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Monday Morning Mailbag: A Big Free Agent Splash?

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Do you believe we will make at least one major splash in free agency? -- Chris Fowler, CA

It depends what your definition of a splash is. Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman and Tom Johnson weren't considered "splashy" free agent signings over the last two years, but all four of made a profound impact on the team. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings add a player or two who wind up making that kind of impact in 2016 and beyond, but I would be surprised to see the Vikings go on a spending splurge that has the media crowning them the winners of free agency. Usually, teams who make big headlines in free agency aren't winning big games in December and January.

I've read many times about the "take the best player available" theory. So does that mean if the best player available to us is another LB with a similar playing style as Anthony Barr that we would go after that player? Despite having issues with pass protection, for example? Can you help me understand why the "best player available" theory is better than filling needs? -- Arvind St Louis

Although many dismiss it as cliché, the best player available philosophy is indeed what teams employ the vast majority of the time they select a player. I believe the disconnect between outsiders and those making decisions for teams manifests itself with the draft board. A draft board is not a vertical list of players numbered 1-350 (or however many prospects are eligible). A draft board is built horizontally, and more times than not there are multiple players with the same grade. Groups of players who've been given the same grade are called clusters, and players within those clusters may play the same position or there may be several at different positions. Players are ordered by way of priority within those clusters based on a number of factors and that order can even change once the draft starts based on depth of certain positions. Very often it happens where a team is on the clock and the highest graded player is actually a cluster of players and there are multiple positions within that cluster. At that point, you take a look at those players with the same grade and you factor in positional need, depth at that position relative to others in the draft, and many other factors. When you choose a player within that cluster, you are taking a player with the best available grade. The best player available philosophy stands the test of time because it leads to a quality player being selected rather than a player who may not be as good but he plays a position that has been identified as a need to he gets the nod anyway. What a team doesn't want to do is pass on a guy who goes on to be an All-Pro at one position in favor of a player who turns out to be just an average talent but he played a position of need at the time. Needs change very quickly in this League, but what doesn't change is that having as many good players on your roster, regardless of need, helps your team win games.

Cody Whitehair received some pre-Combine buzz. But he only did 16 reps on the bench press. Isn't this a major red flag? Would you consider Ryan Kelly or Nick Martin as swing players who can play either center or guard? Mike Gulbranson San Antonio, TX

Ideally, you'd like to see a highly-regarded prospect along the offensive line put up more than 16 reps on the bench press, but that is one test at one event in what is a three-year evaluation process of a player. Whatever my opinion is of a player coming into the Combine, that opinion will remain virtually the same regardless of what happens with one on-field drill. The low rep total in the bench press may cause some to go back and double check their tape study, but I'm guessing another look at the tape will only fortify the original opinion of Whitehair.

As for Kelly and Martin, there is no mention of Kelly being able to kick out to guard in his NFL.com scouting profile. But Martin's profile does mention that he has position flexibility. It specifically states that for most of 2013 and all of 2015, Martin started at C and that he started 10 games at LG in 2014 and three games at C that year, as well.

A lot of people think it's best to try to get two picks in the 1st round to get the premier, top-shelf players. Is it a viable option instead, with us at a late pick in the 1st round, to try to get a high draft pick in the 2nd round? -- Mitch Friesenborg

With Rick Spielman, you never rule anything out. He has a reputation for moving up to get a guy he loves and for being willing to move back in order to acquire more picks and still get a talented player. The issue with getting to the top of the 2nd round for the Vikings is that they hold the 23rd pick of the 2nd round, which is the 55th pick overall. Getting from No. 55 to, say, the fifth pick of the 2nd round will require a lot of capital. According to this draft pick value/trade chart, it would cost the Vikings the equivalent of their 3rd- and 4th-round picks to convert their 2nd-round pick (No. 55) to pick No. 35. Some players are special enough to warrant that kind of sacrifice, but you need to make sure that's the kind of player you're getting before you give up that kind of compensation.

What do you think is a reasonable expectation for the number of new players who can make a significant impact in 2016 (either as starters or key reserves)?  -- Mark Brown Annapolis, MD

Once all is said and done, and the 53-man roster is set in September, I'd say there are roughly 8-10 players on a team who are new since the end of the previous season. Some years for some teams it could be more like 12-14, but then other years for some teams it may be down to six or seven. Out of those 8-10 new players, the number who make a significant impact in that next season likely varies from two-to-three or maybe as many as five or six. It seems the Vikings have been a bit above average of late, but that could be because they hired a new coach in 2014 and often times a new coach brings about a lot turnover on the roster. Coming up in the next few years, it'd be great to see the Vikings have continued success on their personnel decisions, which would eventually push the Vikings number down in this regard.

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