The Minnesota Vikings have been active in the free agency market — uncharacteristically so, according to some fans — and have addressed some of the most glaring needs through re-signing key free agents of their own and picking up other teams’ free agents as well. Before free agency started, the team ranked almost last in every meaningful defensive metric (points given up, yards given up, etc.), and defensive collapses at the end of several games almost literally made the difference between going to the playoffs in 2012 and finishing in the cellar in 2013. A rational drafting policy would have been to use the draft to plug many of the leaks, but instead the team has used free agency to patch most of them so that — with one big exception — they’re free to take the best available player in the draft.
Unfortunately, the big exception is the quarterback position. Matt Cassel has come back, giving the Vikings stability at QB, but he’s not the long-term answer. He can start (and win), but he’s only under contract for 2014 and 2015. He can, however, act as a mentor for a younger player if the Vikings can find the right draft prospect to groom. That’s more black art than science, as the number of accomplished college quarterbacks who sink without a trace in the NFL clearly demonstrates. Cassel gives the Vikings the luxury of not having to start a rookie, but they need to be lucky on their selection (in the way they weren’t with Christian Ponder).
At the Daily Norseman, K.J. Segall looks at how the Vikings free agent signings will impact their draft strategy:
So what does all of this mean for the upcoming draft? While Spielman’s reputation in free agency was that of a ‘wait and see’ approach, conversely he’s been seen — particularly in the past two drafts — as an extremely aggressive wheeler-and-dealer, netting five first round picks (Kalil, Smith, Floyd, Rhodes, and Patterson) in just two years. But just because that’s been his reputation doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s exactly how he will always approach the draft. To his great credit the aggressive moves for five first round picks have also netted five very solid starters (or, in Floyd’s case, future starters), with nary a bust amongst them. This indicates that he is aggressive only when he and his scout team have identified a target that the team needs, and further indicates that their ability to pick these targets is quite good. Which, of course, further means that he won’t be aggressive unless such a target is available.
In a draft such as the upcoming one, seen as deep at several important positions and with the Vikings having the number 8 overall pick, there is a strong possibility that Spielman will want to swap down and garner more selections. He’s said as much — of course, if you believe Spielman right now, well, then I have a bridge for sale that I’d LOVE to discuss with you.
While any attempts to read into Spielman’s intended draft strategy beforehand are inevitably going to be half-correct at best (nobody saw a trade down with the Browns in 2012 coming), perhaps we can begin to clarify some likely paths he’s going to take via his actions in free agency.
As it stands right now, you can cross basically any D-line position off our list of needs. That’s not to say we couldn’t use — and won’t pursue — a little more depth, but it’s not very high up there anymore. Furthermore you can bump CB down a bit — it’s still a need, mind you, but not as big as it was before when we basically needed two more starting caliber players as well as depth. The aforementioned QB situation is still glaring, as is LB and OG. (I would list needs starting with those three, in that order.) I don’t see safety being a concern, as Sanford is likely safe for another year — not to mention decent depth like Sendejo in that department. (Sanford… the safety… is safe. See what I did there? Please tell me you saw what I did there.)
He discusses at some length the potential trade-up from the number 8 pick, including the option of trading future draft picks, but if there’s any team in the NFL less likely to go big on a trade like that it’s the team that got the short end of the stick in the infamous Herschel Walker trade (read ‘em and weep, or laugh like a manaic if you’re a Cowboys fan).