Wide receiver will likely be a position of priority during free agency this season, just as it was last year. With the entire regular season just about complete, here’s a look back at what might have been and what was for the Vikings this past offseason.
Until the Patriots stepped into the picture with their trade offer with the Miami Dolphins, the Vikings were quietly in discussions to acquire Wes Welker, who originally joined the Dolphins on Rick Spielman’s watch in Miami. But the Patriots were in a better position with draft picks to offer and pre-empted Minnesota’s efforts to upgrade their receiving corps.
Welker didn’t get the richest contract ($18.1 million/5 years; $5.5 million signing bonus) during the offseason, but he has been the most productive, especially with the stellar supporting cast in New England. Having Tom Brady as your quarterback and Randy Moss sucking up constant double-teaming in coverage is a good recipe for productivity. Welker has held up his end of the bargain nicely, earning a Pro Bowl bid with 101 catches for 1,053 yards and eight touchdowns heading into their regular-season finale.
Former Ram’s receiver Kevin Curtis was the team’s next target, but Curtis reportedly accepted slightly less money to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles instead. Curtis received a $32 million deal over 6 years, with $7 million in signing bonus and $9.5 million in total guaranteed money. Among unrestricted free agents available, Curtis had indeed been the most productive with 70 receptions for 1,048 yards and six touchdowns to date in Philadelphia.
In the end, the Vikings “settled” for Bobby Wade, agreeing to a five-year contract worth $15 million, including $4 million in guarantees. Wade enters the regular-season finale with 49 catches for 555 yards, one touchdown and numerous effective downfield blocks on long Adrian Peterson or Chester Taylor long runs. Given the entire landscape, the Wade signing was generally worth the investment.
He’s not exactly what you’re looking for as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, which he has been for the Vikings this season, but he is a very effective No. 3 receiver operating from the slot due to his wiggle and niftiness finding soft spots in the short-to-intermediate ranges of zone coverages.
Another potentially high-priced option a year ago would have been Donte Stallworth, whom the Patriots signed from Philadelphia. The Vikings did not express any interest in Stallworth, primarily due to reputations about his character and work ethic. In New England, on a team with strong, proven veteran leadership, it has worked out okay for the Patriots. Stallworth has caught 43 passes for 665 yards and three touchdowns so far this season.
The terms of Stallworth’s contract are complex. A six-year, $33.1 million deal on paper, he essentially played for $3.6 million in 2007 ($1 million signing bonus + $1.6 million roster bonus + $300,000 workout bonus + $700,000 base salary). However, to retain him for 2008 the Patriots will need to pay him an option bonus of $6 million on Feb. 25, 2008.
Drew Bennett also signed for more money than Wade received, with his former Titans teammate getting a six-year, $30 million deal with $10 million guaranteed, including a $7.5 million signing bonus from the St. Louis Rams. In exchange, Bennett has caught 32 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns; hardly more bang for the buck than Wade.
Another veteran option that some called for was Joe Horn. The former New Orleans Saints receiver got a four-year contract worth $19 million from the Atlanta Falcons. In return, he has caught 24 passes for 211 yards and no touchdowns. Good non-move there.
Another good non-move that some called for: Ashley Lelie, who played for receivers coach George Stewart in Atlanta in 2006 and signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. Lelie got $3.2 million from the ‘Niners in 2007 and will make another $2.8 million in 2008 if he’s still around. Lelie has caught just 10 passes for 115 yards and no touchdowns this season.
The one receiver who has proven to be a better value than Wade has been Shaun McDonald (ex-Rams), who signed with the Detroit Lions. McDonald received a two-year, $2.8 million contract and has responded with 74 catches for 874 yards and five touchdowns so far this season. McDonald is an undersized, shifty, nifty slot receiver, much like Wade.
Rice vs. Jarrett comparison
Another comparison worth reflecting on is that between Sidney Rice and Dwayne Jarrett. Many thought the Vikings made a big mistake when they drafted Rice ahead of the former Southern California wideout Jarrett.
Their stats heading into Week 17: Rice has 31 catches for 396 yards and four touchdowns; Jarrett has just 6-73-0.
The other position where the Vikings spent some big money this past offseason was at tight end. They took a soft stance in pursuing Daniel Graham (Patriots), who landed with the Denver Broncos. Instead, they signed Visanthe Shiancoe.
Shiancoe has had his moments this season, including some end zone drops and a key fumble last week. But he’s given them something they’ve lacked and been a much more effective blocker than advertised.
From a financial standpoint, second choice might have been the better investment, too.
Shiancoe has caught 27-323-1 after agreeing to a five-year contract worth $18 million, including $7 million guaranteed.
Graham has caught 24-246-2 after signing a five-year deal for $30 million with $15 million in guarantees.
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