Reports are circulating that the Minnesota Vikings are on the brink of a major rebuilding effort in 2011. Those reports center on the fact that the Vikings have 17 unrestricted free agents on their roster heading into the 2010-2011 off-season. Not surprisingly, in an attempt to sensationalize and agonize an already anguished Vikings' fan base, those reports omit most of the pertinent details, such as a complete list of Vikings' free-agents, the Vikings' ample ability to re-sign any and all free agents, and the numerous alternatives that the Vikings will have to replace any exiting free agents.
Like most NFL teams, the Minnesota Vikings have numerous free-agents heading into this off-season, a consequence both of the uncertainty of the 2011 NFL season and logical layering of free-agent expiration dates on the 53-man roster. Also like most teams, the Vikings have some starters represented among their list of pending free agents.
Unlike some NFL teams, however, the Minnesota Vikings are in perfectly good position either to re-sign or replace pending free agents. And, unlike some NFL teams, the Vikings have only a handful of players for whom an upgrade will be difficult to find in free agency.
The complete list of Vikings' pending, unrestricted free agents is as follows: Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Naufahu Tahi, Sidney Rice, Greg Lewis, Ryan Cook, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Pat Williams, Fred Evans, Lito Sheppard, Eric Frampton, Hussain Abdullah, Ryan Longwell, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Erin Henderson.
Of these free agents, the Vikings arguably have legitimate interest in retaining Rice, Williams or Evans, Longwell, Greenway, and Henderson. That's five free agents about whom the Vikings probably have any concern. In that group, only Rice, Williams, and Greenway would command meaningful money. That means that, of the Vikings' seventeen free agents, the Vikings probably need worry about competition for the services of but three. That's hardly a headache for the Vikings, who probably will have close to $40 million available under any new CBA (with a floor requiring that the team spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 million).
Given their likely cap space and limited free-agency concerns heading into the 2011 off-season, the Vikings not only are positioned to bring back the core of their team in 2011, but also are well-positioned to pick over what is likely to be the greatest free-agency crops in NFL history. Among the free agents likely to be available this off-season are Chicago Bears' center Olin Kreutz, New England's offensive guard Logan Mankins, Green Bay Packers' kicker Mason Crosby and safety Atari Bigby, Arizona wide-receiver Steve Breaston and guard Alan Faneca, Atlanta running back Jerious Norwood and tight end Tony Gonzalez, Detroit running back Kevin Smith, still just 23 years old, New York Jets' quarterback Kellen Clemens and wide-receiver Santonio Holmes, New York Giants' running back Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Steve Smith (25), Pittsburgh cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, Kansas City center Casey Wiegman, and San Diego wide-receiver Vincent Jackson. All of these players will be unrestricted free agents this off-season and all would represent upgrades over their counterparts on the Vikings' current roster.
The sole outstanding issue for the Vikings going into the 2011 season, should it be played, is who will play quarterback? Ringing out a lousy 2010 year, that will be the subject of the next column.