Cap Space, needs bountiful for Vikings.
Posted on Thu, Feb. 16, 2006
Cap space, needs bountiful for VikingsRunning back, defense top free-agent priority listBY DON SEEHOLZERPioneer PressWith a new offense and defense to stock, the Vikings will have some holes to fill when free agency begins March 3... if it begins March 3.
With NFL owners and the players union still working to negotiate an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, there have been reports this week that the start date might be pushed back a week or two or all the way to April 1.
The good news from a Vikings standpoint is that, whenever free-agent season begins, they once again will have plenty of cash to fill out their list.
Minnesota will be at least $24 million under the salary cap for coach Brad Childress' first foray into free agency, and at least one NFL personnel expert expects the Vikings to be active shoppers.
"As I look at them, I want a 25-carry running back and I want a double-digit sack guy," Gary Horton, head of Scouts Inc. and a consultant to ESPN, said this week. "That's my Christmas list. And I want to find a linebacker who can drop and cover. Those are my three keys."
Those aren't the only needs for the Vikings, who will look to improve their offensive line and likely will have to find a starting strong safety for their new Cover 2 defense.
Some of those holes won't be filled until the April 29-30 NFL draft, but Horton expects Childress and the Vikings to attack free agency aggressively.
"I think they'll have a good draft, but I believe that Brad really wants to win now," he said. "If they think they can upgrade in free agency, they're going to be really active. I think it's an outstanding football team talent-wise. I was shocked last season that they started so poorly."
With the help of Horton, we look at some of the top free agents who might be available at the Vikings' need positions as well as a few sleepers.
NFL MVP Shaun Alexander of Seattle is the biggest of the big names, along with Edgerrin James of Indianapolis and Baltimore's Jamal Lewis.
With the possible exception of Alexander, who is discussing a long-term contract with the Seahawks, all are expected to hit the free-agent market. James could be the best fit of the three for Childress' version of the West Coast offense.
"He's going to want a guy who can catch the ball," Horton said. "He's going to want a guy who's not necessarily a pounder but a guy who can catch and maybe can move around a little bit. Edgerrin James would be terrific. I really think he'd be a tremendous fit, but there's a feeling among a lot of people that James Ã¢â‚¬â€ as productive as he's been Ã¢â‚¬â€ is going to start slowing down."
James, who will be 28 next season, also would carry a hefty price tag, and there are injury questions about two more high-profile backs Ã¢â‚¬â€ DeShaun Foster of Carolina and Green Bay's Ahman Green.
That could leave the Vikings to choose from sleeper candidates such as Maurice Morris, the Seahawks' No. 2 back behind Alexander, and Chester Taylor, Lewis' backup with the Ravens.
"They both fit Brad's West Coast offense, and those are guys sort of below the radar," Horton said. "Jamal Lewis, for example, doesn't fit. Those are two guys that really would fit and be a nice upgrade. They have some breakaway speed; they're not just between-the-tackles guys. You can put them in motion; they can run inside and outside. They've got a little bit of explosiveness."
Morris and Taylor also have enough upside that they could be taken off the market by their teams before free agency begins, and there is a school of thought that the Vikings will wait until the draft to find a running back.
"I think they probably would like to find him in free agency if they have a guy targeted," he said, "because I think they want to hit the ground running. In my mind, as I look at the Vikings, the missing link to Brad being very successful in Year 1 is that all-purpose back. A bigger, more physical Brian Westbrook kind of back."
This was a need area even before the Vikings switched defenses, and it's more important than ever in the Cover 2 scheme new defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin brings with him from Tampa Bay.
"You've got to be athletic," Horton said. "In a perfect world, you're looking for guys who have played in that Cover 2. They've got to be able to cover some ground. They're not going to blitz a lot. They're going to have a lot of pass defense responsibilities."
There are no Brian Urlachers among the pending free agents at middle linebacker, the Vikings' biggest hole, but there are intriguing candidates.
"Nick Greisen of the Giants is sort of an interesting guy at probably a pretty good price," Horton said. "Derek Smith at San Francisco is interesting. So is Tommy Polley at Baltimore. I'm not wild about him, but he's athletic. He's that athletic guy that can turn and run."
The big name at outside linebacker is San Francisco's Julian Peterson, who has athleticism to burn but is probably best suited to a role as a pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme.
Will Witherspoon of Carolina is more in the Cover 2 mold, and there are a couple of more affordable options in Philadelphia's Keith Adams and perhaps Hunter Hillenmeyer of Chicago, a restricted free agent.
"Witherspoon is aggressive. He's going to make a lot of plays," Horton said. "I like him. He'll fly around. He'll hit you. He has a little bit of pizazz to him."
The New York Jets are expected to use a franchise tag on and then trade John Abraham, the big name of the bunch, but he would be a risky pickup for the Vikings or any team.
"Abraham has all sorts of talent," Horton said. "It just depends on whether he wants to play or not. He's been a huge underachiever. He's a talented guy, but boy is he up and down."
Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch has the talent without the baggage, but he is expected to re-sign with the Titans, and New Orleans' Darren Howard has been bothered by injuries the past three seasons.
Among the sleeper candidates, Horton likes Kansas City's Carlos Hall and Raheem Brock of Indianapolis.
"He's been kind of in that rotation there," Horton said of Brock. "He can get after the quarterback, as all those guys can. In the Cover 2 defense, you've got to have a premier edge guy because you don't rely on the blitz. Tampa Bay was great for all those years because they rushed four and dropped seven."
The Vikings likely will have to wait until draft day to find a guard, with the one elite prospect, Steve Hutchinson of Seattle, expected to get hit with the franchise tag.
"He's not going anywhere," Horton said. "There's nobody else here I really like. I don't know that there's a guy there who could step in and be a starter."
There is New Orleans' LeCharles Bentley, who played his first two seasons at guard but reportedly wants to stay at center.
The pickings are better at tackle, where Tom Ashworth of New England and restricted free agent Jordan Black of Kansas City could be available.
Then there's Jon Runyan of Philadelphia, whom Childress knows well from his time with the Eagles.
"Runyan is a tough, hard-nosed guy," Horton said. "I could see Brad saying this guy could bring some toughness to that group for two or three years. Absolutely, I could see that one."
If Horton were with the Vikings, his first choice here would be to re-sign strong safety Corey Chavous and use free agency to fill the team's other holes.
There are some strong candidates, though, including Adam Archuleta of St. Louis, Baltimore's Will Demps and Chris Hope of Pittsburgh, if the Steelers aren't able to re-sign him.
"You can get a quality safety in this class," Horton said. "A guy like Archuleta, you'd probably want to bring him up into the box a little bit and play a Cover 3. Hope is a great center fielder. I love him, and he's a Cover 2 guy. You put him back there with (Darren) Sharper, and that's pretty good."
Briefly: The Vikings signed free-agent fullback Joey Goodspeed, a three-year NFL veteran who spent the 2003-04 seasons in St. Louis.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Houston Chronicle reports that Jerry Rhome, who worked as a consultant with the Vikings last season, has been hired to help prepare University of Texas quarterback Vince Young for next week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Vikings owner Zygi Wilf will meet with the Blaine City Council tonight to lay out the details of his private $1 billion development plan.
Re: Cap Space, needs bountiful for Vikings.