Minnesota Vikings: 2014 NFL free agency

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings offered former Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman a contract after meeting with the free agent on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a league source, but Coleman is still weighing his options.

The Vikings confirmed Coleman's free-agent visit on Friday morning, which meant the safety had left the facility without a contract.

Coleman had met with several teams, and arrived in the Twin Cities on Wednesday to begin his visit with the Vikings. However, the contract offer wasn't enough to get him to pull the trigger on a deal on Friday. The Vikings and Coleman could still circle back to one another and come to an agreement at some point.

The former seventh-round pick started 27 games between 2011 and 2012 for the Eagles, but was bumped out of a starting job last season. If he were to sign with the Vikings at some point, he'd likely come in as a special-teams contributor and a backup at both safety spots, where he'd compete with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo for playing time at one of them.

Kurt Coleman visiting Vikings

April, 10, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman flew to the Twin Cities on Wednesday to begin a free-agent visit with the Minnesota Vikings, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. Coleman will continue his visit with the Vikings on Thursday, and if the Vikings like what they see, they could add Coleman to what already looks like a crowded safety position.

Coleman didn't start in 2013 for the Eagles after making 27 combined starts in 2011 and 2012. He struggled in run support, especially in 2012, missing 15 tackles that season, according to Pro Football Focus. Coleman had two interceptions in 2012, and four in 2011, but mostly played special teams in 2013. He saw his most playing time on defense in the Eagles' 48-30 loss to the Vikings on Dec. 15, playing 27 snaps at safety.

He'd likely come in as a backup safety and a contributor on special teams, but while Harrison Smith likely has one safety spot locked down, Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo can make no such claim at the other spot. Both played well at times last season, but Sanford will be a free agent next spring after taking a pay cut this year, and Sendejo was solely a special-teams player until injuries forced him into the lineup last year. If the Vikings were to sign Coleman -- heading into a training camp where a new coaching staff figures to invite plenty of competition -- it's conceivable he could fight for playing time.

Coleman had visited the Indianapolis Colts last week, but left without signing a contract. Now, he and the Vikings will discuss whether they might make a good match.
Jared Allen and Julius PeppersAP PhotoIt will be interesting to watch Jared Allen and Julius Peppers face their old teams this season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The subplots behind the roster moves -- among teams that have lived on intra-division player hopping over the last five years -- are particularly juicy.

Jared Allen jumps from the Minnesota Vikings to the Chicago Bears, just four days after Julius Peppers emigrates from the Bears to the Green Bay Packers? We sure do love our star-player-faces-his-old-team melodrama up here in NFC North country, and even by the lofty standards of a division that gave us Favre vs. Rodgers in 2009 and the hottest existential question of 2013 (who is Greg Jennings?), this week's game of musical chairs between pass rushers created intrigue. After all, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Jennings never got to hit their former teammates on the field.

But behind the flurry of roster moves lies three teams with distinct defensive problems, and three disparate approaches to solving them. How each strategy pans out could have a large hand in untangling the NFL's most mediocre division a year ago.

The Vikings had lived for years on a defensive line anchored by Allen and tackle Kevin Williams, who were named to 10 Pro Bowls between them in Minnesota. But when that foundation aged, and the arrival of coach Mike Zimmer brought a new approach to the 4-3 defense this winter, the Vikings decided they needed to revitalize the position more than they needed to give Allen a new contract before he turned 32. Instead of retaining Allen, they gave $20 million guaranteed to 26-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen, who has so far delivered production mostly in flashes.

The Packers, decimated by injuries in 2013 and forced to generate much of their pressure by bringing extra rushers, needed a player who could give blockers something to think about other than linebacker Clay Matthews. They gave Peppers a three-year, $30 million deal, with plans to add linebacking duties to the defensive end's resume and hopes that Peppers could learn a new role in a 3-4 defense at age 34.

And the Bears, who couldn't get to the quarterback or stop the run in 2013, let Peppers and Henry Melton walk and pivoted to Allen, giving him a four-year contract worth up to $32 million and crossing their fingers he could be a complete player at age 32 and beyond.

All three strategies carry considerable risk, but all three teams had substantial incentive to make changes. Zimmer's defense called for Vikings linemen who would be stout against the run before chasing quarterbacks, and Allen didn't fit that profile. The Packers and Bears were 30th and 32nd in the league in quarterback pressures, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and both teams were among the league's worst at getting to the quarterback with four pass rushers.

What's more, all three teams have central figures on offense who aren't getting any younger. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson turned 29 earlier this month, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will be 31 in April and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers turns 31 in December. If some of the changes seem rash, it's because keeping the status quo probably carried greater risk.

Still, the moves should command headlines as much because of their boldness as the players they involve. The Vikings, Packers and Bears are all gambling they've got the best way to fix an anemic defense -- the Vikings by reinventing their defense, the Packers by trusting an aging player can reinvent himself and the Bears by believing a veteran pass rusher needs no reinvention. How their respective strategies work could swing the NFC North race in any number of directions next season, which might ultimately be the most compelling outcome of this week's moves.

But next fall, when Peppers is bearing down on Cutler or Allen is trying to corral Peterson? Well, we'll still have fun with that, too.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings added depth to their roster in the form of another free agent on Monday morning, agreeing to terms with former New York Jets guard Vlad Ducasse on a one-year deal, his agent Joe Linta said.

Ducasse started four games for the Jets last season, losing his job after struggling in pass protection at left guard early in the year, but he gives the Vikings another option at guard behind Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco. At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he'll add some size to the Vikings' group of interior linemen, and has historically been more effective as a run-blocker than a pass-blocker.

The Vikings had just over $12 million in cap space left before signing Ducasse. With him, Jeff Baca and Joe Berger under contract, the Vikings should have plenty of interior line depth for next season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Defensive end Corey Wootton, who signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, will get a $400,000 signing bonus as part of his one-year, $1.5 million deal. That signing bonus is the only guaranteed money in Wootton's contract.

The former Chicago Bears lineman will receive a $1 million base salary and a $100,000 workout bonus in addition to the signing bonus, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He can also earn up to $500,000 in incentives, and Wootton, who had 7.5 sacks in 2012, could be a solid addition to the team's group of defensive ends. But while Wootton works his way back from a torn hip labrum, the Vikings have little financial exposure in terms of guaranteed money.

The Vikings have just over $12 million in cap space left after signing Wootton. They remain in the running for former New York Jets guard Vlad Ducasse, who is expected to make his decision between the Vikings and two other teams this week.
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the Minnesota Vikings to add Corey Wootton to their group of defensive ends, giving him a one-year, $1.5 million deal that could reach $2 million with incentives, they had to do some projection -- beyond the hip issues that plagued Wootton for much of the last two seasons -- to what the 26-year-old has shown in flashes when he's healthy.

It showed up in Wootton's first two sacks of the 2012 season, when he surged off his left end spot for the Chicago Bears, beating Indianapolis Colts right tackle Jeff Linkenbach and Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Cameron Bradfield to the outside. Against Linkenbach, Wootton got the outside edge, swam back inside with his long right arm and popped the ball out of Andrew Luck's hand. Against Bradfield, Wootton simply got to the outside, almost beating the snap by a half-second, turned the corner and put his arm in Blaine Gabbert's chest to force a fumble.

Those plays displayed Wootton's best traits -- his wingspan and his sudden first step -- but the second of those two had been missing for most of 2013, thanks to an issue in his hip labrum that had first cropped up in 2012 and worsened last season. Wootton posted 7 1/2 sacks in 2012 and thought the issue had resolved itself when he had time to rest before the year. But when he "tweaked" it again in training camp, he knew he'd been in for a long year.

Wootton finally decided to have surgery in January, after registering just 3 1/2 sacks in 2013 and said he feels "night-and-day better." He hasn't had any of the pain he'd been warned he might experience after surgery, and he expects he'll be able to do some running and cutting by the end of May, with an eye toward being a full participant in Vikings training camp by the end of July.

"I played the [2013] season through it," Wootton said. "At the end of it, I said, 'I'm tired of putting this off.' It's been one of the best decisions I've made. I know a lot of people who hide these things, and all of a sudden, it's, 'Oh, my hip hurts,' and they miss part of the season. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to get my hip right. I can bring a lot to a ballclub."

The decision to have surgery might have dampened Wootton's market heading into free agency, but he'll be added to the Vikings' defensive end rotation, possibly seeing snaps at the left end spot he'd played in Chicago. The 6-foot-6 Wootton gives the Vikings a long, lean defensive end, with a similar build to what Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had in Cincinnati with Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, and while he could shift inside, Wootton said the Vikings told him they'd mostly like to see him at the end position.

However much he plays there, Wootton said he's looking forward to joining a defensive line rotation with Everson Griffen (who was in Wootton's draft class and greeted him during his visit to the Vikings' facility), Brian Robison and Sharrif Floyd. He had also developed a positive impression of Zimmer from the coach's star turn on HBO's 'Hard Knocks' last summer, and said he connected well with the coach during his visit.

"He has a doesn't-take-any-B.S. kind of attitude," Wootton said. "I admire coaches like that. They keep it real with you and try to get the best out of you."

If Wootton's hip is healed, he believes he'll be in a position to give the Vikings his best, in the truest sense of the word, for the first time in two years.

"I think that's what's unique about me, is my get-off, my first step," he said. "I was involved with a couple teams, but I wanted to be in a rotation with young defensive linemen, and that's what Minnesota has. We're looking to put everything together."
MINNEAPOLIS -- It has been fairly clear from the Vikings' early forays into free agency that shoring up the defensive line was among the biggest priorities for new coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen before the start of free agency, gave former New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph a five-year deal on the day the market opened, and on Thursday, they added two more free agents to build the depth of the group.

The second of those two, former Chicago Bears lineman Corey Wootton, signed a one-year deal with the team on Thursday night, his agent Mike McCartney announced on Twitter.

According to a league source, the deal is worth $1.5 million, with incentives that can push it to a maximum of $2 million.

The 26-year-old end is coming off hip surgery, but seems like a solid fit in Zimmer's system; at 6-foot-6 and 271 pounds, he's got a similar lean, long-armed build to Michael Johnson, and has also played defensive tackle for the Bears. He had 7.5 sacks in 2012, starting seven games that season, and gives the Vikings a versatile reserve who's also, at the moment, the tallest defensive end on their roster.

Wootton also is the proprietor of a fairly significant footnote in Vikings -- and NFL -- history. The Vikings will play their next two seasons at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, where they played one game against the Bears after the Metrodome roof collapsed in 2010. Wootton was a rookie that season, and got the first sack of his career that night, on what turned out to be the final play of Brett Favre's career. When Wootton took Favre down, he banged his head on the frozen field, sustaining a concussion that would usher him into retirement.

The Vikings have now signed six free agents from other teams: Wootton, Joseph, former Saints lineman Tom Johnson, Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, Chargers cornerback Derek Cox and Cardinals linebacker Jasper Brinkley (who's returning for his second tour with the Vikings). All six are defensive players, three are defensive linemen and four are playing on one-year deals. There's been a clear strategy to remake the defense to suit Zimmer's scheme, and with the exceptions of Joseph and Munnerlyn, the Vikings have done it with few long-term commitments.

We won't know for months how much Zimmer can use the pieces to improve the league's worst scoring defense, but the Vikings' free-agent strategy has been clear and decisive. The team had just over $13 million in cap space left before signing Wootton, and we're mostly in the bargain phase of the free-agent period at this point, so it's hard to see more splash signings. But the Vikings have added some youth to their defense, and they're betting on Zimmer's ability to put together a cohesive product out of those pieces. There have been teams with more high-profile signings than Minnesota, but the Vikings have moved efficiently through their shopping list.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Before free agency opened, Jared Allen professed excitement about truly stepping out into the market for the first time in his career, confident in his ability to play as well as ever at age 32, and optimistic he would be compensated fairly for his years of All-Pro production with the Minnesota Vikings.

Nine days after the market opened, Allen left Seattle for a second time Thursday, with agent Ken Harris telling ESPN's Ed Werder the defensive end would take the weekend to weigh the Seahawks' offer against the others he has received before making a decision. Allen also visited the Dallas Cowboys before the team signed former Chicago Bears tackle Henry Melton, and Harris denied a report that Allen turned down the same three-year, $30 million deal the Denver Broncos ultimately gave DeMarcus Ware.

Allen hasn't talked much during the free-agency process, and when it's all said and done, it's possible he'll say it was the same deliberate, thorough search he'd wanted all along. Still, after Allen's second visit to Seattle ended without a contract, it's tough not to wonder if things haven't shaped up exactly as Allen had hoped.

If he did join the Seahawks, it would likely be as the situational pass-rusher Allen said he'd retire before becoming. The Seahawks could put Allen in line for a championship bid, but they'd do it with a deep defensive line that already includes Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, among others. Seattle has about $15 million in cap space left, but if Allen were going to come in as something less than a starter, it stands to reason he wouldn't receive the kind of money Ware got from the Broncos or Julius Peppers got from the Green Bay Packers.

At the end of this process, Allen could still decide to retire and move onto his other interests outside of football. It's also possible the Cowboys, who have about $6.5 million in cap space left, could make a move to clear more space for Allen. But after he started this process looking for a full-time job, a fair contract and a chance to win a championship, he might end it by finding out only a couple of those factors will line up for him.

Tom Johnson to sign with Vikings

March, 20, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- Former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Tom Johnson is at the Minnesota Vikings' team facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., for a physical today, and will sign a one-year, $845,000 deal that could pay him up to another $600,000 in incentives, according to a league source.

Johnson, who played defensive end in the Saints' 3-4 scheme, had interest from the Cowboys, Bears, Dolphins and Seahawks in addition to the Vikings, according to the source, but the Vikings and Cowboys stood out as the best fits for Johnson at three-technique tackle. Once the Cowboys signed former Bears tackle Henry Melton, the Vikings were an obvious match, the source said.

His deal with the Vikings will pay him a $645,000 base salary and a $100,000 roster bonus, in addition to signing and workout bonuses of $50,000 each. His incentives will be based on playing time and sacks, and will kick in at different tiers.

The addition of the 29-year-old Johnson, who's shown some effectiveness as a rotational player, again likely means that Kevin Williams' time in Minnesota is just about over. The six-time Pro Bowler said on Wednesday he's waiting to see what the Vikings do, and hadn't had any contact with them since last week. Williams said his chances of a return to the Vikings look like "slim pickings," and the way the team has added younger defensive linemen seems to signal they're headed in a direction that wouldn't necessarily be compatible with Williams, who will be 34 before the season starts.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Defensive tackle Henry Melton, who visited the Minnesota Vikings last week, won't be signing with the team for next season.

Melton tweeted on Tuesday evening he is planning to join the Dallas Cowboys, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Melton has a multi-year deal with the team. The Vikings had stayed in contact with Melton's agent since the former Chicago Bears defensive tackle visited the team last week, but Melton, who is from Grapevine, Tex., and had played for Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in Chicago, went where he had the most familiarity.

For two veteran Vikings defensive linemen -- Jared Allen and Kevin Williams -- the move might have opposite effects. The Cowboys had just $7 million in cap space before signing Melton, and it seems unlikely they'd be able to afford Allen (who visited the Cowboys on Tuesday) after landing Melton.

The Vikings, on the other hand, still have an opening for another three-technique tackle in their defensive line rotation, and we'll see now how serious they are about bringing Williams back. General manager Rick Spielman said last Friday the Vikings had not made a decision on Williams, but added the team had told the six-time Pro Bowler it had "some other needs that we definitely wanted to get done first."

We'll see now where Williams ranks in the Vikings' pecking order of potential three-technique tackles -- if he's their next option orif they'd pursue another possibility in free agency or the draft. Former Raiders defensive tackle Pat Sims played for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, though Sims could still be looking for a bigger role and contract than the Vikings would be able to offer after a strong year in Oakland.

The Vikings missed out on a unique opportunity (albeit with some risk) now that Melton will play his first year after ACL surgery in Dallas. But Floyd looked more assertive toward the end of the season, and his footwork could make him a good fit for Zimmer's defense. The Vikings likely won't pin the whole workload on the second-year tackle, though, and with Melton gone, they'll have to decide how they want to go about adding another player to share part of the job with Floyd.
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.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerToby Gerhart is an insurance policy the Minnesota Vikings no longer have at their disposal.
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.

Free-agency review: Vikings

March, 18, 2014
Most significant signing: The Vikings filled two major holes on defense last week, adding former New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph and former Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. As important as both will be to the roster, Munnerlyn should help solve one of the Vikings' biggest problems from last season. He can line up at slot cornerback on third downs, where teams routinely targeted Josh Robinson last season. Munnerlyn also gives the Vikings the kind of scrappy tackler against the run they had for years in Antoine Winfield.

Most significant loss: Jared Allen will be the Vikings' most high-profile departure, but it's difficult to tell yet how much that will affect the team. New coach Mike Zimmer's system wouldn't have featured Allen the way he'd been used over the past six years in Minnesota, and the Vikings should have their starting defensive line in place with Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Joseph and Brian Robison. Still, it will be strange not to see Allen lining up at right end in a Vikings uniform this fall.

Biggest surprise: It's been clear for some time that the Vikings wanted to re-sign Griffen, but the value of his contract -- which puts him among the highest-paid pass-rushers in the league -- was something of an eye-opener. Griffen will get $20 million guaranteed as part of his deal, though the Vikings put all that guaranteed money in the first two years of the deal. Griffen's best year in the NFL came in 2012, when he posted eight sacks in a part-time role, and he's yet to become the kind of dominant force the Vikings are paying him to be. The contract is a gamble on potential, but the Vikings are obviously confident in Griffen's ability to fulfill it.

What's next: The Vikings still need help at linebacker, though general manager Rick Spielman sounded confident in his young linebackers last week. They remain in contact with former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton after hosting him on a visit last week, and they will bring in Jets offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse for a visit this week. It's also possible the Vikings look at a corner, and they'll still be in the hunt for a young quarterback come draft time.

Jared Allen weighs his options

March, 17, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jared Allen is scheduled to return to Minnesota Monday, spending the day about 3 1/2 hours southwest of the Twin Cities with his Homes for Wounded Warriors charity. He'll be in Luverne, Minn., unveiling a remodeled, handicap-accessible home for Spc. Andrew Hanson, a Luverne native who joined the Army National Guard in high school and lost both of his legs in Iraq in 2007.

The trip is a brief stop in Allen's schedule as the free-agent defensive end explores where -- and if -- he'll play football in 2014. He visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend, and will be in Dallas on Tuesday to talk with the Cowboys, according to a report by ESPN's Ed Werder. Allen has said he wants a fair contract and a chance to win, and said late last season he'd retire before accepting a role as a situational pass-rusher (and presumably a contract that pays him like something less than a full-time player). He reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million deal from the Denver Broncos after making just over $14 million last season (though the contract structure likely amounted to a one- or two-year deal), and the next week or two could be pivotal for Allen as he decides what he's willing to accept to continue his career.

Allen, who will be 32 next month, has enough interests outside of football -- and enough belief that he's still worth a top-end contract -- that it wouldn't be surprising to see him walk away. On the other hand, he's climbing the NFL's career sacks list, having ended last season 12th in the all-time rankings, and needs just 13 sacks to move into a tie for fifth place with Michael Strahan. Even in a year where it seemed like his play had dipped, Allen collected 11.5 sacks last season. He'd kept a list of the all-time sack rankings in his locker at the Vikings facilities, and how high he wants to climb on that list could factor into his decision about whether to walk away from football or keep playing.

The Cowboys' system is similar to what Allen had played in Minnesota, and the Seahawks might put him on a more direct path to a championship than any team in the league (though it might be in more of a situational role than he'd see in Dallas). But it's a virtual certainty neither of those teams would be able to pay Allen what he was making in Minnesota. In the end, he'll have to weigh the market, his personal goals and his other pursuits and decide whether he'll accept a fit that might not give him 100 percent of what he wants, or whether he'll say goodbye to the game without a championship or a chance to cement his Hall of Fame credentials.

Vikings re-sign Charlie Johnson

March, 15, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings will have their entire offensive line intact for a third consecutive season. They agreed with left guard Charlie Johnson on a two-year, $5 million deal on Saturday, according to a league source.

Johnson, who turns 30 in May, had a subpar year with the Vikings in 2013; Pro Football Focus held him responsible for four sacks, and he struggled at times to pick up blitzers. He'd been a solid cog in the Vikings' line in 2012, when Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards, and the Vikings evidently wanted to keep the group together by re-signing Johnson.

It seemed possible the team would try to draft a young lineman, or work second-year man Jeff Baca into the lineup. That could still happen, though Johnson's contract likely gives him the benefit of the doubt in the early part of the team's evaluation process. The Vikings had been giving players roster bonuses in lieu of big signing bonuses this week, to push most of the cap charges onto this season's books, and it seems likely they did that again with Johnson. We'll see how the contract looks when the details are available, but the guess here is the Vikings left themselves some flexibility for 2015, in case a young player overtakes Johnson.

The team had restructured the contracts of Chad Greenway, Jamarca Sanford and Jerome Felton to clear an extra $1.75 million in cap space, and had just over $16 million left in cap space, not counting the contract of wide receiver Jerome Simpson, before signing Johnson.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago this week, the Minnesota Vikings cut veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, making Chris Cook the senior member of a secondary the team was gambling could work without a proven veteran in the group. Cook was entering his fourth season and seemed to take the charge of extra responsibility seriously; he went back to school at the University of Virginia over the summer, working toward his degree and making sure to stay out of trouble, and came to training camp proclaiming he was ready to have the kind of breakout season that would lead to a long-term contract.

Cook is on his way out of Minnesota a year later, heading to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year contract, closing a disappointing chapter of the Vikings' struggles to stock their secondary through the draft. They spent a second-round pick on Cook in 2010, only to see him get suspended for the second half of the 2011 season as he battled a domestic assault charge, struggle with injuries throughout his career and fail to make plays on the ball. His 29 starts without an interception are the second most by a defensive back in NFL history, and his most memorable moments of the 2013 season came on plays he was in position to make but couldn't close out -- such as the touchdown Alshon Jeffery caught over the top of Cook's head on Dec. 1, running almost five yards holding the ball just above Cook's helmet. The cornerback stuck an arm back toward Jeffery, but never turned his head to locate the ball, and was subsequently ejected for making contact with an official, whom Cook argued should have called pass interference two plays before.

Cook is 6-foot-2 and has the size and speed to match up against big receivers, which is why the 49ers are spending a low-risk deal on the chance they can turn him around. But he exits Minnesota as the latest cornerback not to make it after being taken early in the draft. Xavier Rhodes, one of the Vikings' three 2013 first-rounders, looks as though he can play, but 2012 third-rounder Josh Robinson still has much to prove. Cook was a second-rounder in 2010, and 2009 third-rounder Asher Allen was gone after starting 21 games in three seasons. Marcus McCauley, a third-round pick in 2007, washed out of Minnesota after two seasons, and while 2006 second-rounder Cedric Griffin looked as though he'd turn into a solid cornerback, two torn ACLs ended his career. Griffen and 2002 fourth-rounder Brian Williams are the only two Vikings draft picks to start more than three years at cornerback in the last 12 years.

Rhodes has a chance to reverse that trend, and while the Vikings have had plenty of trouble pinning down safeties, Harrison Smith looks like a star on the rise heading into his third season. But the Vikings' inability to stock one of the league's most important positions stands out as a major black mark on their recent draft history. Cook's ignominious exit from Minnesota is only the latest example of it.