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Monday Morning Mailbag: Free Agent Frenzy

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I am hearing that WR Percy Harvin might become a free agent. Is there a possibility that he might come back to Minnesota? -- Dariusz James Georgia

The Jets agreed to acquire WR Brandon Marshall in a trade with the Chicago Bears, and news of that potential deal has set off speculation that Harvin's days in New York are numbered. As of this posting, Harvin was still property of the Jets, so this question is moot. If he does become available, though, many Vikings fans will wonder about a potential return. While that would be a juicy offseason storyline, my sense is it's not one that will come to fruition. But, I could be wrong (again).

What's the strength of this year's free agent class and who are some players in particular you feel would be good fits for the Vikings? -- Eric H. Apple Valley, MN

For team's who have some cap space, I feel pass rushers who come off the edge are abundant in this year's free agent class. Guys such as Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Greg Hardy, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo and Jason Worilds should be appealing to teams who have cash to spend and have a need for edge rushers. For teams looking to find bargains, I can see the RB and LB classes softening up, with RBs such as Knowshon Moreno, Stevan Ridley and CJ Spiller and LBs such as Akeem Ayers, Bruce Carter and Mason Foster all potential value plays.

As for the Vikings, it would be interesting to see them land a deep threat at WR (Torrey Smith), a LB to compete for the starting job in the middle (Mason Foster), depth along the DL (Karl Klug) and OL (Justin Blalock) and maybe a CB (Patrick Robinson) to add to the depth chart.

When I play Madden, one player I target for trade or free agency is Mike Iupati, the guard for San Francisco. Do you think the Vikings will go after him in free agency? I've read a few reports saying he'll be on the market, though I find it hard to believe SF would let him go. -- Thomas Cahill

It's safe to assume Iupati is atop a lot of teams' offensive guard boards, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Vikings had him rated that high. I particularly like him in the run game, and having him bridge the gap between LT Matt Kalil and C John Sullivan would give the Vikings a solid left side of the line. But I'm guessing the price tag associated with Iupati will be too prohibitive for the Vikings taste. It has worked for the Vikings to sign a high-priced guard in free agency in the past (Steve Hutchinson), but that may not be the route the Vikings choose to take this time given the need to address other areas of the roster.

With Matt Cassel gone, who will be the backup quarterback? Will we trade Christian Ponder? -- Carter Stromberg Roseville, MN

The Vikings will not trade Ponder because his contract will expire and he will become a free agent on Tuesday; you cannot trade players until Tuesday and you cannot trade players who are not under contract to you, so the Vikings cannot trade Ponder. As for whom the backup will be, I think the Vikings have several options. Two names that come to mind immediately are guys who have a past with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner – Shaun Hill and Brian Hoyer. I'd guess Hoyer will look for a starting job in free agency, which would likely lead him away from the Vikings, but Hill is a more likely to accept a backup role.

How do you think the Vikings will separate positions they will address in free agency and what they will address in the draft? --Zach Chaudhry Minneapolis, MN

The first part of the process is to assess the strengths of each pool of players. If the Vikings feel there is not great talent at certain positions in the draft, they may be more likely to focus on those positions in free agency, and vice versa. The draft is a much more economical way to acquire talent and the chances for success with a player are greater in the draft, but sometimes it's prudent to move on a free agent. A lot of times, free agency is a place to acquire depth and role players. But sometimes you come across a player with unique traits who happens to be a scheme fit, and those are the times you break the bank for a guy. Those instances are few and far between. Typically, the good players don't become free agents because their teams re-sign them before they hit the open market. There are exceptions to this every year, of course, but for the most part there is a lot of fool's gold in free agency.

With DT Henry Melton being such a focus of the Vikings during last year's free agency, and the Cowboys currently letting Melton back into the market by passing on picking up his option, what are the chances that we will take another run at the big DT? -- Chuck Richmond

Up until the weekend I would've pointed to Melton as a player to watch for the Vikings. But on Sunday, USA Today's Tom Pelissero passed along word that the Vikings and DT had agreed to a three-year deal. If that report turns out to be true, I would guess the Vikings will turn reluctant to offer Melton the kind of money it would require to secure his services. Melton would increase the talent level along the Vikings defensive line, but with both starting DTs set to come back and with Johnson (reportedly) and youngster Shamar Stephen also in the fold, the Vikings can move on to addressing other parts of the roster.

Do the Vikings have a chance of picking up Michael Crabtree? -- Tyler Bashant

Presuming he becomes a free agent on Tuesday, yes Crabtree could be pursued by the Vikings. There are a couple free agents I would value ahead of him (Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith) and there could be other WRs cut from teams who would vault ahead of Crabtree, but in a general sense I think Crabtree would be a solid addition for a Vikings WR depth chart that is pretty good but will likely be improved somehow over the offseason.

I saw that the Vikings are interested signing AJ Hawk, but wouldn't we want to fill our middle linebacker spot with someone in the draft or at least someone younger in the free agent market? -- JoVon

What you saw was a media report that the Vikings were interested in Hawk, not a statement from the Vikings about their interest in the former Packers LB. Remember, reports you hear this time of year aren't always accurate. Sometimes agents will fabricate interest in their client to increase leverage and sometimes teams will fabricate interest in a certain player to increase their leverage in negotiations with a different free agent target. Either way, I think Hawk could be an answer at middle linebacker for the Vikings if a few other options don't pan out first, but my sense is also that the Vikings may want to address that spot with a draft pick or a younger free agent.

Do you think we should sign S Tyvon Branch during free agency? If he stayed healthy I think he could add to our defense playing alongside Harrison Smith. -- David Meyer

I wouldn't be opposed to signing Branch, but I don't know that he's a guy the Vikings would pursue in the first few weeks of free agency. It's not that I don't think he's good enough, I just see him as a guy the Vikings could fall back on – presuming he's still available – if their primary plan at safety falls through. Branch is talent, no question, but he missed 13 games last season with a broken foot and 14 games the season before with a broken bone in his leg, so that is working against any possible Vikings-Branch union, as well.

With all of the great young players on our team and a respected coach like Mike Zimmer leading the way, do you expect free agent players to line up to play for the Vikings more so than they've done in the past? -- Brian Nock

First things first – in the vast majority of free agent cases, it's about the money. Players, rightfully so, are going to play where they are made to feel the most wanted (i.e. offered the most money). With that being said, I do sense the Vikings are becoming more of an organization and a team that attracts free agents who previously may have lost interest in playing for the organization for whatever the reason. That is a great quality about Zimmer and it's also a byproduct of having a young, franchise quarterback in whom many people believe.

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