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Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - While the NFL free agency period won't officially begin until March 12, 2013, teams like the Minnesota Vikings who are no longer fighting for the Super Bowl have already begun internal evaluations on their free agents to be better prepared when the period officially begins. 16 potential free agents sat down with General Manager Rick Spielman Monday morning to briefly discuss the future before heading their separate ways to begin their offseason.
Below is a list of those 16 free agents and a brief analysis of their season and potential future with the Vikings.
Phil Loadholt (OT/UFA - age 26) - Loadholt's career has been marred with drastic up and down seasons. Entering the league in 2009, Phil was part of the offensive line unit that protected Brett Favre all the way to the NFC Championship game and then this season Loadholt paved the way on Adrian Peterson's preferred right side as AP ran for 2,097 yards. The trouble is, the two years in between saw Loadholt's effort drop off just as fast as the Vikings success on the field did. Loadholt struggles in pass protection but excels on the ground. He will likely be expensive but looking around the league, there will be few better options on the table for the Vikings to replace him with. All five offensive linemen started each of the team's 16 games this season and their running back nearly set the all-time season record. I don't know what Rick Spielman will do, but I would advise him to keep that group together.
Jerome Felton (FB/UFA - age 26) - Unfortunately, Jerome Felton jumped up on everybody's radar before the season when he was arrested for a DUI prior to Training Camp in Mankato. Then he dropped off the radar for much of the season until Adrian's threat at Dickerson's record became legitimate and Felton started showing up on film of Adrian Peterson's big runs as he crushed opponents down the field. Felton went on to make the Pro-Bowl and hopes that he has found a home here in Minnesota with the Vikings. Monday, Felton informed the press that he had met with general manager Rick Spielman and expressed his interest in staying with the Vikings. According to Felton, Spielman reiterated the team's desire to keep him in town as well. "They said they'll be aggressive in trying to get something done," Felton said. "I hope that's what comes to be. I guess you never really know how it's going to play out. This is my first real opportunity to hit the free agency like I wanted to. But I want to be here, so hopefully it works out."
Jasper Brinkley (LB/UFA - age 27) - After starting four games as a rookie for the Vikings in 2009, Brinkley struggled through injuries for much of the next two seasons, including the entirety of the 2010 season. Finally healthy again, Brinkley was handed the middle linebacker position in the Vikings 4-3 scheme and many fans would say that his performance on the field was a disappointment. While Brinkley's poor performance wasn't as glaring as Manti Te'o was in this year's National Championship game, it was significant. Linebacker will be one of the top priorities for the Vikings through the free agency period and into the 2013 NFL Draft. That said, I think it's time for a change, and Brinkley could likely be a casualty of this thinking.
Erin Henderson (LB/UFA - age 26) - Much in the same tune of my Jasper Brinkley analysis, Erin Henderson had moments where the Vikings might have thought they had something, but there were also bad angles, late arrivals and missed tackles that marred Henderson's resume in 2012. Henderson tested the waters last year and only came up with one offer, a 1-year deal from the Minnesota Vikings. Looking at his inconsistent performance in 2012, you can start to see why that may be. Henderson still has potential, and will likely find a home somewhere in the league, but if I had to take a guess today, that home will not be in Minnesota.
Kevin Williams (DT/UFA - age 32) - A member of the revered "Williams Wall" from back in the day, Kevin Williams is now one of the most tenured Minnesota Vikings in the locker room. With two sacks, seven passes deflected and twenty tackles on the season, Williams is still an effective player in this league. The onslaught of Fred Evans and Christian Ballard this season gives the Vikings other options that are on roster (and much cheaper), that said, neither of them appear to be ready to carry the full load at defensive tackle. Williams did say yesterday that he would like to play 2-3 more years and would like to do so in Minnesota. Williams does have a $16.7MM option built into his contract for the next two years (2013-2014) and he is likely a valued asset by the Vikings but he will have to accept a 'twilight of your career' contract restructuring if he plans to stay in Minnesota.
Jerome Simpson (WR/UFA - age 26) - Hopes were high when Jerome Simpson came to town early in 2012. From his front flip into the endzone to the eight pounds of marijuana that he had delivered to his front door, Simpson's troubled past was well documented when he came to town. Yet because he made one acrobatic catch in OTAs and leaped over a Buffalo Bills defender in the preseason, the flaws that have plagued Simpson throughout his career were overlooked. However over the course of a sixteen game season (thirteen for Simpson), those flaws are highlighted and made to be perfectly visible over and over again. Throughout the season Simpson was plagued with a bad case of the dropsies, he struggled to get separation and the frustration across the board began to mount. Simpson was brought in on a one-year trial contract and with 26 receptions for 274 yards and 0 touchdowns in 2012, serious questions are being asked about Simpson's future in Minnesota. There is some credence to the idea of cleaning the slate at wide receiver and starting over, Simpson may very well be a victim of the cleansing.
Devin Aromashodu (WR/UFA - age 28) - For whatever reason, Devin Aromashodu has never really "stuck" in the Minnesota Vikings offense. He shows up in the box score from time to time with one catch for 20 yards, but only plays a handful of snaps. On a team that is starving for a wide receiver to step up and make an impact it just doesn't make sense? I have no reason to believe that there are any issues behind the scenes or off the field, but there is something that is keeping Devin off the field on a regular basis. Devin caught 11 balls for 182 yards in 2012 nearly cutting his production in half from what it was during the Vikings three win season in 2011. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the chance that Aromashodu has played his last game with the Minnesota Vikings.
Matt Asiata (FB/RFA - age 25) - Matt Asiata flashed briefly during the Vikings final preseason game when he got some run at RB with Peterson's return still in question. From that point on, Asiata appeared in 14 games but only on the special teams. With Felton shining in front of him on the depth chart at fullback, Asiata's value is solely on the special teams a situation that makes him susceptible to replacement by any number of free agents or rookie players.
Joe Berger (C/UFA - age 30) - Surface level fans may not even know who Joe Berger is, but his value o the team is one that cannot be counted solely in dollars and cents. Berger is a utility lineman that has seen time for the Vikings at center, and both left and right guard positions. Joe Berger made $1M in 2012 and quite honestly, considering the peace of mind that he offers the team, there could be value in bringing Berger back for 2013.
A.J. Jefferson (CB/RFA - age 24) - Acquired through a trade with the Arizona Cardinals before the season, Jefferson didn't see much time until injuries began to plague the Vikings toward the end of the season. Jefferson stepped in for an injured Chris Cook and most fans will remember him from being picked on by Aaron Rodgers in week 17 and the Wild Card round of the 2012 Playoffs. The coaching staff likes Jefferson's toughness and his size (6'0" - 190lbs) is also a plus, but the last few weeks the "24" on the back of his jersey might as well have been a target towards which Aaron Rodgers and opposing quarterbacks could have been throwing. Jefferson proved to be a liability on the field the last few weeks and could likely be replaced by a maturing Josh Robinson or any number of mid-level free agents this season. I do not expect to see A.J. Jefferson back with the Vikings in 2013.
Tyrone McKenzie (LB/RFA - age 27) - Tyrone McKenzie's value was on display the last two games of the season when the LB and special teams ace was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Leading up to the week 17 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings kick off team had not allowed a return past the 25-yard line since October 7th. That's when McKenzie went down with his injury. The Vikings went on to allow two returns past the 25 that game alone and then folded for a few more in the playoffs at Lambeau Field. McKenzie banked $465K in 2012 and should expect a similar extension to be offered for 2013.
Marvin Mitchell (LB/UFA - age 28) - Marvin Mitchell appeared in 11 games this season mainly while Erin Henderson was out with a concussion. Despite starting one game for the ailing Henderson, Mitchell largely went unnoticed. With only two tackles on the year, Mitchell under performed greatly. Still, his one saving grace may be his price tag of $700k and that fact that LB is a position of need for the Vikings. There is potential that Mitchell will return for 2013 but it will solely be as a backup will linebacker.
Jamarca Sanford (S/UFA - age 27) - No longer simply a special teams standout, Jamarca Sanford quietly had a pretty good year. His performance was overshadowed by the flashy play of rookie safety Harrison Smith, but after losing other starting safety spot to Mistral Raymond heading into the season, Jamarca took advantage of an opportunity and started the final 13 games of the 2012 season. While Sanford displayed his value on the field this season, behind the scenes he is also the vocal leader of the defense and the guy who gets everybody "amped" before the game. Despite the addition of Smith, the Vikings are still a little thin at safety. Needless to say, Jamarca Sanford needs to be one of this team's top offseason priorities heading into 2013.
Geoff Schwartz (G/UFA - age 26) - After spending the first three years of his career with the Carolina Panthers, Schwartz came north and joined the Vikings for 2012. Much to his chagrin, Schwartz's main role for the season was to push Brandon Fusco in practice and to offer flexibility shifting from guard to tackle if needed. Schwartz proved his ability to stay healthy this season and is truly one of the good guys in that locker room. Schwartz has value on this team, but it may depend on what he would be willing to accept in compensation.
Andrew Sendejo (S/RFA - age 25) - Slowly but surely Andrew Sendejo is making a name for himself on the Vikings special teams unit. With Jamarca Sanford moving to be a full-time safety, Sendejo slid in and took his special teams reps and likely solidified himself a position on this squad in 2013. Andrew will likely make between $500k-$750k next year and the Vikings ought to fork it over.
Marcus Sherels (CB/RFA - age 25) - Mainly used as a punt return specialist, Marcus Sherels started to figure something out towards the end of the season and upped his average returns in the final few games of the year. Sherels is mainly known for being a sure handed, conservative return man but with the uptick in his return yards his value may be worthwhile. A former rookie free agent, he will also be cheap, somewhere in the ball park of $500k. A worthwhile investment.