2015 Minnesota Vikings: An Early Look At Top Five Offseason Needs
Well, we haven’t seen all 16 games of the 2014 regular season and the Vikings still have 120 minutes of football to play, but I think we have seen enough to start up the old Irresponsible Speculation Machine (I.S.M – trademarked!) and look towards the 2015 offseason and what we might expect.
I’ve already compiled an early list of the Vikings free agents potentially headed for the open market, while Arif attempted to project Minnesota’s cap situation, so now we get down to the task of identifying the top needs across the roster moving forward. Obviously a team that has only won six of their first 14 games, none of which have come against teams with winning records, has plenty of room for improvement across the board.
Still, I’m going to attempt the dangerous task of narrowing it down to five, and in my most daring and harrowing feat to-date I will put them in order. See you in the comments section, Vikings junkies!
5. Offensive Tackle
I honestly am not sold that Mike Zimmer, Norv Turner, or Jeff Davidson have yet to throw in the towel on Matt Kalil, yet. Most of the fanbase has, I get that, but I can’t help but wonder if they still believe in him enough to allow him another chance in 2015. If that is the case, and Phil Loadholt can get healthy quickly, then perhaps I’ve put this position too high up on the list.
I don’t see Mike Harris, Austin Wentworth, or Carter Bykowski as viable long-term solutions, so much will depend on the perception of Antonio Richardson’s talent and health inside of Winter Park. If Richardson can’t be depended on to take over starting duties at some point in 2015, and keeping Teddy Bridgewater upright really is a priority, then offensive tackle talent and depth is desperately needed.
Harris is the only one of the current group expected to be a free agent. Dependable left tackles, even of the mediocre variety, are hard to come by in free agency. Texas A&M lineman Cedric Ogbuehi and Miami’s Ereck Flowers are a pair of highly regarded prospects to monitor as the 2015 NFL Draft draws nearer.
The Vikings have given up 44 sacks this season, with part of the blame falling at the feet of the quarterbacks, but plenty of it lying with the offensive tackle situation. Only three teams have allowed more sacks this year.
Minnesota has taken a huge leap forward is pass defense with Mike Zimmer at the helm. Still, I feel like we are just one Xavier Rhodes injury away from getting burned on a regular basis, and it sure would suck if that is what ended up tanking next season’s playoff hopes. Josh Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn are serviceable in their respective positions, but if Vikings have learned anything over the last few decades it should be that you can never have enough good corners on your roster. That notion is exponentially truer when you have Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, and Alshon Jeffery sitting in your division.
The Vikings shouldn’t lose any of their current group due to expiring contracts this offseason, and Jabari Price and Marcus Sherels provide some promising depth, but the Vikings simply cannot pass on another large playmaking corner if the opportunity is in front of them.
The free agent group, once teams re-sign their own free agents, looks like it will largely consist of aging veterans. Antonio Cromartie, Tramon Williams, and Charles Tillman all come with age and health concerns along with their name value. Minnesota’s own Eric Murray or Florida Atlantic senior D’Joun Smith could represent a great value for Rick Spielman if they are still available late on Day Two.
3. Strong Safety
Robert Blanton exceeded my expectations this season, but that isn’t saying much because those expectations were very, very low. Andrew Sendejo is a quality reserve and Antone Exum has some upside, but the quickest way I see this Vikings defense taking things to the next level is to add a high caliber strong safety to place alongside Harrison Smith.
Like at cornerback, the Vikings are not expected to lose any of their current talent here, and another offseason priority has to be getting Smith locked into a long-term contract. Still, investing in that starting strong safety spot would make me an incredibly happy Vikings fan.
Again, I wouldn’t expect any young and worthy candidates to be available in free agency, unless someone ends up being a cap casualty down the road. Meanwhile, I am calling… my… shot… right now and saying TCU’s Sam Carter will be a Minnesota Vikings draft steal in the mid-to-late rounds of the Draft.
2. Left Guard
The Vikings need to upgrade the left side of that offensive line. If my previously mentioned hunch regarding Kalil getting another chance proves true, then Rick Spielman might try to get an improved guard lined up next to him to try and speed up the tale of redemption. Charlie Johnson’s cap hit of $2.5 million in 2015 would only increase the attractiveness of finding his immediate replacement.
Joe Berger and Vlad Ducasse are set to be free agents and David Yankey has been trusted with very little so far. This opens the door to exploring other options.
If the Vikings wanted to blow a wad of cash on any single free agent this offseason, then San Fran’s Mike Iupati is probably the one worth blowing it on. He’s a tenacious blocker that elevates the play of those around him and might want to seek refuge from the sinking ship that the Niners have become. Besides, the Vikings are a team expected to be on the rise and get a shiny new stadium in 2016.
Florida State’s Josue Matias and Alabama’s Arie Kouandjio project as some of the top guard options available in this Draft class and could be viable backup options if free agency doesn’t produce any help at the position.
One thing is clear: The “continuity” approach to the offensive line didn’t result in improvement this time around.
1. Inside Linebacker
I so badly want some of the Vikings current options to pan out at linebacker. Audie Cole and Michael Mauti have plenty of fan support, but it just seems like they are not destined for stardom. Current starter Jasper Brinkley is also a candidate for departure due to his one-year contract. Even the loss of Chad Greenway, if that is indeed in the cards, could impact the position from a leadership standpoint.
The position’s importance is difficult to understate, but getting a Grade A linebacker in the middle of this defense could provide a boost to both the run and pass defense in a major way. It has been a while since the Vikings have had a “heart and soul” linebacker on the roster and would be a welcomed addition, I’m sure.
There are a number of free agent options out there that could be intriguing, including one that Mike Zimmer is very familiar with in Rey Maualuga. I would also be surprised if Zimmer didn’t end up falling in love with a prospect in this year’s draft that fits the mold of what he expects of his inside linebackers.