With the Vikings now set up to be an annual playoff contender – and perhaps a Super Bowl contender in the near future – they have had the luxury of being more focused in their offseason approach. Instead of just trying to amass a random pool of talent, they’ve honed in on specific areas of need.
Tinkering, rather than overhauling.
The Vikings had a relatively smooth-sailing ship last season, and this offseason presented just a handful of small leaks. Minnesota plugged the majority of those leaks Wednesday by signing four free agents outside of the organization: left guard Alex Boone, linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Travis Lewis and safety Michael Griffin.
All things considered, that’s a pretty incredible effort by GM Rick Spielman to cover so many bases in one afternoon.
Boone, a six-year veteran in San Francisco, represents a big investment toward bettering last year’s ramshackle offensive line. He’ll play left guard and allow Brandon Fusco to shift back to the right side where he’s most comfortable.
Lamur is a high-upside, undrafted talent that Mike Zimmer found during his time in Cincinnati. He’ll compete for a starting job at the weakside spot this season and will have a chance to earn the gig long-term once the team officially says goodbye to Chad Greenway.
Lewis, who hung around in Detroit for four years mainly as a special teamer, will enhance Mike Priefer’s units while providing depth at linebacker – an area where the Vikings were forced to resort to Jason Trusnik last season.
And finally, Michael Griffin becomes a qualified starter at the team’s second safety spot. His role will be similar to Terence Newman’s last year: A one-year contract that could possibly lead to a return if things go well.
The Vikings have now checked three items off their wish list. All that remains is a wide receiver to replace Mike Wallace.
Fortunately, replacing Wallace’s number shouldn’t be difficult. He was tied for 99th in the league with 473 yards, after all. But the Vikings’ passing offense was liability last year, so what they’re truly looking for is someone to be what Wallace should have become.
At the least, Wallace was a presence that had to be accounted for by opposing secondaries. Minnesota will need someone of similar status if they hope to keep Stefon Diggs out of double coverage. Currently, their No. 2 outside receiver is Charles Johnson, who showed potentially entering last season but was hurt early on and never lived up to the hype.
By taking care of business early on in the free agency process, Minnesota can now set its sights on one of the top remaining free agent receivers or push their chips in on a first-round draft pick.
With marquee free agents Marvin Jones (Detroit), Travis Benjamin (San Diego) and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta) all signing long-term deals, the bulk of remaining free agent receivers are 30-somethings on the back end of their careers: Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin and Roddy White, to name a few. Signing someone at that point in their career arc wouldn’t be the Vikings’ style.
There are several fliers that could be taken, of course. The New York Jets just cut 27-year-old Jeremy Kerley. Oakland Raiders wideouts Rod Streater (28) and Andre Holmes (27) are on the open market. Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse had some nice moments catching passes from Russell Wilson over the past few years, too. None of these options would be game-changing, however. Probably no better than a healthy Charles Johnson.
The best remaining option in free agency is most likely 24-year-old Rueben Randle of the New York Giants, who is coming off two nice seasons where he accumulated over 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite playing second fiddle to Odell Beckham, Jr. Randle is a 6-foot-4 target that would give the Vikings the jump ball receiver they covet. He’d be costly, though; probably around $7 million per year.
If the Vikings want a high upside receiver they can integrate into their system without breaking the bank, they might be better off waiting until April 28 and jumping at either Laquon Treadwell or Josh Doctson in the first round of the draft. Neither have the wheels of a Stefon Diggs, but both have terrific hands and can win 50/50 battles against any cornerback.
The Vikings have fared much better in recent years with the draft-and-develop approach, especially in the Mike Zimmer Era. Using free agency as a complementary tool rather than a get-them-while-they-last QVC special isn’t as pulsating or newsworthy, but it’s the best way to construct a firm foundation.
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