Monday, April 27, 2015
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phil loadholt

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The NFL is allowing a three day window in which team’s can legally tamper with pending free agency prior to free agency officially beginning.  That means very late on Friday all phone lines will be open, rumors will be flying, text message services will be working overtime, and tentative deals will be struck.

That is why it is interesting to point out that the Vikings have done incredibly little this offseason so far.  Since the season ended they have added one player, CFL cornerback Rod Williams, and released veteran receiver Michael Jenkins.

That’t it.

Tomorrow night the agents for all 14 pending free agents are free to talk to other teams.  This includes right tackle Phil Loadholt, Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, and safety Jamarca Sanford.  They haven’t tendered any of their restricted free agents like some teams have done.  They also haven’t restructured any veteran contracts like so many teams have done over the last few weeks.

Minnesota has always seemed to frustrate fans by waiting until the last minute to show their cards, which is the smart thing to do, but they are allowing some fairly important items on their to-do list wait until the last minute.  It is safe to assume that there is a plan in place, but I just can’t help but wonder just how much risk is built into this plan when it comes to retaining their own players.

For everyone’s sake, I hope the Vikings make the transaction report on Friday, and show a sign of life in an offseason where they have done little other than play possum.

A full quarter of the NFL teams placed their franchise tag on a player by Monday’s deadline and the Vikings were not one of them, as expected.  Their only real candidate for the tag was right tackle Phil Loadholt, but it wasn’t too surprising that the Vikings were not willing to invest nearly $10 million into one year of service from Loadholt.  Instead, they will probably try to negotiate a more financially feasible contract that keeps him in purple for years to come, or move on and begin the search for his replacement.

Two offensive tackles did receive the franchise tag this year, however, as Branden Albert of the Chiefs and Ryan Clady of the Broncos both were too valuable to their respective teams to let them just walk away.  In my free agent rankings for tackles I had Clady at #2 and Albert at #5, with Loadholt between them at #4.  These two are left tackles, however, and being taken off the free market shouldn’t provide Loadholt with too much leverage over the Vikings.

The Chiefs tagging Albert is interesting for two reasons.  First, they were able to pull the trigger on the tag because they reached a last minute agreement with receiver Dwayne Bowe in the form of a five year agreement.  I listed Bowe as my #1 ranked free agent wide receiver, so it is disappointing to see those options begin to dwindle.  Second, keeping Albert in the fold provides an added sense of mystery when it comes to how the Chiefs will use their first overall draft pick.

Defensive tackle is also a major need for the Vikings and two top options were taken away via the franchise tag there, as well.  Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton was my top overall defensive tackle, with Randy Starks of Miami coming in 5th, but now both have been tagged and are essentially unavailable.

Safety Jairus Byrd of the Bills ranked atop his position, as well, but the Bills placing the franchise tag on him means some other interesting options may be available including guard Andy Levitre and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.

Defensive end Michael Johnson of the Bengals, defensive end Anthony Spencer of the Cowboys, and Colts punter Pat McAfee were the remaining three players to be tagged.

 

 

The deadline for teams to place their franchise tag on a pending free agent is Monday at 4:00 p.m. and only five tags have been placed so far.

The Vikings are not expected to use their tag this offseason despite Phil Loadholt, Jamarca Sanford, and Jerome Felton all currently unsigned.  Felton would be way overpaid because there is no difference between a fullback and running back as far as the franchise tag is concerned, while Sanford has yet to prove himself as being anywhere close to worthy of the tag.

Loadholt is not somebody the Vikings would want to lose easily, but he also isn’t likely to see them hand over $9.8 million for one year of service, particularly with so many other right tackle possibilities available via free agency and the Draft.

What will be of interest to the Vikings tomorrow, however, is keeping track of who gets tagged and who doesn’t.  They may have to cross some potential free agency targets off their list, but it will also provide some clarity as to which players are likely to hit the open market.

For instance, the Buffalo Bills already placed their tag on playmaking safety Jairus Byrd, but that means guard Andy Levitre is soon going to be allowed to sign with another team.  Defensive end Michael Johnson of the Bengals was franchised and so right tackle Andre Smith could also be available.

The other three players to be tagged so far are punter Pat McAfee of the Colts, left tackle Ryan Clady of the Broncos, and defensive tackle Henry Melton of the Bears.

We’ll keep an eye on Monday’s action all day long and be sure to update you on how, if at all, the Vikings might be impacted by all of this.

Back when mid-season reports broke that the Vikings were in talks with right tackle Phil Loadholt I opined that they need not rush into a blockbuster deal with a simply above-average option that played better during his contract year, especially with a whole lot of options existing in free agency and the Draft.

A Pro Football Talk article recently confirmed that this notion exists in NFL front offices.  With so many tackle options, especially right tackle options, set to be available to teams there seems to be little reason to shell out the big money.

Loadholt is not a bad option moving forward, especially with continuity always acting as an added bonus, but he is far from the only option.

Left tackle isn’t going to be a priority this offseason, with Matt Kalil looking like the real deal, but things are unsettled on the right side and towards the bottom of the depth chart.  Lets take a look at what options exist:

Top Tier

1.  Sebastian Vollmer, NE

You are going to see most rankings have Jake Long or Ryan Clady in this spot, but they will demand left tackle money, and the Vikings are set on the left side with Kalil holding down the post.  It isn’t that Kalil or one of these guys couldn’t play on the right side, it’s that the Vikings probably don’t want to pay them to.  Vollmer is arguably the best right tackle in the NFL and will demand a fair amount of money, but in my mind would present a clear upgrade over Loadholt.

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.

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