Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/22/12
Are the Minnesota Vikings looking to play Patriot games? With the Vikings' biggest free-agent move, the signing of John Carlson, coming at tight end instead of the perceived bigger offensive need receiver it's an indication of which direction the team's offensive staff, particularly coordinator Bill Musgrave, wants to head. As fans implore the Vikings to sign a receiver in free agency, the team has re-signed two of its own defensive tackles, signed John Carlson and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, added a fullback and another running back that turned into a fullback, and signed a former college point guard as a defensive back. Carlson's five-year, 25 million contract is the largest commitment to a player the Vikings have made in free agency this year and the largest they have ever made to a tight end. Meanwhile, no legitimate No. 1 receiver has been a serious pursuit of the Vikings, but Marques Colston re-signed with the New Orleans Saints, DeSean Jackson with the Philadelphia Eagles, Stevie Johnson with the Buffalo Bills, Reggie Wayne with the Indianapolis Colts, Harry Douglas with the Atlanta Falcons. And plenty of starting-quality receivers have signed with other teams, including Pierre Garcon with the Washington Redskins, Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez with the New England Patriots, Vincent Jackson with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss with the San Francisco 49ers, and Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal with the San Diego Chargers. Few teams would have been classified as receiver-needy as the Vikings, yet they not only haven't signed an outside free-agent receiver, they haven't even elected to re-sign their own free-agent receivers, Devin Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo. It's still possible they could re-sign Aromashodu, but they have already informed Camarillo they aren't interested in bringing him back, even after he accepted a significant paycut last year. While the Vikings could just be waiting for the market on receivers to become more affordable Donnie Avery, Lee Evans, Jerome Simpson and Steve Smith (Eagles) are among some of the remaining options there could be two other reasons for the lack of urgency. First, the draft is full of decent receiving options, including numerous big-bodied receivers. Second, their offense could be focusing more on the use of tight ends. Why not? One of the league's most successful teams of the past decade, the Patriots, could be setting the trend in that area. Wes Welker led the Patriots with 122 catches for 1,569 yards, but tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez accounted for the No. 2 and 3 spots on New England's receiving charts. Gronkowski was second in receptions (90), yards (1,327) and average per catch among those with more than 15 receptions (14.7), and first with 17 touchdowns. Hernandez was third on Tom Brady's connection list with 79 receptions, 910 yards and seven touchdowns. While some league insiders were surprised at how little the Vikings used 2011 second-round draft pick Kyle Rudolph, draft analyst Dave-Te' Thomas, who researches draft picks for the league and some of its teams, compared Rudolph to Gronkowski prior to last year's draft. Rudolph certainly showed his athleticism and big-armed catch radius with several dazzling receptions, but he still wasn't used as often as veteran Visanthe Shiancoe. Shiancoe had 36 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns; Rudolph had 26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Shiancoe also got far more playing time, taking 788 of the offense's 1,036 snaps while Rudolph garnered only 486 snaps, almost 30 percent less. The Vikings had an average of 1.6 tight ends on the field per snap last year. Carlson is likely to take over Shiancoe's snaps and maybe increase that count as a more versatile receiver-blocker and the Vikings' offseason self-scout willlikely point them to a need to play Rudolph more often. But, while the Vikings averaged 2.24 wide receivers on the field per snap, the 2,322 plays among the wideouts were split among seven players. When it came to the 1,682 snaps for tight ends, those were split among only four players, with Shiancoe, Rudolph and Jim Kleinsasser accounting for 99 percent of them. Then there's this: Shiancoe's 788 snaps were more than any other receiver on the roster including Percy Harvin, who was healthy enough to play in every game but only got 605 offensive snaps, second among receivers to Devin Aromashodu's 674. Additionally, Aromashodu and Shiancoe are both free agents. The Vikings aren't likely to re-sign Shiancoe, and Aromashodu would likely have to come on the cheap and have no guarantee of a roster spot if he returned to the team before organized team activities start in May. There is no one way to build a team or an offense, and certainly the Vikings are a long way from having the offensive success of the Patriots, but it is clear much of their focus and dollars are committed to involving the tight ends as much as ever.For more coverage, visit Viking Update's website.
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