With a relatively active first week of free agency, the Vikings have filled many of their most pressing needs.
They re-signed DE Everson Griffen, QB Matt Cassel, WR Jerome Simpson, G Charlie Johnson, DT Fred Evans and OL Joe Berger from their unrestricted free agents. They also re-signed or tendered CB Marcus Sherels, LB Larry Dean and RB Matt Asiata from their restricted and exclusive rights free agents. And, finally, they added NT Linval Joseph, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LB Jasper Brinkley and CB Derek Cox from other teams.
"To get some things accomplished in free agency, especially with the holes that we had, and we had a lot of holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball, by doing that it sure helps you head into the draft not to get boxed in – well, you've got to take this position," general manager Rick Spielman said. "Now we have that flexibility to see how the draft is going to fall, and I do believe this is a very deep draft and the potential of moving up or down in the draft to accumulate picks, you're still going to be able to add a lot of youth and a lot of young talent that can come in and help our ball club."
The draft is still almost two months away, May 8-10, but the Vikings have eight picks – one in each round and an additional pick in the third round left from the Percy Harvin trade.
Spielman said the strengths and weaknesses of the draft helped guide some of the priority positions the Vikings needed to improve in free agency.
"That's part of our planning process. I'll put together what the (unrestricted free agent) market is and what the strengths and weakness are there, and also where the strengths and the weaknesses are in the draft," Spielman said. "So if you know you have to address certain areas in free agency, you try to be as aggressive as you can to go do that if you don't think there's enough depth in the draft.
"And then it's just the opposite; if there's enough depth in the draft then you maybe lay back a little bit in free agency knowing you're going to fill those gaps in the draft. Right now we feel we have a good start."
The Vikings will continue to look for value in free agency, but their big free-agent signings are likely done (the remaining players on the market dictates that, too). They will have a couple visits over the next two weeks, Spielman said, but they are also monitoring the trade market.
There are still some holes to fill, whether it's through free agency or the draft. The defensive line could use more depth.
"Ideally you'd like to have eight guys that you know are going to be active on game day that you can rotate in and out of there," Spielman said. "And I know one thing that Coach (Mike) Zimmer really emphasizes, he wants guys that can stop the run, but we need to get some guys to make sure we're able to put pressure on the quarterback."
Perhaps linebacker is the most unsettled of the position groups. Chad Greenway is the only returning starter in the group – the Vikings released Erin Henderson, and Marvin Mitchell and Desmond Bishop are free agents – leaving questions about who will start where.
Although star running back Adrian Peterson had surgery in January to repair his adductor muscle and also had a compartmental release, Spielman said Peterson "should be fine and ready to go when we get started."
The Vikings begin their offseason conditioning program on April 7 and have their first veteran minicamp at the end of April.
But even if Peterson is back to full health, the loss of Toby Gerhart in free agency creates some questions about depth at running back. Ensuring the return of Asiata, who had a 133-yard game and another three-touchdown game in the absence of Peterson last year, helps.
"Matt stepped in and did a great job for us last year, but I know you can't go into the season with just two running backs," Spielman said. "So that's an area we've talked about, a couple of running backs that are currently out on the market, but also honed in on a couple of running backs in the draft as well."
They likely will also consider the addition of offensive linemen. They only have one backup tackle, Mike Remmers, under contract, and could use competition at guard. Jeff Baca, a 2013 sixth-round draft choice who played in four games last year, is one possibility.
"We're excited about where Jeff has come," Spielman said. "I think the more depth you can accumulate on that offensive line, it really helps your ball club. That's an area that we'll probably address in the draft as well. We bring 15 offensive linemen to camp and we're going to keep our best eight or nine, regardless of who we end up signing. Who is going to be the starters and who's going to be the backups, we definitely want to continue adding some youth."
The Vikings have made a lot of progress with the roster in the last two weeks by re-signing six of their own unrestricted free agents and adding key players from outside the organization. Even if the majority of the starters are penciled into the depth chart, work remains in the next two weeks of free agency and in the draft to add depth.
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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