With free agency set to launch next Tuesday, the Vikings are weighing their options at several key positions. But will the Vikings be willing to make a big splash when the bidding wars begin?
Here is a quick look at who the Vikings might be eyeing under three scenarios – spending top dollar, getting a decent fair market contract for a player or signing a player on the cheap. They may be looking to address several positions, but will they be big spenders or thrifty bargain shoppers? We'll soon find out.
Quarterback – With Christian Ponder the only QB under contract, the Vikings are likely to add a veteran whether they use their first-round pick on a rookie QB or not. Top Dollar: As hard as it might be to accept, Matt Cassel may be the best option, just for more money than he was paid last year. Fair Market: Michael Vick still has flashes of being an electric QB and might not get the offers that many fans think he should. He would be a public relations hard-sell, but he can still make big plays when given the chance. Bargain Shopping: Colt McCoy is a young QB who was mired on the 49ers bench. He could be signed as competition for the starting job without believing he will be the main man.
Running Back – With Toby Gerhart expected to get bigger offers from other teams, the Vikings may be looking to add a veteran to play behind Adrian Peterson. Top Dollar: Simply not going to happen. Fair Market: James Starks has proved he can be a part-time fill-in starter and any time you can steal a player away from the Packers, it's a good day. Bargain Shopping: Anthony Dixon has played well when given the opportunity, but, playing behind Frank Gore and the Niners' penchant for drafting running backs every year, he can be had for pennies on the dollar if the Vikings are interested.
Guard – The Vikings have gotten by with Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco, but neither has been dominant. Fusco is still under contract, but Johnson is a free agent who could be out the door if the Vikings spend the money to add a younger guard. Top Dollar: Eben Britton has experience in the high-octane Denver offense and could be an upgrade at either guard position. Fair Market: Chad Rinehart has experience in Norv Turner's offense and could pick up the new offense as quickly as anyone on the free agent market. Bargain Shopping: Re-sign Johnson.
Defensive End – Greg Hardy and Brian Orakpo (who was a stretch as a 4-3 defensive end after playing much of his career as a 3-4 OLB) were taken off the board, but replacing Jared Allen won't be easy. Top Dollar: There are a couple of possibilities here. Michael Bennett has been building momentum heading into free agency, but if the Seahawks give him a competitive offer, he'll probably stay. The Vikings will have to blow the doors off of that one. Michael Johnson played for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, which probably gives him an edge over Oakland's Lamarr Houston. Fair Market: Re-sign Everson Griffen. If the Vikings go that route, they may want to get the deal done before the money gets crazy starting March 11. Bargain Shopping: It may seem nuts to refer to Justin Tuck as a bargain, but he's likely going to stay on the market for a long time – expecting big money but sitting and watching as younger players and more explosive players get the big money and teams with needs start filling them. He could put up Jared Allen numbers (of 2013) for about $10-12 million less if the Vikings are willing to wait and offer him an incentive-based deal.
Defensive Tackle – Kevin Williams is likely going to be replaced by Sharrif Floyd, but the Vikings need depth and potentially will have two new starters coming into 2014. Top Dollar: The Giants' Linval Joseph is closing out his first contract and is a young player that could line up next to Floyd for years to come. Fair Market: B.J. Raji looked like a franchise type tackle two years ago, but after some struggles, his bargaining power has been significantly reduced, despite having Pat Williams type run-stuffing ability. Bargain Shopping: Re-sign Big Kev for one last ride at about $3 million.
Middle Linebacker – The Vikings let Jasper Brinkley go a year ago and cut Erin Henderson last month. They will have a fourth different starting MLB in four years and may look to free agency to bring some stability to the position. Top Dollar: Brandon Spikes was active in the Patriots defense and has the lateral movement skills to play MLB in a 4-3. However, he will command top dollar so if the Vikings are going to out-bid other suitors, it will come with a price. Fair Market: Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson was cut by the Browns because he had a huge bonus coming up this week. He's already drawn interest from a couple of playoff contenders, but until he signs he may find that market isn't as robust as he might think. He would be at the top end of market value and slightly below top dollar. Bargain Shopping: Arthur Moats made a name for himself for the hit that ended Brett Favre's ironman streak and likely won't command a big asking price.
Cornerback – The Vikings have struggled both with getting interceptions and staying healthy. Xavier Rhodes is the future of the position, but, in a division with big arms belonging to Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and big-play receivers Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, having more elite players at the position is needed. Top Dollar: Alterraun Verner is probably the best player most casual fans don't know. After Cortland Finnegan left Tennessee, Verner became the main man and has more than lived up to his billing. Fair Market: Charles Tillman is going to be a Hall of Famer, but his value to the Vikings would be to spread the culture of forcing turnovers. He could likely be had for a two-year deal with performance incentives and could give the Vikings a veteran edge in their two years at TCF Bank Stadium. Peanut is no stranger to playing well in the cold. Bargain Shopping: Re-sign Chris Cook and re-start the countdown clock that started four years ago waiting for his first career NFL interception.
Safety – Harrison Smith is emerging as a difference-maker at free safety, but strong safety isn't as settled and the Vikings could use another playmaker to patrol the deep zone. Top Dollar: Cleveland's T.J. Ward is no stranger to Zimmer and, four years into his NFL career, may command as much or more than Jairus Byrd – widely regarded as the best safety in free agency. Fair Market: James Ihedigbo was inconsistent at Baltimore, but when he guesses right he makes plays and can be a game-changer. Bargain Shopping: Taylor Mays and Chris Crocker both played in Zimmer's defense and one or both will likely be available well after free agency opens unless someone makes them an absurd offer.
How the Vikings will respond to free agency with more than $30 million available will unfold over the next few weeks, but the reality of their situation is that, if they want to invest in a couple of big-ticket players, they can do so. Still, with a young nucleus of a franchise, the Vikings may well do what they typically do – try to find values and not set their own salary cap out of whack with outsiders as opposed to paying big money to their own.
Let the bidding begin!
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.
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