Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on the Free Agency Rumor Mill for the Vikings
The Vikings have an estimated salary-cap space of $41.2 million, according to OverTheCap.com. They increased their cap space by $6 million with the recent release of tight end John Carlson and nose tackle Letroy Guion.
They've used some of the cap space by re-signing quarterback Matt Cassel, cornerback/punt returner Marcus Sherels, and according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (h/t Chris Wesseling of NFL.com), defensive end Everson Griffen. Griffen's deal is reported to be worth $42 million over five years.
While these are very good signings for the team, don't expect the Vikings to sign any of the top-rated players in free agency. Recent history indicates that general manager Rick Spielman prefers to make waves through the NFL draft. In a report from the Star Tribune last month, he indicated the goal is to compile at least 10 draft picks.
He's done pretty well recently with 29 draftees over the last three years.
The bottom line is that with a new stadium on the horizon, the Vikings need to improve, and Spielman needs to make some moves to improve the team. Last season the Vikings finished 5-10-1 with a defense that ranked near the bottom of almost every statistical category.
That's where the emphasis must start for Spielman and new head coach Mike Zimmer.
Here's a look at some of the current free-agent rumors swirling around the Vikings and whether they are buying into them or selling out and going another direction. With how quickly Spielman and the Vikings have been moving so far, don't be surprised if most of these rumors are resolved in a matter of days—in one way or another.
Bought: Quarterback Matt Cassel
We'll start with one rumor already put to bed. Last week Ian Rapoport tweeted that quarterback Matt Cassel and the Vikings had agreed to a two-year deal. NFL.com reported that the deal is worth $10 million.
Cassel opted out of the final year of his contract with the Vikings last month. There were plenty of rumors that Houston was very interested in signing him, as pointed out in a tweet from Sports Illustrated and a Rapoport tweet (h/t SI.com) last week.
Despite only leading the Vikings to a 3-3 record (although he should also be credited for the overtime win over the Chicago Bears), the move is a good one.
Cassel was the most effective quarterback last season for Minnesota. During a turbulent season that saw the Vikings start three quarterbacks, Cassel was the most effective. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes over parts of nine games, making six starts. He was the only quarterback to throw more touchdowns than interceptions, finishing with 11 and nine, respectively.
The move doesn't mean the Vikings won't still be looking to draft a quarterback. Heading into his 10th season in the NFL, Cassel brings experience to the position, as the Vikings still need to find a long-term solution.
Bought: Defensive End Everson Griffen
According to a tweet from Rapoport on Sunday, the Vikings and Griffen have agreed to a five-year deal.
The re-signing of defensive end Everson Griffen was an obvious move for the Vikings to make. He finished third in sacks for the Vikings the last two seasons as a backup to Jared Allen and Brian Robison.
The Vikings have been very high on Griffen, so much so that they tried to see if he could fill a hole they have at linebacker last season. Perhaps the deal is coming along slowly because new head coach Mike Zimmer wants to fully investigate what he has available.
I agree with a story by Robert Mays of Grantland.com that identifies the Vikings as one of the best fits for Griffen. Even though there were no indications, I really thought that Seattle would be getting into the discussion—especially if they cannot retain their own defensive end Michael Bennett.
It seemed like a good fit since Griffen played for Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll at USC.
This is a great move by the Vikings—they fill a hole in the lineup and know exactly what they are getting in Griffen.
It's amazing how this one move significantly impacts two other possible moves outlined in the next two slides.
Selling: Defensive End Jared Allen
Sometimes the message comes across extremely clear when very little is being said. Such is the case with free-agent defensive end Jared Allen.
The time allowed for teams to negotiate with their own free agents is quickly running out, and there is no indication the Vikings and Allen are even talking. This should not be any surprise to anyone who has followed the Vikings the last few years. Spielman has done a very good job of weeding out older players instead of paying them.
Last season he renegotiated defensive tackle Kevin William's contract, saving some cap space and reducing the length of the contract. He also released veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, who was set to make $7 million.
A report by Chris Tomasson in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, says that Allen is not doing any interviews. Allen is quoted:
"I'll talk when the process is over."
It's clear that after making $17 million last season, the Vikings are not willing to overpay for Allen's services. With the signing of Griffen to a five-year deal, as reported on NFL.com, there's no way Allen returns to the Vikings.
Selling: Defensive Michael Johnson
One of the biggest free-agent rumors swirling around the Minnesota Vikings was a reunion between head coach Mike Zimmer and defensive end Michael Johnson. A report by Mark Craig from the Star Tribune points out that it makes sense for Zimmer to bring players whom he is familiar with.
The re-signing of Griffen to a five-year deal really decreases the chances that Johnson winds up in Minnesota. If Zimmer has thoughts of switching to a 3-4 defense, it makes sense for the Vikings to still be interested in Johnson. Both Johnson and Griffen have the flexibility to play either defensive end or outside linebacker in that scheme.
With franchise tags being placed on Greg Hardy for the Carolina Panthers and Brian Orakpo for Washington, the 27-year-old Johnson has risen to the top of the list with Allen and Micheal Bennett from Seattle.
The same report from the St. Paul Pioneer Press that indicated the Vikings had not contacted Allen's agent, states they have reached out to Johnson and his representatives.
A third-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, Johnson had his best season in 2012 when he recorded 11.5 sacks—the same number that Allen had last season to lead the Vikings.
The Vikings may have their work cut out for them if they want to sign Johnson. According to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com (h/t Josh Kirkendall of Cincyjungle.com), Ben Goessling of ESPN.com reported that as many as seven teams are interested in Johnson, including division-rival Chicago. Having familiarity with Zimmer should give the Vikings an edge.
Buying: Cornerback Alterraun Verner
The Minnesota Vikings finished with the 31st-ranked passing offense in the NFL last season. They gave up an NFL-high 37 touchdown passes with only 12 interceptions. Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes led the team with 10 passes defended in only six starts.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner of the Tennessee Titans is a player who can fill that need. Last year he led Tennessee with an incredible 23 passes defended. According to Pro Football Focus, Verner is the sixth-best, free-agent cornerback on the market.
A tweet from Ben Goessling of ESPN indicates that the Vikings have reached out to Verner to "express interest."
The Vikings have the cap space to make a serious bid for the 25-year-old cornerback. A fourth-round draft pick of the Titans in 2010, Verner led Tennessee with five interceptions last season. In four seasons, he has 11 interceptions—in that same time frame, Vikings' cornerbacks have combined for only 15 interceptions.
Buying: Nose Tackle Paul Soliai
The Minnesota Vikings have been missing a presence in the middle of their defensive line since they parted ways with defensive tackle Pat Williams in 2010.
Remi Ayodele was signed in 2011, and failed. Letroy Guion, who the Vikings released last week, started 28 games the last two seasons with Fred Evans as his backup. Evans is a pending free agent, and there are no indications that the Vikings are interested in re-signing him.
That makes the hole in the middle of the defensive line even bigger.
Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (h/t Christopher Gates of SB Nation's Daily Norseman, via a tweet from @VikingsReport) reported that Minnesota is interested in defensive tackle Paul Soliai from Miami.
Pro Football Focus ranks Soliai as the seventh-best, free-agent interior linemen available. He also has a connection to new Vikings' defensive coordinator George Edwards, who was the linebacker coach at Miami last season.
Soliai is a big man at 6'4" and 344 pounds—that's about 40 to 50 pounds heavier than Evans and Guion. A fourth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2007, Soliai has started 58 games the last three seasons, averaging 32 tackles per season.
One sticking point might be Soliai's age. The Vikings might be hesitant to sign the 30-year-old to a long-term contract.
Buying: Wide Receiver Jerome Simpson
One player who may benefit from the hiring of former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is wide receiver Jerome Simpson. A former Bengal, Simpson spent the first fours years of his career as a backup. His best season was 2011 when he caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
Since signing consecutive one-year contracts with the Vikings, Simpson has averaged 37 receptions and 500 yards per season. He finally caught his first, and only, touchdown in Week 11 against the Seahawks last season. A week earlier, he was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving.
Normally this might spell the end of a player's career with the Vikings, but Zimmer likes players who have something to prove. A story by Chris Tomasson in the St. Paul Pioneer Press indicates that the Vikings want to re-sign Simpson and that it "will come down to money."
Losing his starting spot to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson late last season doesn't give Simpson a lot of leverage. Yet, his 15.1 yards-per-catch average was the second-best on the team last season.
Selling: Cornerback Chris Cook
There are some rumors floating around that cornerback Chris Cook could wind up re-signing with the Minnesota Vikings. A story from the Star Tribune from last Thursday indicates that head coach Mike Zimmer sees some talent in Cook. In the story Zimmer was quoted as saying:
He’s a guy that has some ability that I’ve had some luck in the past with, getting guys to play good that have ability. So if he comes back here then I’m going to coach him as hard as I can and see if I can get him to play good.
Cook tweeted last Monday that "if it's in the cards I look forward to having him [Zimmer] at the helm." At 6'2" and 200 pounds, Cook has the size the Vikings have been looking for but not the success. In four seasons, he has not been able to play an entire season and has yet to intercept a pass in the NFL.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cook is ranked 58th among free-agent cornerbacks—providing another reason to allow Cook to find employment elsewhere.