Greg DePalma’s take on the Vikings’s free agency outlook. Hear Greg & Ourlads’ Dan Shonka weekly on Thursdays on the Prime Sports Network: http://primesportsnetwork.com/category/pro-football/
Without a first-round pick (Traded to Philadelphia for QB Sam Bradford) and substantial cap space, the Vikings will have to cancel some contracts and get creative in free agency. Their top priorities should be to find adequate lineman to protect Bradford and a talented young runner to replace a legend.
Top free agents
OT Matt Kalil
OT Andre Smith
>WR Cordarrelle Patterson
CB Terence Newman
CB Captain Munnerly
QB – The Vikings probably won’t address this position early, but they should. Both Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater have dealt with serious knee injuries and there is still doubt that Bridgewater will be able to fully recover. No one is saying G.M. Rick Spielman needs to treat this like a priority, but it should be considered at some point if the right player comes along either in free agency of later in the draft.
RB – With Adrian Peterson on his way out this position has to be take precedence with a quarterback like Bradford who doesn’t stretch opposing defenses. It was really hard to judge Bradford in his first season since the Vikings had no running game and a weak line. I would expect Spielman to look for his next franchise runner early in the draft.
WR – If the Vikings re-sign both Patterson and restricted FA Adam Thielen then this position should be fine, especially after using their top pick last season on Laquon Treadwell. But if they lose Patterson and his premier kick return skills the Vikings will have to search for his replacement.
OL – This is a major priority for the Vikings. Both starting tackles are free agents which might not be an issue since Kalil and Smith were banged-up and played poorly last season. Spielman will have to pick-up a starting guard or a center since former Ivy Leaguer Nick Easton did not impress and sixth- round rookie Willie Beavers wasn’t ready. Versatile Joe Berger will occupy the other spot alongside veteran Alex Boone.
DL – To free up cap space the Vikings should cut Sharrif Floyd and possibly Brian Robison who turns 34 before the draft. Even with Danielle Hunter on the rise following a breakout season the Vikings will still need more help here. The tackle position alongside Linval Joseph and a strong-side run stopper would make sense.
OLB – There is an open spot now that Chad Greenway has retired.
CB – The Vikings had a decent secondary last season, but if they lose both Newman and Munnerlyn some reinforcements will be needed. The state of this position probably rests with the continued development of 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes and 2016 second-round pick Mackensie Alexander who dealt with a myriad of injuries as a rookie. If Coach Mike Zimmer has faith they can both handle more of a workload then this won’t be a priority.
Key Injuries/games missed
Minnesota was a sheik pick until their starting quarterback (Bridgewater) went down in the preseason with a serious knee injury. That injury took the spirit out of the organization before the season even started. To top it off their star tailback Adrian Peterson injured his knee in Week 2 and missed 13 games. The Vikings also lost both starting offensive tackles by early October which explains why the team took such a big step back in production.
On defense, the biggest hit came at tackle where once promising first-round pick Sharrif Floyd injured his knee in last season’s opener and missed the rest of the season. His continued downward spiral attributed to injuries should send him packing.
When Spielman traded for Bradford he surrendered the team’s first-round pick and another pick to the Eagles. The Vikings won’t be able to make a selection until the 46th pick at the earliest on Day 2 unless they trade back in to the first-round which is unlikely. This means Spielman will have to dump salary in order to free up more cap space to sign key free agents.
Without much cap space I don’t expect the Vikings to find their next top running back in free agency. That’s why they’ll need to pick one early enough in the draft to insure quality which is why I’d keep an eye on players like Kareem Hunt, Samaje Perine and Wayne Gallman.
If the Vikings lose Cordarrelle Patterson they should grab a player like Ryan Switzer who would fit this offense and this team perfectly. Switzer would not just provide Bradford with an excellent sure-handed chain-moving receiver, but he would also be a huge help in the return game.