As the Vikings attempt to settle their ownership and stadium issues, even more pressing matters await them in the free agency market. And the Vikings remain on every team's free-agency radar this off-season because they not only can be wildly active participants in free agency, they also will be forced to be highly active.
As the 2005 free agency period nears, the Vikings are approximately $30 million under the NFL salary cap. Were the Vikings to spend all of that loot--an unlikely event should McCombs retain ownership of the Vikings through the free-agency period and should McCombs retain any concerns about the viability of the Fowler group as a purchasing entity--they could add everything that they need to make the team complete and still have change to spare; thirty million would not only get the Vikings a bona fide middle linebacker, a starting defensive end, a quality free safety, and a shut down corner, it would also probably get them a starting offensive lineman, a wide receiver, and a kicker.
Of course, whether Red retains ownership of the Vikings for 2005 or the Fowler group takes over, there are increasing indications that the team will not spend up to the salary cap. That's not to suggest that that would be a bad thing, just to note that Vikings' fans likely will not get all the goodies on this year's free agency wish list.
But no matter the ownership group, we also know that the Vikings will spend a significant chunk of their $30 million cap space on free agents. And we know this because the NFL requires that the Vikings do so.
Though we will not know until the league sets this year's cap, the guess, based on past caps, the expected increase in this year's cap, and the Vikings' salary commitments for 2005, is that the Vikings will need to spend between $15-18 million to reach the salary floor. And although that is significantly less than what the Vikings have to spend, it is still significantly more than most other teams have in their free-agency coffers and is substantial enough to garner the Vikings several bona fide free agents--assuming Vikings' ownership eschews the option of frontloading contracts yet again this year.
Teams around the NFL are already queuing to help the Vikings fill their vacancies. And more teams, looking to squeeze in under the cap where the Vikings have long resided with ease, will soon follow with salary-cap triggered player releases.
The most notable purge of players by any one team to date in the 2005 off-season is in the offing in Tennessee, where the cap-strapped Titans are expected to part ways with Joe Nedney (K), Derrick Mason (receiver), and Samari Rolle (cornerback), among others. Recent fan speculation has opined that each of these players could provide immediate assistance to the Vikings.
Well, at least one of these three players looks like an upgrade to the current Vikings' roster, but the other two players look as though they have seen better days.
When healthy, Nedney is a reliable kicker with a strong leg. Only 31-years old--a relative pup by Vikings' kickers standards of recent years--Nedney nevertheless carries some ominous baggage. Over the past two seasons, Nedney has played only one regular-season game, missing the other 31 games with leg injuries. Last season, Nedney sat out the entire slate of games with a hamstring injury. The Vikings need a sure thing at kicker this season, and Nedney is no sure thing.
Samari Rolle at one time appeared to be the type of player that the Vikings need today--tough tackler with sure hands. In 1999, Rolle had 69 tackles and four picks. The following season, Rolle had only 39 tackles for a very good defense, but increased his pick total to seven. In 2001, playing for yet another solid defensive unit, Rolle improved his tackle total to 56, but dropped his pick total to three.
Then came the demise. For three straight seasons, Rolle's tackle totals have declined from 48 in 2002 to 28 in 2004. Only his six pick in 2003 stands out statistically over the past three seasons, suggesting that the end is near for Rolle as a cornerback.
And if the Vikings had visions of adding Rolle as a veteran capable of playing either strong or free safety, Rolle's recent arrest for spousal abuse likely will put an end to such conversations. Only 28-years old, Rolle appears on the verge of being on the outs in the NFL.
More intriguing than Nedney or Samari Rolle is Derrick Mason. Mason was the guy that the Titans took instead of Randy Moss, and a guy whom the Titans have since continued to insist was the better selection of the two. Today's expected move probably puts an end to that nonsense.
But even if Mason is not Randy Moss, he is still a legitimate number one receiver. In 2004, Mason caught 96 passes for 1168 yards and 7 touchdowns. That looks like a pretty good number two receiver in Minnesota, right behind Moss and directly ahead of the rapidly improving Burleson. Mason has also demonstrated the ability to be a standout punt returner. His addition thus would be a nice way to fill two of the Vikings' needs with one signing.
For Vikings' fans, what is occuring in Tennessee should send cheeks aglow as it is a sign of things to come around the league. With most teams tight against the cap, more purges can be expected. And for every purge, there is likely to be at least one more piece for the Vikings to add to their as yet incomplete puzzle.
Up Next: Taylor versus Fowler.