Vikings free-agent forecast: Calm

The Vikings have plenty of decisions to make in free agency, but most of the big ones reside on their own roster over the next two years.

Now that we’re in March, the 2016 season is ready to get underway. The official league year begins a week from tomorrow, when free agency officially opens, but it will actually begin next Monday, when a three-day window for negotiating opens.

On Monday, March 7, teams can start talking to agents and players in advance of the official start to free agency – 4 p.m. EST Wednesday, March 9. The three-day window will allow agents and teams to enter into contract negotiations and agree to terms prior to Wednesday afternoon’s official opening.

There is a belief that the Minnesota Vikings may be selectively active in free agency early on, with names like Cincinnati safety George Iloka being thrown out as potential options. The Vikings have been a Jekyll-Hyde in the first two seasons with Mike Zimmer as the head coach.

In his first free agent period, general manager Rick Spielman was willing to open the checkbook to help Zimmer acquire players that he felt would help the team and they didn’t take long to get the job done.

The Vikings weren’t overly active or doing any crazy spending, but once the Day 1 flurry on March 11, 2014 died down – after more than $1 billion in contract money was committed to players throughout the league, the Vikings struck quickly.

On March 12, Day 2 of free agency, the Vikings signed Linval Joseph and Jasper Brinkley. The next day, they signed Captain Munnerlyn, giving the Vikings a three-player set to build the defense. A week later, on March 20, Zimmer was reunited with valuable role-playing defensive tackle Tom Johnson. The remainder of the signings were low-level free agents that weren’t guaranteed anything other than a chance to compete for a spot. Within a week of free agency opening, the Vikings had made all of their significant moves – all on defense – and were effectively done with free agency.

They added some talented players in Joseph and Munnerlyn and key role players in Johnson and Brinkley. Aside from that, the biggest offseason acquisitions came in the draft, adding Teddy Bridgewater and Jerick McKinnon to the offense and Anthony Barr, Antone Exum and Shamar Stephen to the defense.

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Last year, things were much different. Free agency opened on March 10 and the Vikings were ominously silent. The only moves they made were to re-sign some of their own free agents. The spending spree began in earnest without the Vikings getting involved. The only move the Vikings made in the first two weeks of free agency was to cut a trade with Miami to take on Mike Wallace’s contract, which, while expensive, left the Dolphins holding the bag for the dead money in his signing bonus. Wallace was the only significant acquisition until the Vikings opted to reunite Zimmer with Terence Newman on March 30 – three weeks into free agency.

It was hard to knock the success the Vikings had in 2015, due in a larger degree to what Newman brought to the defense than what Wallace brought to the offense. But the improvement the Vikings exemplified in 2015 was due more to solid drafting the last two years and not risking the tender balance of a locker room by breaking the bank on an outside free agent.

For those expecting the Vikings to be active in free agency, they may want to curb their enthusiasm. The team has to make important financial decisions on Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil at some point in the near future. Smith seems like a no-brainer to lock down long-term. Kalil? The jury (and potentially a five-year deal in the upper end of nine figures) is likely to be kept on hold for 2016. Pay as you exit.

The more important decisions in the future reside on their current roster. Factors in that the Vikings will have to determine whether to exercise the fifth-year options looming with Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes in the spring (Cordarrelle Patterson won’t be afforded that option), much less Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr posing the same conundrum in 2017, and the Vikings have plenty of commitments to make.

Given what we know about Spielman and are learning about Zimmer, both have a loyalty to their own players and, like the organizations in Green Bay, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, tend to invest big contracts with their own players, not outsiders.

This doesn’t mean the Vikings won’t be involved in free agency. Just don’t expect them to be one of the teams grabbing headlines next Wednesday handing out eye-popping contracts. If they’re looking at the big picture, their main investments are already in their own locker room, not somebody else’s.


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