Positions of Need
The Vikings need an upgrade over Charlie Johnson at left guard. He’s struggled there for 3 years. He was Pro Football Focus’ 61st ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2012, 52nd out of 81 eligible in 2013, and 56th out of 78 eligible in 2014. Prior to that, he was 53rd out of 76 eligible offensive tackles on the blindside in 2011. Going into his age 31 season, owed 2.5 million non-guaranteed, I don’t expect him back this off-season.
Matt Kalil, the 4th overall pick in 2012, had a great rookie year, grading out 21st at his position. He slipped to 51st in 2013, but a knee injury was blamed as the culprit. I don’t know what happened in 2014 though, as he graded out 81st out of 84 eligible, allowing 12 sacks and committing 12 penalties. Going into his contract year, the Vikings have a huge decision to make on Kalil. Do you pick up his 5th year option? Do you let him go into his contract year? Do you leave him at left tackle? Do you move him to left guard? Even if they don’t move him, I expect them to add someone who could take his job this off-season. Drafting someone with the 11th overall pick who can play both guard and tackle makes a lot of sense.
Brian Robison has generally been a solid starter, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 52th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 59 eligible in 2014. He’s going into his age 32 season in 2015 so it’s time to start looking at long-term help at the position opposite Everson Griffin. Griffin and Robison ranked 2nd and 5th in snaps played by 4-3 defensive ends last season, so their 3rd defensive end, Corey Wootton, only played 275 snaps and still managed to grade out 55th out of 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends. He’s a free agent this off-season.
Two off-seasons ago, the Vikings committed to rebuilding their receiving corps, taking Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round and giving Greg Jennings a 5-year, 45 million dollar deal. Neither of those has really panned out. Patterson has managed 78 catches for 853 yards and 5 touchdowns combined in 2 seasons, while Jennings has a combined 127 catches for 1546 yards and 10 touchdowns. Patterson will get another chance in his 3rd season in the league in 2015, though maybe not as a starter after losing his starting job to Charles Johnson down the stretch. However, Jennings is owed 9 million non-guaranteed and the Vikings can save 5 million on the cap by cutting him. The Vikings like Johnson’s upside, but they need to add to the mix, especially if Jennings is let go.
Middle linebacker was only a two-down position for the Vikings last season as Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, and even reserve Gerald Hodges played most of the sub package snaps at linebacker last season. Because of that, it’s not that important of a positon. However, they could still need help at the position this off-season because Jasper Brinkley, the starter last season, is a free agent. Hodges could be an option to play in the middle linebacker next season, but Chad Greenway could be a cap casualty this off-season so Hodges might have to replace him there.
There’s a good chance that Adrian Peterson is released by the Vikings this off-season, going into his age 30 season with 2054 career carries, coming off of a season in which he missed 15 games with suspension for child abuse. The Vikings like Jerrick McKinnon, their 3rd round pick in 2014. As a rookie, he rushed for 538 yards on 113 carries (4.76 YPC), while catching 27 passes for 135 yards. They’ll need some competition for him though, if they let Peterson go. Matt Asiata, is their other running back, and he has a career average of 3.53 YPC.
Key Free Agents
FB Jerome Felton
Jerome Felton has a 2.45 million dollar player option for 2015, but he’s expected to decline it and head into free agency. The reason behind this is underuse as the Vikings used way more one-back sets under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner in 2014. Felton played just 175 snaps, after playing 304 in 2013, and 402 in 2012. He still graded out above average (7th at his position) and, when used properly, he’s one of the best fullbacks in the NFL, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked fullback in both 2012 and 2013.
MLB Jasper Brinkley
Brinkey’s 2nd stint as the Vikings’ starting middle linebacker went better than the first. Brinkley was Pro Football Focus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 53 eligible in 2012 and only played 210 snaps in Arizona in 2013 as a result. Brinkley was brought back by the Vikings last off-season and given another chance in the middle and fared better, grading out slightly above average. The reason for this is that he wasn’t an every down player and didn’t have to cover much. He did struggle in coverage when he was asked to do that, but it wasn’t often and he did well enough against the run to make up for it. He’s purely a two-down player, but should have a role wherever he goes.
DE Corey Wootton
Wootton was a 4th round pick in 2010 by the Bears and graded out below average in all 4 seasons in Chicago, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. He got a cheap one-year deal to be a reserve in 2014 with the Vikings, but struggled mightily. He was Pro Football Focus’ 55th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 59 eligible in 2014, despite playing just 275 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worse. He’ll have to settle for a minimum deal this off-season.
QB Christian Ponder
Ponder was a bust as the 12th overall pick in 2011. He made 36 starts in 4 seasons, but struggled mightily, completing 59.8% of his passes for an average of 6.30 YPA, 38 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions. 2014 was his worst season as he entered the year as the 3rd quarterback behind Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel and made just one start, completing 22 of 44 for 222 yards and 2 interceptions in a 42-10 loss in Green Bay. He’ll look for backup work this off-season and could have trouble finding it.
Cap Casualty Candidates
G Charlie Johnson
The Vikings really need an upgrade over Johnson at left guard and he’s not worth his 2.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for 2015. He was Pro Football Focus’ 61st ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2012, 52nd out of 81 eligible in 2013, and 56th out of 78 eligible in 2014. Prior to that, he was 53rd out of 76 eligible offensive tackles on the blindside in 2011. Going into his age 31 season in 2015, I don’t expect him to be back.
RB Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is one of the best players in Vikings history, but all good things come to an end. Peterson’s 13 million dollar salary is non-guaranteed for 2015 and Peterson is going into his age 30 season with 2054 career carries. In today’s NFL, he’s simply not worth that kind of money, and that’s before you even get into the fact that he missed 15 games with suspension last season for child abuse. The Vikings have said they’d welcome him back, but, financially, it just might not make sense.
QB Matt Cassel
Matt Cassel isn’t necessarily not worth his non-guaranteed 4.75 million dollar salary, but he isn’t really needed by the Vikings the way they needed him last off-season, when they signed him to compete for the starting job with a rookie quarterback. That rookie quarterback turned out to be Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 64.4% of his passes for an average of 7.26 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions after Cassel went down for the season with a foot injury. Bridgewater is the clear cut starter heading into 2015 so they don’t need to be paying top dollars for a backup quarterback. Even going into his age 33 season and coming off of a lost season with a foot injury, Cassel would draw interest as a backup on the open market. In his career, he’s completed 59.0% of his passes for an average of 6.64 YPA, 96 touchdowns, and 70 interceptions.
WR Greg Jennings
The Vikings signed Jennings to a 5-year, 45 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, expecting to get the guy who had 3 seasons of 1000 yards or more in Green Bay. However, Jennings hasn’t been able to come close to those numbers without Aaron Rodgers. He’s now going into his age 32 season and hasn’t had a 1000+ yard season since 2010. All of the guaranteed money on Jennings’ deal has been paid out and the Vikings can save 5 million on the cap immediately by cutting him, rather than paying him 9 million dollars in 2015.
OLB Chad Greenway
Greenway signed a 5-year, 40.6 million dollar deal after the 2010 season, but he hasn’t graded out above average since then. He’s been especially bad over the past 2 seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2013 and their 3rd worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2014. The Vikings can save 7.1 million in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season, ahead of his age 32 contract year. Gerald Hodges showed well in limited action at outside linebacker last off-season and could be an in house replacement.