With Rick Spielman’s first season as the official General Manager of the Minnesota Vikings nearing it’s end (no, I don’t necessarily mean two weeks from now) I wanted to take a look back at the moves that were made to help boost the Vikings from a three win season to an eight (or nine, or ten) win record the next year.

I want to start with the oft-criticized free agent class that he brought in.  The Vikings have really only had five free agent signings to see action this year, not including their own re-signings, so let’s take a look at what each on brought to the table.

TE JOHN CARLSON:  The $25 million contract signed by John Carlson became the butt of many jokes even before he played in his first game.  His production on the field hasn’t helped matters.  A sprained MCL caused him to miss to two games after missing all of his final season with the Seahawks, and it has been speculated that injuries have plagued his production on the field even when he was present.  His 11 catches for 60 yards on the season will surely end in his worst stats, other than the season he didn’t play, since he joined the league.  He has also yet to find the end zone as a Viking.  His solid blocking skills have gone mostly unnoticed by fans, but there are plenty of decent blocking tight ends in this league getting paid far less than Carlson.

Last week’s three reception performance was Carlson’s best of the year and he needs to continue to improve over the next two weeks if he plans on continuing to earn such lucrative salary.  At age 28, there is still some untapped potential there for a guy that has never come close to matching the expectations that scouts had for him in 2008.

GRADE:  D

FB JEROME FELTON:  Felton got off to a bad start in Minnesota when he was nabbed for a second degree DWI in a McDonald’s drive-thru in June.  After that incident, one that he says he learned a huge lesson from, Felton has been instrumental in Adrian Peterson’s record-setting rushing numbers this season.

Peterson hasn’t had as good of chemistry with as talented of a lead blocker since his rookie season when he ran behind Tony Richardson, one of the greatest fullbacks of the modern era.  Felton hasn’t carried the ball at all himself this season, and only has two catches for 18 yards, but there is no doubt that his blocking has added something that was previously missing to this offense.  Makes one wonder how many yards Peterson hasn’t gotten over the years because of Brad Childress and his stubborn support of Fahu Tahi.

Felton signed a one year deal worth $700,000 with a $50,000 signing bonus.  I would say the Vikings should be willing to offer him about twice that annual salary to return for the next year or five.

GRADE:  A

OL GEOFF SCHWARTZ:  After signing a one year deal that maxes out at $1.5 million, Geoff Schwartz has been eased into a rotation at right guard with Brandon Fusco.  By most accounts, including mine, Schwartz has outplayed Fusco but has yet to overtake the position on a full time basis for some unknown reason.  At a backup lineman’s salary, Schwartz has helped his team more than most backups in this league, and turned out to be a low-risk, medium-reward type of signing, despite nagging injury concerns.

GRADE:  C

LB MARVIN MITCHELL:  Another one year deal worth $700,000 here.  Mitchell was signed shortly after Remi Ayodele was released by the Vikings, despite Mitchell’s presence on the 2009 “BountyGate” Saints team as well.  He acted as a “Plan B” to Jasper Brinkley and provided great competition in the preseason, but Brinkley kept his job and has performed rather well in his first year as a full time starter.

A calf injury interrupted part of Mitchell’s season, as he has appeared in only nine games, but he has made a considerable impact on a special teams coverage unit that is greatly improved over last season.

GRADE:  B

WR JEROME SIMPSON:  The Vikings flirted with signing Packers free agent James Jones but shied away from the receiver because they were worried about his inconsistent hands, and instead opted to sign the suspended Simpson from Cincinnati.

Jones has done nothing but catch touchdowns for the Packers this year, his drop problems apparently solved, while Simpson has been incredibly inconsistent… when he manages to make it onto the field.  A three game suspension and injuries have kept Simpson out of four games this season, and bad drops and inconsistent routes have essentially kept him out of the other 10.

19 catches, 203 yards, and no touchdowns are stats that easily illustrate how wrong things have gone for the Vikings deep threat hopeful in 2012.

Spielman left legitimate receiver threats on the market for other teams to scoop up and instead opted to go short term and cheap with Simpson.  The risk was low, but the return has been even lower.

GRADE:  D

CONCLUSION:  Rick Spielman tortured Vikings fans by staying idle during the opening days of free agency in 2012, and has indicated we can expect more of that in the future, as he intends on playing a game of chance with these low risk and low cost signings available after all the funny money has been spent.

Carlson was his lone departure from that formula, and the jury may still be out on that one, but it isn’t looking good.  Luckily, the contract wasn’t quite as bad as initially reported and the Vikings could cut ties with minimal cap damage should they choose to move on.

Overall, Spielman’s approach to free agency led to adding one fantastic fullback, and a handful of otherwise disposable talents.

Not bad, not horrible, but not great.  That about sums up Spielman’s first free agency period as Vikings General Manager.