Free agency is sneaking up on us and the Vikings have been quiet, as usual, regarding their plans to re-sign their own free agents. Almost certainly, there will be some of our own guys signing new contracts prior to the March 11th opening of the market, but this is as good of a time as any to participate in some good old fashioned speculation.
I tend to view the NFL Draft as a time to amass talent, with less regard for immediate need than is displayed in the opening days of free agency, so I have narrowed in on five guys that I think could help make an immediate impact on the opening day roster. Of course, free agency is highly unpredictable and we fans seldom get what we want, but this slow time in the offseason is the perfect time for us dreamers to dream.
5. Dexter McCluster, WR/RD/PR, Age 26
This name, as the first on my list, might come as a surprise to you all. After all, I just talked about how much importance I place on need during the free agency period. The need I’m addressing here is a little more nuanced, however, than simply fortifying a position in the starting roster. I consider a signing like this to be as close to an “insurance policy” as Rick Spielman can get.
Slot receiver isn’t exactly atop the Vikings top priorities this offseason, I’m sure. Jarius Wright has shown plenty of promise, with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson capable of being moved around within the offense, but after that the depth chart starts to thin out. I hate to jinx us, but two years on frozen grass is going to take its toll on these speedy receivers, and depth is going to be a must.
Perhaps more importantly is the addition of a guy with true scat back potential in a Norv Turner offense. I have a lot of faith in friend-of-the-site Bradley Randle, but the job is far from solidified at this point, and Toby Gerhart’s presumed departure leaves room for additions at the position. McCluster could also push Marcus Sherels, or at least act as a his primary backup, when it comes to returning punts.
McCluster has played four years with Kansas City and has been durable since missing five games during his rookie season, having only missed one since then. Through the air he has accumulated 172 catches for 1,500 yards and five touchdowns. He has rushed for 662 yards (4.4 yard average) and a score. He also has extensive experience on special teams, combining for 131 kick and punt returns in his career, with three punt returns returned for touchdowns. For having such a small frame, and seeing so many various types of touches, it is surprising that McCluster has only fumbled once-per-season while in the NFL.
The big play potential is there. He would add another dimension to this offense. He seems like a Norv Turner type of utility man. He is an extremely versatile player. The price tag should be reasonable.
I guess I just don’t see the downside here.
4. Geoff Schwartz, G, Age 27
I think we all rooted for Geoff Schwartz to recover from his hip injury and be some sort of answer in Minnesota while he was with us in 2012, right? Well, it eventually happened, but it was a year later and he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, where he started and played very well for the second half of their season. Schwartz is perhaps the only potential free agent replacement for Charlie Johnson at left guard that is on the right side of 30 years old, played well last year, and appears to have minimal health concerns.
Schwartz played right guard last season for the Chiefs, but there is little reason to expect him to struggle with a transition to the other side, where he also has some experience. The interesting part of Schwartz’s sudden notoriety is that the Chiefs actually made a mid-season change from start Jon Asamoah, while they were stringing wins together, because they felt Schwartz was an upgrade to Asamoah… who wasn’t doing a poor job at all.
That is the type of faith Schwartz never got from the old staff here in Minnesota, but maybe he’d be willing to give the new one a try.
3. Linvall Joseph, DT, Age 25
At 6′ 4″ and 323 pounds, the young Linvall Joseph has really started to come into his own, and he stands to make a lot of money this offseason. In fact, don’t be surprised if he generates quite the bidding war in the hours leading up to the official start of free agency. It is hard to think of an NFL team that couldn’t find a spot on their defensive line for this big fella.
Four years with the Giants has resulted in 175 combined tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles, three recoveries, four batted passes. He is a giant run stuffer, which the Vikings need, but is plenty capable of causing disruption in the backfield. Plus, at only 25 years old, he still has room for improvement.
Letroy Guion has been a disappointment and Fred Evans isn’t getting any younger. With Mike Zimmer at the helm, I get all sorts of giddy thinking about Sharrif Floyd and someone like Joseph paired together up front for seasons to come. Few players are truley worth breaking the bank over, but I wouldn’t mind seeing our Vikings participate in the chase to sign this guy up for five or six years.
2. Jairus Byrd, S, Age 27
This one seems incredibly unlikely, if for no other reason than Byrd stands to make an unreasonable amount of dough as a free agent this month. Still, it is hard to argue with his production in his five years with Buffalo, and it would be nice to add someone of his particular skill set to our woeful secondary.
Byrd is responsible for an eye-popping 22 interceptions so far in his career, with 11 forced fumbles and five recovered fumbles being added to his ball-hawking statistics. He has also tallied 356 combined tackles, three sacks, 33 defended passes, two touchdowns. He has managed to come out of a small market with plenty of name value after five seasons with the Bills, and teams will be clamoring to get his attention if they haven’t already started.
With Harrison Smith acting as the enforcer in the Vikings defensive backfield, specializing in delivering punishing hits from the box, a guy like Byrd would be the perfect compliment. He could roam deep, waiting for the right time to pounce, and finally put an end to the rotation of names that have admirably failed to make a true impact back there for the Vikings in recent years.
1. Michael Johnson, DE, Age 27
I know this is ending on a cliche, but I just think every new head coach should be able to bring in someone he is comfortable with to help him build a roster. “Comfortable” might be an understatement as I try to pour over Mike Zimmer’s work in Cincinatti. It is clear that over the last few seasons, Zimmer’s defense centered around the Johnson and his 6′ 7″ frame. Sure, Johnson’s sack stats fell off a cliff last year, but he still was the focal point of a very stout defense and it was clear Zimmer had a ton of faith in his abilities.
Johnson has played in all but one game of his five year career with the Bengals. He has been in on 202 combined tackles, has 26.5 sacks to his name, three forced fumbles, three recoveries, three interceptions, and has used those giant arms of his to knock down 25 passes. He is always a challenge for opposing left tackles and someone that has to be game-planned for every week of the season.
With Jared Allen and Everson Griffen preparing to possibly test the free agent market, it would not hurt in the slightest if the Vikings let their new head coach sweet-talk another great option at the defensive end position. There are quite a few pass rushers on the market this offseason, between free agency and the draft, but the Vikings can’t afford to let anyone untested be their only replacement option for the old Calf Roper.