There is some speculation out there that the Greg Jennings signing caused the Vikings to max out their credit card, from a salary cap standpoint, and will be done spending in free agents. While it seems likely the Vikings are close to the spending threshold, we do not yet know what Greg Jennings’ cap hit will be, and there could be more restructuring or releases in the near future that give the Vikings some flexibility.
So, let’s assume for a minute that the Vikings end up having some money left to spend, but not enough to go shopping for big names. Who could they target at what positions? Here are seven guys I think could be great bargains at this point in the offseason:
Larry Grant, LB, 49ers: Signing Jennings gave the Vikings some flexibility when it comes to their first round draft picks. Signing a guy like Grant, who filled in well for an injured Patrick Willis in 2011, could provide them similar flexibility as it now assumed the Vikings will be targeting a middle linebacker early on.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders: Raiders players are so freaking hard to evaluate. Either they are much better than you think, because the poor talent around them hindered their ability to perform, or they are not nearly as good as you think because they were simply a bright spot amidst a pile of junk. Heyward-Bey hasn’t been a total bust in Oakland, but he hasn’t been great either. We know he is big and incredibly fast, able to break off that home run play from time to time, and the former top 10 pick could help the Vikings take advantage of Adrian Peterson’s command of opposing defenses.
Alan Branch, DT, Seahawks: Signing a run stuffing tackle like Branch could give the Vikings major flexibility when it comes to their draft choices, as well as dealing with Kevin Williams and his cumbersome contract. At this point in their careers, I’m not sure replacing Williams with a guy like Branch would be much of a step back, and would almost certainly free up some cap space.
Brad Jones, LB, Packers: Two high-quality Packers being swiped in one offseason? Sure, why not. Jones was a three-down linebacker for the Packers last season after Desmond Bishop got hurt and was one of the more productive members of their defense. If he comes cheap enough, the Vikings could move him around, as needed, to all three linebacker positions. He is only 27 years old, so his best days might still be in front of him.
Ramses Barden, WR, Giants: I know I’ve been beating this drum all offseason, but Barden could prove to be the steal of the offseason if he lands in the right position. The tall receiver never really got his chances with New York’s talented depth chart, but if he used these years to refine his skills and condition his body, then he could provide a team like the Vikings with a huge red zone target with a large catch radius. He has upside, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up starting for a receiver-needy offense this year.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: The Percy Harvin trade not only left the Vikings needing a receiver, but it also left them without a scat back and taking a step back on special teams. Jones has seen his value plummet over the last two seasons, but he can still serve as an adequate pass catching back and as a quality return man. For a minimum contract, the Vikings could have a stacked running back depth chart, and some flexibility when it comes to contract-year plodder Toby Gerhart.
E.J. Biggers, CB, Bucs: I’d love to have Antoine Winfield on this list, but it is safe to say that it isn’t likely he’ll be returning, and certainly not at a bargain price. His absence will be felt in the backfield, however, and while he and Biggers have different skill sets, Biggers is still worthy of interest given his age (26) and solid year in 2012. Re-signing Biggers is a priority from the Bucs, and he reportedly has offers on the table from other teams, so he may not end up being much of a bargain.