Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Notebook: Talking Vikings Free Agency

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Daniel House talks about the Vikings offseason and why a quiet free agency period isn't the sign of danger ahead. 

Updated: March 18th, 2015 6:00pm

By: Daniel House

The NFL free agency period has been in full swing over the last week and the Minnesota Vikings have been relatively quiet during this period of time. The team has focused on retaining their free agents, while scouring the second wave of free agent targets. They did trade for Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace and dumped the salary of Greg Jennings. However, many fans are becoming impatient and want the Vikings to spend an astronomical amount of money in free agency. First off, that method isn't Rick Spielman's mojo when it comes to adding players. Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer want to add players who are talented within the scheme they are trying to implement. You don't need to sign players who will garner large contracts to fill these holes among your roster. 

Take a look at the list of teams who spent large amount of money and their success over a certain period of time:

2011 Eagles- spent $177 million- went 12-20 over the next two seasons
2012 Broncos- spent $139 million- went 26-6 over the next two seasons- (thanks Peyton)
2012 Redskins- spent $81 million- went 13-19 over the next two seasons
2013 Titans- spent $97 million- went 9-23 over the next two seasons
2014 Buccaneers- spent $124 million- went 2-14 last season
2014 Raiders- spent $91 million- went 3-13 last season

As I illustrated above, those who spend large money on contracts notoriously don't perform well. Teams who draft players well, add second-tier talent that fit their scheme, and are coached to perfection will defeat money and large contracts any day of the week. 

Re-signing talent is a priority

As many Vikings fans scream and holler about the Vikings not spending money, they need to understand the importance of adding players that fit the philosophy through retaining players who perform well and drafting prospects who can be coached to fill the holes. The Vikings re-signed defensive lineman Tom Johnson to an affordable contract last week. This is the perfect example of a player Rick Spielman signed to a 'prove-it' contract last offseason. Johnson wasn't a big name signing, but flourished in Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme. Johnson added 6.5 sacks while entering the defensive line on a rotational basis. Those sacks made a substantial difference in the entire scope of the situation. 

In addition, the Vikings retained the services of offensive guard Joe Berger. The Vikings also tendered offensive tackle Mike Harris, who will provide depth at the swing tackle position. Many casual fans don't understand the importance of having a rotational offensive lineman who can fill all the holes on the offensive line. The Vikings had injuries deplete their offensive line and Joe Berger was the man called upon to play guard and center last season. During this time, he continued to prove he would be effective. He was signed to a middle of the road contract that is incentive laden in the event he must start at left guard next season. Look for the Vikings to fill Charlie Johnson's left guard position by adding a guard through the draft. At this point, it wouldn't be surprising to see the team select a player like Iowa Hawkeyes guard Brandon Scherff in the first round. By adding a player of this caliber, the Vikings could solidify their offensive line and add some stability in the interior of the offensive line. However, the team may want to add a playmaker that drastically falls to the 11th selection in the first round. In the event this happens, the team can add a middle round offensive guard and evaluate that player against David Yankey or Joe Berger in the offseason. 

Trading for Wallace and parting ways with Jennings

As for the wide receiver position, it was slightly surprising to see Greg Jennings released during the free agency period. However, after the team traded for Mike Wallace, you never expected them to keep two large contracts for two wide receivers. Wallace translates nicely to the Vikings offensive scheme and provides them with a pure deep threat. He is one of the quickest wide receivers in the league when it comes to getting off the line of scrimmage. Miami wasn't the most friendly environment and all the worries about his character aren't even a concern for me. Mike Zimmer can help keep Wallace from making poor decisions and Norv Turner will place him in the best situations to be successful on the field. Greg Jennings never blew anyone away with his vertical pass catching and he couldn't get off the line of scrimmage quick enough last season. He was a great leader and mentor, but his abilities as a wide receiver didn't fit Norv Turner's scheme the best. The front office was able to swing the trade for Wallace with just a fifth round pick and the amount of value that was received made this decision very easy. 

Adding a serviceable backup quarterback

The Vikings added Shaun Hill as a backup quarterback and he gets the chance to return to the organization where he started his career back in 2002. Hill is an extremely serviceable quarterback who spent portions of last season as the replacement starter for the St. Louis Rams. Hill will be receiving roughly $3.5 million per season, but that is the current rate for a backup quarterback in this league. You want to have security at the quarterback position and in the event Teddy Bridgewater is injured, Hill is a security blanket for the Vikings. Hill worked with Norv Turner back in the early stages of his career in San Francisco and his familiarity provides even more intrigue to this signing. 

Offseason needs entering free agency

Entering the offseason, I had safety, middle linebacker, cornerback, quarterback and left guard on my list of needs the team needed to address in the offseason. The Vikings are looking for second-tier players at some of these positions and quarterback is currently the only spot that has been addressed. However, the Vikings have expressed interest in several middle of the road players at these positions. 

Lost out on Johnson, but courting Selvie

After putting an extensive effort into attempting to sign defensive end Michael Johnson, the Vikings fell short. Mike Zimmer is looking for a defensive end who can rotate into the defense and provide some sacks. The Vikings have continually expressed interest in defensive end George Selvie, but a deal doesn't appear to be imminent. Selvie notched 10 sacks over the last two seasons with the Cowboys and could play a similar rotational role with the Vikings. 

Searching for cornerbacks

The Vikings have also expressed interest in cornerback Terence Newman and hosted him for a visit. Newman left to talk with the New England Patriots, but described his visit with the Vikings as 'great.' Newman worked with Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati and arguably had the best portion of his career while being coached by him. The 37-year old would be used as rotational depth in the event the Vikings draft a raw cornerback in late rounds that might not be ready to start immediately. At this point, don't be surprised if the Vikings select Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes in the first round. Waynes is a fast and physical cornerback that could be a lethal pairing opposite of Xaiver Rhodes.

Adding a safety next to Harrison

The Vikings will have safety Taylor Mays in for a visit this week, as well. The Vikings weren't pleased with Robert Blanton as a run support and coverage safety. Mays can try to upgrade these areas, but vastly underachieved during his five seasons in the league. Again, Mays was most successful in Mike Zimmer's defense with Cincinnati and the team wants to add a player that can flourish within the scheme. Mays has bundles of athleticism and talent, but has struggled with injuries during his career in the league. This signing might not be exciting, but you must trust that Mike Zimmer knows what he is doing when it comes to filling the holes in his defense. Mays has the athleticism and if he can learn to play consistent, he might be just what the Vikings are looking for.

Greenway could be back at lower price

The Vikings are working with Chad Greenway to restructure his contract, according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero. Greenway struggled last season and battled injuries over the final portion of the year. The Vikings have expressed interest in Greenway returning to the team, but it sounds like this would be at a lower price. If the team decides to draft another linebacker to pair with Anthony Barr, his playing time might be reduced (unless he is willing to move inside). As for the middle linebacker position, the Vikings haven't expressed much interest at this position and it appears they are comfortable with what they have or will use the draft to upgrade this spot. 

Time to settle down

As a whole, you see a reoccurring theme with the Vikings free agency strategy. The front office isn't going to throw around loads of money when it doesn't fit the direction this team is looking to head. This football environment that has been established isn't all about big time players, but more about players who play hard and get the job done at their respective positions. Nobody is quite better than Mike Zimmer at finding players who can play within his system. He brings players back who work hard and play well in his system. They might not be the best at their respective positions, but they perform well enough for the unit to be successful. 

So next time you complain about the Vikings not spending money in free agency, trust that second-tier players are better for the growth and future of the organization. The Vikings might not be winning the headlines in March, but ultimately the only headlines that matter are September through February. 

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