The Vikings are just starting to get a feel for their posture over the next two to three weeks in free agency. They could make one or two bigger signings and then sit back and wait for the market to drop.
This much we know: They can begin signing outside free agents at 3 p.m. Central Tuesday and they have made it clear already what they don't want – sending Erin Henderson, John Carlson, Letroy Guion and Greg Childs to the free agent market early (players that are released have been free to sign with other teams for the last month).
Clearly, new head coach Mike Zimmer is putting his mark on the team.
Zimmer has already stated several times whoever earns the job at a certain position is going play and he wants smart players that "buy into" his system and the team concept. He might not need to buy superstars, rather rely on his scheme and a solid coaching staff to develop them.
The Vikings have already (wisely) been poking around the market, expressing interest in nose Paul Soliai, defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner, among others, but they also issued a word of caution last week for those who want to dedicate too much of the roughly $36 million in cap space to one or two signature signings.
"We've got a lot of holes to fill. But we want to be smart with how we use the money … we don't want to go crazy in this thing," Zimmer said. "It's important to me and Rick (Spielman) and the Wilfs also that we build a really good foundation and continue to solidly build this thing until we're a consistently good organization and team. I think if we go out and spend a whole bunch of money now, we'd be upset two years from now because some of them didn't work out. So we're going to be real diligent in how we approach this and making sure that not only is it best for next year, but best for the long run too."
That could well mean they need to be certain in their biggest expenditures, relying on players they know well. With respected coaches with recent backgrounds in San Diego and Cleveland (Norv Turner), Tennessee (Jerry Gray) and Cincinnati (Mike Zimmer), there are plenty of teams from which to cull talent.
Teams could begin talking parameters of a contract with free agents on Saturday and the Vikings quickly expressed an interest in Verner, the top cornerback in Scout.com's free agent rankings. There is a connection there, too, with defensive backs coach Gray having coached Verner in Tennessee.
The familiarity is great, but there is also the question of who was more valuable – player or coach? Could Gray coach up another player like Verner, who had 57 tackles and five interceptions last year, including one he returned for a touchdown? Verner was a fourth-round selection in 2010, the same year the Vikings took Chris Cook in the second round. Since then, Verner has 11 career interceptions and has started all 32 games the last two seasons combined. Cook has zero career interceptions and has started 21 games in the last two years and only eight in his first two seasons.
So there are targeted areas where the Vikings could get better in a hurry. That may be the key spot, along with the development of Xavier Rhodes.
After Verner and maybe a defensive lineman (a nose tackle or defensive end), the Vikings could be looking mainly at mid- and low-level free agents and filling the rest of their holes in the draft.
One such mid-level guy is middle linebacker Jameel McClain, who is scheduled to visit the Vikings on Monday after already doing the rounds with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
He could be a solid addition for the Vikings and might not break the bank. When he last started all 16 games in 2011, he had 84 tackles, but he missed the final three games of 2012 and the first six of 2013 with a spinal cord contusion. He accepted a pay cut last year with the Ravens, going down to a very manageable $1.5 million salary, but it remains unclear what he might command with multiple teams at least interested in talking with him.
With their own free agents and the players they have released, there is no way for the Vikings to fill all their holes with sure starters in free agency. Fortunately for them, the draft is considered the deepest in at least a decade and they have four picks in the first three rounds because of the extra third-rounder in the Percy Harvin trade.
"There's several ways to fill those holes, too. My thing has always been play good team defense, not just be great players, but be good as a team," Zimmer said. "I do believe you can be real good, if you get the correct guys in there that buy into the system, that want to play for one another, that want to take ownership in something bigger than themselves."
If the Vikings can come away from free agency with McClain and a top-flight cornerback or defensive lineman, as well re-signing a couple of their own free agents, they would be well on their way. But even with $36 million under the salary cap, that's a tall order.
"Everybody sees that Maserati and they want to go buy it and you know you probably shouldn't, you should probably buy a Ford F-150 like I got. Because if you get the F150, you can keep building the pieces you need," Zimmer said. "So I think we have to be smart about it."
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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