With the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl XLIX, 2014 has finally come to an end. Over the following months we here at Last Word on Sports are going to look at every team’s top needs. Today, we look at the Minnesota Vikings, a team much improved in 2014.
Minnesota Vikings 2015 Offseason: Top 3 Needs
Salary Cap Room: $18 million
Draft picks: 11th overall, seven picks total.
Notable Free Agents: Jerome Felton, Christian Ponder, Matt Asiata.
Free Agency or the Draft? Getting to Know Your GM
Rick Spielman: While in an ideal world all teams would get their players from the draft, giving you a young player at a fraction of the price of a veteran, not all needs can be fulfilled this way. Some general managers are more willing to dip into free agency than others. Spielman is not this GM. Known for his wheeling and dealing over draft weekend, Spielman has often said that he likes to have ten draft picks to play with. He has made seven first-round picks in the last three years without auctioning off the team’s future. While he is less willing to dip into free agency, preferring to re-sign players already on the team, the Vikings have made several high-profile acquisitions during his tenure. At the top of this list are Greg Jennings and Captain Munnerlyn. While both have been productive, neither have lived up to their contracts and restructuring is on the horizon.
Coach Mike Zimmer suggested that the team had eight needs going into the offseason. While this could be smoke and mirrors, there are questions that need to be addressed.
Clarity at Running Back
The biggest question hanging over this team is what will happen with star running back Adrian Peterson. Suspended until April 15th at the earliest, his reinstatement rests on his completion of league mandated counseling, something the NFLPA is challenging in court at present.
While there is no denying Peterson is one of the greatest players to grace the position, it is debatable if he is worth keeping on the team. Peterson carries a cap number of $15.4 million next year and none of it is guaranteed, which means that if the Vikings cut ties with All Day they can become big players in free agency (frustratingly the call can not be made until a month after free agency opens). It is also debatable if management wants the headache they have dealt with over the last five months to continue into next season. It is true that the Vikings run game suffered with Peterson’s absence but it did not suffer enough to warrant the price tag that he currently carries.
Verdict: Peterson will be too stubborn to take a pay cut and stay in purple, so the Vikings will attempt to get what they can for him in a trade and then draft a replacement in the middle rounds of a draft that should have plenty of talented running backs.
While some would argue that linebacker is a bigger need, especially with the fall in production from veteran Chad Greenway, I am of the view that the team has players of enough talent in Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges to fill this need.
Harrison Smith is on the verge of becoming one of the elite safeties in the league, posting five interceptions, three sacks, one forced fumble and a touchdown in 2014. While he is the unquestioned starter, the spot opposite him has been less stable, as Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton are not consistent enough to play opposite Smith. The defense fell short of being in the top ten after finishing dead last the year before and Mike Zimmer will be determined to make this unit elite. Adding another stellar safety will go a long way toward achieving this.
Verdict: This could be one of the positions that Spielman dips into free agency for. The draft is currently projected to be weak in terms of safeties of sufficient quality and there are several players of note expected to hit the market.
For the first time in almost a decade the Vikings are going into the offseason without a worry at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is the unquestioned starter and long term future of the team. Protecting him is now a huge priority. The offensive line was appalling in 2014. Whether it was due to injury or lack of quality, the unit cannot be left alone going forward. While left tackle Matt Kalil has born the brunt of criticism in relation to the line’s play, the team is unwilling to cut ties with him just yet and his play did improve towards the end of the season. The man blocking beside Kalil, Charlie Johnson, has been consistently bad since joining the team in 2011 and has been a stop gap at both left tackle and left guard during his tenure. The 30-year-old Johnson is not the long or short term answer at left guard anymore and an improvement at this position will lead to an improvement to the unit overall.
Verdict: The Vikings don’t like to use early picks on the offensive line, preferring instead to develop players over time. That being said, this team needs help quickly at the position and there are several options in free agency that won’t break the bank. Look for them to invest in someone coming off their rookie contract while taking developmental depth in the draft.
While it is a long and arduous offseason and we are only at the beginning, it is never too early to start thinking about the team’s future.
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