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Updated: February 20th, 2014 6:28pm
Zulgad: Vikings don't have many tough calls when it comes to free agen

Zulgad: Vikings don't have many tough calls when it comes to free agen

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Don't be confused by the name.

Yes, the NFL Scouting Combine is a place where teams get an opportunity to watch prospects go through a variety of drills, give them extensive physicals, administer the Wonderlic Test and quiz them about their lives.

But it's also much more than that.

The time spent in Indianapolis this week will enable club executives to discuss potential deals and lay the groundwork for the start of free agency.

Just about every player agent is present, meaning general managers can begin setting up wink-wink deals with free agents not on their roster and discussing what it will take to retain players with expiring contracts.

The Vikings have 15 players set to become unrestricted free agents, including quarterback Matt Cassel, who elected to opt-out of the second year of his contract after this past season.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is expected to meet with most, if not all, of the agents for these players in the next few days. Free agency will open at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Here's a list of the Vikings' free agents with a ranking of what type of priority the team should place on keeping them:

HIGH PRIORITY

Matt Cassel, quarterback: The Vikings are almost certainly going to need a veteran quarterback to start in 2014 -- the odds of them drafting a QB at No. 8 overall seem very slim -- and the 31-year-old would appear to be a good fit. Cassel started six of the nine games in which he appeared in 2013, throwing 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Cassel saw plenty of dysfunction when it came to his position under coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave but both of them are gone. Spielman might be able to sell Cassel on the fact that things will be much improved under new coach Mike Zimmer and coordinator Norv Turner.

Everson Griffen, defensive end: A fourth-round pick in 2010, Griffen had to do some serious maturing on and off the field after he joined the Vikings. There is no denying that Griffen has talent and the fact he has 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons, and 17.5 in the past three, can't be overlooked. Griffen also hasn't missed a game in the past three years. If Zimmer is going to switch to a 3-4 defense, or use that look at times, Griffen could be even more valuable rushing the quarterback from an outside linebacker position. He made it clear last summer he would welcome that opportunity.

WORTH CONSIDERATION

Fred Evans, defensive tackle: The interior of the Vikings' defense has not been the same since nose tackle Pat Williams departed after the 2010 season. Williams was not only a mammoth man who occupied space in the middle, and thus shut down the run game of opposing teams, he also had the athletic ability to get a push toward the pocket when necessary. Spielman and Zimmer need to find this type of player. Evans, who is listed at 6-4, 305 pounds, is not that guy but he is a capable backup and, if used in the proper role, can provide depth on defense.

Marvin Mitchell, linebacker: The eight-year veteran was miscast as a starting weak-side linebacker in 10 games last season, but he can serve as a reliable special-teams player. That's why the Vikings signed him before the 2012 season and, if they keep him, it almost certainly will be because they plan on returning him to a full-time role on special teams.

Jerome Simpson, wide receiver: Is he worth the headaches? That's the question when it comes to Simpson and the Vikings likely have gone back-and-forth on this one. After battling through an injury-plagued first season with the Vikings in 2012, Simpson finished second on the club with 48 receptions for a team-leading 726 yards last season. He caught only one touchdown pass but led the Vikings with 12 receptions of 20-plus yards and turned 35 catches into first downs, one behind Greg Jennings' team-leading figure. Simpson, however, served a three-game suspension to start the 2012 season after being convicted of mailing 2 pounds of marijuana to his Kentucky house when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals. Last November, Simpson was charged with driving under the influence and refusing to submit to a chemical test after being pulled over in Minneapolis. Are the Vikings willing to take a chance on Simpson getting a third strike?

IS THE PRICE RIGHT?

Kevin Williams, defensive tackle: The one-time Pro Bowl player had his contract reworked before last season and he definitely will have to take a short-term deal if he's going to return. Williams also will have to understand that Sharrif Floyd, the 23rd selection in last year's draft, is going to get the majority of the reps at the 3-techinque, if the Vikings are going to stick with a 4-3 scheme. Williams has never been anything but a professional since arriving in Minnesota and if he wants to return on the Vikings' terms, the team might just let him.

Three offensive linemen round out this category. Charlie Johnson, the starting left guard the past two years, and backups Joe Berger and J'Marcus Webb likely will have to take what the Vikings offer or they will be headed elsewhere. None would be considered a big loss and all are replaceable.

BEST TO PART

Jared Allen, defensive end: The Vikings gave up a lot to get Allen from Kansas City in a trade in 2008 and then paid a big price to sign him. For a team that had long searched for a dominant pass-rushing right end, it was worth it. Allen had double-digit sack totals in each of his six seasons with the Vikings, but he will turn 32 this spring and likely will get one more substantial contract before his playing days are through. Odds are almost 100 percent that the team paying Allen this time won't be the Vikings.

Toby Gerhart, running back: Selected in the second round in 2010, Gerhart would be the ideal fit to stick around as Adrian Peterson's backup. He isn't going to do that. Partially because of injury, and largely because Peterson carries the ball so much, Gerhart had a career-low 36 rushing attempts in 2013. Gerhart has kept quiet and never complained but he's now in a position to join a team that will pay him and use him. No one can blame the soon-to-be 27-year-old if he jumps at that opportunity.

Joe Webb, wide receiver: Perhaps there will be a team that remains intrigued by Webb's athletic ability, but it would not be surprising if the Vikings allow the quarterback-turned-wide receiver-turned-quarterback-turned wide receiver to walk away after four seasons. In the end, Webb will depart having held plenty of promise for what he might bring but never having proven he belonged at any one position.

NO INTEREST

Desmond Bishop, linebacker: The former Green Bay Packer was brought in to help add depth but continued to deal with injury issues. A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee ended his 2013. Bishop's future remains uncertain and it's hard to believe that if he does play again it will be in Minnesota.

Chris Cook, cornerback: Although Christian Ponder has a year left on his contract, the case from this corner has been that Spielman should let him go so there is no temptation to give the quarterback one more chance. We've seen enough. On defense, the same thought process applies to Cook, a second-round pick in 2010. If Cook is allowed to walk, he will do so having played in 34 games and started 29 of those. His interception total? Zero. Cook looked great in training camp in 2010, injured his knee and never showed any flashes again. Cook is the definition of a bust and the temptation to play him should be removed by allowing him to go elsewhere.

Josh Freeman, quarterback: A first-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2009, Freeman was signed in October by the Vikings after being let go by the Bucs. His one start was among the worst by a quarterback in franchise history and behind the scenes he impressed the Vikings so little that he became a forgotten man on a team that was desperate to find a QB. There have been rumors the Raiders will pursue Freeman. That would be an deal fit: a dysfunctional franchise and a dysfunctional quarterback.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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