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Updated: March 25th, 2014 8:48am
Zulgad: What can free agency tell us about Vikings' plans for Draft?

Zulgad: What can free agency tell us about Vikings' plans for Draft?

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

There are two ways to look at the Minnesota Vikings' approach in free agency to date.

The first would be to conclude that with six of the seven new signings being on the defensive side of the ball that new coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have sufficiently addressed an area of massive need.

The above doesn't include that defensive end Everson Griffen re-signed for $42.5 million over five years - the biggest investment the Vikings have made this offseason - and defensive tackle Fred Evans also agreed to a one-year deal.

The second conclusion would be that Zimmer and Spielman don't yet feel their work is done when it comes to stopping opposing offenses.

Questions remain about a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL last season, including who will be joining Chad Greenway as starters at linebacker, who will play alongside Harrison Smith at safety and whether the Vikings have reached a comfort level with their depth at cornerback.

If you elect to go with the first scenario, that the defensive needs have been solved, then you might argue that the Vikings would be wise to hope one of the top quarterbacks falls to them with the eighth pick in the May draft.

Mel Kiper of ESPN, for instance, had Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel going to the Vikings in his latest mock draft. Kiper's colleague, Todd McShay, had the Vikings selecting Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert at eight.

Given the uncertainty that surrounds this quarterback class, and the fact that they hired a coach from the defensive side of the ball, common sense says that the Vikings are much more likely to follow the second scenario and that McShay's mock draft is probably on the right track.

But before anyone gets bent out of shape about the Vikings not taking one of the top quarterbacks, let's remember this: We have no idea what the seven teams in front of Minnesota plan on doing or if a team will be willing to trade up in order to grab Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Manziel.

The temptation to take a quarterback at No. 8 might not even exist.

Looking at the top quarterbacks in this draft has to leave Spielman in a cold sweat. There is not one sure thing available and yet so many teams need a young quarterback to build around, including the Vikings.

Sound familiar?

In 2011, a draft that after Cam Newton featured what could best be described as a game of musical quarterbacks, the Vikings gambled on Christian Ponder at No. 12 and lost in a huge way.

Spielman can't afford to swing and miss again or that will be it for him with the Vikings. He knows this. He also knows that if he drafts a quarterback in the second or third round to come in as a backup to Matt Cassel that the fallout won't be nearly as severe if things don't work out.

In a copy-cat league, Spielman has taken notice of the fact that some very successful quarterbacks have gone after the first round. Andy Dalton went to Cincinnati with the 35th selection in 2011 and one pick later San Francisco took Colin Kaepernick.

Meanwhile, Newton (first overall to Carolina); Jake Locker (eighth to Tennessee); Blaine Gabbert (10th to Jacksonville); and Ponder were taken in the first round. Newton was a no-brainer but if you redid that quarterback class it would be far different.

No NFL executive, including Spielman, will be telling the truth in the coming days and weeks about their plan in the draft. But the best guess is that Spielman would love nothing more than to see a quarterback fall to him at eighth and then deal that selection for additional picks and move back.

Spielman almost certainly would take a cornerback or, more likely, a linebacker with that later first-round pick.

This doesn't mean that Spielman isn't interested in finding his quarterback of the future. But it does mean that taking a gamble in the first round in hopes of finding that guy might no longer seem like the best idea.

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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