With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the Vikings stand.
Top three story lines
1. Who will play quarterback? That's the big question, and we likely know only two of the three names who will be competing once football gets under way: Joe Webb, first-rounder Christian Ponder and, perhaps, a veteran to be named later. Even though the Vikings sent out small signals they at least were intrigued by Rhett Bomar, whom they added to the roster late last season, it's possible, very likely even, that the team explores options in the trade and free-agent markets. Webb remains tartare raw, and Ponder might not be ready by Week One without on offseason to speak of. A veteran, such as Donovan McNabb or Marc Bulger, would make a lot of sense.
2. The defensive line could be a shell of its former self. First off, its most indispensible player, DT Kevin Williams, is likely facing a four-game suspension to start the season. So is Pat Williams, but the Vikings most likely have moved on from the 38-year-old free agent. Also likely to leave is DE Ray Edwards, who could fetch big money somewhere else, possibly Atlanta. That leaves DE Jared Allen as the only starter returning. DEs Brian Robison and Everson Griffen could split time at Edwards' DRE spot, but who will replace Kevin Williams early on? Rookie Christian Ballard has the talent to step in and get his feet wet.
3. The Vikings have been talking about signing RB Adrian Peterson to a long-term deal. The lockout has put those plans on indefinite hold. WR Sidney Rice may or may not be a free agent when the lockout ends, and as of now the team might not be able to afford both. Peterson is the priority as the face of the franchise, but it was painfully obvious how much Rice's absence hurt the offense early last season.
2011 free agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: S Husain Abdullah (3), WR Hank Baskett (5), OL Ryan Cook (5), DE Ray Edwards (5), DT Fred Evans (5), S Eric Frampton (4), OLB Chad Greenway (5, franchised), OLB Erin Henderson (3), QB Tarvaris Jackson (5), WR Jaymar Johnson (2), OLB Ben Leber (9), WR Greg Lewis (8), PK Ryan Longwell (14), QB Patrick Ramsey (9), WR Sidney Rice (4), CB Lito Sheppard (9), FB Naufahu Tahi (5), CB Frank Walker (8), S Madieu Williams (7), DT Pat Williams (13), RB Albert Young (2). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: Chances are good that Rice, a fourth-year free agent, will be under contract as a restricted free agent as the Vikings won't let him go that easily. But keeping him in the long term could be tricky. Edwards has tried to talk his way out of Minnesota as quickly as he can, but there is a chance — if we go by 2010 rules — that he would not be unrestricted. If so, there is a chance he could be traded. The Falcons appear to be the team hottest on his trail. After that, a lot of the players don't appear to be high priorities for the Vikings. They have franchised Greenway and want him back at all costs. But many of the remaining free agents — several of them starters last season — won't return at anything close to big money. The Vikings also are not likely to go out and spend wildly on outside help, but they could bring in a new slew of lower- and middle-tier veterans.
2011 rookie class
First-round QB Christian Ponder (No. 12 overall) — Although fans might not have liked the pick at the time, it would not be shocking if the heady but injury-prone Ponder starts early this season.
Second-round TE Kyle Rudolph (No. 43 overall) — Tight end wasn't the most pressing need imaginable, but the Vikings got a quality receiver and blocker who would have gone higher had he not been hurt as a junior.
Fourth-round DT Christian Ballard (No. 106 overall) — Don't be shocked if this talented but underproducing talent is starting Week One when Kevin Williams is (likely) suspended.
Fifth-round CB Brandon Burton (No. 139 overall) — Has natural cover skills but was beat too often in college and might take a while to develop.
Sixth-round OT DeMarcus Love (No. 168 overall) — Could end up at tackle or guard; has some positional flexibility.
Sixth-round FS Mistral Raymond (No. 170 overall) — Unheralded pick who is limited athletically but will compete at need position and on special teams.
Sixth-round C-OG Brandon Fusco (No. 172 overall) — Small-school scrapper will have to make NFL adjustment, but interior reserve spot is there for the taking.
Sixth-round LB Ross Homan (No. 200 overall) — Will be special-teams warrior but actually has chance to compete at weak-side spot in time.
Seventh-round DE D'Aundre Reed (No. 215 overall) — Athletic rusher who put up decent production in part-time role at Arizona.
Seventh-round WR Stephen Burton (No. 236 overall) — Good-sized possession receiver and returner who must clean up his route running.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Vikings be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Vikings rate a 7. It's fair to say that the Vikings' starting quarterback has not taken a snap with the team yet. In all fairness to Joe Webb, who did an admirable job down the stretch, it's not going to be him. So we're either talking about Christian Ponder or a veteran to be named later. After that, the uncertainty of Kevin Williams, Sidney Rice and Adrian Peterson also has made for some tense moments — plus there are some needs to fill on this roster. It's a good thing that Leslie Frazier and a large chunk of his coaching staff got to work with much of the roster last season, or this lockout meter might be pushing 10.