RB Ryan Moats, DE Michael Montgomery, CB Lito Sheppard.
Early Draft Picks:
CB/FS Chris Cook, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen, G Chris Degeare, ILB Nathan Triplett.
RB Chester Taylor, OT Artis Hicks, CB Karl Paymah.
2010 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
"Is Brett Favre coming back?" That's the question on everyone's mind - that is, if everyone conformed to ESPN's redundant reporting. Favre is coming back. There was never really any doubt, but it was essentially confirmed when he had ankle surgery in late May.
Favre had an amazing 2009 campaign. Looking like a man in his prime again, Favre threw for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions - the first time in his career that he had ever tossed a single-figure pick total. Favre also set a personal best in terms of completion percentage (68.4) and YPA (7.9).
With all that being said, the odds are stacked against Favre in 2010. He's coming off that ankle surgery. He turns 41 in October. And everything went perfectly for Minnesota last year. Can that happen again? Absolutely, but the odds are against it.
Even if Favre gets hurt or his skills erode, Minnesota's offense is packed with talent, so the team won't exactly fall too far in the standings. Along with Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson is one of the two best running backs in the league. Peterson has rushed for at least 1,340 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his three NFL seasons. Peterson became a more integral part of the passing attack in 2009, catching 43 passes after logging just 21 receptions the year before. With Chester Taylor gone, Peterson could grab 50-plus balls in 2010.
Peterson is unbelievably talented, but his weakness is ball security. Peterson fumbled six times last season, which doesn't include the three fumbles he was guilty of in the NFC Championship. To remedy this liability, Peterson is working with a 14-pound sand-filled football this offseason.
Someone else who has been industrious is Sidney Rice, who has added eight pounds to his 6-4, 202 frame. Rice exploded in his third NFL season, catching 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. If Favre maintains his level of play, Rice's numbers could increase even further in 2010; he's that physically talented.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Percy Harvin, Collard Kector extraordinaire, logged 60 receptions for 790 yards and six touchdowns as a mere rookie last season. Harvin, however, will likely miss some games again because of his severe migraine issues. Meanwhile, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has become Favre's latest favorite end-zone target. Shiancoe caught 11 touchdowns in addition to his 56 receptions and 566 yards.
Minnesota's offensive line disappointed last year. The unit allowed 34 sacks and was not particularly effective in the run-blocking department either. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie surrendered nine sacks, the most he's allowed since 2004. Rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt wasn't very good either, as he was responsible for eight sacks and six penalties.
On the interior, left guard Steve Hutchinson is one of the top players at his position, but struggled a bit in 2009 because of shoulder and back injuries. If he's healthy, his improved play will also benefit McKinnie. Right guard Anthony Herrera and center John Sullivan were simply terrible last year. They'll both need to step up if Favre suffers any sort of decline.
2010 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
For the second consecutive year, the Vikings ranked sixth in yardage surrendered and top three versus the run. This isn't surprising in the slightest considering how talented their defensive line is.
Jared Allen is arguably the top pass-rusher in the NFL. Allen's sack totals the past three years are: 15.5, 14.5 and 14.5. Opposing offensive coordinators can't really pay a ton of attention to him either because under tackle Kevin Williams and left end Ray Edwards both thrive at putting pressure on the quarterback. Edwards had 8.5 sacks in the regular season, but exploded in the second round of the playoffs versus the Cowboys, logging three sacks and a forced fumble against poor Marc Colombo. Oh, and then there's Pat Williams, who swallows opposing running backs whole.
The Vikings will need to continue pressuring the hell out of the other quarterback because their secondary is really troubled. No. 1 cornerback Antoine Winfield just turned 33. He has missed 12 games the past two seasons, which isn't good news because the other starter, Cedric Griffin, tore his ACL in December and likely won't be available until late October or November.
If Winfield and Griffin miss time again, Minnesota's in major trouble. Its options will be Lito Sheppard, who embarrassed himself with the Jets last year; Benny Sapp, a mediocre nickel corner; and unproven rookie Chris Cook, who might be the best bet.
The safety positions aren't much better. Free safety Madieu Williams is a great guy and a legitimate humanitarian, a trait that unfortunately hasn't helped improve his ability in coverage. Strong safety Tyrell Johnson is good in run support, but like Williams, struggles in coverage.
Griffin isn't the only Viking defender who will be unavailable at the beginning of the season. Inside linebacker E.J. Henderson broke his leg in December, and likely won't be available until October at the very earliest. His replacement, Jasper Brinkley, is anemic in coverage.
Luckily, Minnesota has two other quality linebackers to make up for Brinkley's liabilities. Strongside linebacker Chad Greenway is a very talented every-down player. Ben Leber, stationed on the weak side, is on the decline at 31, but can still cover pretty well.
2010 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
Minnesota is just 12-40 when playing outdoors the past eight seasons. You'd think that would have improved with Brett Favre, but the Vikings went 2-3 in outdoor contests last year. One of those wins occurred in Cleveland, so that doesn't really count. Remarkably though, four of those 12 outdoor victories have come at Lambeau Field.
Speaking of Lambeau, a big signing four years ago was former Packer Ryan Longwell. Longwell was a sterling 26-of-28 in 2009, including 8-of-9 from 40-49 and 2-of-2 from 50-plus. Longwell is 8-of-8 from 50 or further the past two seasons.
Punter Chris Kluwe had a down year for his standards, but was still pretty good. He averaged 43.9 yards per boot, including 24-of-73 attempts inside the 20.
The Vikings surrendered four touchdowns on special teams in 2008. That had to improve, and it did; that number dropped to one in 2009, which is acceptable. Meanwhile, Percy Harvin scored twice on kick returns.
If Minnesota's not careful, it could begin the year 0-2. The opening night game at New Orleans will be tough, and if the Vikings fail to obtain revenge, there could be a letdown the following week against the Dolphins, one of the most underrated teams in the league. Remember, this exact thing happened to the Titans last season; they fell short of beating the Steelers in the opener, and then lost to Houston as big favorites.
The Saints-Dolphins double-header is just a small part of Minnesota's brutal early-season schedule; following those two games and a pair of byes (one real bye; one contest against the Lions), the Vikings have to battle the Jets (road), Cowboys (home), Packers (road) and Patriots (road) in four consecutive weeks.
2010 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: The Vikings certainly have the talent to make a Super Bowl run. However, there are a few issues. Can Brett Favre really maintain his high level of play at 41, especially coming off ankle surgery? If not, can the offensive line improve and make the running game extremely potent again? What about E.J. Henderson and Cedric Griffin - when will they be available? And can Antoine Winfield stay on the field for a change?
Also, don't forget how horrifying Minnesota's early-season schedule is. If Henderson and Griffin aren't available, and if Favre's effectiveness decreases a bit, the Vikings could be looking at a 3-4 or 2-5 start.
The Vikings barely had any needs going into the 2010 NFL Draft, so they spent most of their picks on the top available player.
The one area they absolutely had to address was cornerback. They did this by selecting Chris Cook atop the second round following a four-pick swap with the Lions. Cook was the best player remaining at the position, which is why that pick deserved an A.
As for the rest of the draft, Minnesota did a great job adding talent and depth to its roster. There's no reason Everson Griffen should have been available at Pick No. 100. If Griffen pans out, the Vikings won't suffer much of a decline if they can't re-sign Ray Edwards down the road.
My only qualm with Minnesota's draft is that the team passed up on Jimmy Clausen. I know, I know, other teams did too, but it seems like the Vikings' sole reason for doing this was because they didn't want to offend Brett Favre. I understand that Favre is fickle, but Brad Childress should have just said, "Brett, this is your job for as long as you want it. We won't even consider putting the kid in until you decide it's time to retire. If you're still playing and his contract is coming up, we'll trade him. You're our guy."
Favre will probably come back, but what if he suddenly decides that he won't? The Vikings would then be screwed as opposed to having a great backup option in Clausen.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: B+
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
34. Chris Cook, CB/FS, Virginia
Really good pick. The Vikings needed corner help and drafted the consensus top prospect available at the position. You can't argue that. (Pick Grade: A)
51. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
The Vikings needed a solid running back behind Adrian Peterson with Chester Taylor moving on to Chicago. Toby Gerhart is miscast as a slow, white running back. He's not. He's very skilled and can handle the load if Peterson gets hurt. (Pick Grade: A)
100. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
Minnesota had to do this. It's going to be tough to re-sign Ray Edwards, so Everson Griffen, a first-round prospect according to some scouts, provides insurance. (Pick Grade: A)
161. Chris Degeare, OT/G, Wake Forest
A solid pick. Chris Degeare fits the blocking scheme and range. (Pick Grade: B)
167. Nathan Triplett, ILB, Minnesota
The Vikings need someone to challenge for the inside linebacker position with E.J. Henderson sidelined. This is a bit of a reach, but not a big deal at the end of Round 5. (Pick Grade: B)
199. Joe Webb, QB/WR, UAB
Joe Webb will likely be moved into a receiving role in Minnesota. Bernard Berrian won't be around much longer, so depth was needed. (Pick Grade: B)
214. Mickey Shuler, TE, Penn State
Though he's not as physically talented as Andrew Quarless, Mickey Shuler was the better tight end at Penn State. A decent pick in the seventh round. (Pick Grade: B)
237. Ryan D'Imperio, LB, Vikings
A good fit for Minnesota's defense. Depth will be an issue at linebacker next year if Ben Leber leaves. (Pick Grade: B)
It didn't matter when - whether it was in October and Minnesota was 6-0, or it was in the final minutes of the NFC Championship and the team entered field goal range - Viking fans had to know that the team was going to screw up somehow. That's what always happens. Minnesota is always the better team in its playoff loss, but always shoots itself in the foot somehow. People can point to the crooked officiating in overtime, but if the Vikings don't fumble six times or throw two interceptions, they would have defeated New Orleans and moved on to the Super Bowl.
Vikings claim WR Marko Mitchell
Vikings sign RB Ryan Moats
Vikings re-sign DE Ray Edwards
Vikings sign CB Lito Sheppard
Vikings re-sign QB Tarvaris Jackson
Vikings re-sign FB Naufahu Tahi
Vikings re-sign DT Fred Evans
Vikings re-sign OT Ryan Cook
Vikings re-sign S Eric Frampton
Vikings sign DE Michael Montgomery
49ers sign CB Karl Paymah
Vikings re-sign DT Jimmy Kennedy
Vikings sign CB Benny Sapp
Vikings sign K Rhys Lloyd
Redskins sign OT Artis Hicks
Cornerback: Adding injury to insult, Cedric Griffin tore his ACL in the NFC Championship. He won't be ready until at least late October, and may not be the same player he was until 2011. Using a first-round pick on a corner like Donovan Warren or Kyle Wilson is a huge possibility now. Drafted Chris Cook; signed Lito Sheppard
Free Safety: Madieu Williams is a great guy who made a huge charitable donation toward medical research this season. However, he's a sieve in coverage and should be upgraded. The 2010 NFL Draft is loaded with capable Round 2-5 safety prospects.
Right Guard: Anthony Herrera struggled to open up any sort of running lanes for Adrian Peterson. If Mike Iupati makes it past the Cowboys, the Vikings will definitely be intrigued. Otherwise, they may locate an upgrade in Rounds 2-4 this April. Drafted Chris Degeare
Center: John Sullivan was awful in his first year as a starter. Look for the Vikings to spend a second- or a third-round pick on an upgrade.
Defensive Tackle: Pat Williams says he's "50-50" to retire this spring. If he opts to hang it up, it's safe to say that defensive tackle will be a huge need.
Quarterback: Move this way up if Brett Favre retires. Tarvaris Jackson is not the long-term answer at quarterback, but with such a thin class at the position, Minnesota probably won't have the chance to obtain its signal-caller of the future this April.
Running Back: The unrestricted free agent market is so thin that a desperate team may throw tons of money at Chester Taylor, luring him away from the Vikings. Minnesota will then have to find a capable backup for Adrian Peterson in Rounds 2-5 of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Toby Gerhart
Inside Linebacker: E.J. Henderson probably won't be ready for the opener, so the Vikings probably should bring in competition for Jasper Brinkley.
Weakside Linebacker: Ben Leber is entering his contract year. This will be a much bigger need next offseason, but Minnesota may opt for a successor now.
Wide Receiver: Bernard Berrian struggled this season. It wouldn't be a bad idea to find some competition for him.
Special Teams: Kick coverage always seems to be an issue for Brad Childress. This must be addressed once and for all.
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Lito Sheppard, CB, Jets. Age: 29. Signed with Vikings (1 year, $2 million)
Lito Sheppard makes plays, but gets burnt in coverage more frequently. He can't be a starter anymore.
Ryan Moats (RFA), RB, Texans. Age: 27. -- Signed with Vikings
Michael Montgomery, DE, Packers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Vikings (1 year)
Minnesota Vikings Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 11): No cap.
Ray Edwards (RFA), DE, Vikings. Age: 25. Re-signed with Vikings (1 year, $2.5 million)
Counting the playoffs, Ray Edwards had 11 sacks in his final 11 games of the season. Some may argue that he thrived because offenses were paying attention to Jared Allen and the Williams Wall. We'll never know for sure until Edwards signs elsewhere, but he's not going anywhere this spring.
Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Bears (4 years, $12.5 million; $7 million guaranteed)
Chester Taylor has been one of the top reserve running backs in the NFL over the past few years. He can run in between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. The problem is that he'll be 31 in September.
Divisional Rival History: Chicago Bears: The home team has claimed 14 of 16. Maybe that Monday night upset shouldn't have been that shocking after all. Detroit Lions: Pure domination. The Vikings have somehow won 20 of the past 22 meetings. Green Bay Packers: The Packers had won five of six in this rivalry - until their old quarterback betrayed them. Minnesota swept the series this season.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)