Vikings expect measured free agent approach

The Vikings aren't planning on a big free-agent spending spree, and last year's interests and signings proved how much of a crap shoot free agency can be. Spielman talked about the philosophy of free agency and how the offense evolved around one hit and one miss in free agency.

The days of aggressive free-agent deals at the outset of the market opening could be a thing of the past for the Vikings.

The Vikings are $12.3 million under the 2013 salary cap, according to NFL.com, and they have 10 of their own players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents when the signing period begins March 12. Leading their list are fullback Jerome Felton, right tackle Phil Loadholt, wide receiver Jerome Simpson, linebackers Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley and safety Jamarca Sanford – all starters or significant contributors in 2012.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman reiterated in a radio interview with KFAN Friday what he's been indicating for weeks – the team will be patient in free agency, concentrating first on their own pending free agents and then likely waiting for the initial wave of free agency to cool and bring prices more into the buyers' market.

"Last year, the big guys jumped out and people paid those guys, but then after that first wave and that first week of free agency, then guys are looking for jobs," Spielman said. "It seems like now that the salary cap is staying pretty much flat that the blue-chip players may get paid, but then all the sudden it really dries up from a financial standpoint on what teams are willing to pay."

Last year, the Vikings largely took a patient approach. They were interested in free-agent receiver Pierre Garcon but were priced out of the market by the big-spending Washington Redskins, who committed to a five-year, $42.5 million contract with $20.5 million guaranteed. Garcon missed six games with injury, had only two 100-yard games and ended the season with 44 catches for 633 yards.

Instead, the Vikings committed some of that money to free-agent tight end John Carlson, signing him to a five-year, $25 million contract. He had an even worse season than Garcon, catching a paltry eight passes for 43 yards and also struggled with injury.

Garcon and Carlson are both tales that help support Spielman's guarded approach toward free agency.

"My philosophy has always been we're going to try to build this team through the draft. We're going to try to keep our own and develop our own because they understand our culture, what we're trying to accomplish and then sprinkle in some UFAs (unrestricted free agents) here and there," he said. "But unless there's something exceptional to the rule, I really don't believe in going out and spending a lot of big money on free agency."

That wasn't also the case for the Vikings. In 2008, they signed receiver Bernard Berrian to a six-year, $42 million contract. He was a flop and never able to establish himself as a No. 1 receiver in Minnesota. The following year, the Vikings signed Brett Favre and paid him about $30 million over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He was terrific in 2009 up until an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game, but he never regained form in 2010 and later admitted that he came back for the money in his second season with the Vikings.

Free agency isn't always a bust, as Favre proved in 2009 and other more reasonable deals proved last year. While Carlson didn't produce in 2012, the Vikings made what seemed like an innocuous signing last offseason when they inked fullback Felton to a one-year, $750,000 deal that included $25,000 roster and workout bonuses. Felton made the Pro Bowl while blocking for Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard rushing season.

"Last year, we waited until the second wave came through and then we signed a lot of guys to one-year deals. When you take that philosophy, because that happens before the draft and I knew we had 10 picks last year going into the draft … who knows what's going to happen?"

Spielman reinforced what the film showed: Adrian Peterson was better and had more of his longer runs when Felton was on the field as a lead blocker, which wasn't always the case with previous fullbacks in front of Peterson.

"If you break it down statistically, his most productive runs, I think it's almost a 2- or 3-yard difference in average, is with a fullback (in 2012)," Spielman said.

That was also part of the reason for Carlson's decline, Spielman hinted. All offseason, the talk surrounding the Vikings was the expected prevalent use of two tight ends. Carlson's early injury problems and Felton's effectiveness caused the offensive personnel packages to change.

"The game plan going into last year when we did sign John Carlson was that we were going to be a dominant two-tight end type offense," Spielman said. "How our offense evolved – remember Adrian Peterson at this time, no one knew what Adrian Peterson was going to be – but our offense, you saw it evolve during the season and we became more of a Jerome Felton (offense). He was kind of a one-year guy that we signed as an unrestricted free agent that all the sudden he had a significant role in our offense. And then you found Adrian Peterson, and we kind of knew this, is more productive when he had a blocker in front of him. That kind of got us away from that two-tight end offense and more into a standard offense."

Spielman said the Vikings "still have John in our plans," but declined to say if a restructured contract might be a possibility, calling that internal business.

As for the potential free-agent signings the Vikings might make this year? Spielman can't isn't allowed to publicly talk about pending free agents who are currently under contract with other teams until March 12. Until then, the message is patience and measured expectations.


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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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"The days of aggressive free-agent deals at the outset of the market opening could be a thing of the past for the Vikings. The Vikings are $12.3 million under the 2013 salary cap, according to NFL.com, and they have 10 of their own players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents when the signing period begins March 12. Leading their list are fullback Jerome Felton, right tackle Phil Loadholt, wide receiver Jerome Simpson, linebackers Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley and safety Jamarca Sanford – all starters or significant contributors in 2012. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman reiterated in a radio interview with KFAN Friday what he's been indicating for weeks – the team will be patient in free agency, concentrating first on their own pending free agents and then likely waiting for the initial wave of free agency to cool and bring prices more into the buyers' market. \"Last year, the big guys jumped out and people paid those guys, but then after that first wave and that first week of free agency, then guys are looking for jobs,\" Spielman said. \"It seems like now that the salary cap is staying pretty much flat that the blue-chip players may get paid, but then all the sudden it really dries up from a financial standpoint on what teams are willing to pay.\" Last year, the Vikings largely took a patient approach. They were interested in free-agent receiver Pierre Garcon but were priced out of the market by the big-spending Washington Redskins, who committed to a five-year, $42.5 million contract with $20.5 million guaranteed. Garcon missed six games with injury, had only two 100-yard games and ended the season with 44 catches for 633 yards. Instead, the Vikings committed some of that money to free-agent tight end John Carlson, signing him to a five-year, $25 million contract. He had an even worse season than Garcon, catching a paltry eight passes for 43 yards and also struggled with injury. Garcon and Carlson are both tales that help support Spielman's guarded approach toward free agency. \"My philosophy has always been we're going to try to build this team through the draft. We're going to try to keep our own and develop our own because they understand our culture, what we're trying to accomplish and then sprinkle in some UFAs (unrestricted free agents) here and there,\" he said. \"But unless there's something exceptional to the rule, I really don't believe in going out and spending a lot of big money on free agency.\" That wasn't also the case for the Vikings. In 2008, they signed receiver Bernard Berrian to a six-year, $42 million contract. He was a flop and never able to establish himself as a No. 1 receiver in Minnesota. The following year, the Vikings signed Brett Favre and paid him about $30 million over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He was terrific in 2009 up until an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game, but he never regained form in 2010 and later admitted that he came back for the money in his second season with the Vikings. Free agency isn't always a bust, as Favre proved in 2009 and other more reasonable deals proved last year. While Carlson didn't produce in 2012, the Vikings made what seemed like an innocuous signing last offseason when they inked fullback Felton to a one-year, $750,000 deal that included $25,000 roster and workout bonuses. Felton made the Pro Bowl while blocking for Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard rushing season. \"Last year, we waited until the second wave came through and then we signed a lot of guys to one-year deals. When you take that philosophy, because that happens before the draft and I knew we had 10 picks last year going into the draft … who knows what's going to happen?\" Spielman reinforced what the film showed: Adrian Peterson was better and had more of his longer runs when Felton was on the field as a lead blocker, which wasn't always the case with previous fullbacks in front of Peterson. \"If you break it down statistically, his most productive runs, I think it's almost a 2- or 3-yard difference in average, is with a fullback (in 2012),\" Spielman said. That was also part of the reason for Carlson's decline, Spielman hinted. All offseason, the talk surrounding the Vikings was the expected prevalent use of two tight ends. Carlson's early injury problems and Felton's effectiveness caused the offensive personnel packages to change. \"The game plan going into last year when we did sign John Carlson was that we were going to be a dominant two-tight end type offense,\" Spielman said. \"How our offense evolved – remember Adrian Peterson at this time, no one knew what Adrian Peterson was going to be – but our offense, you saw it evolve during the season and we became more of a Jerome Felton (offense). He was kind of a one-year guy that we signed as an unrestricted free agent that all the sudden he had a significant role in our offense. And then you found Adrian Peterson, and we kind of knew this, is more productive when he had a blocker in front of him. That kind of got us away from that two-tight end offense and more into a standard offense.\" Spielman said the Vikings \"still have John in our plans,\" but declined to say if a restructured contract might be a possibility, calling that internal business. As for the potential free-agent signings the Vikings might make this year? Spielman can't isn't allowed to publicly talk about pending free agents who are currently under contract with other teams until March 12. Until then, the message is patience and measured expectations. 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