Tuesday, March 06, 2007

We Got 'Em

In a previous post, I suggested that there are times, such as this season, when it behooves NFL teams to get into bidding contests for the few decent players on the market in the hope of at least filling one hole for one season. The Vikings have glaring holes at wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, offensive line, and, at a minimum, backup quarterback.

To address these holes, the Vikings released the tight end that has made the most positive difference to their offense over the past three seasons, released their only red zone receiving threat (something the team opted to do before the season was over), and opted not to compete for players being wooed by other teams.

The first bad omen of a weak off-season struck when the Vikings announced their replacement for pass-receiving tight end Jermaine Wiggins. Vikings' player personnel director, Rick Spielman, himself a story for another day, commented that the Vikings got the man they wanted to replace Wiggins when they signed Visanthe Shiancoe. Yes, that Visanthe Shiancoe.

What did the Vikings get in Shiancoe? It sounds like the complete package--if by package is meant something other than a pass-catching tight end. Here's what Vikings' head coach Brad Childress had to say about his newest addition:

"He's well-rounded. He can play on the line of scrimmage. He can play away from the tackle. He can block. And I think he can catch. So he gives you a little bit of everything."

Those critical of Childress' maneuverings that resulted in the release of a tight end with nearly 200 receptions over the past three years in favor of a tight end with 35 receptions over four seasons, including 12 receptions for 81 yards in seventeen games last season, are missing the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that a guy who plays well on the line and off the tackle is more of an asset in Childress' offensive system than a guy who catches the ball. And, at $18.2 million over five years with $7 million guaranteed, Shiancoe is a bargain to boot, we are told. One has to squint, of course, to see that bargain given that the Vikings would have owed Wiggins considerably less money in 2007.

Sure to add to the groundswell of support for Shiancoe is Spielman's observation that the tight end runs the 40 in 4.58. As Vikings' fans can attest, speed gets you speed in the NFL. And that might not be enough for Shiancoe.

On the same day that the Vikings signed Shiancoe, they added linebacker Vinny Ciuciu, a four-year special teams player whom they believe might be able to compete for the middle linebacker position. Ciuciu, who signed for $3 million over three years with a $500,000 signing bonus, last played linebacker as a collegian at Boston College.

The final addition to the Vikings' current free agent class of 2007 is former Chicago Bear and Tennessee Titan wide receiver Bobby Wade, whom the Vikings' signed yesterday to a five-year, $15 million deal. Wade's 33 receptions last season, give the Vikings' current top three wide receivers a combined 93 receptions and four touchdowns in 2006--less than the reception totals of three wide receivers and less than the touchdown totals of forty-one receivers in 2006.

Where Do The Vikings Go From Here?

Though much of the Vikings' off-season signing futility is attributable to the dearth of talent in this year's free agency pool, there were players available in free agency in whom the Vikings had an interest but whom the team elected not to pursue. And there are players still available that might fit the teams needs, such as Corey Dillon, Travis Henry, Eric Moulds, and Ross Verba.

With the exception of a few remaining free agents, and some possible June 1st cuts, the Vikings would be well served not simply to sit on their money this year, losing a year of use in the process. If not used for free agents, the money should be used to restructure contracts to bring forward cap hits into the present. This would allow the team even more cap space in the future and provide the team an opportunity to identify and sign to long-term deals players in whom the team would like to make a long-term commitment.

Up next: More free agency. Plus, draft talk and division rivals.

13 comments:

Lichty said...

I know you weren't the biggest NapHar fan but what in god's green earth are the vikes going to do at MLB next year? Will be ok on the edges with Henderson and Lieber and hopefully a healthy and useful Greenway, but good greif that is a gaping hole which is hella difficult to fill with a rookie through the draft?

WR situation is the worst I can ever remember it. Kelly Campbell would be a number 1 on this team. Bobby Wade is a third receiver at best.

My only consolation is that these needs are so glaring it may prevent even Childress from drafting Brady Quinn, who I do not expect to have a very stellar NFL career.

Vikes Geek said...

Lichty,

It's not clear why the Vikings didn't at least make an attempt to keep Harris. As you note, I was not a big Harris fan, but at least he wasn't an all-around liability last year. He remains incapable of covering tight ends in the passing game, but he was much better on the whole last year than he had been in 2005. The Vikings clearly had cap room to spare and could have kept Harris, but my guess is that they think Henderson or Leber are capable enough now to play middle linebacker. I'll have to see it to believe it with Henderson. If Leber can play middle, the Vikings would have a solid first unit in Leber, Henderson, and Greenway--leagues above where they were just two years ago when their linebacking corps was as much of a mess as their current receiving corps.

Wade showed promise early in his career in Chicago but has done less than Troy Williamson since then. The Vikings are banking on his upside. The problem, of course, is that the Vikings are banking on the upside of all of their receivers with none of them having yet proven themselves in the NFL. Unfortunately, the same can be said of many of the players on the offensive side of the ball for the Vikings, including the right side of the line, tight end, and quarterback. At some point, the team needs to stop looking for diamonds in the rough and bring in the real diamonds.

I agree regarding Quinn. I'll have more on that in the next column.

VG

Mike from CT said...

any news on whether the vikes will go after Joe Horn? Anything at all or will something like that wait until after the draft?

Vikes Geek said...

Mike,

I don't believe that the Vikins are interested in Joe Horn. If they are, they probably should restrain their enthusiasm and wait for something better. Horn has injury issues and clearly has lost two or three steps. He's also a bit loud for a Childress-run team.

VG

Lichty said...

Wade showed promise early in his career in Chicago but has done less than Troy Williamson since then.

The guy has a measly 101 catches over a four year career - not exactly eyepopping for a number one receiver which I would have to say he is at this point of depth chart - we may see a lot of Jason Carter and Aaron Hosack this year.

leagues above where they were just two years ago when their linebacking corps was as much of a mess as their current receiving corps.

Yeah but today's Strib is mentioning the pack of bees known as Dontarrious Thomas for the MIKE. That is a return to two years ago.

Vikes Geek said...

Lichty,

I'm not excited about the addition of Wade, particularly given that we still do not have anything resembling a number one receiver. I can hear it now if and when Wade, Williamson, and whomever lines up as receiver for the Vikings next season struggles to put up numbers. Vikings coaches will be lamenting the lack of a number one receiver and will tell us then what we already know now--Wade is a mediocre receiver when he's open, not so good when he's covered.

As much as I have never been a Harris fan, I am more of a Harris fan at middle linebacker than I am a Henderson or Thomas fan at MIKE. Henderson has done well on the edge and should stay there. Thomas hasn't done well anywhere and is in danger of being cut. Greenway has a lot to learn before he plays MIKE, especially since he has yet to play in the NFL. As I noted a couple years back, only one team has ever won the Super Bowl using a middle linebacker with less than four years of experience and that team, Tampa Bay, was loaded on defense and could overcome any deficiencies that the middle linebacker might have had. The Vikings should have a good defense again next year, but they certainly are not without warts.

Removing Henderson, Thomas, and Greenway from consideration leaves only Leber. Leber might get the job done but he has never played the position in the NFL and he certainly will be learning on the job. For the money that Harris took from KC, the Vikings would have been well-advised to hang onto him in precisely one of the front-loaded contracts that you, I, and Boognash had been discussing. Instead, the Vikings almost certainly will head into the 2007 season with $20 million or so left unused under their 2007 cap figure.

VG

Lichty said...

Did harris even want to stay? wasn't greenway an OLB in college? Or did Iowa use a 3-4? Can't remember.

The received situation is not only terrible, we will have an inexperienced QB to try to get them the ball. Bad routes, no separation, covered receivers equals lots of ints and sacks allowed - which I predict will occur at record pace this year.

As you stated earlier, the Vikes have done nothing to address their weaknesses from last year and in fact let two good players go in Harris and Wiggins at positions of need.

I don't know who is running the ship over there, but the triumverate of power is looking more and more like three blind mice.

boognish said...

Horn signed with the Falcons several days ago.

I agree with you that Harris would have been a great guy to target with some of our FA money. As it stands now, I believe that they will slide Henderson over to Mike and keep Leber and Greeway on the sides. Whether or not this will be successful remains to be seen.

When E.J. tried to play this position a couple of years ago, I thought he had the athleticism to get it done, but was in over his head (no pun intended)cerebrally. He's had a year to mature and our coaching staff is much better now, so I'd like to think that he's in a perfect situation to succeed. Time will tell.

Now get out there and sign a damned WR!

Vikes Geek said...

Boognish,

I'm disappointed in what appears to be a sudden about-face. It would be nice to sign a good wide receiver in free agency, but it's not clear that there is one. If that's true, then the Vikings would be wasting money signing a free agent receiver this year--right?

I know you think Kevin Curtis would be an upgrade, but that might be more wishful thinking than reality. Who had more receptions per game last year--Troy Williamson or Kevin Curtis? Answer: Williamson with 2.6 bested Curtis with 2.5. Who had more yards per reception last year, Williamson or Curtis? Answer: Williamson with 12.3 to Curtis with 12.0. Williamson finished the season with 37 receptions in 14 games. Curtis finished with 40 receptions in 16 games.

If Curtis is the answer, the question cannot be who is the Vikings' number one receiver next year. And if Williamson is, at best, a number three receiver, what does that make Curtis?

VG

boognish said...

Actually, no about face has occurred. I never said not to pick up any FA's; I just said not to overpay for mediocre talent, like your boy Kerney.

And I wasn't thinking of overpaying for Curtis either. I hope the Vikes don't sign him because I don't think he's going to be worth the payday he'll command. I was thinking more along the lines of Moulds, who could likely be had for little more than the League minimum and could hopefully mentor our young guys a bit.

I think we'll be okay going into next season with Williamson, Nance, Carter, McMullen, Wade, a guy like Moulds and a couple of draft picks; let the best receiver step up.

BVQ said...

Following the thread here...Read an article on VikingUpdate the other day, on the success of free agent wide receivers with their new clubs. Hadn't reflected on it that much but after reading it, it seemed to be pretty accurate as gave good reasoning for being cautious about free agents at that position.

We are definately still in sore need of a #1 WR, and the only way we can get that this year is through the draft. One thought that crossed my mind is that they might trade up and get the Brown's pick. It seems a bit of a stretch, and you would be giving up a lot. On the other hand, if you truly believe that Calvin Johnson is the next T.O. or Randy Moss, sans baggage, it could be a realistic option for the Vikes. The Browns attended Brady Quinn's Pro Day I heard, so they have some interest in him obviously, but not at the 3rd pick I am sure.

After looking what they gave up for Tarvaris, I wouldn't be too surprised if they did trade up, but it would be expensive. Probably at least a #1 & #2 pick.

Vikes Geek said...

BVQ,

The question I always have is why teams draft wide receivers in the top 10 and, thereby, screw up there salary cap for the next few years at a position to which so much money should not be allotted?

Football fans love to compare draft day receivers to Randy Moss mainly because Moss is the standard. And he is the exception. Few, if any, receivers have the type of early success that Moss had. That's because most receivers, even good receivers, come into the NFL too light, too overwhelmed, and too unprepared to play in the NFL to make much of a contribution. Count the number of receivers drafted in the first round in the past five years and look at their contributions in years one and two. It's pretty dismal.

The better route for picking up wide receivers is to pay for established receivers. The Vikings have had opportunities to pick up very good veteran receivers in the past two years but have passed because they didn't want to part with a draft pick. I wonder if they would now consider Javon Walker too expensive at the cost of a second-round pick?

Trading a first- and second-round pick to move up a few slots to take a receiver doesn't make sense to me given the track-record of receivers in the first round. Johnson might be the next Randy Moss and he might be the next Peter Warrick. Even if he is the next Moss, however, by drafting him in the top 5, you've committed approximately $20-25 million of cap space in guaranteed money to a player that only touches the ball if the line blocks, the running game succeeds, and the quarterback gets him the ball. In short, it's only worth the money when you no longer have money to spend because you've spent it on the more critical positions.

You don't need a Moss-like player to win big in the NFL and put a show on on the field. It's a nice luxury that Vikings' fans had for several seasons, but it's not a prerequisite for success. More important are pass-rushing defensive ends, solid cornerbacks, capable offensive linemen, and a heady quarterback. If you have all that and can still afford the best receiver in the game then go for it. But first make sure you have all that, then make sure the guy you identified as the best receiver in the game really is the best receiver in the game.

Do you trust the same group--minus Tice, plus Childress--that selected Troy Williamson number 7 overall to take such a risk and be right in this year's draft?

VG

BVQ said...

Good points. In general, enough of the top picks are busts that compounding the risk by trading additional picks is quite a gamble, to your point that we aren't in the position to make. There probably isn't a 'silver bullet' approach to getting a quality WR that will produce in your system. Other than Moss and Burleson, none of our recent WR picks has made much of an impact, and our free agent pickups haven't fared too well. I am hoping that Childress is going to pick up a couple of WRs in the later rounds which will fit more into what he wants to do.

To be fair, the success of that position will probably have as much to do with our QB situation as with anything else. I am not convinced as yet that TJ will cut it, and we don't have too many other options either at this point. Until that is stabilized, it will be hard to fully evaluate what we even have. It goes without saying that I don't have a lot of hope for our offense this season improving much, hopefully I am wrong.