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Spielman on 3 Trends of 2017 Free Agency

Posted Mar 17, 2017

Running back Latavius Murray became the newest Viking in the wee hours of Thursday morning, nearly a week after the opening of free agency.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spoke with reporters that afternoon during a conference call to talk about the signing of Murray from Oakland and the fact that the Vikings do not plan to re-sign Adrian Peterson.

Here are three trends of 2017 free agency that Spielman described:

1. Quick first-steps

Each year the Vikings evaluate their own players who are scheduled to become free agents, players from other teams in the same boat and the incoming group of draft-eligible players. The simultaneous process is designed to answer which source (free agency or draft) will best fill needs.

Spielman said a general consensus throughout the NFL that the draft pool isn’t overflowing with top-notch prospects at tackle accelerated the speed with which teams approached pending free agents, beginning with the two-day negotiating period that started March 7.

“A lot of times in that negotiating period between Tuesday and Wednesday,” Spielman said, “you have an idea of which positions are going to go flying off right away and some positions that you’re going to keep in contact with their agents but you have a sense of when that market is going to start to take off.

“I knew for sure that the offensive tackle market was definitely going to take off early by the limited amount of maybe the top tackles that were out there and how many teams needed offensive tackles,” Spielman continued. “Also, you try to weigh-in, teams are all weighing-in, ‘If I don’t get one of these tackles, am I going to be able to fill that need in the draft?’ I don’t think it’s a great draft class for offensive tackle, so you know and anticipate that you’re going to have to come up strong out of the gate at that particular position.

The Vikings announced the signing of former Detroit Lion Riley Reiff and Carolina Panther Mike Remmers last Friday before turning their attention elsewhere.

“Riley Reiff, we started negotiating with him on Tuesday and pretty much had a deal in place relatively early in the process,” Spielman said. “Even once those top tackles, four or five went off the board, when we were in the Remmers deal, there were four or five teams at that time because the tackle market went so quickly, [we were] trying to get him to not get on a plane. It’s very competitive out there. The money does get crazy out there, but it’s all supply and demand and how are you going to be able to fill your needs. Are you going to have to do it in free agency, or are you going to be able to do it in the draft?”

2. The rise of ‘prove-it’ deals?

The next move the Vikings made in free agency was signing Datone Jones this week to a one-year deal after he finished the four seasons on his rookie deal with the Packers. Jones told reporters he’s optimistic that he can reach maximum potential under the guidance of Vikings defensive coaches.

Other players across the league have signed one-year deals this season, banking on parlaying 2017 production into longer deals.

Tom Johnson is a recent example of a player who signed a one-year deal with Minnesota in 2014 and posted a career-high 6.5 sacks. Johnson’s work ethic and results were rewarded with a multiyear contract extension from the Vikings.

As for more recently, Spielman said:

“What you’re seeing out there is if they think their market’s going to be — if they don’t think that they’re going to get the market that they thought they were going to get at the beginning — I know this is becoming an alternative, to do the one-year deals which are kind of like, a little bit of prove-it deals. You come in, have a great year, and then maybe the following year, you’re able to cash-in on a significant deal.”

3. Teams can’t keep everyone

Building an entire roster through free agency is cost prohibitive, even with the rising salary cap. Spielman has a history of retaining draft picks through contract extensions, often before the current contracts expire. He and the Vikings plan to take a similar approach with 2013 first-rounder Xavier Rhodes, who is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal—an optional year that was exercised by the Vikings.

Teams aren’t able to keep everyone, and several players who were with the Vikings for the past several years have signed deals with new teams for 2017. Check out the Vikings free agency tracker for an update of the moves.

“There are very tough decisions we make as we go through this,” Spielman said. “You put a plan in place before free agency starts and have some players that you are targeting and trying to fill your needs with.

“I know it’s very difficult when some of your players leave here, but they’re not going to fit financially into the plan that you have moving forward,” Spielman added. “I’ve been able to contact all of those players that have gone on, thank them for not only what they did on the field but what they did for us off the field while they were with our organization. I wish nothing but the best for them and their families as they move forward in their careers. All of them, for the most part, have responded back.”

Spielman said the departing players did not catch the Vikings “off-guard.”

“We knew some of the areas we had to target, starting into free agency. We knew that some of the players that did go elsewhere, we were not going to be able to keep,” Spielman said. “You can’t keep everybody, and you’re doing the best you can to try to fill the biggest gaps you have on your football team at this point. I know we were very aggressive on identifying the needs and what we had to do in free agency to fill those needs. We still have other needs that have to be filled, and if we don’t finish that in free agency, then we will definitely address those needs in the draft.”

Shout out to staff

The Vikings prep work was extensive before free agency and the NFL Scouting Combine and will continue in the lead up to the draft next month. The negotiations with Murray that extended from Wednesday into early Thursday morning are just one example of extended hours in the offseason.

“I want to thank all of our scouts and coaches for all they’ve put into this part of the process thus far,” Spielman said. “Working extremely hard right now on getting prepared for the draft, so we’re out there right now at a lot of pro days and doing a lot of film study to get ready for April. I’d also like to thank [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski and [Director of Football Administration] Anne Doepner for all of the work they’ve done on these contracts so far. It’s a very tedious process, but they’ve done a great job of navigating us in terms of what we can do from a cap standpoint and how we move forward.”