot, are no-risk signings.
Essentially, the theme of 2012's free agency has been one of very little long-term commitment, which will help the salary cap and give the Vikings flexibility to change schemes (and possibly coaching staffs) if there is a second straight season of underperformance. But it will also give the Vikings the option to move on with very little wasted investment if things don't work out with some of the players who are essentially on a "prove it" contract in 2012.
If they do "prove it" this season, they will have earned a multi-year deal. If not, they cost the Vikings little.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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