- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's probably somewhat appropriate that Toby Gerhart's departure from the Minnesota Vikings came in relative obscurity, in the form of a three-year, $10.5 million deal the running back signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars last Tuesday while the Vikings were busy landing New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Gerhart toiled behind Adrian Peterson for four seasons in Minnesota, and it became obvious last season that he was itching for a bigger role somewhere else.
His exit, though, is not insignificant. Gerhart saw time as the Vikings' third-down back the last several seasons, as the team was more comfortable using him as a pass-blocker than Peterson, and he stood out in two games toward the end of last season, as Peterson was either injured or hurting to the point the Vikings decided it would be wise to use both backs. Gerhart gained 91 yards on eight carries in the Vikings' Nov. 24 tie with the Green Bay Packers, and posted 89 yards on 15 carries in a Dec. 8 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, when he strained his hamstring on a 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that turned out to be his last carry in a Vikings uniform.
While Gerhart likely would have never gotten the role he'd hoped for in Minnesota, he might have carved out a bigger role in the Vikings' offense next season. Peterson turns 29 on Friday and the Vikings could entertain the idea of dropping his workload slightly, with hopes of keeping him fresh and healthy. Matt Asiata, who saw 44 carries in the Vikings' final two home games with Peterson and Gerhart out, seems like the top candidate to slide into the No. 2 running back role at the moment. The exclusive rights free agent signed a one-year, $570,000 deal with the Vikings at the beginning of the month, and his agent, Ken Vierra, was optimistic about Asiata's prospects for 2014. The 5-foot-11, 229-pound back is built similarly to Gerhart and could be useful for some of the dirty work Gerhart was doing in Minnesota.
General manager Rick Spielman said last Friday the Vikings would look at running backs on the free-agent market and in the draft, too, and it might make sense for them to add another running back to the roster at some point. They still have practice-squad member Joe Banyard, and they re-signed training camp favorite Bradley Randle to the practice squad at the end of last season. Both could be effective in the passing game, where new offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to use his running backs more, and Randle, who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at Nevada's pro day last year, could be especially interesting as a change of pace. If the Vikings don't address the position from the outside, they might have a couple viable options already in their building.
They'll need to replenish their depth at running back on their active roster, though. Gerhart gave them a nice insurance policy for Peterson, and with the franchise player entering his eighth season in the league, a backup plan might be more vital than ever.