Rick Spielman may prefer to and excel at building his team through the draft. But the Vikings GM has illustrated this year that he also views free agency as an important vehicle to improving his roster. We’re not even a week into the New League Year, and the Vikings have already been one of the NFL’s most active teams when it comes to shuffling the roster and making improvements.
Here’s a quick look at what the Vikings have done so far, and what might be next…
Got Jennings? Vikings do
The Vikings finished the 2012 regular season with the 31st-ranked passing offense, so during the offseason you can be sure that adding talented pass-catchers will be atop the priority list. To that end, the Vikings have already taken a huge step forward by signing WR Greg Jennings. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand to Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and QB Christian Ponder. The signing of Jennings was met with wild excitement from a Vikings fan base that has watched the former Packers pass-catcher torch them for 63 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Purple.
Loadholt, other UFAs re-signed
Spielman is asked every year what his priority will be in free agency. And every year he responds by saying that re-signing his own free agents is atop his wish list. Early in this year’s free agency, Spielman attacked that wish list. The focal point of that effort was re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, and the Vikings got the job done. Aside from Loadholt, the Vikings were also able to reach agreements with 5 of their other 6 unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including: OL Joe Berger, Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, S Jamarca Sanford and WR Jerome Simpson.
In what may go down as one of this year’s more notable moves across the NFL, the Vikings traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, and for doing so received three draft picks – a 1st-rounder (#25) and 7th-rounder this year, and a 3rd-rounder next year. The trade gives the Vikings 11 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 in the first 4 rounds. If the Vikings use both 1st-rounders next month, it will mark the second consecutive year they’ll net a pair of 1st-round picks in a draft. That’s a good way to improve the talent level on your roster.
In a move that is a great illustration of the type of difficult decisions NFL franchises have to make each year, the Vikings released CB Antoine Winfield. At first blush it seems like a startling move, but given Winfield’s salary and given some of the team’s other priorities, it was a decision that was in the best interests of the franchise. It may have set the stage for the Loadholt re-signing and/or the Vikings ability to go out and get Jennings to help the passing game. Spielman did say that the team is open to Winfield returning at some point this offseason.
Calling for backup – Cassel signed
On the same day the Vikings made a big splash in signing Jennings, they also secured another QB to add to the mix behind starter Christian Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel, and the Vikings immediately swooped in to pick him up. Cassel is an experienced passer in the NFL (62 starts) who was Tom Brady’s backup in New England when the Patriots went 16-0 and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2007. Also, when asked to play, Cassel has responded. He guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season and he was also a Pro Bowler as the Chiefs starter in 2010, passing for 27 TDs and authoring a passer rating of 93.0.
In other developments, the Vikings tendered restricted free agent (RFA) CB AJ Jefferson, so he is set to return for 2013. WR Michael Jenkins was cut and earlier in February the Vikings signed former CFL standout CB Roderick Williams.
– The only UFA the Vikings weren’t able to re-sign was middle LB Jasper Brinkley, who has subsequently signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings could look to free agency to fill that spot, they could wait until the draft to find a middle LB, they could rely on Audie Cole to win that job, or they could enact one or more of those possibilities in combination.
— Looking at the roster right now compared to the roster at this time of the year in 2012, the Vikings are at or above capacity at most spots on the roster. There are two exceptions: offensive tackle and running back. Last year at this time, the Vikings had 6 running backs and right now they have 5. Last year at this time the Vikings had 5 offensive tackles and this year they have 4. Of course the Vikings could wait until the draft to fill the voids in each spot, they could find a free agent on the open market, or they could do both.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Audie Cole, Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson, Greg Jennings, Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Matt Cassel, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman, Roderick Williams
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