2006 Vikings Free Agents

The have some decisions to make this offseason on their 2006 free agents, all but one of whom are Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA), meaning unless the team re-signs them, they’re free to go elsewhere. They’re only (RFA) is wide receiver Nate Burleson.

Because he was injured most of the year, his statistics were underwhelming, to say the least. As an RFA, the Vikings have the right to match any offer another team made Burleson and if the Vikes refused a qualifying offer and Burleson did sign with another team, the Vikings would get a draft pick in compensation. For all those reasons, expect Burleson back.

Who To Let Go

I’d let center Cory Withrow go his merry way. Withrow is simply not big enough to play in the NFL; I couldn’t count how many times I watched him get jerked into the backfield at the snap by a defensive tackle. Running back Moe Williams, our only back who knows how to properly pick up a blits, will probably retire. Quarterback Shaun Hill? Who cares? Let him go, if he wants.

Who We Must Sign

First and foremost: Wide receiver and return man, Koren Robinson. That’s a no-brainer: He’s the most explosive playmaking wide receiver we’ve got on the roster. Give him a five year deal.

Unless we’re going to go after a rock star, experienced middle linebacker, and I doubt there are any to be had, re-sign MLB Sam Cowart to quarterback the defense. Likewise, Keith Newman was our best linebacker and, if we try and find another starting linebacker in free agency or the draft, his play would only get better.

Melvin Fowler is necessary because we have no idea how healthy Matt Birk will be when he returns and if last season proved anything, we need a viable backup at center. Fowler may want to be a starter, though.

We also must sign kicker Paul Edinger. Even though he was inconsistent with no-pressure kicks, he excelled at the clutch kick. We finally solved our kicking problems last year; let’s not go through that again.

Who Would Be Nice, But Not Essential, To Keep

Cornerback Brian Williams has proven himself to be a stellar defensive back. That will likely land him a big paycheck in free agency and that is why, of all the Vikings free agents, he’s the one I’m most pesimistic about retaining. Fred Smoot did not deliver this year and it remains to be seen if he’s the shutdown corner we thought he was. Williams wants to be a starter, so why not sign him, tell him he’ll be the starter, and if he falters, you’ve got Smoot to step right in. I doubt it will happen, but it would be fantastic to keep Williams on the roster.

That’s why if we lose Williams, we should sign Ralph Brown, who seems to have figured it our this year. He’s a vastly improved player from last season who could probably fill the nickle role very well. He also will not command as much free agency attention as Williams. If we lose both Williams and Brown, we at least can be consoled with the thought that rookie cornerback seems to be the real thing.

It sounds like defensive end Lance Johnstone would like to come back. He’s getting older, so he might not command much attention from other teams and he probably wouldn’t be too pricey, so why not re-sign him? The guy consistently puts up double digit sack totals in his limited role.

Raonall Smith is a three-year veteran who finally stayed healthy enough to show what he could do; he’s a fast guy who played well this season. But he’s another player who may not draw much interest because he’s been injured too often and has only one season of work to show. He could be re-signed cheaply. The same goes for safety Willie Offord, who was injured again this season but also looks like he’s figured out how to play.

Guard Toniu Fonoti is probably worth an investment even though he’s got some injury questions. But the guy is huge and we could use that on the interior line.

Conventional wisdom has it that this was Michael Bennett‘s last season in purple, but I’m not so sure. One of the most encouraging things that Childress has said so far is that it all starts up front, on both sides of the ball. That means he will put a heavy emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines. If Childress improves the Vikings O-line (and he could draw unrestricted free agent offensive tackle away from the Eagles), that could help Bennett become the dangerous back he once had been.

Because of Bennett’s injuries and his lacklusterr play the past several years, he, too, may see limited interest in the free agency market. Bennett is not the type of back who is shifty enough to outmaneuver defenders and he doesn’t break many tackles in traffic. But put him behind a mammoth, athletic offensive line that gets him past the initial traffic where he can cut past a linebacker and make a move on or outrun the safety, and he’s back the the Michael Bennett of 2002.

2006 Minnesota Vikings Free Agents