Tackle class thinned in free agency

The tackle class got thinner in free agency, but the draft is still considered a solid option. See what Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman had to say about the possibilities, and what Adam Caplan learned about the Vikings' interests.

As franchise tags were announced on Thursday, the one name for Vikings fans to watch was Jordan Gross.

The Carolina Panthers offensive tackle wasn't franchised, but the Panthers signed him to a six-year deal that reportedly calls for $30.5 million in the first three years.

According to Scout.com's Adam Caplan, a few league sources said the Vikings were prepared to make the former first-round pick a significant free-agent offer.

Gross, according to what sources told Caplan, was the top-rated player on Vikings' free agency board and they had planned to play him at right tackle, a position which has been a revolving door for the team. The Vikings have a need at the position, with former second-round pick Ryan Cook struggling to find consistency and Artis Hicks considered more of a valuable backup at several positions than a starter at right tackle.

"As we went through our evaluations, there is not a position – I don't think – that we would not look at, to try to get better," said Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel, when asked about Cook. "And even with the (Steve) Hutchinsons of the world – and we have very good football players – but those guys are going to come to an end, at some point, whether it's three years down the road or whenever that time comes. You have to have talented guys behind them to step in and take their place. And also, you can't predict injuries during a season, or suspensions during a season. So, again, it may not look like a need."

If the Vikings don't find a starting right tackle in free agency, they do consider it a pretty good crop of tackles in the draft.

"I think the offensive tackle class is very comparable to do what it was last year," Spielman said.

Last year, seven offensive tackles were picked in the first round.

But Spielman cautioned that the Vikings can't reach in the draft to fill a specific need.

"In the first round, whatever we end up taking there, we're going to take the best player regardless of that position. Because you can't predict the unpredictable that happens during a season," he said. "Then say, ‘Well, why would you take someone like that, if that doesn't look like it's a major need for you?' But, in essence, it could be a major need a year from now. It was like when we took Tyrell (Johnson) last year."

Spielman said the team usually has two or three players at different positions evenly matched for talent when they make a pick in the draft, but they won't take a player rated lower in order to fill a need.

Had Gross become available on the free-agent market, the Vikings undoubtedly would have had some competition if they pursued him. The other team that would have gone after Gross was the Philadelphia Eagles, according to what sources told Caplan. Philadelphia could have as much as $48 million in available salary-cap space when free agency opens next Friday.

NOTES

  • Caplan also noted that Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson is due a $5 million roster bonus in the middle of March and has a cap number over $8.8 million for 2009. He is believed to essentially have two years left on his contract worth more than $16 million, according to Sirius NFL Radio.

  • Spielman on the strengths in the draft: "On the offensive side, I think it's a deep center class. More than it's been. I think, as much as we don't like the juniors to come out, I think the junior running backs and receivers really made that a really strong class, as well. I think the offensive tackle class is very comparable to do what it was last year.

    "On the defensive side, corners – there's going to be good depth through the draft, at the corner position. I think defensive tackle, there are some inside pass rushers that are going to be going early. I think the linebacker class, especially in that first round, you could potentially see four or five linebackers go in the first round. It's a very strong class, in that area."

  • Spielman said he didn't believe that running back Adrian Peterson putting on weight this offseason will affect his explosiveness. "Adrian is very lean, very lean, muscular (player). A lot like you guys, maybe 5 percent body fat," Spielman said, joking with beat writers in Indianapolis. "Whether that helps him taking the shots that he takes, I'm sure if he came back at 270 pounds, there would be some concern. But he's such an explosive athlete, and if you're able to add more muscle mass to what he has, it could be more of a benefit. I know Adrian is smart enough to know what weight he would want to put on before it would affect his speed and quickness. You wouldn't want that weight to affect how he is or what type of player he is."

  • Spielman wouldn't address the possibility of QB Michael Vick becoming a Vikings if and when he is reinstated because he is still the property of the Atlanta Falcons, but Spielman did say, "We've very strong on character and what type of people, and you guys know how we've been about the kinds of players we've brought in."


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