Commentary: Nothing worth getting?

The Vikings are still roughly $20 million under the salary cap with question marks remaining at some key positions. So why haven't they been more aggressive in the free-agent market? A look at the talent pool offers the explanation…

The Vikings entered the offseason with several clear-cut positions of need on their roster.  Nobody who finishes 6-10 could say they are only a player away.  Their draft class of Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Marcus McCauley, Brian Robison, Aundrae Allison, Rufus Alexander, Tyler Thigpen and Chandler Williams earned high marks from most people.  But their free agent foray that brought in “just” tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, wide receiver Bobby Wade, linebacker Vinny Ciurciu and safety Mike Doss has gotten lukewarm reviews at best.

The draft added some firepower in the backfield with Peterson and some young prospects at wide receiver in Rice, Allison and Williams.  But there are still legitimate concerns about lacking proven players at several key positions.  We’ll take the questions one at a time and offer our take on who’s out there.

The Vikings still need a veteran quarterback behind Tarvaris Jackson?

The most logical veteran guy out there is indeed Philadelphia’s Kelly Holcomb.  He’s been in camp with Andy Reid running essentially the same system that Vikings coach Brad Childress runs with the Vikings.  The burning question with Holcomb, however, is whether he is actually any better than Brooks Bollinger.

Are the 34-year-old Holcomb’s 21 NFL starts and a career passer rating of 79.9 really a significant improvement on the 27-year-old Bollinger’s nine NFL starts and 73.0 quarterback passer rating?  Holcomb has more than twice as much NFL experience, having thrown 810 passes, compared to Bollinger’s 293.  But is the rest of the supporting cast on this team so firm and in place that all they need is someone the caliber of Kelly Holcomb to put them over the top?  We don’t think so.

Holcomb makes sense ONLY if BOTH Jackson and Bollinger clearly indicate early in training camp that NEITHER is capable of starting this season.  Then, as a stopgap, he-couldn’t-be-any-worse-than-Brad-Johnson-type, they pursue Holcomb.

Do names like Drew Bledsoe, Aaron Brooks, Vinny Testaverde, Chris Weinke, Shane Matthews, Todd Bouman, Jay Fiedler, Koy Detmer or Rob Johnson do anything for you?

The Vikings are better off biting the bullet on Jackson, putting everything they can into helping him succeed and getting behind him through the inevitable tough times he will endure in his first full season at the helm.  As long as he doesn’t lose confidence in himself, anyone else that’s available only delays the transition.

Okay, lots of prospects at wide receiver, but still no proven veteran?

Bobby Wade looks like a solid acquisition, but he’s more of a No. 3 receiver.  Troy Williamson appears primed for a bounceback season and could finally deliver on his high draft-pick status, but that’s a big if for anyone who watched him last season.  Rice, Allison and Williams all have big-time ability, but they’re all unproven rookies making a transition at a position and in an offense where it isn’t historically easy to quickly make an impact.

The problem here is in the talent pool available.  The Vikings did everything in their power to land the one player who might have brought talent AND experience to the table in Kevin Curtis.  They made a very substantial offer, but in the end lost out to the Eagles.

The other logical veteran out there is Eric Moulds.  But even’s Adam Caplan acknowledges, “Moulds clearly has lost a step,” and that he “had problems creating separation from defenders and has become more of a possession receiver than anything else.”

The Vikings could have and would have re-signed Travis Taylor for that.  Could he be a veteran influence and be among the team’s top three receivers?  Perhaps.  But then that roster spot comes at the expense of a player with far, far more upside potential.

Other guys suggested by the fans out there:

Antonio Bryant (huge character issues), Keenan McCardell (might actually have a little more left than Moulds, but the guy is 37 years old), Peter Warrick (character), Charles Rogers (character, health), Tyrone Calico (health, reliability), Corey Bradford (journeyman), Todd Pinkston (been there, done that), Dez White (see Pinkston), etc., etc.

Another Derrick Alexander-Sean Dawkins-D’Wayne Bates signing isn’t going to put the receiving corps over the top.  Let the Vikings take some lumps with the prospects.

They did nothing to improve the right side of their offensive line?

True enough, other than a decent group of undrafted rookie free agents in Chase Johnson, Dan Mozes, Kyle Cook, Brian Daniels and Josh Day.

At right tackle, the Vikings are gambling that either Ryan Cook or Marcus Johnson can step up enough this season to be the answer.  Most people aren’t totally comfortable with that, but the alternatives are few and far between:  Kenyatta Walker, Zach Weigert, Torrin Tucker, Barrett Brooks, Matt Stinchcomb?  None offer any more hope than Cook or Johnson.

At right guard, Artis Hicks simply is not the weak link that some seem to think he is.  He might not go to any Pro Bowls, but he’s a strong run blocker who was good enough to start on a Super Bowl-caliber team when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.  His biggest struggle has just been in making the transition from left guard to right guard, which should be better this season.  Plus, he has started 45 of 52 games in the NFL.  Nobody out there represents an upgrade there – Jeno James, Chris Villarrial, Cosey Coleman, Bennie Anderson, Brad Badger, etc., etc.

Improvement at right guard will need to come from the next prospect who develops into being a better player than Hicks, not just a different player who will have to adjust to the offense that Hicks already knows quite well.

The Vikings still don’t have a proven pass-rushing defensive end?

They do not.  But guys like Grant Wistrom and Lance Johnstone aren’t going to be the answer, either.

Wistrom averaged less than four sacks per season after his big-money deal with the Seahawks.  Even in his prime he had just one double-digit sack season.  Wistrom is done.

Johnstone might still have 10-15 plays per game left in the tank, but I’d rather give those reps to Ray Edwards or Brian Robison.

The hope here is that Erasmus James and/or Kenechi Udeze can stay healthy and regain the double-digit sack form they showed as first-round draft picks coming out of college.  The real sleeper in the group is Edwards, who could emerge above both of them if he can keep his motor running.  Robison might be able to flash some ability as a rookie.  There’s also some darkhorse potential in Jayme Mitchell and Khreem Smith.

So while those four areas remain question marks, the reality is that there just aren’t any sure-fire, off-the-shelf answers at this stage of the season.  If there were, I have no doubt owner Zygi Wilf would sign off on releasing the funds.  But at this point, there just isn’t anything worth spending the money on.

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