Technically the free agency period started on Thursday, which was… Only two days ago. However, if you’re a Vikings fan who came into Thursday grinning from ear to ear, knowing that your team had almost $40 million to spend, a lot of needs to spend for/on and a general manager who had signaled that they were going to be spending, those two days may seem like an eternity of bad news dolled out minute by minute over Twitter. That’s a special, 21st century kind of hell.
As of last count, the Vikings had lost starting left tackle Matt Kalil (Not that I’m complaining about that), punter Jeff Locke, Tight End Rhett Ellison, running back Adrian Peterson (So far), wide receiver Charles Johnson, linebacker Audie Cole and most recently, nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn to other teams. While a lot of those moves aren’t necessarily earth shattering, the Vikings lack of an inability to sign targeted players (Either internally or externally) quickly is.
Now, I’ve been harder on Vikings general manager Rick Spielman than most, as I do assign some of the offensive line injuries in 2016 to his reluctance to do exactly what he came out this week to say that the organization wanted to do, in “Draft, Develop and Retain”-ing offensive lineman. In fact, since drafting Kalil in 2012, the team hasn’t drafted another offensive lineman before the fourth round. That lack of focus on perhaps the most important position group in today’s NFL became painfully apparent last season when the team was forced to sign overpaid, older and injury prone offensive lineman. So, I wasn’t entirely surprised when they mostly all started falling to the wayside, as that’s what older, injury prone offensive lineman do.
So, while the draft won’t happen until the end of April, popular thinking was that the Vikings were going to make a big splash in free agency to plug up some of those holes at the position. With somewhere between $36 and $40 million in cap space, the older, iffier lineman that we signed last season (I’m looking at you, Andre Smith) should’ve been replaced by either younger (I’m looking at you, Kevin Zeitler) or at least elite level players (I’m looking at you, Andrew Whitworth). For reasons that will most likely be discussed all season, those moves haven’t happened… and it’s not for lack of trying.
The Vikings have been attached, at least via rumor, to many big named free agents so far this off-season. But, it appears as if they just struggle with signing free agent talent. I’m going to do a much longer, or more in-depth version of this specific topic, but it just seems like Spielman is more of a draft guy, than a free agent guy. But when that draft guy doesn’t draft offensive lineman, that creates a problem when you can’t pick them up in free agency either.
So, that’s the position the Vikings find themselves in right now. And, unfortunately, there’s not much left that they can do about it. Free agency, as I’m sure you all know, really isn’t that interesting after day two, as most of the big named players not named Adrian Peterson typically know where they’re headed before the “official” start to the free agency period (Just ask one of the Vikings supposed points of interest, left tackle Russell Okung, who some have said was tampered with by the Los Angeles Chargers). So, at this point, the only solace that we have is the draft, but considering the awful combination of the Vikings not having a first round draft pick and the draft having a particularly weak tackle class, and you begin to understand my/the fans frustration(s) with the progress, or lack thereof, of the team this March.
If anything, you want to come out of March not having more needs than you had going into it. Especially when you gave up your first round draft pick last season. So far, the Vikings have essentially done the opposite. Instead of the team really just needing a few offensive lineman, running back (Regardless of Peterson’s status) and maybe another corner (For depth) they still/now need: Multiple offensive lineman, a starter quality running back who can play day one, up to two corners (At least one of which can play the nickel position), a linebacker or two and a punter.
The punter may be the hardest one to swallow, I was going to say as a joke, but not really because it’s just a sign of a larger issue. The Vikings wanted to keep Locke, but were outbid for him, which means that they either didn’t expect a market for their punter or weren’t able to match it because of the uncertainty surrounding all of their other needs/moves. Either explanation is infuriating, as it speaks to a lack of preparedness. Clearly it wasn’t really about the amount, as they will end up having the money in spades and really didn’t want to have to spend a draft pick on a punter next month, so it’s really just a question of… What the hell are they doing?
Sure, they ended up with two mediocre offensive lineman, either of which can play left tackle and would most likely be an upgrade over Matt Kalil who somehow got over $11 million from Carolina. I will say that had they matched that offer there would’ve been a mutiny by fans, myself included. However, they should’ve been able to replace him with a top tier player, someone like Andrew Whitworth, who while 35 years old, is an All-Pro who hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. Considering he only cost the Los Angeles Rams $15 million in guaranteed money and you have to wonder how the Vikings blew that.
On top of that was in inexplicable Alshon Jeffery situation. It was reported that the Vikings were a last minute suitor for the talented receiver, and that they offered him more money on better/longer terms. Jeffery decided to take a one year deal from the Philadelphia Eagles, to bet on himself essentially and take a chance at free agency again next season. The move seemed strange not because the Vikings couldn’t have used a wide receiver of Jeffery’s skill-set, but because they seemingly made the move at the last minute and for an amount of money you’d think they’d have offered someone like Whitworth or Zeitler. Since the Vikings clearly weren’t in the final running for either, you’d think that they’d have been one of the initial suitors for Jeffery, which would’ve given them a much better chance of signing him. Instead, they apparently falsely believed they were in the running for someone, and when that fell through they decided to take a shot for Jeffery, which is a lot more reactive than proactive and is something you don’t want your free agency plans described as.
Beyond that, the Vikings didn’t seem to show much interest in other available wide receivers, despite players like new Red Skin Terrelle Pryor still being available after the first day of free agency signings, which also shows how random the move for Jeffery seemed. The Vikings were one of the few teams named in the race for the emerging super star that is Pryor, but apparently he also preferred a one year deal with an NFC East team (One that is falling apart from the inside) than signing with the Vikings. Another knock against the Vikings front office.
So, where does this leave the Vikings? Well, there’s the draft, of course and there have been some rumblings from people in the know that the Vikings are looking to trade into the first round. That sounds like a media “leak” from the team in an attempt to mitigate the near panic that some are showing right now and while that’d go a long way to help quell some of the concerns people have, I do believe it’s fair to say that this free agency period has been extremely disappointing thus far. I’m honestly not sure what the issue is, but unlike basketball (Where a lot of players outright refuse to come to Minnesota) I doubt weather has anything to do with it. So, maybe Spielman just isn’t a great recruiter and that’d be fine if he was able to make up for it in the draft, but considering that the team has mostly neglected the draft part of “Drafting, Developing and Retaining” offensive lineman, it’s definitely worthy of a decent amount of concern.