Heading into March, the Vikings were limited in what they could do right out of the gate in free agency because of the "Final Four" rule in this year's free agency.
Teams advancing to the conference championship games were permitted to sign an unrestricted free agent only after one of their own unrestricted free agents signed with another team, and the the salary of the free agent they signed couldn't exceed the first-year salary of the free agent they lost. As it turned out, the Vikings lost Chester Taylor and Artis Hicks in the initial days after free agency started … and they still haven't signed any qualifying unrestricted free agents – both Rhys Lloyd and Mike Montgomery were released from their previous teams and don't count against the Vikings' ability to sign unrestricted free agents.
So what was really restricting the Vikings in free agency – and still is? Simply put, the market stinks for a team looking for an impact free agent at the Vikings' positions of needs.
A look at Scout.com's free-agent database, which was updated before the weekend, shows that only three of the top 20 free agents were unrestricted, and two of those – Julius Peppers and Karlos Dansby – were unattainable even if the Vikings wanted them because their salaries were well beyond what Chester Taylor received from Chicago.
More than 200 players were left off the unrestricted market and moved into restricted free agency because of new rules increasing the experience players must have to become unrestricted. That's a lot of potential talent that became more expensive to sign because those players would require a healthy contract that their original team wouldn't match, plus surrendering a draft pick.
Even more damning for the Vikings' chances of signing an impact free agent was the fact that they like going after players coming out of their initial NFL contract, believing those players with four and five years of experience are just hitting the prime of their careers instead of being over-the-hill veterans whose best days are behind them and are only playing for one last big paycheck. The NFL is a grind during the season and it's only natural for some aging veterans with declining skills to try to ride out their final years in the league in attempt to make far more money they ever will in the rest of their lives.
The positions of need for the Vikings are impressively bad on the unrestricted free-agent market. They tried to re-sign Chester Taylor, but his absence now leaves an experience void at running back, and Taylor and Thomas Jones were the top-ranked unrestricted free agents at the position. After those two in the rankings are Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson – the Vikings tried to sign Tomlinson but he moved to the New York Jets for less money and more opportunity, and Westbrook was a guy they might eventually target if the draft doesn't produce a perceived steal. After that, the options just aren't all the productive and, while experience is still a desired asset in picking up blitzes, they might just be willing to see how Albert Young can adapt to his first real NFL action.
Depth on the offensive line is more likely to be filled from the draft, where the long-term potential is better than the available options in unrestricted free agency.
Although the Vikings might eventually need more punch on their defensive line, they are pretty well set when it comes to veteran talent. Even if Pat Williams and Kevin Williams end up having to actually serve their suspensions, the team capitalized on what were probably their best options there by slapping a prohibitive second-round tender on Fred Evans and eventually re-signing Jimmy Kennedy, who turned out to be the top backup for the Williams Wall. Defensive end is also covered with Jared Allen and Ray Edwards, with Brian Robison in reserve. An infusion of youth is the best route there.
The cornerback market, much like at running back, doesn't offer much to get excited about, especially considering any veteran that would come here would have to be prepared for the possibility of getting bumped to the bench when Cedric Griffin returns from rehabilitating his torn anterior cruciate ligament.
It's pretty simple why the Vikings haven't made any impact moves in free agency. It has nothing to do with being willing to spend the money. The Wilf ownership group has proved that with past free agencies when there were legitimate opportunities that they took advantage of.
"Our ownership since I've been here has always done things to make sure that if there is someone we feel that unique about that we were able to go out and get them," Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We are very fortunate, and I think the fans of Minnesota are very fortunate, to have ownership that are willing to go out and put the resources out there to go get the players that we need to win ballgames."
Their past activity has helped them win 22 regular-season games in the last two years and set up a roster that has nearly every starting spot accounted for. And when they got to free agency in March, there just wasn't much worth signing.
Bring on the draft.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Market dictated free agency
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