Of the Vikings’ needs heading into free agency, the conventional wisdom is that offensive left tackle will be addressed with the selection of Matt Kalil in the draft, but another position of need took a big hit – wide receiver. In less than eight hours of free agency, the wide receiver pool had been reduced to a puddle.
The action got started last week when four top free-agent wide receivers – DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia, Wes Welker of the Patriots, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe and Stevie Johnson of Buffalo all got the franchise tag. In doing so, the available talent took a hit tantamount to a Mike Tyson hook the head.
Randy Moss, who wasn’t in the Vikings’ plans, signed a one-year deal with San Francisco. If anything, from the Vikings perspective, it took away a player that they weren’t intent on signing, so it likely took San Francisco out of the running for a wideout Minnesota was interested in.
On Tuesday, it got weird.
Hours before free agency began, the Saints blinked and signed Marques Colston to a five-year deal after letting him get to the edge free agency before pulling him back. Another one bites the dust.
The Bears swung what might be the move of free agency to date, shipping off a pair of third-round draft picks to Miami for Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall – a trade that made little sense from the Miami perspective unless some brewing legal trouble with Marshall concerned them more than the Bears. Not only did the Bears eliminate their concern at receiver, they reunited Jay Cutler with his go-to receiver in Denver before Josh McDaniels dismantled the franchise.
Reggie Wayne, who was thought to potentially be part of a package deal wherever Manning lands, decided to stay for the rebuilding process in Indianapolis – signing a three-year, $17.5 million contract. The Redskins, who got hit with a massive cap-takeaway (see below) late Monday, were their usual selves in free agency – gutting the free-agent pool by taking two receivers off the list (Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan) and talking with another (Eddie Royal).
While the Vikings likely didn’t have a lot of interest in guys like Wayne or Morgan, at least at one time there was clearly interest in Vincent Jackson. Vikings fans will remember in 2010 they agreed on the framework of a trade with Jackson and his agent, but the Chargers nixed the deal. Jackson took himself off the market early on Tuesday, signing with Tampa Bay – a five-year deal for the unusual contract number of $55,555,555.
The Chargers acted quickly to replace Jackson, signing Robert Meachem of the Saints to a four-year contract. It got so bad that even No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas came off the board – re-signing with the Falcons to play caddy for Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Tuesday was a day for the receivers to showcase their speed … on the free-agent market.
Mario Williams spent Tuesday night in Buffalo after meeting with the Bills, who have reportedly made him an offer to make him the highest paid defensive end in NFL history. However, he is planning to leave Buffalo this morning and potentially schedule other visits. It’s one of the problems being Buffalo – you don’t have the same cache with outside free agents as a place like New York, Dallas, New England or Philly.
The cornerback market took a hit as well Tuesday. Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan, who was thought to be a big-time player in free agency at a position of need for the Vikings, signed a five-year, $50 million deal with the Rams. Another potential cornerback free-agent target, Carlos Rogers of the 49ers, was allowed to hit the open market, but came back to San Francisco with a four-year, $29.3 million deal. Historically under Rick Spielman, the Vikings have targeted free agents finishing their rookie contracts and typically in the mid- to late-20s, not over 30. There was some thought that the Vikings might make a run at Jacksonville safety Dwight Lowery, but he opted to re-sign with the Jaguars – taking another attractive possibility off the market.
For as much flak as Brett Favre took for his indecision about whether he would play or not, no other franchises were hurt by his lack of making a quick decision. The same can’t be said for Peyton Manning. His list of potential landing spots is at four and, in each instance, he is not only holding the franchise hostage, but he is shaking the confidence of the teams he will eventually spurn. Denver rolled out the red carpet with G.M. John Elway and head coach John Fox, starting rumors that the team might trade Tim Tebow. Manning then went to Arizona, where incumbent Kevin Kolb is due a $7 million roster bonus if he is still on the Cardinals roster by 1 p.m. Arizona time Friday. If Manning signs with the Cardinals, Kolb is almost surely gone. Tennessee used the eighth pick in last year’s draft on Jake Locker and signed veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who started the entire season. If Manning returns to where he played his college ball, Hasselbeck would be shown the door and Locker would potentially ride the bench for the next two or three years. The other contender is Miami, where free agent Matt Flynn has been impacted. Flynn is talking with Miami and Cleveland, but, if the Dolphins can land Manning (rumors have surfaced that Miami traded Brandon Marshall in order to appease Manning and convince him to sign), the Dolphins’ interest in giving big bucks to Flynn goes away. Favre may have frustrated fans and teammates with his indecision, but Manning is leave a path of destruction in his wake on his current U.S. tour.
The Vikings have been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Seattle tight end John Carlson. A native of Minnesota, it would be a homecoming for Carlson if the Vikings bring him into the fold. Carlson missed the entire 2011 season with a torn labrum, which will likely reduce his open-market value somewhat. However, in his first three seasons, he started 36 of the games he played, missing only one due to injury.
The Redskins and Cowboys paid a horrible price for going against the grain with contracts during the uncapped 2010 season despite being instructed by the league not to. The Redskins were hit was a massive $36 million cap penalty – to be spread over the next two years – and the Cowboys got slapped with a $10 million cap hit ($5 million each of the next two years). The money lost against the cap was redistributed in the form of $1.64 million for the other teams in the NFL, with the exception of the Saints and Raiders – who were implicated, but not forced to lose cap money. All four teams were charged with dumping inordinate amount of salary into the 2010 calendar year, which was technically legal at the time, but perhaps a sign that owners colluded together not to get into bidding wars. All Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder did was take advantage of a situation for which they didn’t think they would get penalized. Ironically, the Vikings were the fourth highest-spending team during the uncapped year of 2010 ($143.4 million). The other three were all hit with sanctions – Washington ($178.2 million), Dallas ($166.5 million) and New Orleans ($145 million). By contrast, Tampa Bay spent just $80.8 million in 2010, less than half of what Washington spent on salaries.
The Bears, as has been their recent history when they have money to spend, were active right out of the gate. Not only did they swing the Brandon Marshall trade, they signed quarterback Jason Campbell, a former first-round pick who was a starter in both Washington and Oakland, to serve as Cutler’s backup. The Bears were 7-3 last year when Cutler got injured and the team collapsed after that because they didn’t have a competent backup behind him.
As always, the Redskins make a lot more news in March than they do in December and January. This year is no exception. They dropped the atomic bomb of the 2012 season last week when they traded three first-round picks and a second-round draft choice to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 to lock down QB Robert Griffin III. The Redskins appeared to close the market on wide receivers, signing Garcon, Morgan and showing an interest in Royal. But, they weren’t done there. After allowing defensive end Adam Carriker to hit the open market, the Redskins signed him to a four-year, $20 million deal to close out an expensive night.
The Packers will be without defensive lineman Mike Neal for the first four games of 2012. The league announced Tuesday that Neal tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Neal was a second-round pick of the Packers in 2010.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.