By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings players, coaching staff and fans are thinking about the playoffs, but the scouting department is always thinking about the offseason.
The Vikings have 14 players set to free agents this offseason; 10 unrestricted, two restricted and two exclusive rights restricted free agents.
The three biggest need areas of upgrade for the Vikings are wide receiver, offensive line and cornerback.
Getting a big play receiver with size should be priority No. 1. Jerome Simpson was supposed to solve the problem this season, but he has been hurt and inconsistent. He was signed to a one-year contract and given the depth of returning No. 2, 3 and 4 wide receivers on the roster, he may not be back. Simpson and Devin Aromashodu are scheduled to be free agents this offseason. Greg Childs, a fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, should be healthy. He is the big body the group needs, but given his history of knee problems, he needs to prove he can be fast and explosive.
Percy Harvin may be the most dynamic and explosive player on the Vikings’ roster, but he needs help. Michael Jenkins is a big body, but lacks the ability to separate from defensive backs. The jury is still out on Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright.
Notable Potential Free Agents: Danny Amendola (Rams), Donnie Avery (Colts), Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Josh Cribbs (Browns), Donald Driver (Packers), Brian Hartline (Dolphins), Devery Henderson (Saints), Greg Jennings (Packers), Johnny Knox (Bears), Mohamed Massaquoi (Browns), Randy Moss (49ers), Kevin Ogletree (Cowboys), Mike Wallace (Steelers), Wes Welker (Patriots)
Top Draft Eligible Collegians: Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin), Keenan Allen (California), Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Stedman Bailey (West Virginia), Josh Boyce (TCU), DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee), Da’Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech), Terrance Williams (Baylor), Marquess Wilson (Washington State), Robert Woods (USC)
The top offensive linemen – Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson and John Sullivan – all will be back next season. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is in the final year of his rookie contract. Right guard Brandon Fusco is still learning as a starter. The only reserves under contract for next season are Mark Asper and Demarcus Love, but neither of them has been active this season. Asper has been a healthy scratch and Love has been on injured reserve all season.
The only reserves to see action this season are Geoff Schwartz and Joe Berger, both veterans who will be free agents this offseason. The Vikings may look to upgrade or at the very least create competition for the starting spots at right guard and tackle.
Notable Potential Free Agents: Branden Albert (Chiefs), Sam Baker (Falcons), Eben Britton (Jaguars), Jermon Bushrod (Saints), Gosder Cherilus (Lions), Ryan Clady (Broncos), Leonard Davis (49ers), Jeff Faine (Bengals), Ryan Harris (Texans), Winston Justice (Colts), Dan Koppen (Broncos), Andy Levitre (Bills), Ryan Lilja (Chiefs), Jake Long (Dolphins), Todd McClure (Falcons), Bryant McKinnie (Ravens), Brad Meester (Jaguars), Andre Smith (Bengals), Jason Smith (Jets), Chris Spencer (Bears), Max Starks (Steelers), Jeremy Trueblood (Buccaneers)
Top Draft Eligible Collegians: Oday Aboushi (Virginia), David Bakhtiari (Colorado), Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina), Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), D.J. Fluker (Alabama), Khaled Holmes (USC), Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), Barrett Jones (Alabama), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Justin Pugh (Syracuse), Dallas Thomas (Tennessee), Ricky Wagner (Wisconsin), Chance Warmack (Alabama), Brennan Williams (North Carolina)
Last season, the cornerback spot was a big priority. The Vikings drafted Josh Robinson in the third round last year. He is still developing. Chris Cook took a step forward at the beginning of the year, but his injury shows the need to add more depth at the position. A.J. Jefferson, who was acquired just before the season began, has size, but remains inconsistent. He is a restricted free agent. The other free agent among the group is Marcus Sherels. He is an exclusive rights player. Sherels has played sparingly in the secondary playing almost exclusively as a kick and punt returner.
Antoine Winfield is still the best player in the group. He is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season. The other cornerbacks on the roster are 2011 draft pick Brandon Burton, who has played four games and done very little this season, and Nick Taylor, who was been on injured reserve all season.
Top Potential Free Agents: Ronald Bartell (Raiders), Sheldon Brown (Browns), Antoine Cason (Chargers), Cedric Griffin (Redskins), Brent Grimes (Falcons), Kelvin Hayden (Bears), Chris Houston (Lions), Quentin Jammer (Chargers), Mike Jenkins (Cowboys), Pacman Jones (Bengals), Rashean Mathis (Jaguars), Leodis McKelvin (Bills), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers), Terence Newman (Bengals), Tracy Porter (Broncos), Jerraud Powers (Colts), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles), Sean Smith (Dolphins), Aqib Talib (Patriots), Marcus Trufant (Seahawks)
Top Draft Eligible Collegians: Johnny Adams (Michigan State), David Amerson (North Carolina State), Johnathan Banks (Mississippi State), Dee Milliner (Alabama), Jordan Poyer (Oregon State), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), Desmond Trufant (Washington), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut)
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.