MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has made his philosophy well known by now: construct the foundation through the draft and use free agency to supplement the core of the roster.
Coming off of a five-win season and with so many holes to fill, Spielman needed to be a little more aggressive on the open market to take some of the pressure the looming draft. Spielman capped a busy first week of free agency by signing receiver Jerome Simpson and cornerback Derek Cox to one-year deals on Friday, saying he needed to move quickly to shore up the defense and give them some freedom for the May draft.
The Vikings spent big money to keep defensive end Everson Griffen and sign defensive tackle Linval Joseph to replace Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. They also worked hard to keep quarterback Matt Cassel and get cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to help beef up the struggling defensive backfield, while sprinkling in Simpson, Cox and Fred Evans on one-year deals for depth.
"By doing that, it sure helps you head into the draft not to get boxed in; well, you've got to take this position," Spielman said on Friday. "Now we have that flexibility to see how the draft is going to fall — and I do believe this is a very deep draft and the potential of moving up or down in the draft to accumulate picks — you're still going to be able to add a lot of youth and a lot of young talent that can come in and help our ball club."
The Vikings pick No. 8 overall in the draft, which starts May 8. Addressing many of their most pressing needs in free agency frees Spielman to get creative. With Cassel, he doesn't have to draft a quarterback early. With Joseph there to occupy double teams, he doesn't have to get a run stuffer to play next to last year's first-round pick, Sharrif Floyd. With Munnerlyn on one corner opposite Xavier Rhodes, and Cox added to a group that also includes Marcus Sherels and Josh Robinson, he doesn't have to draft a cornerback right away.
The aggressiveness also gives a new coaching staff that includes head coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards, a solid veteran base with which to work.
"I think by the activity that we've done so far, it's by no means the end of what we're going to do," Spielman said. "We'll continue to monitor the market and work through the next couple weeks. But it gives us the flexibility that we'll need heading into the draft, where you don't have to hone and say you have to take this position. Again, with the opportunity as we develop our draft board to take the best available player."
Simpson bounced back from an injury-plagued first season in Minnesota in 2012 with a solid season last year. He caught 48 passes for a career-high 726 yards in 2013 and expressed a desire to return to the Vikings when the season closed.
Spielman said the Vikings like the deep threat Simpson brings to the table alongside fellow receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. But Simpson could face discipline from the league for a drunken driving arrest when next season opens.
"He does have explosive speed down the field and does give us a vertical threat, but we felt confident enough and comfortable enough after the new coaching staff had met with him and understand the whole circumstance behind that last arrest that we re-signed him back to a one-year deal," Spielman said.
Spielman said the Vikings were in talks to bring back left guard Charlie Johnson and were not closing the door on a possible return for Williams, the stalwart defensive tackle who has anchored Minnesota's line since 2003. The Vikings hosted defensive tackle Henry Melton for a visit, but he left on Thursday without a deal.
"There's no decision that's been made," Spielman said of Williams. "I told him we'd leave it open. But we were trying to address some other needs that we definitely wanted to get done first."