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Updated: February 6th, 2014 12:11pm
Wetmore: Top 5 free agents at 5 positions the Vikings should upgrade

Wetmore: Top 5 free agents at 5 positions the Vikings should upgrade

by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com
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NFL free agency doesn't open until March 11, but now that the Super Bowl is passed, the offseason officially has begun. The Vikings are approximately $26.2 million under the salary cap for 2014, according to Spotrac.com. That figure does not include Matt Cassel's salary

The Vikings had many holes in 2013. Some holes can be plugged in the draft, if general manager Rick Spielman makes the right selections. But the Vikings also could look to upgrade by trades or free agency.

Here are the six positions I have circled on my sheet in need of upgrades, in no order:

Quarterback

Left guard

Defensive tackle

Linebacker

Strong safety

Corner back

It should be noted that Spielman historically has not relied heavily on free agency. This is merely a fun exercise to incite discussion among Vikings followers. Feel free to post your own free agency wish list in the comments.

Quarterback: If I ran the Vikings, I would make every effort to re-sign Matt Cassel, when he opts out of his contract. It's clear, however, that improving on Cassel is a long-term need.

Left guard: The Vikings offensive line was very good last season. We harped on the unit often at the beginning of the season, primarily because of left tackle Matt Kalil's step backward.

Charlie Johnson was the worst member of the offensive line, and if the Vikings can upgrade left guard without taking a substantially larger cap hit, they should. If Johnson is the worst member of your offensive line, it's still capable of being a strong unit.

Defensive tackle: I don't expect Kevin Williams will return. He restructured his deal before the season to save the Vikings money on the salary cap. They thanked him by rotating him in at nose tackle at one point during the season, a position he said he'd prefer to not play.

Williams was productive in 2013, but if he seeks anywhere near the $5 million he made last season, that's likely too steep for the Vikings.

Linebacker: Chad Greenway played hurt for a portion of the season, but he missed an awful lot of tackles and could not cover for the shortcomings of Erin Henderson, who likely will be cut. Audie Cole showed some promise, but middle linebacker is a position the Vikings could target to upgrade.

Strong safety: Leslie Frazier's staff liked Andrew Sendejo, and it's possible he could be a worthwhile safety for the Vikings. Harrison Smith is a very solid player, and is a building block on defense. A team could do worse than that pairing. It could do better, too, if it can upgrade over Sendejo.

Corner back: Josh Robinson was exposed last season before fracturing his sternum. Chris Cook likely has played his last unproductive game for the Vikings. Xavier Rhodes emerged late in the season and particularly in press-man coverage; he showed potential to be a nice player. Marcus Sherels is a nice story and punt returner, but he is overmatched as a cover corner.

Players considered

Here's a look at the top-5 players, based on Pro Football Focus' 2013 ratings, at the five positions I consider most important. Quarterbacks are thrown in as a bonus.

Quarterback:

Two free agents - besides Cassel - added positive value: Josh McCown (35) and Tarvaris Jackson (31).

No thanks.

Other intriguing names: Michael Vick (34), Matt Flynn (29) and Josh Freeman (26).

If I ran the Vikings, I'd ignore these options. Are any demonstrably better than Matt Cassel? Cassel likely will be more expensive than the $3.7 million cap hit his contract would have called for. He's a worthwhile bridge.

For the rest of the positions, I'll list the top-five free agents, according to 2013 season ratings from Pro Football Focus. Salaries are based on the 2013 salary cap hit.

Left guard:

Name

Age

2013 Salary

Travelle Wharton

33

$1.1M

Geoff Schwartz

28

$700K

Jon Asamoah

26

$1.55M

Shelley Smith*

27

$575K

Richie Incognito

31

$4.975M

*Restricted free agent
Source: Spotrac.com

A brief note on Incognito's inclusion: He was productive when he played. Whether real or perceived, his name carries baggage. He checked in at No. 5 on PFF's list of free agent guards sorted by production; he was 17th in playing time.

Extra note: Charlie Johnson could be serviceable. Jeff Baca also could get a look in 2014.

Defensive tackle

Name

Age

2013 Salary

Randy Starks

30

$8.45M

Jason Hatcher

32

$2.6M

Tony McDaniel

29

$605K

Arthur Jones

28

$2.02M

Pat Sims

28

$1.75M

Source: Spotrac.com

It's possible that the Vikings are comfortable with Sharrif Floyd and Fred Evans as starters on the inside.

Linebacker:

Name

Age

2013 Salary

Karlos Dansby

32

$2.25M

Brandon Spikes

26

$870K

Vincent Rey

26

$630K

Dekoda Watson

26

$645.5K

Akeem Jordan

27

$575K

Source: Spotrac.com

 

Strong safety:

Name

Age

2013 Salary

T.J. Ward

27

$1.2M

Donte Whitner

29

$4.93M

Jairus Byrd

27

$6.92M

James Ihedigbo

30

$620K

Chirs Clemons

28

$2.75M

Source: Spotrac.com

 

 Cornerback:

Name

Age

2013 Salary

Brent Grimes

31

$5.44M

Vontae Davis

26

$1.86M

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

28

$2.9M

Chris Harris Jr.

25

$556K

Captain Munnerlyn

26

$1.1M

Source: Spotrac.com

 

Are any of these players on your Vikings free agency wish list? Which position is the most important to fill via free agency?

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
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