A change in defensive scheme and the age of some of the existing players went a long way toward guiding the Vikings' philosophy and targets in free agency.
The majority of the big-money contracts over the last week were executed on defense. It started with the re-signing of defensive end Everson Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million contract and continued with the signing of unrestricted free agent nose tackle Linval Joseph (five years, $31.5 million) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (three years, $11.25 million).
"From a defensive standpoint, the scheme is changing. Coach (Mike) Zimmmer has been very clear on specifically what he's looking for at the position and what we needs to get in order for our defense to definitely improve," general manager Rick Spielman said. "We've been trying to attack those areas."
Spielman admitted that the age of his existing defenders also played a part in directing the free-agent attack.
Defensive end Jared Allen will turn 32 next month. He was replaced by Griffen, who will play the majority of the season at 26 years old.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams will turn 34 before the 2014 season. He was essentially replaced by Linval Joseph, who will turn 26 midway through the season.
And cornerback Chris Cook, 27, likely would have been replaced either way, but Munnerlyn, at 26 years old, will replace him.
"I know we were older on defense and wanted to get younger. There was some very good players out there," Spielman said. "You can see most of our contracts were bigger contracts for guys that were young and 25 years and getting their first chance to get a big contract, and those are the type of guys that we want to lock in so they will be here for the long haul."
Williams played the three-technique defensive tackle, the position 2013 first-round choice Sharrif Floyd is expected to take over. Joseph will be the new nose tackle, taking over for Letroy Guion, who started his career as the three-technique behind Williams but was eventually asked to replace Pat Williams.
Joseph, at 323 pounds, is a bigger, more natural, nose tackle.
"Coach Zimmer is very big – no pun intended – at having a big two-gap type of nose tackle. He's had a lot of success with that in the defenses he's been in," Spielman said. "And Linval Joseph … is a big man. But the one thing I don't think he gets enough credit for is people say, `Oh, he's a great run stuffer,' but he's very athletic for his size. In fact, we had him in here for a top-30 (visit) when he was coming out in the draft. We feel not only is he going to help us stop the run, but also has enough power and athletic ability, enough quickness to get upfield as a pass rusher."
Spielman said nothing is final on whether or not to bring back Williams, but it appears a longshot at this point.
Munnerlyn, who has proven incredibly adept at taking interceptions back for touchdowns, is also expected to provide a better coverage presence from the nickel cornerback spot that the Vikings haven't had since the departure of Antoine Winfield.
"We've played him the last couple of years and watching all his tape this year, he's a very competitive guy, a very tough-minded guy, has that veteran savvy to him," Spielman said. "I think one of the things we wanted to address was especially the nickel position. We see a lot of nickel snaps in this division when you play Green Bay and you play Detroit and Chicago. So we feel not only is he going to bring that leadership quality and that fire and competitiveness, he's also going to be able to fill out that nickel role as well."
Despite also signing Derek Cox, adding more cornerbacks is a possibility, Spielman said, but the most likely route there is through the draft.
Speilman said signing Griffen, Joseph and Fred Evans might not be the end of the additions on the defensive line, especially with Zimmer's philosophy of rotating defensive linemen.
Last year, Jared Allen, who remains an unrestricted free agent, played in 91 percent of the defensive snaps and Brian Robison, the starting left end, played in 84 percent of the snaps.
"(The coaching staff's) philosophy is we want to try to get as many good defensive linemen in here as possible and they really believe in the rotation and getting those guys in and out of the games to keep them fresh as well," Spielman said. "So as many quality guys as we can put together, we're going to definitely do that."
The bulk of big bucks are done being thrown around in free agency by the Vikings. From here on out, Spielman sees a more conservative, low-risk philosophy.
"As we continue, there will be some contracts that will be shorter term, one-year deals," he said. "Then we're going to have our guys come in, whether it's our own guys or other guys that are currently still out on the market on one-year deals, to come in and show us what they have, let our coaches get a hold of them to see what they can do with them and give them a chance to come in and compete as well."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings: Defense, deterioration guided change
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