While the players that were likely the Vikings' top targets all ended up with their current team at the franchise deadline, a new and intriguing option just became available: Vernon Carey, the starting right tackle for the Dolphins. Most expected Carey to be franchised by Miami, but the Dolphins declined to do so, leaving him willing to test the market and as the best option available for those teams looking to upgrade their line via free agency.
Carey is a 27 year old former first round pick (made by Rick Spielman) that's big enough (6'5", 333lbs), quick enough and young enough to lock down the right tackle position for the Vikings' for years to come. Of course, the problem is that the Purple aren't the only team that needs a new tackle--the Chargers and the Bears are among those who are likely to be interested. And without Jordan Gross or Max Starks to distract them, the competitors for Carey are likely to drive his price up. Luckily, the Vikings are willing to spend the money necessary to improve their team and Carey seems to be a priority.
While they used him at left tackle in 2007, Carey is best suited for right tackle, mainly due to lacking the quickness necessary to protect the blindside. Once he moved to the right side, he showed that he's a capable pass blocker, when not matched up every down with elite pass rushers, only giving up 4.5 sacks last year, and only getting flagged for one penalty, a false start (and not a single holding penalty). He's also a very good run blocker. Last year, the Dolphins averaged 4.51 yards per run behind the right tackle, 9th overall, a huge improvement from the 3.84 yards they'd averaged in 2007. In contrast, the Vikings averaged 3.61 yards per run behind the right tackle, 28th overall. The year before, when Carey was on the left side, the Dolphins averaged 5.05 yards on runs behind Carey, 4th overall, much better than the 3.99 yards they averaged behind Jake Long.
It seems clear that signing Carey would shore up the right side of the Vikings' line. He'd allow Childress to flip his play cards over and call running plays to the right side. He'd also improve the Vikings' quarterback play, whether or not they added a new quarterback, by improving the pass protection, something the Vikings' sorely need to do (they were 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate last year). Finally, he'd allow Ryan Cook to move back to center, the position he was drafted at, and compete with John Sullivan for the starting job. It's always better to have depth when you're trying out young players at important positions, and allowing Cook and Sullivan to battle it out in training camp makes it much more likely they'll end up with a decent replacement for Birk.
Aside from signing Jeff Garcia (which might not even be their best option), it appears that Vernon Carey should be the Vikings' top target when free agency starts next week. He'd address one of their biggest needs, improve their chances at a smooth transition from Matt Birk and allow the Vikings to run the ball to the right side. If nothing else, it'd sure be nice to see defenses have to spread their nine guys in the box out evenly, instead of stacking them over Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson.