We’re almost two weeks into the free agent period and, as has become the custom, we’re in the lull period from the starter’s pistol being fired and the initial frenzy taking place. Of the potential unrestricted free agents – the list below doesn’t include restricted free agents that can be signed to offer sheets and cost a buyer draft pick compensation – only one-third of the free agent crop has been signed. Many of them will be in the coming weeks and months, but it seems clear that the NFL decision-makers have drawn a line in the sand about paying big salaries to vested veterans whose best seasons may be behind them, at least among the second tier of available talent.
Guys like Antoine Winfield, John Abraham, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brian Urlacher, Osi Umenyiora, Charles Woodson, DeAngelo Hall et al still have a lot to offer a team that is a Super Bowl contender (which encompasses about two-thirds of the NFL heading into 2013).
How bad is it for those non-premium free agents that have been unable to create a competitive marketplace for their services? Check out the following list of unrestricted free agents still available. It’s an impressive list that includes several potential Hall of Famers. For those thinking free agency is over, this list could be cause for pause, because there is still a lot of talent available for the taking for the teams with the cap space to get it done.
Quarterback – Derek Anderson, Jason Campbell, Kellen Clemens, Rex Grossman, Kevin Kolb, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Tyler Thigpen, Vince Young.
Running Back – Jackie Battle, Cedric Benson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Tashard Choice, Ryan Grant, Jerome Harrison, Brandon Jacobs, Rashad Jennings, Felix Jones, Greg Jones, Brian Leonard, Mewelde Moore, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Michael Turner, Beanie Wells.
Wide Receiver – Devin Aromashodu, Ramses Barden, Deion Branch, Early Doucet, Donald Driver, Julian Edelman, Devery Henderson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Domenik Hixon, Michael Jenkins, Brandon Lloyd, Mohamed Massaquoi, Randy Moss, Roscoe Parrish, Laurent Robinson, Chaz Schilens, Brandon Stokley, Kevin Walter.
Tight End – Travis Beckum, Kevin Boss, Dallas Clark, Fred Davis, Randy McMichael, David Thomas.
Offensive Line – D’Anthony Batiste, Jordan Black, Kevin Boothe, Eben Britton, Jamaal Brown, Cooper Carlisle, Leonard Davis, Derrick Dockery, Ryan Harris, Wayne Hunter, Winston Justice, Dan Koppen, Sean Locklear, Lance Louis, Bryant McKinnie, Pat McQuistan, Mike Pollak, Barry Richardson, Chris Spencer, Max Starks, Sebastian Volmer, Eric Winston.
Defensive Linemen – John Abraham, Dave Ball, Kentwan Balmer, Justin Bannan, Alan Branch, Shaun Cody, Kenyon Coleman, Mike DeVito, Elvis Dumervil, Nick Eason, Dwan Edwards, Sedrick Ellis, Casey Hampton, Vonnie Holliday, Israel Idonije, Chris Kelsey, Sen’Derrick Marks, Amobi Okoye, Mike Patterson, Sione Pouha, Richard Seymour, Osi Umenyiora, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ty Warren, Corey Williams.
Linebacker – Nick Barnett, Michael Boley, Keith Brooking, Karlos Dansby, Tim Dobbins, Justin Durant, Moise Fokou, Keyaron Fox, Scott Fujita, Omar Gaither, Tavares Gooden, Mario Haggan, Clark Haggans, LeRoy Hill, Thomas Howard, Bradie James, Bryan Kehl, Sergio Kindle, Paris Lenon, Rolando McClain, Kirk Morrison, Mike Peterson, Shaun Phillips, Brady Poppinga, Barrett Ruud, Bart Scott, Scott Shanle, Daryl Smith, Takeo Spikes, Bryan Thomas, Brian Urlacher, Tracy White, Will Witherspoon.
Defensive Back – Will Allen, Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronde Barber, Atari Bigby, Sheldon Brown, Chris Carr, Nate Clements, Quinton Demps, Abram Elam, Cedric Griffin, Brent Grimes, DeAngelo Hall, Joselio Hanson, Kelvin Hayden, Quentin Jammer, Mike Jenkins, Dawan Landry, Jim Leonhard, Rashean Mathis, Quintin Mikel, Terence Newman, Tracy Porter, Kerry Rhodes, Stanford Routt, Gerald Sensabaugh, Shawtae Spencer, Marcus Trufant, Madieu Williams, Antoine Winfield, Charles Woodson.
Some of these veteran players combine to be some of the greatest players of their generation, yet, almost two weeks into free agency, they remain unemployed. Whether a concerted effort by owners not to invest a ton of money in players that are clearly beyond their prime or not, the fact remains the talent pool is still fairly deep with players that could still make an impact in the NFL during the 2013 season. Why they haven’t been scooped up yet is up to speculation. Seeing as nobody has signed them yet, many of them will be available at bargain prices if they’re willing to accept incentive-laden contracts.
The Vikings might still have some of these players on their radar, but the longer they remain on the open market, the less power the players hold in getting a new contract, which could result in the Vikings potentially bringing in contributing veteran talent at draft pick prices.
There are varying philosophies that teams employ when it comes to free agency and the draft as forms of building their teams. The Vikings signing of Greg Jennings last week was a franchise rarity – big-time free agent signings with the Vikings have been rare over the years and, for the most part, have paid off. For every bust like Bernard Berrian, Donovan McNabb and John Carlson, there were the acquisitions of veteran stars like Antoine Winfield, Pat Williams, Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen that became cornerstones of the franchise. The only short-term fix the Vikings acquired in free agency over the last decade was Brett Favre and anyone who was a hard-core fan in 2009 knows how magical that season was.
The Vikings have taken on the organizational philosophy under Rick Spielman to build the team through the draft. It isn’t original. Some of the best franchises in the league have used the draft as almost the exclusive route of building their franchise – Baltimore, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New England to name a few. What do those teams have in common? They’ve all won at least one Super Bowl championship using that formula.
On the flip side, other teams are always making noise in March when free agency begins. Washington has burned more money than any franchise in the league by overpaying veterans on the back ends of their careers. The Redskins probably would be doing it again this year if not for the NFL punishing them for collusion during the uncapped year prior to the lockout. Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Tennessee, Oakland and Kansas City have all built a reputation of spending big in free agency. What do those teams have in common? They’ve enjoyed some success in a given season, but none of them have sustained success or won a Super Bowl in the free agent era.
This approach has had a double-edged effect. It has resulted in a “win now-or-bust” attitude. It also sends a message to their own home-grown players that, if they’re willing to hand out eight-figure contracts to outside players, that they should have the attitude about paying their own players. It often causes a division within the organization that engenders some discontent. The same teams that make the most noise in March rarely see that translate into success in January or February.
A look at the reshaping of the Vikings roster under Spielman’s watch displays how the Vikings have approached the draft as the primary source of building the franchise. The only Vikings draft picks currently on the roster that weren’t acquired before Spielman was on the job in 2007 are Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway. Other than those two, draft picks from previous regimes are all gone.
Drafts under the Spielman watch have yielded the vast majority of the Vikings full- or part-time starters, including two quarterbacks (Christian Ponder and Joe Webb), two running backs (Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart), a tight end (Kyle Rudolph), four offensive linemen (John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Brandon Fusco and Matt Kalil), four defensive linemen (Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Everson Griffen, and, considering the team gave up three draft picks to acquire him, Jared Allen), six defensive backs (Asher Allen, Jamarca Sanford, Chris Cook, Mistral Raymond, Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson) and a kicker (Blair Walsh).
In six seasons running the Vikings draft, 20 key contributors of the Vikings were acquired through the draft. The Vikings have entered each draft with a clear-cut plan of the positions they want to address and have brought the franchise back to respectability by bolstering their weakest positions. Looking at where the Vikings have addressed their draft needs under Spielman’s watch, there are only two areas in which the Vikings don’t have players on their roster – wide receiver and linebacker. You can’t fault the Vikings for their WR choices – Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin both became stars in Minnesota before moving on to Seattle.
With two first-round picks in next month’s draft, it would be out of the realm of possibility that the Vikings address their areas of most need – wide receiver and linebacker – with those two picks or two of their first three picks in the draft. It’s how Spielman has built the new-look Vikings roster – identifying weaknesses and, barring an elite talent like Peterson falling into their laps, using those picks on positions of need. It’s worked so far and the feeling is, if it ain’t broke, why try fixing it?
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.