Top 25 Free Agency Targets

Gregg Rosenthal of Pro Football Talk managed to create a minor stir amongst Vikings fans on Monday when he tweeted a rumor he had heard at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“Heard at Combine the Vikings are in mix for a few of biggest FA names,” read Rosenthal’s tweet.  “Ready to spend. Bucs as well.”

Fans should probably reign in their expectations a little as the Vikings don’t have a ton of spending power, especially when being compared to Tampa Bay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see quite a bit of action on March 13th.

So, I decided to dust off my old free agency rankings and make another list of who I think should be the Vikings top targets.  The list takes everything into consideration including salary range, age, talent level, scheme, likelihood of actually hitting the open market, and so on.

Read more after the jump.

1.      Carl Nicks, G, Saints

The longer Drew Brees remains unsigned, the more likely it is that Nicks hits the open market.  He is one of the best guards in football and will expect to be paid like it.  Still, he would be an upgrade over the aging Steve Hutchinson and probably not much more costly in the short term.

2.      Mario Williams, DE, Texans

The Texans are probably going to let Williams walk now that their 3-4 defense is there to stay.  The Vikings don’t have a particular need at defensive end, but let’s face it, Jared Allen and Mario Williams playing on the same line would mask a ton of deficiencies on any defense.  Hey, a guy can dream, right?

3.      Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers

The Chargers are not expected to tag Jackson and the Vikings have had previous interest in his services.  Two years later, Jackson’s age (29) may have the Vikings feeling less giddy about obtaining him, but he is one of the best options expected to be available.

4.      Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Lions

The middle linebacker spot is the heart and soul of a defense and I think many fans are underestimating this team’s need to find a new one.  We will miss E.J. Henderson, but his impact on a game just isn’t the same anymore, and this is a perfect time to upgrade.  Tulloch was a beast for the Lions last year, so snagging him means our gain and a division rival’s loss.

5.      Brandon Carr, CB, Chiefs

A big, solid corner that plays consistently good football.  If Carr is allowed to walk because Dwayne Bowe gets the franchise tag, then he should immediately get a phone call from Rick Spielman.

6.      Curtis Lofton, MLB, Falcons

Lofton is an underrated talent and the Falcons cannot afford to lose him.  Still, they may have to choose between him and Brent Grimes when it comes right down to it.  Lofton is playing near a Pro Bowl level and at age 26 has many great years ahead of him.

7.      Paul Soliai, NT, Dolphins

Nobody seems to know what the heck the Dolphins plan on doing on defense these days, so perhaps they let their franchise player from a year ago leave in free agency.  If they do, he will be coveted (and probably offered more money) by 3-4 teams, but the Vikings sure do miss having a guy like Pat Williams in the middle of their line.

8.      Marques Colston, WR, Saints

Another big target that can fill the role of #1 receiver for the Vikings.  Colston doesn’t provide the speed that this Vikings offense lacks, but his strength and ability to gain separation makes up for it.

9.      Ben Grubbs, G, Ravens

Grubbs seems unlikely to escape Baltimore, but if he does he would be a quality option for just about any team.  The Vikings could jettison Steve Hutchinson and his salary and replace him with Grubbs, which is probably a significant upgrade.

10.  Michael Griffin, S, Titans

Safety has been a miserable position for the Vikings.  Durability has been almost as big of an issue as talent.  Griffin will bring consistency and durability to his next team if the Titans don’t re-sign him.

11.  Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans

Anyone that signs Finnegan will be making a statement about what their defensive attitude is going to be from that point forward.  I’m not sure that Leslie Frazier is an attitude type of guy, but Finnegan and his aggressive play would make this defense better.

12.  Dan Connor, MLB, Panthers

With Jon Beason returning from injury his one year replacement is an unrestricted free agent and the timing couldn’t be better.  The Panthers will certainly stick with Beason and Connor gets to cash in on what was a very good season for him.

13.  Jason Jones, DT, Titans

The Vikings need to assemble more talent around Kevin Williams, especially if they really do plan on taking more of a rotation approach on the defensive line, and Jones would be a solid addition if he checks out medically.

14.  Tyvon Branch, S, Raiders

If youth and upside is what Rick Spielman is after then Branch has to be ranked near the top of his free agency list.  He is only 25 and has played very well in Oakland.

15.  Mario Manningham, WR, Giants

Manningham isn’t a talent worth getting into a bidding war over, especially with Tampa Bay, but he is still young and has room to grow.  Injuries hampered him in 2011 so he would probably come cheaper than a lot of the wide outs mentioned previously.

16.  Jared Gaither, OT, Chargers

After being dumped by Baltimore and Kansas City, Gaither seemed to fully recover from his back injury and played great for San Diego in the second half of the year.  Back injuries linger, however, so buyer beware.

17.  LaRon Landry, S Redskins

Have you guys seen those pictures of the bulked up Landry this offseason?  The Vikings have nobody in their secondary quite as scary as that.  Injury risk, but also a proven commodity.

18.  Tracy Porter, CB, Saints

Young and talented.  Porter could get lost in free agency due to depth at the position expected to be available, including in the Draft, but he can be a productive starter.

19.  Erin Henderson, OLB, Vikings

The Vikings shouldn’t place too much value on a two down linebacker playing on the weak side.  Still, Henderson was one of the Vikings better defenders in 2011 and for the right price he should be brought back.  Re-signing him essentially erases the need to draft an outside linebacker at all in April.

20.  Anthony Collins, OT, Bengals

A spot starter that has shown solid skills in limited playing time.  At age 26, Collins could probably be signed fairly cheap and compete for multiple spots along the line.  A good insurance policy in case the team passes on Matt Kalil.

21.  Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers

Just a unique talent with unique attributes.  I love this “bowling ball” and what he has brought to San Diego’s offense over the last two seasons.  He is surprisingly good at catching, too.  So while I still would like to see the Vikings get a true scat back for third downs, another approach could be a guy like Tolbert that adds even more power to this backfield.  He could also get a few snaps as the nearly non-existent fullback position in Bill Musgrave’s offense.

22.  William Middleton, CB, Jaguars

A young corner who plays solid football and may still have plenty of untapped potential.  Hard to argue with that.

23.  Martellus Bennett, TE, Cowboys

Young.  Really good blocker.  Unproven pass catcher, but the potential is there.  He is also a loudmouthed headache, which is probably why Dallas will let him leave in the first place.  An intriguing option for the Vikings.

24.  Le’Ron McClain, FB, Chiefs

A real fullback would be nice, wouldn’t it?  He would be an upgrade to D’Imperio in almost every aspect of the game except, perhaps, on special teams.

25.  Connor Barth, K, Bucaneers

The Vikings could stand to get younger and stronger at the kicker position.  Not sure Barth hits the open market, but if he does then about 75% of the league will probably be interested in replacing their in-house options.