Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vikings Free Agency Update

Okay first of all, how sweet would it be if your professional title was "Special Master"? In any case with a little help from a Special Master the Vikings finally signed Steve Hutchinson yesterday. Forced to wait for Seattle to match the offer, the move is large in several ways. It instantly upgrades the Vikings shaky line, adds more power to the running game, and diminishes Seattle’s running game all in one fell swoop. Suddenly the Vikings’ line looks much better than last year: Bryant McKinnie, Hutchinson, a potentially healthy Matt Birk. With free agent signee Jason Whittle, Marcus Johnson in a second, and hopefully more relaxed year, Rosenthal, Goldberg, Liwienski and possibly another lineman addition through free agency or the draft things look a little more bright than they did going into the '05 season. At 28, Hutchinson is in his prime and instantly becomes the best guard since Randall McDaniel. You won’t hear his name much, which is exactly what McDaniel did for years.

Now that the Hutch contract is signed, the Vikings can proceed to other needs. Linebacker remains fairly untouched this offseason. Probably the most important aspect of the Cover 2, look for more movement from the Purple in this position. Ben Leber isn’t a big name, but he is familiar with the Cover 2. The alternative to Leber was paying Will Witherspoon $10 million in guaranteed money, a little too steep for a position with multiple holes.

Strong safety is one that remains a bit of a toss up. The Vikes seem to like Willie Offord enough to keep him around. If he can stay healthy he may slip into a starting spot. They lost out on
Will Demps last week to the Giants and Dexter Jackson signed with the Bengals. Which leaves the Vikes few attractive names, especially for a team moving in to the Cover 2. We haven't heard a ton about Dustin Fox lately, but he was starting to get some serious attention in camp last year until he got hurt and had to sit out the season. It's possible he could compete for time as well.

(Backup?) Quarterback is a little more of a pesky spot. At this point it's tough to see anyone else coming in and supplanting Johnson as the starter. Rumblings have increased in the last few days that the Vikes might be more willing to wheel and deal to get one of those top QBs in the draft. Opinion is extremely mixed; some believe that Leinart and Cutler are far over-rated and are the product of an amzing supporting cast and the hype machine respectively. Young isn't the ideal fit for the West Coast offense and I think some are wary (warranted or not) of his football accumen. On the other hand the QB crop seems to drop off a bit after the initial three. Free agents available are less than impressive and it's the first time in years that Vikings fans have a genuine reason to be worried about the QB position. There's so many ways this thing could go. With the amount of information coming out of Winter Park recently and draft day approaching fast, the information is only going to get more sparse.

Fullback seems to be taken care of today with the signing of Tony Richardson. I haven't had a chance to watch a lot of Chiefs games, but looking at who he has blocked for, I think it's safe to say our running game just got a lot of help. The Vikings also signed Joey Goodspeed during the offseason, but I can't see him being greater than a bit player next season.

O-Tackle is a bit more interesting. The only real significant UFA left is Jon Runyan, and Childress hasn't showed any interest in him at this point. Which is just fine. Unless the Triangle's opinion of Runyan changes in the next few weeks, I doubt he'll be wearing purple next year. The safe bet is they'll invest some draft picks on linemen this year. After the departure of Nat Dorsey the new crop gets a little slim. This could be worthy of a second or third round choice.

So far the Vikings have done a decent job in free agency. It’s obviously easier with the league’s second most cap space, but plenty of teams squandered considerable loot in the past. They probably overpaid a little for Hutchinson, but the need was too great. Hutchinson is one of a handful of players this offseason worth a huge contract.

Obviously Brad Childress believes Chester Taylor is a good fit for his offense. He is bigger and more durable than Mewelde Moore and excelled in his limited opportunities in Baltimore. There's no word on whether
Onterrio Spliff will be on the roster come July, but he is another option if they're willing to invest a roster spot on someone who already has three strikes against him remains to be seen.

Oh how things have changed for the Purple. Save for the Daunte nonsense, the offseason has been a good one for sure. With somewhere around $15 or $16 million left to spend, it could get even better. The moves haven't necessarily been the most popular or Fantasy friendly, but very, very solid. What happens in these two months leading up to the draft remains to be seen, but it's safe to say that they're not done yet.