Nothing fuels a good debate like a drop of the draft, a cup of the quarterbacks and a flask of free agency. Pour those elements together and you have a raging inferno among Vikings fans.
The Vikings have all those elements mixing into a potent offseason. With a new coaching staff, plenty of cap space and numerous needs, there is a late winter cornucopia of chewy morsels to bring to the table. Fatten up, Vikings fans, it's almost time to bring your brilliance into the light and voice your opinions (as if that hasn't been ongoing for the past few months/decades).
The fact of the matter is that Vikings fans have been famished on the quarterback front. Brett Favre's one year of brilliance in 2009 was only a reminder of just how bad the situation had gotten pre-Brett with Tarvaris Jackson and confounding post-Brett with Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and even Josh Freeman.
To say the least, the quarterback position could use some stability, but it's hardly alone. The Vikings have numerous needs on the defensive side of the ball as well – replacing Jared Allen (with the presumption of him being gone to greener, richer pastures), finding legitimate starters at defensive tackle, replacing Erin Henderson, Marvin Mitchell and Desmond Bishop at linebacker, filling out the cornerback depth and likely even looking for Harrison Smith's long-term running mate at safety.
The Vikings have the cap space and draft picks available to address it all, but patience might be needed. That's never easy for fans to hear during the annual funny money thrown around in the first couple days of free agency. In general, the Vikings have pushed away from the table and played cool while a few teams make it rain, and that is usually followed by Vikings fans getting on the soapbox and wondering what's taking so long. When the Vikings were their most aggressive two years ago, it yielded John Carlson and a contract that initially averaged $5 million per season. That turned into a renegotiation to lower his cap number after one year and there is no guarantee the Vikings see him through to the start of the regular season this year with his history of concussions that he says he wants to play through.
The moral of the story is that acting quickly and aggressively in free agency isn't always the right answer, but even if Rick Spielman and company don't strike when the league is going great guns in the first 48 hours of free agency they have proved a willingness to spend nearly to their limit. Last year, the Vikings ended with less than $1 million in cap space despite carrying over an additional $8 million dollars from the previous year, increasing their team cap to more than $129 million.
This year they have an even higher cap number – league-wide it is $133 million – and could enter free agency with more than $31 million in cap space if they don't re-sign any of their own free agents before March 11. However, Carlson and Bernard Berrian, who averaged $7 million per season from his 2008 contract, present tales of caution.
So, too, does the free agent pool this year. Two of the four top-rated free agents this year, according to Scout.com's rankings, have already received the franchise tag, including Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, who was the top free agent at a position of need for the Vikings. There are others in the top 20 that would help Mike Zimmer's squad – Redskins LB Brian Orakpo, Titans CB Alterraun Verner or Bengals DE Michael Johnson, to name a few.
The Vikings should be inquiring on some of those players once they can start talking with agents for outside free agents on March 8. But they also have to be target specific, meaning they pick out a few of the best that truly fit Zimmer's defense without getting too caught up in a bidding war. Spielman, Zimmer and cap man Rob Brzezinski will know their breaking price on a player and be ready to walk away if the bidding gets too high. That's exactly what happened in 2010 with WR Sidney Rice. Seattle threw buckets of money at Rice following his only 1,000-yard season in 2009, and the Vikings bowed out of the bidding when his guaranteed money exceeded $15 million. The Seahawks didn't got much in return before release Rice last week, making the Vikings look wiser for the waiting.
All of this isn't to say the Vikings shouldn't put on their shopping shoes next week when free agency opens. They should. But upgrades don't reside solely in the top 10 free agents. If they can pluck two or three of the top 75 free agents, and re-sign a couple of their own, they could be on their way to a bounce-back season.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Free agency requires patience
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