When a team finishes a season with a 5-10-1 record, no player can be sure of a new contract as a Free Agent. The Vikings have several high profile players who are out of contract for 2014 and many of these will undoubtedly be looking for pastures new to prolong there career. With a defense that conceded a league high 30 points per game and a new Head Coach in Mike Zimmer who will rightly see reshaping the defensive unit as one of his primary tasks, big name players such as Jared Allen and Kevin Williams could easily become casualties and find themselves playing away from Minnesota next season.
For other Free Agents, the situation is less clear. There are definitely players that the Vikings should keep hold of and others that they would like to, even if the players may find better offers elsewhere. Whether these players will still be in purple next season is another question entirely, but the Vikings should try to keep hold of them as they strive to rebuild under Zimmer.
Everson Griffen, DE
Despite having to compete with playing time across the defensive line with Allen, Williams and Brian Robison, Griffen managed 5.5 sacks and 3 tackles for a loss last year. Much of that time was also spent playing as an interior lineman. Griffen has stated his desire to specialise as a defensive end and, having spent so much time developing the player, the Vikings will be loathe to see the fruits of their labour come to fruition elsewhere. There has been suggestion that the Vikings may use the franchise tag on him, but Rick Spielman will be looking to secure his signature for less money and without resorting to having to use the tag. Probably the player that Minnesota can least afford to lose.
Toby Gerhart, RB
Gerhart has performed consistently well in his role as back up to Adrian Peterson and fully deserves the chance to become a feature back at another franchise. But this doesn’t mean that Minnesota can give up on him easily. Averaging 7.9 yards on his (admittedly limited) 36 carries in 2013 and 13 catches for 88 yards, the stats do not fully show his worth to the team. With Peterson still the undisputed number one for the Vikings opportunities would be limited, but Norv Turner would be delighted to have a player of Gerhart’s calibre on the roster to back up AP in 2014. Unlikely to happen, but that doesn’t mean the Vikings can afford to lose him!
Marcus Sherels, CB
A restricted Free Agent, on first glance Sherels’ statistics do not mark him out as a player for this list. 46 tackles, 7 passes defended and 1 pick do not mark him out as a stellar player, but his play did improve in the second half of the season with more regular game time. What makes him an important player to keep hold of is his ability as a punt returner; an average of 15.2 yards per return and an 86 yard touchdown marks him out as a weapon and, as Cordarrelle Patterson becomes more involved in the offense, he may be needed to play more of a role in returning kicks too. As a restricted Free Agent, the chances of him remaining in Minneapolis remain reasonably good.
Matt Cassel, QB
Cassel has exercised his option to void the second year of his contract and test the market, but this is a move he had to make for financial reasons. By no means the long term answer as a franchise quarterback, he showed in patches that he can be the veteran mentor style QB that Minnesota need to take them into the 2014 season whilst allowing their new draftee to learn the system and the league. If Cassel is not retained then Minnesota would need to look for a player in his mould – and there are not many out there in the slim pickings of quarterback Free Agency in 2014. With so many QB needy teams out there, Cassel could find himself with a better option from elsewhere; Minnesota should try their best to keep hold of a player who has already worked with the receiving corps and would therefore offer Norv Turner an easier transition period.
Bye Bye Jared
Despite a team high 11.5 sacks, Allen is unlikely to return to Minnesota in 2014. His performance tailed off last season in comparison to previous years and the Vikings will not pay the level of salary that he could achieve elsewhere. With no other candidates for a ‘must keep’ role with the Vikings, it is worth taking time to reflect on the great service Allen has given the side since moving on a trade from Kansas City. His leadership will be missed, but his salary demands will make him a cap casualty for the Vikings.
Much may depend on how aggressively the Vikings use their cap space to target players from other teams. If this is the game plan, then many of last year’s underachievers will be shown the door. Interesting times await Vikings’ fans...