The first step in the Vikings offseason will have to be to look at themselves, as a front office and as a coaching staff, to see if any major changes are needed.  Considering the surprising success of this season, coupled with an apparent lack of interest in our coaches from teams with vacancies, I would venture a guess at this point that nothing major is coming.

So, assuming our schemes stay relatively close to what we saw in 2012, I have decided to list and rank the Vikings pending free agents.  As I usually do, I have taken a “world view” approach to ranking these players which means talent is only one of the factors taken into consideration.  Age, projected cost, injury history, and other factors have also played into these rankings.

So, without further ado, here are how I rank the Vikings 2013 free agents from best to worst:

Jamarca Sanford, S:  Yes, I have listed a part time player in the top spot.  No, I am not crazy… I don’t think.  The Vikings secondary made huge strides this season and I just feel like they cannot afford to take a step backwards, and there are no guarantees they will be able to take a step forwards as options are limited and they have bigger fish to fry.  If they do get their hands on a starter that is superior to Sanford or Mistral Raymond then great, Sanford is a fine special teamer that shouldn’t cost a ton to retain.  He plays the run very well, flying around the field, and has a knack for causing fumbles.  He is a liability in coverage, and can’t seem to catch a football to save his life, but there is no reason the Vikings shouldn’t keep him around to ensure, at the very least, that some depth is maintained at the safety position.

Jerome Felton, FB:  Wild card weekend was proof, in each game played, that the fullback position is not dead at all.  Felton proved this all season long, however, as he paved the way for Adrian Peterson’s incredible season.  Rick Spielman reportedly told Felton that the team wanted him back, but money could be a sticking point, especially since the Vikings have a decent backup option in Rhett Ellison.  Ellison’s presence, other free agent options, and Felton’s DWI charges from last offseason are the only reasons he doesn’t sit atop this list.

Phil Loadholt, RT:  On most lists you will probably find Loadholt listed as the top free agent that the Vikings have pending.  This was certainly his best pro season in a number of ways.  In fact, it has been reported that the front office approached Loadholt about an extension in the middle of this last season.  I worry about a player, however, that seems to play much harder during his contract year.  Also, the fact that no mid-season extension was agreed upon suggests to me that Loadholt is hoping to get more money than the Vikings are willing to shell out.  Lastly, there are a number of very good tackles set to become free agents this offseason, so if the Vikings are going to back up the money truck then perhaps they should be looking to do so for a player that demonstrates more consistency.  In the end, however, Loadholt is worth a decent (but reasonable) contract and the Vikings will give serious thought to getting a deal hammered out in the coming months.

Jasper Brinkley, MLB:  I had high hopes for Brinkley and love his tenacious downhill style in some situations.  Brinkley never really seemed to embrace his opportunity to be a leader on defense, however, and is often on the wrong end of a mismatch in pass coverage.  I have already noted that the Vikings have oodles of mobile quarterbacks on the schedule in 2013, so sticking with Brinkley as the starter here really worries me.  Keeping him around as a backup, or competition, wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world but Rick Spielman should really try and find an upgrade here.

Geoff Schwartz, G:  I don’t know if it was lingering health issues, or perhaps conditioning worries, but I have no logical explanation for why Schwartz didn’t steal the right guard job away from Brandon Fusco at some point during this last season.  That, to me, is a sign that Schwartz does not factor into the Vikings long term plans.  That is too bad, however, as he seemed like a clear upgrade at a position that could use one.  The Vikings should give some serious consideration to bringing Schwartz back to camp for another go.

Erin Henderson, LB:  After a very solid 2011 season that went unrecognized during free agency, the Vikings gave Henderson a “prove it” deal.  All he really proved, however, is that he is an inconsistent tackler, not a viable option in the middle, and is prone to at least one big mistake per game.  I love what the Henderson brothers continue to do for the Minnesota community, and they could do worse than Erin, but if an upgrade is available they should not think twice.

A.J. Jefferson (restricted), CB:  Opponents quickly recognized Jefferson as the weakest link in this Vikings secondary and he was picked on all season long.  He was one of the most frustrating parts of an otherwise pleasant season, as he seemed to almost always be in decent position but seldom was able to make plays on the ball.  He should be retained on the cheap due to his restricted status, and is probably better than many undrafted free agents in terms of providing competition during training camp, but there isn’t a whole ton to be excited about here.

Troy Kropog (restricted), OL:  Not long ago, Kropog was an intriguing Draft prospect that I wanted to see the Vikings take a flier on.  Now that he has bounced around a bit, from practice squad to practice squad, taking that flier on him is that much easier.  The Vikings don’t have much reason not to sign him to a low-level tender and bring him to camp.

Marvin Mitchell, LB:  Mitchell looked like a guy that could hold his own when he filled in for Brinkley during the preseason.  Other than some decent special teams plays, however, we didn’t see much of him in the regular season.  Take him or leave him.

Jerome Simpson, WR:  Simpson has played better football than what we saw in 2012, but he did nothing to suggest that he should even be a #2 in the this league.  If you can’t be a #2, you aren’t built for the slot position, and you have zero special teams value then what is left?  Experiment over.

Devin Aromashodu, WR:  If this guy is on the roster again in 2013, then Rick Spielman should be drug tested.  This group of receivers needs to have some upside to it, and Aromashodu just simply doesn’t represent that.

Joe Berger, C:  Thanks to health problems I have no idea what to expect here, but I am guessing the Vikings will be moving in another direction.

It should also be noted that CB Marcus Sherels and S Andrew Sendejo are Exclusive Rights Free Agents, meaning they will almost certainly make it to training camp, at the very least, on cheap one year deals.