After playing (sparingly) behind Adrian Peterson for four years, Toby Gerhart will be getting his first good opportunity to be a starter after signing with Jacksonville.
Of all the signings that were made Tuesday, one that will be interesting to watch over the next three years is Jacksonville signing Vikings running back Toby Gerhart – ending a strange legacy with the team that drafted him.
As we climb into the VU Wayback Machine, we go back to 2010. Returning all 22 starters from a team that shot itself in the foot in New Orleans to prevent a trip to the Super Bowl, the Vikings were full of themselves and ready to make some deals. They traded out of the first round, to the dismay of hundreds of fans in their fieldhouse. On Day 2, ESPN and NFL Network announced that the Vikings had traded up in the second round – giving up their second- and third-round picks to Houston to get a player they coveted. The media types in their Winter Park sardine tin waxed poetic about what player the Vikings could possibly love so much that they couldn't let him get away.
That guy was Toby Gerhart.
A collective "Huh?" was made in the media room. This time it was legitimate. Adrian Peterson
was entering his fourth season and was already viewed as the best running back in the NFL – with a nickname that would indicate he can go all day and doesn't need a backup.
With his affable demeanor and bulked-up looks, Gerhart was a college workhorse that could be a grinding complement to Peterson. But, when you're backing up a superstar, your options are limited.
As backups to Brett Favre and Cal Ripken can attest, it's a difficult spot to be in.
Gerhart rarely got an opportunity to shine with the Vikings. With Jacksonville expecting to lose franchise RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Gerhart will finally get what he never had the chance to receive with the Vikings – a legitimate chance to be a 20-carry-a-game player who doesn't have a lot of tread off the tire. On the opening day of free agency, Gerhart signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Jaguars.
God speed, Toby. The majority of Vikings fans hope that you realize your dream of being an NFL starter. It was just that the team that picked you already had Purple Jesus in the fold.
FREE AGENT OPENING NOTES
In one of the biggest moves of the day, the Cowboys, who found themselves in a similar position as the Vikings had with the astronomical salary of Jared Allen, released seven-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware. Denver is rumored to be the frontrunner to sign Ware for another Super Bowl run.
The Broncos didn't stop there. On Tuesday, they crippled their top competition from 2013, adding cornerback Aqib Talib after inking him to a six-year, $57 million contract – and also signed Cleveland safety T.J. Ward. You can't say John Elway isn't trying to stack the deck for another Super Bowl run with Peyton Manning.
Allen was rumored to be the primary target the Broncos were looking for … until Ware got released. Now it looks like Denver has pulled back. However, Allen reportedly is still in talks with Chicago and Seattle.
The Bears had an interesting day themselves that makes one wonder how much talking there is going on with Allen. They made one of the first signings when they landed young Oakland DE Lamarr Houston, signing him to a five-year, $35 million deal. The Bears then promptly released eight-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers, much to the personal delight of Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt. Peppers was due $30.5 million over the next two seasons.
Given that Denver head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have a history with Peppers, if they can't land Ware, Peppers may well be their No. 2 option.
Seattle did a similar tactic, re-signing DE Michael Bennett shortly after free agency began. That might lend one to believe that the Seahawks aren't looking for another right defensive end, unless he is willing to be a part-time player being paid elite part-time compensation – not big-time starter money.
Some skeptics laughed when Bills safety Jairus Byrd said he was looking for a contract in the $9 million-a-year range. On Tuesday, New Orleans took that literally and gave him a six-year, $54 million deal with $28 million guaranteed.
Tampa Bay is finally spending some of that money they've been hoarding in recent years. Cornerback Alterraun Verner signed a four-year, $26 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. They also signed defensive end Michael Johnson and tight end Brandon Myers. Given that Verner's signing bonus represented much of the guaranteed money, that isn't all that bad of a contract considering that he was being viewed as an elite free agent prospect.
Last week, we pondered what Darren Sproles could do for the Vikings after word got out that New Orleans was planning to release him. Not so fast, my friend. After finding out how many teams were interested in Sproles, the Saints have opted to keep him in hopes of trading him instead of letting him go for nothing.
The 49ers reunited Jim Harbaugh and guard Jonathan Martin. Martin left the Miami Dolphins last season in the explosive revelation of locker room bullying – primarily from teammate Richie Incognito. The Niners traded a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015 for Martin. The "conditional" nature of a seventh-round pick is strange phrasing because typically when the term "conditional" is used with a pick it's the high end potential of that pick. If a seventh-rounder is the high end, unless they're adding a round in 2015, the only other option would appear to be zero.
In another interesting Niner nugget, the team traded a sixth-round pick in May's draft to Jacksonville for Blaine Gabbert, the 10th pick in the 2011 draft. Jags officials are rumored to have been delighted to get a sixth-round pick for him, as well as increasing the potential that Jacksonville will draft a quarterback with the third pick – in turn making St. Louis' pick at No. 2 much more valuable in trade.
Cleveland made some noise Tuesday. Not only did they sign Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby – a pair of solid signings – they stuck to screws to in-state rival Cincinnati by agreeing to a restricted free agent offer sheet with WR Andrew Hawkins. The Browns are reportedly ready to match it.
Darren McFadden, who was seen as the first failed "The Next Adrian Peterson" college running back, re-signed with Oakland to a modest one-year, $2.25 million deal.
Why are the Raiders so consistently bad? Take the example of Rodger Saffold. He was drafted to be the left tackle of the future in St. Louis, but failed so badly that the Rams signed Jake Long to be their left tackle and pushed Saffold to the right side. He failed there as well. But, when moved inside to guard, Saffold thrived down the stretch of the 2013 season. On Tuesday, he signed with Oakland for five years, $42.5 million and $21 million of that guaranteed – to play left tackle.
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.