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Realistic Vikings Free Agents for 2016: Offense and Special Teams

Second only to the NFL Draft, the first week of the league’s free agency period is one of the most exciting parts of the NFL offseason each and every year. Sometimes it works out and other times it does not for a team and their expensive new player or players.

It is always fun for fans to hope that their team goes out and signs the top available free agents, but that is not always the best strategy for their favorite team. Some fans need to be more realistic when it comes to who they think their team could sign.

When the free agency period for this upcoming NFL year begins on March 9th, there will be a few players that could land with the Vikings. Who are some of the more realistic options in free agency that could fit with the team in Minnesota?

Marvin Jones, WR

Age: 25

2015 Team: Cincinnati Bengals

Estimated 2016 Value: $5.5 million

With reports out that Alshon Jeffery is likely to re-sign with the Chicago Bears, Jones becomes one of the top available players in this offseason’s relatively weak free-agent group of wide receivers. The 25-year-old Jones has spent his entire four year NFL career in Cincinnati with the Bengals and his 103 targets in 2015 were good enough for second on the team behind fellow wide receiver A.J. Green.

Jones is coming off of a season where he finished with career highs in targets, catches (65), and receiving yards (816). Listed at 6’2″, his height could provide the Vikings offense with a potential downfield threat and another big target when Minnesota finds itself in the redone.

If the Vikings were able to lure Jones to the Twin Cities, it would likely spell the end of Charles Johnson’s career as a wide receiver in Minnesota. Jones has a similar build and skill set as Johnson, but Jones has proven to be more reliable and productive when called upon to perform.

Jermaine Kearse, WR

Age: 25

2015 Team: Seattle Seahawks

Estimated 2016 Value: $4.7 million

A decision to pursue Kearse could depend on what the Vikings do with a current overpriced wide receiver in Mike Wallace this offseason. Wallace is due $11.45 million in 2016 and based on his performance last season (a career worst), there is no way he should remain in Minnesota with his current salary.

Wallace’s salary for the next two years is not guaranteed so, if they wanted to, the Vikings could just release the wide receiver without owing him a penny. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer expressed his admiration for Wallace and his attitude after the 2015 season and this could lead to the team trying to keep the receiver, but at a much a cheaper price.

If the Vikings and Wallace are unable to come to an agreement on a contract restructure, the result could end up on the team deciding to part ways with him. Minnesota would then have a need for a receiver to take the place that a Wallace departure would open.

If the Vikings cannot find a player on their current roster to fill Wallace’s spot then they may look to free agency instead. Kearse could potentially be a great fit for what this offense and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater are trying to accomplish in the near future with a system more focused around passing.

With 49 catches for 685 yards and five touchdowns, Kearse is coming off of a career year and his statistics have improved in each of his four seasons in the NFL. At 6’1″, 212 pounds, Kearse has the abilities to both make plays after the catch and stretch the field as a deep threat.

Travis Benjamin, WR/PR

Age: 26

2015 Team: Cleveland Browns

Estimated 2016 Value: $4.3 million

The past five seasons, Minnesota has had the same player returning punts in defensive back Marcus Sherels. He finished second in the league in 2013 with an average of 15.2 yards per punt return.

However, 2013 was the only one of Sherels’ five seasons returning punts that he finished among the league’s top five in that category. Additionally, Sherels has only finished in the top ten in that category in two of his five seasons.

The Vikings and Zimmer take pride in excelling in all three phases of football (offense, defense, special teams), so is it time for the team to sign a player that could greatly improve their punt return unit? Sherels is a free agent this offseason and this may be the season in which Minnesota finally decides not to bring him back to play for his hometown team.

Who could replace him? There may be a player on their current roster that could take over the team’s punt return duties, but the Vikings could choose to spend their money this offseason on a playmaking punt returner in Travis Benjamin.

Benjamin has been one of the NFL’s best punt returners since he first entered the league in 2012. He finished third in the league in 2015 with a punt return average of 11.6 yards and established himself as a capable wide receiver as well (68 catches, 966 yards, 5 touchdowns).

Adding Benjamin to the team could essentially kill two birds with one stone. The Vikings would not only be getting an excellent punt returner, but also a player that caught more passes and gained more receiving yards than any player on Minnesota’s 2015 roster.

Pierre Thomas, RB

Age: 31

2015 Team: Washington Redskins/San Francisco 49ers

Estimated 2016 Value: Under $1 million

Why would the Vikings even consider signing a 31-year-old running back who has only played in five games last season? What Thomas can bring to the team that is outside of the stats sheet should be a reason why Minnesota should consider signing the former New Orleans Saint this offseason.

Thomas was a member of the Saints 2009 team that won that season’s Super Bowl. He knows what it takes for a team to get over the hump and become a serious Super Bowl contender.

What Terence Newman’s veteran presence brought to the Vikings defense last season, and perhaps next season, is what Thomas could potentially bring to the team’s offense in 2016. If Minnesota were to sign Thomas, current Minnesota running back Jerick McKinnon would have a better example than Peterson to learn from as Thomas has proven to be an exceptional receiver (77 catches in 2013) and pass blocker during his career.

The Vikings could end up just choosing to bring back running back Matt Asiata this offseason. But if they do not, Thomas would be a more than capable replacement

Mitchell Schwartz, RT

Age: 26

2015 Team: Cleveland Browns

Estimated 2016 Value: $6 Million

No unit has struggled more for Minnesota in the past two seasons than their offensive line. Giving up 45 or more sacks in the last two years is nowhere close to the type of line the Vikings need in order to protect their franchise quarterback.

Zimmer has already begun to make changes to the line by not renewing the contract of Jeff Davidson who had coached the unit since 2011. Minnesota has brought in former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano to attempt at fixing the disaster that is the Vikings offensive line.

Minnesota’s first task in trying to bolster their line should be to focus on improving the right side of the unit. As of right now, the Vikings will return Phil Loadholt and T.J. Clemmings as their right tackles in 2016.

Loadholt is 30-years-old and has missed 21 games in the past two seasons due to injury, including all of the 2015 season with a torn Achilles. With Loadholt carrying a cap hit of $7.75 million for 2016, it would not come as a surprise if Minnesota decides to release their injury prone right tackle.

If that happens, then the Vikings will be left with Clemmings as the best option for right tackle left on their roster. Based on Clemmings rookie season in 2015, it might be a better idea for Minnesota to go searching for a veteran free-agent right tackle

Adding Schwartz to their roster would be a big pickup for the Vikings and automatically improve the right side of their offensive line. Schwartz is just coming into his prime as player in this league and was already given the title as the NFL’s best right tackle by Pro Football Focus in 2015.

If Minnesota is going to spend a ton of money on a free-agent his offseason, spending it on Schwartz would be wise. Plus, knowing that Schwartz is blocking for him could help Teddy develop a normal breathing pattern during games and prevent him from trying to throw passes with his left hand.

Kelechi Osemele, G/T

Age: 26

2015 Team: Baltimore Ravens

Estimated 2016 Value: $7 million

Injuries decimated the Vikings offensive line in 2015 and likely played a big part in their lack of success. They have hired a new coach in Sparano to coach the line, so a few changes to their personnel for next season would not come as a surprise.

Osemele is a unique player in that he is an athletic offensive linemen with the ability to play a majority of positions. He began his career with the Ravens as a tackle and was later switched to guard, where he played the last three seasons.

With his 6’5″, 333 pound frame, he would fit in nicely next to the Vikings current left tackle in Matt Kalil. If Minnesota were able sign Osemele and plug him in as their starting left guard, it would possibly allow current Vikings lineman Brandon Fusco to return to his natural position at right guard.   

Shane Lechler, P

Age: 39

2015 Team: Houston Texans

Estimated 2016 Value: $1.5 million

Not sure if it is stating the obvious, but Minnesota punter Jeff Locke is not what one would say, good. Actually he was the absolute worst punter in the entire NFL last season in terms of average yards per punt.

Locke has left the Vikings with almost no choice but than to bring in another punter to compete for the starting job in 2016. Lechler has proven time and time again to be one of the league’s best punters and even ranked fifth in the NFL in 2015 in yards per punt.

39-year-old players are usually not on a team’s list for top free agent targets, but they are when your 26-year-old punter cannot get the job done.

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Adam Patrick

Adam has been rooting for the Vikings ever since he saw Randall Cunningham win NFC Special Teams Player of the week in 1997. Since his career sports highlights include 3rd place at 5th Grade Golf Camp and catching a ball during a soccer game (he was not playing goalie), Adam turned to writing. He considers himself a 'Vikings Realist' as he does not shy away from criticizing the purple and gold if necessary. He will not always write about the popular topics, but his goal is to provide readers with content they cannot find anywhere else. Follow him on Twitter @Str8_Cash_Homey

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  1. Osemele would really help solve a position of need, and lets be honest drafting OL is a crap shoot and rare is the late round pick who can start day one.

    I feel strongly we need to make this happen. Plays LG like a mack truck and has LT versatility. Make it happen Rick, please.

  2. Why not sign Ryan Harris the RT/LT from Denver? He is from MN, he is a free agent, and he made around 1 million last year. Sounds like a good target to have.

  3. Hopefully we can sign Kelechi Osemele & Mitchell Schwartz from FA
    Then we can focus on drafting a LT in the draft regardless of Matt Kalil
    Wish the Bills didn’t have franchise tag on Cordy Glenn!!

    1. As far as I am concerned, drafting a potential replacement for Kalil should be the top priority when it comes to the offensive line.

      1. Then it’s a good thing you don’t have much say. While Kalil isn’t a probowler hes not near our weakest link. He was actually one of the better linemen last year

  4. Going after any o-line in FA is dumb, unless it’s a depth player. I know clemmings and fusco played horrible, but clemmings was a very raw player coming out of Pitt and he did play better as the year progressed. Fusco was a top 3 RG and was coming off an injury and a positional change to LG, which is the tougher position. The Vikings need to resign Harris to play RG and getting Sullivan back will already improve our O-Line. Also Diggs can be the PR if we drop sherels, so going after Benjamin isn’t needed. The Vikings need a big contested catch WR not another small and fast WR.

    1. So you’re saying you would be happy with basically the same group of linemen that have given up 40+ sacks in the past 4 seasons and also have the team’s #1 receiver returning punts?

      1. Yes, I would be fine with the same group, there has been a multitude of injuries on the o line over the last couple of years. I’m not saying we shouldnt draft a o-line but not in the first 3 rounds. And I hope Diggs isn’t our number 1 receiver coming into next year bc that means we did absolutely nothing to fix our receiver position. And it wouldn’t be the first time a starting receiver also received punts. Travis Benjamin did it, Antonio brown does it, so Diggs could easily receive punts.

        1. Besides Alshon Jeffery (who is likely re-signing with the Bears) who is available that you think could supplant Diggs as the Vikings number 1 receiver?

          1. Well if the Vikings are smart, they’ll draft a WR or two in the draft, they need a big bodied WR that can make contested catches so Diggs can run the underneath and medium routes where he excels. And there should be one of either Doctson, Treadwell, or Thomas available at 23.

    2. By the way, I agree with you totally that Clemmings looked much better at the end of the year than at the beginning. He actually did ok all things considered. Big Mike Harris has a year or two left in him, move him to LG and Fusco back to RG. I am not so sure that releasing Loadholt is the best thing to do this year.. maybe next or the following, I think that he has some tread remaining on the tires. The only scenario that I would like that does not include Phil is drafting a LT in the first round and moving Kalil to RT… In other words a sure fire and immediate replacement on the left. O line is where they need to focus, then another safety, i would put WR 4th on the needs list.

      1. In my opinion,Loadholt is done in Minnesota.Pass blocking is something that will be on Zimmers radar to get fixed,and Loadholt has always been poor in that area.Coupled with his recent injury problems I don’t see him returning.
        Also in Zims first year we made a splash in FA by signing Joseph and Munnerlyn to help fix our league worst defence and releasing a couple of veterens.I expect the same plan to apply with the OL,so the idea of signing Osemele and/or Scwhartz is definitely in play.
        I am not in favour of drafting OL in first round,it’s like playing pin the tail on the donkey.If you get it right then great,but too many of these picks don’t deliver,there is no “sure fire thing” in the draft.

        1. Good point Aussie. He never has been a very good pass blocker, quite the mauler on run blocking tho.. You guys have convinced me. Just always like Phil from the time they drafted him. I have forgotten perhaps their greatest need in their last few posts. They really need a better punter.

    3. So signing a free agent OL is dumb. Pretty sure the last time the vikings did it worked out pretty good. Aka steve hutchinson. Actually the only position i feel comfortable with signing in free agency is the OL. They could cut kalil and loadholt, sign osemele and schwartz and have more money. So y not. Then draft conklin, decker, or spriggs or someone that falls to 23 as LT and theyd have a pretty good OL

  5. I don’t know if I can agree with that Chance. I was hoping that the vikes would land Iupatti last year, look what he did for the cards. However, this year’s draft is fairly deep in o linemen, they can likely land OG and OT in the first two rounds and get players that could start immediately. I like the idea of landing Iloka or Weddle in FA and taking a project safety in round 4. There are more than a few safeties in this year’s draft that are 6’2″ plus and 230 lbs. plus. There just aren’t any sure fire WR’s that fit the mold you described in this year’s draft. I have heard more than one “expert” claim that this year’s top WR would not be a top five last year.. so why over reach?

  6. I would like them to take a flyer on WR Brian Quick from the Rams. He looked like he was going to develop into a potential star a couple years back but suffered an injury and hardly saw the field last year. If he is healthy he would be a perfect player to bring in on a one year deal to see if he could be that big physical receiver we need. Outside of that I’m definitely in favor of targeting olineman that can step right in and start in free agency.

  7. There was a punter in the shrine game that looks good. O-line is a must either in fa or draft but as good as our d-line played last year this class is so stacked that we almost have to grab one guy preferably a tackle we are stacked at end. As for wr. De’Runya Wilson in 3rd would be my preference if available

    1. Skolvikings69. I completely agree with you on De’Runnya Wilson. Just finished watching film on him and i think he can be a star. A little raw, but not like patterson. Wilson can actually run routes. And as far as patterson, id try moving him to running back. What do the vikes have to lose

  8. The left side of the offensive line has been and still is a bigger problem than the right side. The run blocking of Harris and Clemmings was far better than that of Fusco and Kalil. We have options at RT (Loadholt, Clemmings and Harris), RG (Harris, Fusco) and Center (Sullivan, Berger). On the left side, however, our best option at LG is Joe Berger unless Fusco can turn it around (I wouldn’t count him out) or Harris can make the switch, while we have no one on the roster who can challenge Kalil at LT. Kalil has been the drag on this offensive line for the last three years, Adam, along with injuries. I’d love it if he returned to Pro Bowl form but I can’t trust that he will, so we need to acquire an alternative who can either challenge him next season or replace him after his fifth-year option expires.

  9. I like Schwartz but remember we had his brother here a few years ago and he didn’t like it here. Might be tough to sign him being that Geoff probably won’t have much good to say.

    1. Hopefully he has enough brain cells to ignore his brother,the whole coaching set up is different now.
      Also the latest reports out of Cleveland are that negations are not going well,and Schwartz is likely to test the open market.

    2. He didn’t like it in Minnesota because he didn’t play as much as he would have liked plus, like aussie said, the coaching situation is way different than it was when his brother was with the team…and by way different I mean way better.

  10. Zimmer preaches competition for starting spots. Yet, because Spielman hand piced Locke (laces out) no one was brought in to compete and he was Horrible again. I understand having patience with a guy who flashes potential, but his stubbornness w Locke confounds.

    I give Rick a ton of credit for Kendricks, Hunter and Diggs. I realize hindsight is 20/20, but wonder why he passed on Marcus Peters For Waynes. Peters was the highest rated CB who could cover man to man and was available.

  11. No they should just use Cordell’s for the punt retuner and kick retuner one of the safties Erick berry in free agency plus the one offence line from the ravens get wide out the draft maybe another linebacker to in the draft for greenway when he does retire

  12. I think they should to give Adam Thielen a bigger role as a WR and use the $$$ on the O-Line!!Although.. Kearse, Benjamin, Diggs, Wright, Johnson, Thielen and a couple draft picks wouldnt be bad!! And Thielen proved he can be a return man also, Sherels can go…

  13. Loadholt’s caphit is simply too high to keep him when you could replace him with Schwartz for probably less money..but KO should be at the top of our list. Our team is good,deep, and young everywhere except O-Line time to spend the money on a couple guys Spielman. I would add Chris Long to the D-Line as well if at all possible he is soo tenacious and would rotate well in there with D.Hunter….should be a fun offseason, I see us making 2 big FA signings. I TRUST IN SPIELMAN…dont make me regret saying that!!