Behind Enemy Lines: Minnesota Vikings

RB Adrian Peterson (Hunter Martin/Getty)

The Vikings are full of question marks as they prepare for the potential start of free agency. How should the Vikings handle Christian Ponder and their offensive line? What about the contracts of some of their free agents and Adrian Peterson? Writers from the other three NFC cities answered those questions and more in the pre-camp version of Behind Enemy Lines.

Free agents


Based on the assumption that players with four-plus years of experience will be unrestricted and players with three years will be restricted.

Unrestricted: WR Sidney Rice, DE Ray Edwards, DT Pat Williams, K Ryan Longwell, LB Ben Leber, QB Tarvaris Jackson, OL Ryan Cook, DT Fred Evans, CB Frank Walker, FB Naufahu Tahi, WR Greg Lewis, CB Lito Sheppard, S Eric Frampton, WR Hank Baskett, QB Patrick Ramsey.

Restricted: S Husain Abdullah, LB Erin Henderson.

Transactions

Franchise player: LB Chad Greenway (re-signed).
Transition player: None.
Players re-signed: Chad Greenway: Franchise tag, estimate $10 million/1 yr.; WR Jaymar Johnson: Potential ERFA; $405,000/1 yr.; DE Brian Robison: Potential RFA; $14.1M/3 yrs, $6.5M guaranteed.
Players acquired: WR Emmanuel Arceneaux: FA British Columbia-CFL, terms unknown; DE Adriam Awasom: FA Las Vegas Locomotives-UFL, terms unknown.
Players lost: QB Brett Favre (retired).


Five burning questions

As asked by VikingUpdate.com's Tim Yotter and answered by PackerReport.com's Bill Huber, BearReport.com's Jeremy Stoltz and RoarReport.com's Nate Caminata.

The Vikings moved away from Brett Favre and drafted Christian Ponder. Is finding a veteran to possibly start in the short term the right move for the Vikings or do they just need to commit to Ponder or Joe Webb and endure the associated growing pains?

Huber: Normally, I'd say forget about a veteran and just let the young guy get his feet wet. In this case, though, the Vikings would be wise to bring in someone to take his lumps behind a suspect line. Given Ponder's injury history at Florida State, I wouldn't put him in the game until that line gets straightened out. Otherwise, it might be David Carr, Version 2.0.

Stoltz: It would make a lot of sense to bring in a veteran to start in the short term, even if it's only for the first half of next season. Throwing Ponder, or any rookie, directly into the fire can result in some wicked growing pains for the team. With an offense that has as much firepower as Minnesota's, getting a veteran to hold down the fort for a brief stint, while Ponder learns from the sidelines, would be the right move.

Caminata: I think growing pains are inevitable in Minnesota this year, but the best friend of any young quarterback is a running game. Provided the offensive line can do its job, Adrian Peterson will help lighten the load tremendously for whomever is behind center. With that said, I don't think the addition of a veteran quarterback to help breed competition during training camp is a bad thing. Well, as long as it's not Brett Favre, anyway.

The Lions and Packers drafted their current starting quarterback in the first round while the Bears got a former first-rounder via trade. What are the pitfalls and the keys to success you've seen firsthand from your individual teams in quarterback transition they've made over the last three years?

Huber: Interesting follow-up in light of your first question. Aaron Rodgers got to wait for three seasons behind Brett Favre before taking over the Packers. By the time Rodgers was the starter, he was supremely prepared mentally (grasp of offense and what it takes to be successful) and physically (much stronger arm than when he arrived in Green Bay).

Stoltz: The Bears have had a particularly hard time integrating Jay Cutler due to the team switching offensive coordinators last year. Mike Martz runs a very complicated system that takes more than one season to fully grasp. If the coaching carousel continues after this year, Cutler may never reach his potential.

Caminata: I'm not sure there's any proven method, other than making sure the situation is as stable as possible (see: Adrian Peterson in the backfield). Matthew Stafford was turning heads well before his first training camp, and the foundation of a fledgling but opportunistic franchise was already present. That, along with a dude named Calvin Johnson, helped things. You need a quarterback that is mentally strong and physically ready, but most of all, placed into an atmosphere that caters to the learning curve. Joey Harrington and David Carr among others are examples of QBs that weren't given that rope, and the franchise suffered as a result.

Adrian Peterson is likely the best running back of the last four years, but his violent running style has some thinking he will wear down in a few years. With his contract up after 2011, would you break the bank on an extension and make him the richest running back of all-time?


The Vikings could look to restructure's Adrian Peterson's contract.
Scott Boehm/Getty
Huber: Absolutely. Not only do you get the upside of keeping Peterson, but you bring down his $11 million cap charge in the process. That's a win-win. The line between winning and losing is so small, a guy like Peterson mixed with a team with a new outlook on life with coach Leslie Frazier, could rebound quickly.

Stoltz: Peterson has earned that contract. He's a violent runner, but he takes great care of his body. He's only 26, and most rushers don't begin declining until they're 30. I don't foresee him wearing down any sooner than a typical running back.

Caminata: No. Rare is the bruising running back that can sustain much more than Peterson has already endured. Although it's vital to the purple-clad bunch that Peterson assist whomever is behind center in 2011, to suggest he's any kind of long-term solution isn't sensible. Beyond 2011, Peterson might have another solid season before the tread on the tires become visible, if they aren't already. Peterson isn't super human, which means his shelf-life is already overextended. And although it's been fun watching what might be the last of the every-down power running backs, he'll soon be relegated to a situational role – and that doesn't warrant breaking the bank.

Before last year, the Vikings had a first- or second-ranked run defense in the league. Last year, they fell to ninth. Should they re-sign free agents Pat Williams and Ray Edwards?

Ray Edwards is one of the Vikings' key free agents.
Chris McGrath/Getty
Huber: Yes, but it comes down to money. If there's enough money to re-sign them both — a new deal with Peterson would help — then you've got some key players in place on defense. A good defense and a powerful running game is a quarterback's best friend.

Stoltz: It's time to move on from both players. Williams is 38 and is facing a suspension. Edwards is more valuable as a pass rusher and has benefited greatly playing on the same line as Jared Allen. As such, his asking price will be exorbitant. Additionally, neither player seems eager to return to Minnesota.

Caminata: The problem will be money, and whether or not the Vikings can match other top spenders. Williams and Edwards will command attention on the market, and usually there's a team that overspends. At what point do you consider rebuilding? The idea is award future success with a contract, not reward past accomplishments. If the Vikings have the depth and youth to develop, they should only retain one, or both if the price is right.

Some believe Steve Hutchinson's skills are declining (he's also battled injury the last two years) and that Bryant McKinnie never has been that good. What is your impression of the left side of the Vikings' offensive line?

Huber: They're the reason why Ponder shouldn't touch the field this season. How many young quarterbacks have been ruined by bad pass protection? If the line isn't great and the quarterback is struggling to get through his reads against an infinitely higher level of competition, then he's going to get pounded into a pulp. Let Ponder learn as the Vikings rebuild a line capable of giving him a fair shot at success.

Stoltz: Hutchinson is still a quality player. He missed five games in 2010, yet he hadn't missed any time due to injury since 2002. He may not be the All-Pro he was in Seattle, but he's still far better than all but a handful of guards in the league. McKinnie may also be on the downswing of his career but his experience in the Vikings' system will make him a valuable commodity to the team for at least a few more years.

Caminata: You have two players in their 30s anchoring one side of the line, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it should be addressed; they had a great run, however. I think the duo has at least one more solid year, especially with the franchise getting younger at quarterback. It will be interesting to see how this develops through training camp, and whether or not Hutchinson can respond to his nagging injuries.

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