Monday, January 17, 2005

Open Door Policy

As the Vikings enter yet another off-season without the Vince Lombardi Trophy, they are left to consider their prospects under their current no-defense, too little offense approach. In the 2004-2005 season, the Vikings played five games in which the opponent possessed a playoff worthy defense. In those five contests--two against Chicago, two against Philadelphia, and one against Washington--the Vikings' purportedly high-powered offense amassed a total of 89 points, just under 18 points per game, and approximately what the rest of the league averaged against the same opponents. The Vikings faired a bit better than the league against the defensive have-nots, but only marginally so, and not nearly well-enough to compensate for their defensive short-comings.

With these all-around shortcomings in mind, it is appropriate to turn to the Vikings' off-season plans. The Vikings have several unrestricted free agents this off-season. The list includes Morten Andersen, Chris Claiborne, David Dixon, Gus Frerotte, Chris Hovan, Keith Newman, and Jermaine Wiggins.

The Vikings are highly unlikely to bring back Andersen or Hovan. Andersen can no longer be counted on in the clutch making his short range and inability to kick-off too great of a liability (as some would have argued was the case this season). Hovan was de-activated for the Philly game and clearly has become persona non grata in the clubhouse and will not be offered a contract.

More interesting are the cases of Gus Frerotte, David Dixon, Chris Claiborne, Jermaine Wiggins, and Keith Newman. Although the Vikings would like him back, Frerotte has made it clear that he would like to start for someone next season. And there will be plenty of suitors. There have been some rumblings that the Vikings should rid themselves of Daunte's long-term contract and go with the less-expensive Frerotte, but that probably will not happen. The Vikings remain committed to Culpepper and like his upside. Frerotte, though good when called upon, has not played a full season for several seasons and would be a risk in that regard, and a risk that the Vikings cannot afford to take.

Dixon appeared to be in top condition this season for the first time in two or three years. That, and the troubles that the Vikings had along the offensive line this season, made Dixon's presence all the more valuable. That value will not be lost on the Vikings' personnel people and should earn Dixon at least a one-year deal to remain in Minnesota.

Claiborne, when healthy, showed the potential about which he frequently has spoken during his career. Despite the fact that this potential shone only for two or three games, the Vikings' lack of depth at linebacker, and the prospect of shifting Claiborne to middle linebacker, virtually ensures that the Vikings will attempt to re-sign Claiborne. And Claiborne's market price, given his injury history, should suit the Vikings' to a T.

At the top of the Vikings' list of re-signees, however, should be Newman and Wiggins. Newman was one of the few Vikings' linebackers who appeared capable of staying with his assignment and making plays this season. That makes him worth his weight in gold on this team. Likewise, Wiggins, when utilized, always performed. Only when the Vikings ignored him did Wiggins fail to put up solid numbers and, even then, he demonstrated an ability to block down field--an unexpected bonus. That, and their professional demeanor, make Newman and Wiggins solid 2004 additions and necessary 2005 re-signees.

Even if the Vikings re-sign all of their unrestricted free agents, however, they will be left with a bevy of open positions and money not only to spend, but money that must be spent. After re-signing their own free agents, the Vikings will be in the neighborhood of $25 million under the NFL's salary cap. Thanks to the NFL's salary floor, Red will be required to spend approximately $11 million more on player personnel after signing their 2005 draft picks. That means that, absent several union and NFL-acceptable performances clauses that the relevant Viking players most certainly will not attain, the Vikings will be forced to add two or three free agents.

Tomorrow, I'll begin reviewing possible player personnel changes for 2005. Who will be gone? Who will take the place of the none-too-soon departed?

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