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Free agency is two months away, but it is never too early to develop a plan for making the Minnesota Vikings’ roster better. Daniel House steps inside GM Rick Spielman's shoes as he tries to re-tool the current structure of the team.
Updated: January 12th, 2016 9:55am
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
Free agency is two months away, but it is never too early to develop a plan for making the Minnesota Vikings’ roster better. Devising a free agency plan allows the team to assess their current roster and plan for the draft. In the past, I’ve advocated for mid-tier players who have potential, but haven’t reached their peak capability in the league. Again, I have found several candidates to address areas of need I feel are critical to patching the offensive line, depth at linebacker/defensive tackle, and running back. I suggest four young players and a veteran who could help the Vikings develop a more well-rounded roster.
Here is my first free agency target list:
Right tackle Ricky Wagner is very underrated and was a solid player for the Ravens this season. With the offensive line class being weak in the draft, it is going to be necessary to address the position in free agency. A few years ago, the Vikings found mid-tier free agency gems with Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn. Wagner has the chance to be this type of player in the 2017 free agency class. In 2016, he made just $576,140, but with the market of quality players being low, he is going to get a nice deal. His strength is as a pass protector. His technique was very impressive and he managed to take great angles and deliver a punch with proper hand placement. Wagner could improve as a run blocker, but he still does a good job of holding his blocks and getting to the second level. Wagner managed to bounce back after a rough 2015. He ranked 9th in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking rankings and is rated as the league’s 19th best tackle. The Ravens will try to retain him, but a Minnesota offer in the 5-year, $30-35 million range might sway Ricky Wagner to leave. The Vikings need to take out the checkbook to fix the offensive line problems, if they want to do more than patching.
The next offensive lineman I would take a long look at during free agency is Green Bay Packers’ center/guard J.C. Tretter. Tretter’s intelligence as a player is his most impressive attribute. He is smart, athletic, and does a very good job of getting to the second level to pave rushing lanes for running backs. He won’t break the bank and will receive a mid-tier contract the Vikings can afford. Green Bay will likely move on because of the talent they have on the offensive line and Tretter could easily be signed to a mid-tier deal. The Vikings could either play Tretter at guard or center depending upon where they would like to place Joe Berger. Personally, I would like to retain Matt Kalil at left tackle and draft another tackle high in the draft to compete with him for the starting job in camp. Additionally, Alex Boone would remain at left guard and Joe Berger or Nick Easton could play center. I see the team parting ways with Brandon Fusco, which means Tretter could slide into right guard and Ricky Wagner would start at right tackle. Tretter might feel more comfortable playing center, and if he is, Joe Berger could play right guard. In addition, Mike Harris could be healthy and he would be a player who could start at the right guard spot too. Ultimately, adding Tretter and Wagner would give the Vikings some flexibility and stability up front. The Vikings can draft two tackles and a guard too for more depth and insurance in the event injuries strike again.
Proposed Offensive Line: LT Matt Kalil, LG Alex Boone, C J.T. Tretter, RG Joe Berger/Mike Harris/or drafted player, RT Ricky Wagner
In addition to this, the Vikings need to draft at least two offense tackles and guards to ensure improved depth at every spot among the offensive line.
It felt as if the the Vikings were very weak at the backup linebacker spots. I think they’ll look for one linebacker in free agency and another in the draft. I really like the upside with A.J. Klein. He came from a 4-3 scheme in Carolina and I could see him playing either inside or out. Primarily, he would be a great linebacker to start in the middle if the team wants to have Eric Kendricks at outside linebacker. He was buried on the depth chart, but notched 17 total tackles, including two forced fumbles and a sack this season. When Klein was on the field, he made plays within the Carolina defense. I could see Klein fitting well with his size (6’1”) and is experience playing both inside and outside linebacker spots. He was a player I scouted hard coming out of Iowa State. I interviewed him for a feature and I think he strongly matches the type of player Mike Zimmer would be searching for.
You’ve probably never heard of Stacy McGee because he was buried on the depth chart with Oakland, but you should get to know him. He would be the perfect fit to upgrade the defensive tackle spot alongside Linval Joseph. He has impressive athleticism, length, and size in the middle and can plug lanes as a run stuffer. Not to mention, he has the athletic skills to get after the passer and cause disruptions. His technique is relativity solid and he would be a sleeper talent defensive line coach Andre Patterson could take to the next level. I watched several film clips and saw McGee make plays every time he was on the field. He had 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the nine total games he played. The Vikings could play him inside with Linval Joseph and improve the interior defensive line’s ability to stop the run. Shamar Stephen could be a rotational player, which is what he is best suited to do.
I don’t see Adrian Peterson coming back next season and I think it would be wise to target a veteran running back to take some snaps. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe the Vikings will draft a running back, but I’d like to see someone proven who can contribute immediately. DeAngelo Williams would pair nicely with Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata (if he returns). In addition, the Vikings could draft a promising running back to develop slowly. In 16 games during the 2015 season, Williams rushed for 11 touchdowns and 907 yards. This year, he played in nine games, scoring four touchdowns, while tallying 343 rushing yards. He still has some gas in the tank and could be an insurance option as the Vikings develop a potential draft pick to play with Jerick McKinnon in the future.
Things to think about:
The Vikings might need to address the wide receiver position if Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen are unable to be re-signed in free agency. It seems more likely Thielen will return because he is a restricted free agent. However, Patterson could be lured away. Even if they both come back, I wouldn’t be opposed to finding a wide receiver who can be a vertical threat while Laquon Treadwell is developing. The Jets might release Brandon Marshall and he would be a solid stop-gap option at wide receiver.
Many people are talking about the Vikings’ defensive back situation. Personally, I see Terence Newman returning for another year. In addition, Mackensie Alexander will have an offseason to develop and Trae Waynes showed he has taken the necessary steps to improve. Despite being a free agent, I think Captain Munnerlyn will return, which leaves the secondary in good shape for another season. The team will look to add a safety to play alongside Harrison Smith via the draft. This is a class loaded with safety talent, so this is the perfect year to address this need.
I’ll address draft needs and the Vikings’ current free agents in a future post, but I see the team looking to add three or more total offensive lineman, a running back, safety, and linebacker in the draft. Those draft picks, blended with an aggressive free agency approach to address the weaknesses on the offensive line will help the Vikings avoid an injury plagued depth apocalypse in 2017.