By most accounts, the 2014 offseason has been fulfilling for the Minnesota Vikings franchise and fans, and the NFL Draft was some Rick Spielman brilliance if general approval ratings are considered a fair unit of measurement.
Still, the offseason isn’t over, and most of us can scan this roster and find places we would like to see strengthened even further by Week One. Additionally, with a new coaching regime and new schemes in place, it is especially difficult to pinpoint exactly where talent voids exist. Even the most confident of analysts are lying if they tell you they know how this team will perform in 2014, and we can’t expect to get a great gauge for just how good (or bad) they are until week eight or possibly later.
Still, it would be very out of character for Rick Spielman to stop making moves at this point, and there is (say it with me) always room for improvement… or at least additional competition.
Here is a quick glance at a few guys that are currently looking for work that I think could make interesting additions to this roster in an attempt to elevate the position battles in training camp. If these four guys don’t excite you, trust me, I understand. There is a whole other wave of free agency that will flood the market just prior to the regular season, but for now we can really only speculate on the guys we know are available. Here you go:
1. La’Rod Stephens-Howling, RB, Age 27
Behind Adrian Peterson, the Vikings running back depth chart seems wide open, and those roster spots will be much debated when training camp and preseason rolls around. With a new regime in place, it remains to be seen if Jerome Felton can even be considered a sure things this year. The Vikings currently have five running backs and two fullbacks listed on the roster and I think there is room for another addition or two, especially given the likelihood of a preseason injury impacting at least one of these guys.
La’Rod Stephens-Howling is a guy the Vikings reportedly showed some interest in prior to the draft. I’m not sure if that included an evaluation of his health or not, as he injured his ACL in the regular season opener last year, but his skillset is exactly what you want to have out of a second or third string running back. He’s a versatile guy, capable of pass protection and catching passes, while also being able to contribute on special teams if need be.
If he can participate in training camp drills, I see no reason not to give this guy a chance to compete for a spot on the final 53.
2. JerMichael Finley, TE, Age 27
Reports out of Green Bay indicate that their organization has been holding out hope for JerMichael Finley to recover from his scary neck injury and subsequently return to the team. In fact, according to ESPN, the Packers haven’t given away his locker yet and Ted Thompson has spoken publicly about his interest in getting Finley back. The idea is that if and when doctors clear Finley for football the Packers will be there to immediately sign him back and everyone can live happily ever after and eat cheese.
I genuinely hope Finley gets back to 100% health, regardless if he plays football or not, but I would love to see the Vikings jump in and spoil this little dream of Ted Thompson’s by throwing some cash at Finley. He’s a talented player who was just recently coming into his own and could be a great compliment to a guy like Kyle Rudolph.
I love what Rhett Ellison is capable of in many different aspects of the game. I also think Chase Ford and rookie A.C. Leonard each of a great chance of turning heads this summer. Still, Finley is likely to come cheap enough that he could be cut loose if that’s what’s best for any organization he plays for this year, but I also firmly believe he would elevate the level of competition at just about anybody’s training camp.
3. Kevin Williams, DT, Age 34
There is a noticeable drop off in experience, upside and talent at the defensive tackle position once you get beyond Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd on the depth chart. I haven’t been shy about bagging on Williams a bit over the last few seasons, but he hasn’t been so bad that he should be unemployed at this point in the offseason, and the longer he is then the longer the Vikings might have an insurance policy on speed dial.
Williams has indicated he won’t re-sign with Minnesota and that he doesn’t want to be a backup player. However, the lack of a contract right now could prompt him to make some concessions, while underperforming youngsters or unforeseen circumstances could cause the Vikings to send a little more love to a career-long Viking.
He’s not at all the player he once was, but it wouldn’t sadden me if he continued his career in purple.
4. Asante Samuel, CB, Age 33
When it comes down to it I look at the Vikings cornerback depth chart and see only three guys that I am certain will make the opening day roster if they stay uninjured: Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, and Marcus Sherels. I have a little more optimism than most about some of the other guys on this roster, but I’m also a big fan of adding talent to the pile.
Samuel is an accomplished veteran who never seemed to fit in with Philadelphia or Atlanta in a super meaningful way. If he can avoids the dings and dents this season and land in a good enough situation, however, I think he could be a legitimate comeback candidate.
The presence of a guy like Samuel could really motivate some our veterans (Derek Cox, Shaun Prater) while also providing another valuable resource to the younger players (Jabari Price, Kendall James).
The Vikings could certainly do worse (and they have in the past) than signing a guy like Samuel. I’m in favor of any move that prevents Robert Blanton from ever being forced into action at cornerback again.