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What do you think the chances are that the Vikings address the middle linebacker position in free agency? I think Mason Foster, Brandon Spikes, and Nate Irving would all be awesome additions in commanding the middle of our defense. -- Tanner W. Mitchell, SD
Given that last year's starter at base middle linebacker – Jasper Brinkley – is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in a little over a week, I would say the chances are very good that the Vikings address this position at some point in free agency. It could be re-signing Brinkley, or it could be signing another unrestricted free agent. Another name scheduled to hit the market that will be interesting to watch is Rey Maualuga, who played the first six seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, including five seasons with Mike Zimmer as his defensive coordinator.
Do you think it's a good idea to sign AJ Hawk considering his skill and our need at the linebacker position? And do you think he would fit well with the team? -- Gavin Freeman
I'm sure Hawk would fit well with the team because after watching the Vikings battle him the past nine seasons I think he's competitive, hard-nosed and intelligent, and those are traits Zimmer covets in all of his players. But he's also 31 years old and he plays a position where I feel the Vikings would like to add young players with ascending career arcs. I'm not ruling it out, but my sense at this point of the offseason is the Vikings may consider other options before they take a hard look at signing Hawk.
With the Vikings recently releasing LG Charlie Johnson, do you see us trying to sign a free agent or do you think the team is going to draft one to compete with David Yankey? -- Chris Ladd
How about both? Given how many linemen a team needs to bring to training camp and given how many injuries the Vikings had to deal with last season along the line, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings utilize both free agency and the draft to bulk up the competition for depth at each of the five starting positions along with trying to find a new starter at left guard.
If you're the Vikings, what route do you think is best for the team if the top options are available at each of the following positions: WR, OL, LB, and CB? I think OL and defense should be our top priority. Charles Johnson was a nice surprise and it's too early to give up on Patterson. Either way Zimmer has this team going in the right direction. -- Preston Sioux Falls, SD
I love draft talk and I even love thinking about hypothetical scenarios, but we can't author draft opinions very well without first knowing what the team does in free agency. Take a look back at the first two questions in this mailbag, for example. How the team handles those issues is going to tell us a lot about how the team is going to handle the draft. More specifically, if the Vikings go out and sign a high-priced player at either middle linebacker or left guard, then we can feel a little bit better about the fact that they will not address those positions with No. 11. There is a time and a place for these hypothetical draft questions, but it's not right now because we need to see what happens in free agency first. Free agency begins on March 10.
How do you feel about Linval Joseph's play this year and do you think we need to upgrade the position? -- Rob Abrahamson West Coast Viking
Joseph was a good addition to the Vikings defense and is a big reason I feel the defensive line is the strength and is the deepest part of the roster heading into the offseason. Joseph played nose tackle in Zimmer's scheme and the stat most associated with the performance of a nose tackle is run defense. The Vikings ranked just 25th against the run, surrendering 121.4 rushing yards per game. But I don't feel that is the best way to analyze a nose tackle's play because defending the run is not the job of just one player. Also, Joseph was tied for fourth on the team in tackles for loss with seven and he also had 3.0 sacks, showing that he can be productive on all three downs if needed.
With that said, I'm never against adding more talent to a position and even if you agree that Joseph played well in 2014, there is nothing wrong with adding some depth behind Joseph for 2015 and beyond. A few potential free agents to keep an eye on beginning March 10 include Terrence Cody, Kenrick Ellis, Terrance Knighton, Ahtyba Rubin, Kevin Vickerson and Dan Williams.
Do you see the Vikings benefiting from playing five preseason games, or could this mean more injuries for the team? -- Miguel Munoz El Paso, TX
An extra preseason game does increase the exposure to injury, but I feel that drawback pales in comparison to the benefit the Vikings coaches and scouts will derive from having an extra game in which to evaluate the 90-man roster as they attempt to whittle it down to just 53. Players can be evaluated in training camp practices, but a game provides a better test. You want bright lights players – players who perform their best under the lights and in a game. Having an extra game provides the team's decision makers with another opportunity to find those players.