Free Agent Time
Date: Mar 10, 2006
The Vikings are armed with about $32 million of room under the salary cap and ready to fill some positions of need, but what will they do? We offer our best (somewhat educated) guesses as to which speculation has merit and which appears to be more smoke(screen) than fire.
With a labor agreement now in place between the NFL and the players union, the Minnesota Vikings can finally get started plucking free agents out of the market, but which ones will they grab? We try to decipher what information to believe from the last month of speculation and which rumors donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t appear to have validity.
Daunte Culpepper will no longer be a Viking. He and the team appear to be at a point of no return, and reports Thursday night said there is a deal in place.
Much of what happens at the quarterback position will obviously hinge on the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ ability to trade Culpepper, or their willingness to simply release him and avoid paying his $6 million roster bonus if they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find a trade suitor. However, if he isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t officially dealt before the start of free agency, the whole situation may be a vicious catch-22.
Miami, Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis the New York Jets and Arizona have all been associated with rumors in CulpepperÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trade dance. However, while the evidence is too overwhelming to deny that there have been numerous talks with other teams, some of those teams simply donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fit.
The Jets seem willing to take a chance on Chad PenningtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s health and appear poised to draft any of the three top-notch quarterbacks in the draft. According to a league source, Culpepper is not an option in Arizona since the Cardinals re-signed Kurt Warner to a three-year deal. Baltimore apparently has concerns over CulpepperÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s health, so they may not be willing to give much in return.
That leaves Miami and Oakland, and this is where the catch-22 enters. The Vikings obviously would like to trade Culpepper before signing a proven, expensive commodity like Drew Brees, but with Miami also in the market for Brees, Minnesota would be in a quandary. If Miami wants Brees, as has been reported, then the Vikings might have to take that option away by signing Brees and making Culpepper the most valuable QB on the market. Those two quarterbacks are considered the prime options for starters in the 2006 free agent and trade market.
So what comes firstÃ¢â‚¬â€the trade of Culpepper or the signing of Brees? Although weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been told the Vikings do have an interest in Brees, if there isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a trade already in place, they might have to either sign him with Culpepper still on the roster in order to make a quick move before another team gets Brees, or they might have to settle for no Brees and no trade of Culpepper to Miami.
If Oakland is the trading partner for Culpepper, the timing of the trade and luring of Brees wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be an issue. With the Raiders seemingly the favorite, a Culepper-Moss reunion would be an intriguing partnership to watch for the team that seems ready to move on without Kerry Collins.
The knock on Brees is that he canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t win the important games and couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bring the Chargers back from fourth-quarter deficits.
Other options in the free agent market include Collins (doubtful), Kitna (doubtful) or Josh McCown (probably the next-best choice for the Vikings if they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get Brees and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t retain Culpepper).
The top option for the Vikings here appears to be Baltimore running back Chester Taylor, who is versatile enough to fit in the multiple roles needed in head coach Brad ChildressÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ offense.
Other big-name running backs like Edgerrin James and Jamal Lewis will command more money, but Taylor might be the best value on the market, and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been told the Vikings do have a strong interest in him.
Second on their plate of interests is SeattleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Maurice Morris, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re told, but there are concerns about his ability to hold up as a featured back.
Of course, if they really wanted to break the bank and go for the best player available, James would be it. To this point, though, there havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been any strong indications of the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ interest in James.
This position hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been mentioned in connection with the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ free agent strategy, but if they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sign a fullback immediately, they might still look for a value pickup here in the weeks to come since fullbacks are never a huge priority in the initial big-money phase of free agency.
The top candidate is SeattleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Mack Strong, who is an unselfish player willing to block and versatile enough to catch passes against an unsuspecting defense. Strong would be a good fit for the Vikings since he comes from SeattleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s West Coast Offense.
Other top options include Kansas CityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Tony Richardson and CincinnatiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jeremi Johnson, the latter being a restricted free agent that would cost the Vikings a fourth-round draft pick if they signed him to an offer sheet that the Bengals declined to match. That might be too steep of a price tag for a fourth-year fullback, but Johnson is a good one.
CincinnatiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Matt Schobel has been rumored to be in the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ free-agent plan, but the thinking here is heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d better come on the cheap with Jim Kleinsasser and Jermaine Wiggins eating good salary and still very viable options in a West Coast offense.
With the Vikings holding the right to match any offer received by Koren Robinson or Nate Burleson, we interpret the statements by David GivensÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ agent as simply throwing out a list of teams that have cap space. Hey, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just doing his job as the playerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s agent, but that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean the Vikings have to reciprocate that interest.
Tackle Jon Runyan has received a lot of attention as a potential player heading to Minnesota, but most of that comes from connecting the dots that Runyan played for Childress in Philadelphia and is the top free agent tackle on the market. However, in order for the Vikings to justify adding Runyan to the payroll, they might have to restructure or cut Mike Rosenthal and then move second-year player Marcus Johnson back to guard. The guess here is that Johnson will enter minicamps as the starter at right tackle, with Rosenthal competing for the spot.
At guard, the Vikings have reportedly shown an interest in San Diego restricted free agent Kris Dielman and New Orleans unrestricted free agent LeCharles Bentley. Bentley would come with a price tag of about $5 million a year, and indications are he is headed to Philadelphia.
Dielman would cost the Vikings a first-round draft pick, which makes it unlikely theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d part with that much when there are other options available. One of those options is the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ own Toniu Fonoti, whom the team continues to show an interest in re-signing. The questions there are how much money does Fonoti want and how much do the Vikings trust that his weight wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be an issue.
The free agent market holds few sure-fire candidates that would fit the Vikings, and the team doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really need to make a big splash at this position. The best fit might be their own Lance Johnstone, as finding a true pass rusher off the edge is important in the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new Tampa 2 defense. However, the Vikings might already possess that talent in Erasmus James.
This is the position where the Vikings could make the biggest splash.
Four big names are out thereÃ¢â‚¬â€CarolinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Will Witherspoon, San FranciscoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Julian Peterson, IndianapolisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Cato June and WashingtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s LaVar Arrington.
June is a restricted free agent that would require relinquishing a first-round draft pick to obtain, but depending on what happens with the other top talent at linebacker, that might be worth it. June comes from Tony DungyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defensive system in Indianapolis, the same one the Vikings are implementing.
The biggest unrestricted free agent at outside linebacker is Witherspoon, who has over 300 tackles in the last three years, according to the PanthersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ official web site. The Jaguars, Saints and 49ers might all be in the running for WitherspoonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s services, along with the Vikings.
Peterson might have been the leagueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best outside linebacker before injuries derailed his stardom. Still, he is one of the top linebackers in this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s free agent market and a player who could be a boom or a bust, depending on how much of a comeback he can make. The Cardinals, Titans and Browns might also be interested in talking with him.
Arrington, who has been near a 100-tackle-per-year guy when healthy and starting every game, is said to freelance too much, which isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a good fit for the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ new defense. But there is no denying ArringtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s talent. The Eagles, Giants and Browns are all possible landing spots for Arrington.
San DiegoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ben Leber isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t one of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“sexyÃ¢â‚¬Â names out on the market, but he is a quality starter weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been told the Vikings have an interest in. If signed, he would likely play on the strong side.
There are some big names at safety, but the best fit to replace Corey Chavous may be Willie Offord if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s healthy. The Vikings recently signed him to a two-year deal, and if he recovers nicely from a torn ACL in his knee, he could be the most natural fit for what the team is looking for in a strong safety.
Other possibilities on the open market are Lawyer Milloy, Adam Archuleta, Marlon McCree and Chris Hope.
Milloy, a 10-year veteran, may be getting up there in age, just as Vikings free safety Darren Sharper is (and he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show it last year in his Pro Bowl season), but Milloy has maintain a productive career to this point, averaging just over 100 tackles per season.
Archuleta, who has averaged about 80 tackles per season in his five years in the NFL, could find potential suitors in the Redskins and Rams, his current team.
McCree, a teammate of Witherspoon last year in Carolina, averages about 60 tackles per season over his five years.
Hope is entering his first foray into unrestricted free agency. Like Archuleta, he has averaged about 60 tackles per season, according to NFL.com, but it is uncertain how much interest he will garner in the open market.
The VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Paul Edinger is a free agent, and the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interest in retaining him is unclear.
Adam Vinatieri is an interesting option. The most experienced and clutch playoff kicker in the market will bring with him a high price tag, as reports have him turning down a multi-year deal with the Patriots, his current team, for more than $2 million per season. In 10 years, the South Dakota State alum has an 81.9 percent conversion rate on his field goals.
IndianapolisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Mike Vanderjagt appears ready for a new team after a rocky relationship with the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning. His percentage (87.5) is even better than VinatieriÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, but Vanderjagt badly missed a pressure-filled game-tying opportunity in the playoffs, a game the Colts ended up losing.
While the Packers could make a run at Vinateiri, they appear to be willing to part with Ryan Longwell. In nine years with the Packers, Longwell has connected on 81.6 percent of his field goals. Tampa Bay might also have an interest in Longwell.
San FranciscoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Joe Nedney has a 77.3 conversion percentage for his career, but he might be retained by the 49ers.