The Vikings are getting close to the point of hunkering down in the bunker for their final pre-draft preparation. So are the 31 other teams. When this happens, free-agent activity slows to a slower crawl than it’s been the last week. However, one of the things we may have learned in the initial stages of the post-lockout era is that the standard waves of free agency – for 2012 anyway – may no longer exist.
In the past, there were always several distinct periods. There was the initial frenzy. After that subsided, the secondary free-agent signings hit, where players who thought they were going to get mega-deals settle for less money or fewer years. That period typically would last until about April 1.
Post-draft created another run on free agents, as teams looked to fill the remaining holes that were sufficiently plugged with incoming rookies. The final ripples of movement used to come around June 1, when the cap hit of dumping a high-priced veteran could be spread over two years.
This year, however, it would appear that the first wave was a tsunami that kept rolling – practically depleting the free agent crop. As the Vikings undertake their final draft preparation, it seems clear that they will have to stock their shelves via the rookie Class of 2012, because the old-schoolers don’t provide much of what the Vikings (or their fans) are looking for.
As things currently stand, the Vikings’ most pressing needs to fill (going on the assumption they stay at No. 3 at take OLT Matt Kalil) are wide receiver and guard on offense and middle linebacker, cornerback and safety on defense. What remains on the free-agent market isn’t the kind of pool they are looking for as a backup plan.
At wide receiver, a carcass remains after the scavengers picked it clean. If the Vikings don’t land a wideout in the draft, who do they go after? Injury-prone, baggage-laden veterans like Braylon Edwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Plaxico Burress or Mark Clayton? Not likely. It would seem their best hope might be complementary receivers who never were full-time starters, like Patrick Crayton, Legedu Naanee or Jerheme Urban. Guys like that don’t sell a lot of tickets.
The outlook is much the same at guard. The biggest names are players who have regressed due to age and/or injury – Ryan Diem, Vernon Carey, Derrick Dockery, Trai Essex, etc. If the Vikings aren’t satisfied with how they exit the draft, they may be forced to bring back Anthony Herrera, who remains unsigned, or someone like Chilo Rachal, a career disappointment.
It doesn’t get a lot better on the defensive side of the equation. The best middle linebackers still on the market are either too old or too banged up (Gary Brackett). The only younger non-draft options would appear to be players who fell out of favor with their previous teams, like Rocky McIntosh in Washington.
Cornerback is as thin as wide receiver. Those who were useful were snapped up, leaving very few big names – Phillip Buchanon has seen his career come to a screeching halt due to injuries and Kelly Jennings has just two interceptions in 91 career games – that would be of any interest to a team like the Vikings.
Perhaps the only position that can still be culled is safety. Injuries and age have left some bigger names unsigned and facing retirement (Brian Dawkins, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Chris Hope, Melvin Bullitt and Dominique Barber). However, there is some risk/reward talent out that. Matt Giordano has talent, but has played for four teams in the last four years, which speaks volumes and makes him a textbook definition of a journeyman. Jim Leonhard is a big hitter, but has missed eight games over the last two years with significant shoulder injuries. Abram Elam of Dallas had just 13 tackles in 15 games. The best bet for the Vikings might be to bring back Husain Abdullah, but his concussion history is troubling to say the least.
The Vikings have a history of either committing hard to free agency or sitting back and watching the parade go by – 2012 has fallen into the latter of those two categories. Because of their strategy, the pressure is going to be on to fill numerous needs in the draft because, for all appearance, they won’t find much (if any) help from what remains of the free agency skeleton.
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.