After going 7-9 in his inaugural season in Minnesota, Mike Zimmer had to deal with some unfortunate media in the form of Adrian Peterson. The news that followed Peterson and the Vikings overshadowed what Zimmer accomplished. With a rookie quarterback, playing home games at TCF Bank Stadium (where they will again in 2015), and circling controversy with his All-Pro running back, Zimmer took a defense that was ranked 32nd in 2013 in points allowed, and brought them all the way to 11th in 2014. What other holes will he have to fill in 2015?
Without Peterson and with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Minnesota Vikings were 20th in the league in points scored dropping 6 spots from their 2013 production. However, that is not where Zimmer made his mark in the NFL. From 2008-2013 with the Bengals his defense ranked 7th in points allowed over that stretch, and was working with a lot of young players in 2014, and decided to build his defense through the draft with Anthony Barr. He may have to stray from that side of the ball in 2015. The Vikings have a little wiggle room to make some moves in free agency as they are 18.1 million under the cap, but as was the case in Cincinnati, look for Zimmer to build through the draft starting with the 11th overall pick. The Vikings seemed to improve as the season neared the end, as they won 3 out of their last 5, posting 30+ points 3 times.
The question on Vikings fans’ minds is what is going to happen with Adrian Peterson? Peterson is set to make 15.4 million this season, but if the Vikings were to part ways in the form of a trade or releasing him, they would free up 13 million while only taking a 2.4 million dollar cap hit for 2015. Peterson is a once and a lifetime player, and if Minnesota could weather the storm of 2014, they will likely do so in 2015 if he is performing, and taking pressure off his quarterback. While the public perception of Peterson is up for discussion his production on the field cannot be ignored, and the last time he was off for any length of time, he topped 2,000 yards the following season.
If the Vikings decide to part ways with Peterson, they will more than likely bring back Matt Asiata who accounted for nearly 900 yards rushing and receiving, and 10 touchdowns only starting 9 games. With rookie Jerick McKinnon (673 yards from scrimmage) sharing time due to injuries, he provides a nice change-of-pace back to Asiata if he can stay healthy.
Christian Ponder’s number hovers around 2.5 million, and if he is a “wash” with Matt Cassel, then the Vikings best option is to take Ponder, who will carry a much lower cap number, while cutting Cassel would free up 4.7 million with no dead money against the cap.
Other notables are T Matt Kalil and S Harrison Smith. Kalil has struggled a bit in his time in Minnesota, while Smith led the team in tackles in 2014.
Depending on what the Vikings do during free agency could influence what they do for the upcoming draft. Taking a look at the 11th pick in the NFL draft, the Vikings need to look long term in their assessment of who to take. As a first round pick, they would be entitled a 5th year option for the player they choose, however, being out of the Top 10, if they chose to exercise that option, it would only cost them the average of the top 3-25 players at that position (opposed to the 1-10 contracts for a pick in the Top 10). Refer to the Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale for a more detailed description.
The Vikings have a lot of avenues to explore with the 11th pick but on the top of the list are 4 names; T Brandon Scherff (Iowa), S Landon Collins (Alabama), T TJ Clemmings (Pitt) and WR DeVante Parker (Louisville).
Scherff is listed as a tackle, but would be better suited as a guard in the NFL due to his mauler like blocking style. Has off the charts measureables but has some inconsistency at the tackle position.
Clemmings has amazing athleticism for being 6’6” 315 lbs and has the proverbial “P” word attached to his resume; Potential. He came to Pitt as a defensive end, and is still very raw as an offensive tackle. Maybe too raw for an 11th overall pick, but if the Vikings think he can develop; having a 5th year option may be the way to go.
Depending on what the Vikings do with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson will tell if they are going to take DeVante Parker. Parker is a big target that possesses an 80-inch wingspan. In a copycat league, the Vikings have seen the effectiveness of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, and maybe they will go with Parker to create a similar duo in Minnesota.
If the Vikings go defense with their first pick, they will most likely target Landon Collins. Collins is a hard-hitting safety that tends to give up some plays in the passing game, but can be called upon to set the tempo for the defense. This has been a trademark for Zimmer, and he would definitely be a force when paired up with Harrison Smith.
The most success that Zimmer had was when he was a DC in Dallas in 2003, when the Cowboys ranked 2nd in the league with the likes of Roy Williams and Darren Woodson patrolling the back end. The Vikings haven’t had a defense finish in the Top 10 since 1998, so if they take Collins, they will be headed in that direction.
Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale