The Vikings have a lot of free agents hitting the market this year, and are going to need to determine how many of them they want back on the team. One way or another, they will need to get approximately the same number of players back on the roster at each position, whether that be by re-signing these free agents, finding replacements in free agency, or finding their successors in the draft.
A part of this decision will weigh on how the players affect the salary cap. The Vikings appear to be in a favorable position with regards to the salary cap, with about twenty-four million to work with. However, they also have a multitude of starting players that are hitting free agency, including Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Chris Cook, Matt Cassel (became the starter at the end of the season), Desmond Bishop (arguable as a starter since he got injured so early), Erin Henderson (CUT), and Charlie Johnson (good riddance). Bringing those players back at the equivalent to their 2013 salary would cost the team over thirty million, and the team would still need to fill in about ten other positions for depth beyond them. The team also needs to consider that they’ll be replacing some of these guys in the draft, which should count about $6.33 million against the 2014 salary cap, bringing the overall price they can work with right now down around seventeen million. With that in mind, let’s look at all the team’s free agents, by position, and try to determine how to handle the situation.
Along with Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop, 2 other linebackers are currently off the roster. Larry Dean and Marvin Mitchell have both been quality Special Teams players, but have not shown enough to earn a starting position on the field. The team has already added one player from the CFL in this position. Simoni Lawrence is listed as an inside LB, so between him, Mauti and Cole, the team is probably content in the middle. But with only 2 OLBs, (Greenway and Hodges), the team needs to add at least 2 more guys behind them. With that in mind, Mitchell and Dean might be too expensive as backups with starter potential. I’d look for these spots to be filled in the draft, and with undrafted rookies.
Defensive End is easily the biggest hole the Vikings have to fill. Brian Robison is the only player on the roster at the position, so the team will need to add 3 more players in some fashion. Allen is on the decline and can’t be brought back for the same price. With his current decline, it may be asking too much even if he were thrown in as a top-10 salary which would be around $8.6 million. The team drafted Everson Griffen a few years ago with hopes that he could eventually take over as the starter. The team seems to have been thinking he would be ready to take over in 2014, as they offered him an extension midway through the 2013 season, but the two parties were unable to come to an agreement on a price. If we can get Griffen back on board, I’d hope it is in the range of the 20th highest paid player – which seems reasonable for a quality player coming off his rookie contract and hasn’t been a starter yet – which should put him in the $5.4 million range.
Michael Johnson would be another target at the position for the team. He played for Zimmer in Cincinnati for the first 5-years of his career and now is looking to get paid. To date, his career numbers project him to be a 7-sack DE as a starter, although he’s also had forced fumbles and 3 interceptions in the past 3 years which should push his demands up a bit. He’ll probably comand about $7 million in his first year. Whichever way the team goes for DE, they’ll need a veteran at the position and should also add 2 more rookies to fill out the roster.
At DT, Kevin Williams is the big name hitting the market. But with the draft of Sharif Floyd, this starting role should be good to go. The team is also losing Fred Evans, a rotational player at the other DT position. Kevin has expressed an interest in returning to the team under the new head coach. If he’s willing to come back with a reduced salary and transform to a rotational backup he may be worth it. Still, as a productive veteran, he’ll probably command around $3 million. The other position should be filled in the draft, hopefully finally finding that big run stuffer who we’ve been missing since Pat moved on.
Along with Chris Cook, the CB position is losing Marcus Sherels, who has also been a productive punt returner. Cook made $1.3 million in the last year of his rookie contract, and production to date would argue that he is not worth that much on a new deal. Aside from keeping Megatron quiet, he hasn’t been able to record an interception in 4 years, and gets beat too often simply because he can’t figure out when to put his hands up to knock the ball away from the receiver. Sherels has not been a good corner, but his skills as a PR should warrant a new contract, shy of $1 million. The team still needs to find another starter, and should probably do so in free agency, as they’ll have other needs to address early in the draft. Vontae Davis, Captain Munnerlyn or Alterraun Verner would be an ideal target, although they’ll have to pay a hefty price to get any one of them – somewhere in the range of $7 million would be my guess.
At RB, the team has both Gerhart and Asiata hitting the market. Asiata can be tagged with a rookie tender that will keep him around for another year, but Gerhart is going to want a big contract and more playing time. As much as everybody in Minnesota likes Toby, don’t expect him to return. Fortunately, the team has enough guys with potential in the waiting that they shouldn’t have to do much at the position, even in the draft. Zach Line, Joe Banyard and Bradley Randle should be able to duke it out and become the backups needed to spell AD. If not, a late round pick or UFA might provide the extra oomph needed in Turner’s scheme.
At Offensive Line, the team is losing one starter and two backups. Charlie Johnson has been well known as the weakest link of the line, so the team shouldn’t have much trouble at least finding somebody to play as good as he did. I haven’t seen much news of free agents at the position – outside of Richie Incognito – so I’m hoping the team finds a new guard early in the draft – by the time we finish the third round. J’Marcus Webb is young and deserves another shot as a backup around $750K, and the remaining backup should be another late round or UFA pickup.
At WR, the team has three solid players after losing Jerome Simpson and Joe Webb. There has been debate about whether Simpson deserves yet another one year Prove It deal, but I think his legal troubles trump his skill, and we should move on without him. I’m still holding out hope that Childs can come in healthy this year and take over Simpson’s spot. As the #5 WR, the player may already be on the roster in Rodney Smith, Kamar Jorden or Adam Thielen, but if a player with high potential slides on draft day, we may benefit by grabbing him as well.
Finally, at QB we are losing Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. That leaves us with only Ponder on the roster whose entire $3.2 million salary is guaranteed. Because it’s guaranteed, it will do the team no good to cut Ponder. The team still needs to add 2 more QBs to the roster. Clearly, one of them should be early in the draft – either with our first round pick of one of the top 3, trading back in the first round and still grabbing Carr, or waiting until the 2nd or 3rd round to get a guy like Garappolo or Mettenberger. The other spot should be a veteran who can mentor that rookie and potentially start until the rookie is ready. At this point the best veteran for the job is Cassel. Having voided his contract, he’s likely looking for a larger contract in 2014. My guess is that he’s going to want around $6-8 million to return to MN. It will be tough, but we just might be able to pull this off to keep the team afloat until the franchise QB is ready to run things.
FA CB $7
J’Marcus Webb $1
Looking these numbers over, it’s clear that this plan is too expensive for the Vikings to afford. The team will need to do even more to make things work for 2014. This could include things like restructuring Chad Greenway’s $8 million 2014 salary, cutting ties with Letroy Guion’s $4.3 million (which is currently the 12-highest among all DTs), reworking/releasing John Carlson ($5 million), convincing Cassel that he isn’t worth much more than he was scheduled to receive in his previous contract, and finding a FA CB who can come in at a bit more reasonable of a price. How would you do it, VFBers?
*All salary numbers pulled or estimated based off the rates listed on spotrac.