The NFL League Year officially begins on March 9th, but there really are no timeouts when it comes to professional football. Once the final whistle blows at the end of the Super Bowl, front offices ramp up their efforts to improve rosters by making cuts, trades, and adding new talent.
That starts during Free Agency, which coincides with the beginning of the “new” year. Top-tier players, journeymen, and sleepers become available to the highest-bidding, and at times, most desperate teams. The Minnesota Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman generally take a cautious approach to the free-for-all extravaganza, finding value in lesser-known names who don’t dominate the headlines.
It’s an approach that recently brought players like Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn to Minnesota; free agency additions that make an impact at a reasonable price. This year’s crop of players is filled with a few high-profile names, many of whom fans would like to see in purple and gold. But who would the VT Team like to see in Minnesota next year? I asked, and they answered!
Who is one player you’d like to see the Vikings sign in Free Agency?
Adam W.: Danny Trevathan, LB – Denver Broncos
I might be getting a bit ahead of myself with this answer, as I’m running under the assumption that a great deal of big names get taken off the market before the Vikings get a chance to speak to them. I also see free agency as the ideal way to fill short-term needs and create some flexibility to take the Best Player Available on Draft Weekend. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are both great examples of how both free agency and the NFL Draft can be utilized to build a championship roster.
Denver has a number of guys being freshly fitted for Super Bowl rings that they may have to let walk this offseason, and the numbers game suggests that one of those players might be linebacker Danny Trevathan who will turn just 26 years old next month.
Trevathan will be one of this offseason’s hottest free agents if he makes it to the open market and for good reason. He is an every down inside linebacker that holds up well in coverage, is a sound tackler in the run game, and is a proficient pass rusher. In other words, he has proven he can do everything Mike Zimmer asks his linebackers to do, and is only just now entering the prime of his career which is something Rick Spielman seems to desire when acquiring free agents.
The Vikings linebacker depth chart is starting to solidify, but the potential departure of Chad Greenway leaves a few questions unanswered. Installing someone like Trevathan alongside Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks would go a long ways towards shoring up the middle of that defense with a promising young group that could develop into one of the league’s most feared in short order.
Brent: George Iloka, SS – Cincinnati Bengals
By far the biggest hole to fill on the Vikings impressive defense is the starting safety opposite Harrison Smith. Iloka would not only fit in very nicely at strong safety, but he’s already familiar with head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense. It’s easy to underestimate how important that familiartiy is, but I’d point to Captain Munnerlyn as a perfect example. Munnerlyn struggled during his first season with the team, but found his groove in year two after better understanding the nuances of the Zimmer defense. Iloka would likely cost a pretty penny, but I think would be a tremendous upgrade at the position and would help in run defense as a sure tackler. At only 25 years-old, Iloka would be coming into his prime as a Vikings.
Sam: Kelechi Osemele, G – Baltimore Ravens
It all starts up front. The Vikings’ shaky line play crippled the offense in 2015, allowing 45 sacks and often limiting the play selection by requiring extra pass blockers and leaning on quick developing pass plays. Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing, but he had far more 1- and 2-yard gains due to poor blocking than long, explosive runs. Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson was not retained, but it’s clear there’s a personnel issue here.
The Vikings do get back John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt, but both are coming off serious injuries and shouldn’t be counted on right out of the gate. Osemele is a big, athletic lineman who can play multiple positions, and would instantly improve both the run and pass blocking. He’s already been touted by my colleagues Adam Patrick and Austin Belisle, so really I’m just ripping off their ideas, but I think adding a quality lineman should be the #1 priority for the offseason. Osemele should be available for around $7 million a year—not a thrift store find, but a reasonable price to pay for a quality starter.
Carl: Marvin Jones, WR – Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Jones is a high character, high energy player who has worked hard to improve his route running and his release off the line. He has developed into an effective chain mover who can get open in tight coverage and manufacture extra yards after the catch.
Jones is coming off back-to-back solid years and caught 65 passes for 816 yards in 2015. Jones is arguably the best No. 2 wideout option on the market this offseason. He has potential to be more than a No. 2, but in the Bengals system he is simply a complementary weapon behind A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert.
Jones is four years younger than Mike Wallace. He has a much higher ceiling and can be signed for a lot less money. Drafting a wide receiver seems to be a popular choice among Vikings fans, but outside of Laquon Treadwell, there are questions whether this class has another true No. 1 option. Selecting a wide receiver in the first round has slightly more risk than taking an offensive lineman like Conklin, Whitehair or Garnett. I say cut Wallace, sign Jones and draft offensive line with pick 23.
Adam P.: Mitchell Schwartz, RT – Cleveland Browns
If the Vikings want to move forward with Teddy Bridgewater as their franchise quarterback, they need lineman that are capable of keeping him from getting killed. Bringing in a lineman like Schwartz could give Minnesota one less thing to worry about heading into next season.
Named as the top right tackle in the NFL in 2015 by Pro Football Focus, Schwartz will be looking to get out the dumpster fire known as the Cleveland Browns this offseason. If the Vikings decide to cut ties with right tackle Phil Loadholt, they could look to spend their new money on a player like Schwartz.
It would be great for Minnesota to sign a flashy receiver or a hard hitting safety this offseason but if a team cannot block for their quarterback, then a Super Bowl is not even close to an attainable goal. Just ask Philip Rivers.
Matt Falk, Draft Season: Kelechi Osemele, G – Baltimore Ravens
While the names Alshon Jeffery, Cordy Glenn, Eric Berry all sound good, I’m going the more realistic route. Osemele is a top guard in the NFL and at only 26 years-old, still has plenty left in the tank. I think he’ll come with a good sized price tag, but the interior of the offensive line NEEDS to be addressed, and taking a chance on a guard in the 2nd – 4th round in the draft has not worked out in the past. I say pay up and get the big man from Iowa St.
Nik Edlund, Draft Season: Alshon Jeffery, WR – Chicago Bears
The Vikings need more weapons in the passing game for Teddy Bridgewater. They have some talent at the position with 2015 breakout Stefon Diggs, and solid slot option Jarius Wright, but adding Jeffery to the mix would give the Vikings passing game a whole new dimension. He would give Bridgewater something he doesn’t currently have — a huge target.
Not only is Jeffery big, standing, 6’3″ and 216 pounds, but he’s got an even bigger catch radius. He has shown time and time again the ability to go up and snag balls that otherwise appear uncatchable. Teddy can take comfort in knowing that if he throws a ball up for grabs, nine times out of 10, Jeffery will come down with it. Plus, having Jeffery and Diggs on the field together would open up the run game, making life much easier for Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings have faced Jefferey twice a year for the last few seasons and know exactly what kind of player he is, and what they would be getting from him. The same can’t be said for a rookie coming out of college. No matter how productive a player is at the collegiate level, you just never know how they will pan out playing in the NFL. Adding Jeffery in free agency would eliminate that risk.
Austin: It’s a Surprise!
I’ve highlighted two free agents that I think would make good fits with the Vikings, but I’m saving my answer for Part Two of the VT Offseason Plan. The collaboration between Brett and myself will be live on the website next Friday! You can find the first edition, where we lay out our vision and establish team needs, HERE!