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The Vikings might take an aggressive approach in free agency. If they do, Daniel House has a plan in his free agency outlook.
Updated: January 12th, 2016 9:55am
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
After a disappointing 8-8 finish to the 2016 season for the Minnesota Vikings, the team has a chance to address their concerns in the draft and free agency. The front office and coaching staff has spent the last two months working diligently to develop their plans for the team in free agency and the draft. They are evaluating prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine and will be traveling to pro-days in the coming weeks. Before the frenzy of prospect decisions, the Vikings will try to re-tool their team in free agency. The negotiation window to sign free agents opens Tuesday and contracts can be finalized Thursday.
The Vikings currently have $39.7 million in space available to sign free agents. The team could still release Sharrif Floyd, which would increase this number to the $46 million range. In addition, quarterback Sam Bradford may be willing to restructure if the Vikings needed more cash to sign two “big money” offensive lineman. One would assume much of this allotted cap space will be used to address the glaring holes the team has up front. This is especially evident when the current slate of offensive tackles is evaluated in the draft. Signing two proven commodities to play tackle would leave the Vikings with flexibility to address their right guard spot in the draft.
However, there are several key factors to consider when evaluating how the Vikings will approach free agency. This post details everything to consider:
Adrian Peterson: Is his time in Minnesota over?
This week, the Vikings declined the option in running Adrian Peterson’s contract. This should come as no surprise to anyone. Peterson was due $18 million in 2017, along with a $6 million roster bonus. It would have been foolish to exercise an option for a 31-year-old running back that has only played one full season in the last three. The Vikings could agree to a new contract with Adrian Peterson in the $6 million range, but it just doesn’t seem realistic. Minnesota is heading in a different direction on offense. They will be implementing a quick passing game with sets frequently coming out of the shotgun. Adrian Peterson isn’t a fit for this change in philosophy. With a deep running back class in the NFL Draft, the Vikings would be wise to allocate those funds to addressing the deficiencies up front. People have to move past the nostalgia and understand what’s best for this team to win games.
Will the Vikings offer Captain Munnerlyn?
I may be in the minority, but I don’t think the Vikings will agree to a contract with Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn will want too much money and the Vikings already need to prepare for a Xavier Rhodes extension on the horizon. The team can’t afford to allocate too much money to this position. They drafted Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander with the future in mind. Terence Neman likely has one more year in the tank, which would give the Vikings some time to add more depth. Munnerlyn reportedly wants a long-term contract and a $4.2 million raise, according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see the Vikings agreeing on a deal with that large of a financial commitment. The Vikings cap space will open more next year to absorb a higher contract, but it’s hard to imagine Munnerlyn returning when one considers the investment Minnesota has made in the position over the last three years.
Aggressive approach with the offensive line?
The Vikings need to be aggressive in free agency at the offensive line position. If they don’t attack the tackle spot with the available free agents, the draft isn’t going to have immediate starting options. This is especially the case with the Vikings being outside the first round. As I said in one of my first free agency posts, Ricky Wagner should be the main target for the Vikings in free agency. He is going to require a large sum of cash, but it is necessary. He could exceed $11 million per year, which would make him the highest paid right tackle in football. I’ve said it since day one: the Vikings need to attack the right side of this offensive line. Biting the bullet and signing Wagner solidifies the right tackle spot immediately.
After letting the ink dry on Wagner’s contract, the team can approach the remainder of the offensive line in one of two ways.
Re-sign Matt Kalil or make a play at Russell Okung
Many people feel it is important for the Vikings to address the guard spot in free agency, however, I’m in the minority. The Vikings’ tackle spots single-handedly stalled their offense last year. They need to be extremely aggressive at tackle because there is less depth at this spot in the draft. Taking out the checkbook and making a strong play at both Russell Okung and Ricky Wagner would make a huge statement. If the team wants to be more conservative, they could re-sign Matt Kalil to a middle tier deal. However, addressing this problem from the outside seems like a better alternative. Okung is extremely gifted as an athlete, but his injury concerns have caused people to turn away. Nonetheless, he played in all 16 games last year and would be an immediate upgrade at the left tackle spot.
This plan is going to be quite expensive and may cost a combined $20-24 million per year. We don’t know what the going rate will be at this point for these two players and if it gets too high. Nonetheless, this deal could be front-loaded to limit the cap burden. Ditching the contracts of Adrian Peterson, Captain Munnerlyn, Matt Kalil, and (potentially) Sharrif Floyd provide significant cap flexibility. The Vikings need to establish the edges of the offensive line. By dolling out the cash in free agency, they can fix a major problem. In the draft, the team can address the interior portion of the offensive line.
Offensive lineman fits in the draft
The Vikings can solidify the offensive tackle spots and focus on the interior via the draft. With their second round pick, they would be wise to land a player like Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp if he is still on the board. He weighs in at 305 and has a 6’4” frame. What’s most impressive is his under-the-radar athleticism. He is a fantastic run blocker and maintains balance out of his stance. I was impressed with his overall fluidity and his aggressiveness.
The team should also look closely at Temple’s Dion Dawkins. He has the versatility to play guard or tackle, but I see him playing inside. His footwork has some consistency issues and his punch in the passing game needs some refinement. However, he has impressive upper body strength and his balance is also a strength. Dawkins is very fluid out of his stance and the Vikings might be able to add him in the second round.
If Joe Berger retires, the Vikings may need some help at center. One player I like on film is Ohio State’s Pat Elflein. He finishes his blocks and has the patience/vision to find defenders at both the point of attack/second-level. His footwork is inconsistent and I found several film clips where his pad level continually rose. Nonetheless, this guy was well-coached at Ohio State and is known for his work ethic and smarts in the class room. He is the definition of a smash-mouth offensive lineman. He would be an option for the Vikings in the third round.
Running back prospects to evaluate
The Vikings can add a quality running back in the draft to pair with Jerick McKinnon. There are two mid-round prospects I would be particularly pleased with. Kareem Hunt is one of my favorite running backs in this class. His blend of power and speed allows him to be an effective runner in tight spaces. Hunt picks up a plethora of yards after contact and would be a nice fit out of the backfield for the Vikings. He is a player the team could add in the fourth round to complement Jerick McKinnon. Another player the Vikings may target is Clemson running back Wayne Gallman. He would be in the third round range of the draft. Gallman is tremendous in the open field and has impressive lateral quickness to explode out of cuts. He has a portion of his game where he doesn’t stay low. However, he would be a nice complement to Jerick McKinnon as well.
If the Vikings don’t re-sign Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata, they may need to add a power running back who can play in short-yardage situations. The perfect candidate would be Jamaal Williams. He runs north and south and plays extremely physical in almost every aspect of his game. Williams sometimes doesn’t have fantastic vision and cuts too late. However, he keeps his feet moving and has an impressive spin move. He takes care of the ball and had 1 fumble for every 140 carries at BYU.
The draft class is deep at running back and the Vikings can afford to lose Adrian Peterson in the process.
Potential Free Agent Targets
After adding Ricky Wagner and Russell Okung in free agency, the Vikings will likely be conservative for the remainder of free agency. However, they could add a wide receiver like Brandon Marshall. He would likely require a salary between $6-7 million a year. If the Vikings address running back via the draft, they might add a veteran wide receiver. He could be a veteran in the locker room and a mentor to Laquon Treadwell. He would likely sign a one or two-year deal and could be a stop-gap option. He would join a wide receiver group with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Cordarrelle Patterson already in the fold.
Nonetheless, the team could look at a player like Latavius Murray if Adrian Peterson doesn’t return. They could draft a running back and add Murray to pair with McKinnon. Most of you have heard me discuss former Oakland defensive tackle Stacy McGee on Twitter as well. He would be a solid addition next to Linval Joseph. McGee has impressive athleticism, length, and size in the middle. 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.
Free Agents returning or leaving
New Additions via FA:
Proposed Starting Offensive Line: Okung, Boone, Berger (if he doesn’t retire), drafted guard, Wagner
Free Agents returning or leaving
New Additions via FA:
Proposed Starting Offensive Line: Kalil, Boone, Berger (if he doesn’t retire), drafted guard, Wagner
Note: In this scenario, the Vikings would draft a left tackle early. A candidate could be Taylor Moton (WMU) and he would compete with Matt Kalil for the starting job. However, no matter what happens, Ricky Wagner has to be the top target for this team. In this scenario, the team may be able to afford a contract for Captain Munnerlyn to return as well.
The Vikings need to be aggressive in free agency and I wouldn’t be shocked if they paid a significant amount of cash for two top-tier offensive lineman. However, as always, this piece provides a talking piece for fans and analysts alike.
Scenario one might be too risky. GM Rick Spielman may decide he isn’t going to leverage the future with Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter extensions on the horizon. That puts this plan in the gutter.
However, the window to win a championship is only so wide.