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Updated: March 7th, 2014 4:14pm
Zimmer's thoughts on defensive free agents Allen, Williams and Griffen

Zimmer's thoughts on defensive free agents Allen, Williams and Griffen

by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - With uncertainties looming over the Vikings' 2014 roster construction heading into free agency, one thing is a near lock: the defensive line will look different.

With unrestricted free agents Jared Allen, Everson Griffen and Kevin Williams, it seems highly unlikely all will return. New head coach Mike Zimmer stated his interest Thursday, in retaining every free agent if the price is right. But he concedes that is not realistic.

How will the Vikings plug holes on a nearly historically bad defense? The Vikings gave up more points than any other team and gave up more yards and first downs than all teams besides the Dallas Cowboys.

As Zimmer said, "We've got a lot of holes to fill."

He's wary, though, of overspending or chasing a player that is not a good fit.

"We want to be smart with how we use the money," Zimmer said Thursday. "We don't want to go crazy in this thing."

"It's important to me and Rick [Spielman] and the Wilfs also, that we build a really good foundation and continue to solidly build this thing until we're a consistently good organization and team.

"I think if we go out and spend a whole bunch of money now, we'd be upset two years from now because some of them didn't work out. So we're going to be real diligent in how we approach this and making sure that not only is it best for next year, but best for the long run, too."

The NFL is a quick-turnaround league. The temptation certainly is there to plug holes with available free agents. That's especially true when you consider the Vikings could have more than $41 million in projected cap space entering free agency.

"Everybody sees that Maserati and they want to go buy it and you know you probably shouldn't, you should probably buy a Ford F-150 like I got. Because if you get the F150, you can keep building the pieces you need," Zimmer said.

All of which leads to perhaps the biggest question facing the defense for 2014:

Who will join Brian Robison on the defensive line?

Allen (31), Williams (33) and Griffen (26) all can leave and sign elsewhere if they choose.

Here are 10 players the Vikings should pursue to play defensive end, according to Andrew Krammer.

Many outside observers believe Griffen should be the priority. He's younger and he's been effective in a limited role. We can only speculate how he'd do in a full-time role with his hand on the ground, or in an expanded role as a standup linebacker.

"I understand he's younger and has some other qualities than the other two guys have," Zimmer said of Griffen.

"There comes a point where money that they're getting, or money that they're asking or money that we're willing to pay that there's a line there somewhere," Zimmer said of negotiations with Williams, Allen and Griffen. "If it crosses the line on that part or if it crosses the line on how much they're willing play then we understand that it's not going to happen."

Does Jared Allen make sense?

Almost certainly he does not.

Andrew Krammer wrote a piece for 1500ESPN.com, in which he evaluated the likelihood of Allen re-signing with the Vikings once free agency opens.

Here was Zimmer's take Thursday:

"He's the free agent. He's the one that would have to decide that he wants to come back and fit into what we do and how we do it. He has to decide how much money that needs to be due for him to buy into doing that. And we're the ones that have to decide how much we want to pay him for that, too."

Zimmer made clear he respects what Allen has accomplished.

"In my opinion, Jared's an extremely, extremely great football player who has had a fantastic career that, not only here, but elsewhere. I think it would be great for him to finish here, but I do understand the business part of all this stuff and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."

Allen has had a highly productive career. But he'll turn 32 in April and this is his first chance to test free agency. He is a liability in stopping running plays.

As Krammer writes, expect another team to offer a contract - and a situation - more to Allen's liking than the Vikings.

How about Williams?

Kevin Williams may not be the same dominant player he was at the height of his Vikings' career, one that should have him bound for the Hall of Fame. And yet, he still was productive and played more snaps than former head coach Leslie Frazier originally predicted. When the Vikings were in a pinch, Williams even played some nose tackle - a staple of Zimmer's defenses in Cincinnati.

"Kevin is an outstanding player, great. Those two guys are, in my opinion, so similar in the things that they've accomplished and things they've done," Zimmer said, comparing Williams and Allen. "Just their legacy, really, it would be an honor for me to coach them.

"But at the end of the day, it's still a business decision and it's a financial decision for them. They're running out of time in their careers and they need to do what's best for their families, too."

Inpouring of Bengals?

Some have speculated that Zimmer will try to lure several productive players from Cincinnati to Minnesota. He was reportedly well-respected in his time with the Bengals, leaving some to wonder if any players would join him with the Vikings as free agents.

Free agent Michael Johnson is a name that has repeatedly been written in connection with Zimmer.

He made Andrew Krammer's list of the top-10 defensive ends the Vikings should pursue. He also was No. 4 on the top-50 available free agents, according to The MMQB.

Having former players would be nice, Zimmer said Thursday. But not so fast.

"It's not necessary. When I went to Cincinnati I had no one," Zimmer said. "It's not necessary. You know, it makes communication easier but it's not the most important thing."

"It'd be nice, but it's not imperative."

Head coach. Play-caller?

Zimmer said he hasn't yet decided if he'll call plays now that he's got a full slate of duties on gamedays.

It's his first head coaching job so he said he doesn't know how it's going to go. He feels like it's one of his strengths, though, and he'll use the first couple preseason games to decide if it's best for the Vikings.

"I'm going to spend a lot of time with defense in the spring and as we get going in training camp. And in the first two preseason games kind of see how things are," Zimmer said. "I think on Sundays I do a pretty good job as far that kind of stuff. So I feel if it can help us best win games by me starting to do it then I will, but I haven't made that decision totally yet."

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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