Ray Edwards (Andy King/AP)
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier maintains that they are very likely to draft a quarterback early, but he also insists that the team will upgrade its defensive line, either through the draft or free agency.
There has been plenty of discussion about the Vikings’ desire to select a quarterback that could become their long-term answer at the position, but anyone who has followed the various mock drafts knows that many of them have the team grabbing a defensive end with the 12th overall pick on April 28.
There is a good reason for this.
Although a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t in place, and thus the rules of free agency aren’t known, the Vikings are bracing to lose starting left end Ray Edwards. Edwards, who has five years of NFL service, wasn’t pleased last offseason when he didn’t receive a contract extension and is expected to sign elsewhere if given the opportunity.
Minnesota did sign defensive end Brian Robison to a three-year, $14.1 million contact just before the lockout began, but at 6-3, 259 pounds, he is considered by some to be better suited toward starting at right end or as a situational pass rusher at left end.
That is the role in which Robison has been used, as well as inside in nickel situations. The Vikings used a fourth-round pick on Southern Cal defensive end Everson Griffen last year, but he has had a couple of run-ins with the law this offseason in California and there will be some concerns about his reliability.
As for the right-end position, that is manned by Pro Bowl player Jared Allen, whose preference is to play as many snaps as possible.
Add in the fact that coach Leslie Frazier has made no secret of his desire to see improvement from the defensive line as a whole and it’s no surprise that the expectation is the Vikings will address the defensive front early in the draft.
“We are going to try to upgrade our defensive line,” Frazier said. “It may be through the draft, it may be through free agency. That’s a scenario where we want to do some things that can really help our defensive line. We’re aging at one of the spots. We need to do some things to improve. One of the mantras has been being good against the run, stopping the run. We’ve kind of slipped a little bit so we have to take a look at some things and see what we have to do to improve in that area.”
When Frazier speaks of his team aging at a spot he’s talking about nose tackle. Pat Williams is 38 years old and is set to be a free agent when the lockout ends. When that will happen is, of course, an unknown.
The fact is this draft is extremely deep at end, meaning a top-level player could be there at No. 12.
Speculation on which direction the Vikings might go has included North Carolina’s Robert Quinn; Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt; Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn; California’s Cameron Jordan; and even Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers.
Bowers has been expected to go much higher than 12th, but appears to be dropping because of reports that he failed to pass physicals. Whether this is accurate information or is being floated by a team hoping that Bowers simply drops remains to be seen.
Certainly, it would be hard for the Vikings to pass on Bowers if he is there.
New Vikings coach Leslie Frazier made one thing very clear during his one-hour visit with the media at the NFL league meetings in New Orleans. If he has his way, the Vikings are going to address their need for a quarterback through the draft.
“Even if there were free agency, we might still look at quarterbacks (in the draft), unless there was a free-agent quarterback that had youth and you knew you were going to have him for a number of years,” Frazier said. “With a veteran guy, we’d still be looking at drafting a guy, because we need to build around a young guy who is likely to (stick around).”
The Vikings hold the 12th overall pick in the first round and it remains unclear which prospect they covet. The list of potential candidates includes Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Auburn’s Cam Newton, Washington’s Jake Locker, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet, Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.
The Vikings are doing their due diligence on all, although clearly they would have to trade up if they want a shot at getting Gabbert or Newton. Frazier mentioned on more than one occasion that moving up might be a possibility.
Frazier again made it clear that no matter what happens in the Vikings’ pursuit of a quarterback - free agency and trades are off limits right now because of the NFL lockout – that he won’t be making a late-summer call to Brett Favre to attempt to talk him out of retirement.
Right now, the quarterbacks on the Vikings’ roster are Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar, who was signed late last season off the New York Giants practice squad.
Webb started the final two games of the season after Favre suffered a concussion and led the team to a victory over Philadelphia before finishing up with a loss at Detroit.
In four games, Webb completed 54 of 89 passes for 480 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 61.1 passer rating.
While the Vikings have said all the right things about giving Webb a chance to compete, the reality is he was drafted in the sixth round last April with the intention that he would be moved to wide receiver.
That didn’t happen after coach Brad Childress saw Webb throw in a rookie camp, but Childress is gone and there is a chance Webb could end up in some type of wildcat role.
The Vikings don’t own a third-round pick because they dealt it to New England in the Randy Moss trade last fall. Frazier knows if he’s going to get his wish of bringing in a rookie starter that it almost certainly will have to be early in the draft.
“I can’t imagine a scenario where we wouldn’t add a quarterback (in the draft) at some point,” Frazier said. “If you’re going to get a franchise-type guy that you can build around, he usually comes earlier than later - the first or second round. It’s an aberration to get a Tom Brady in the sixth round.”