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Vikings' free-agent needs: Safety

MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that we're less than two weeks from the start of the new league year, we're going to spend some time looking at the Minnesota Vikings' needs, and some players that could fit those needs at a number of different price points. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had said they identified eight spots they want to upgrade before next season.

The word in league circles is that the safety spot next to Harrison Smith and middle linebacker are at or near the top of the Vikings' list, and a number of the other spots should be relatively easy to figure out. We'll get started today with safety, and take a look at seven other spots in the next couple weeks:

Safety

State of the position: While Harrison Smith played at a Pro Bowl level in 2014, the Vikings never seemed completely settled on a player to line up next to him. Robert Blanton won the job out of training camp and played adequately, but missed some tackles after taking poor angles, and lost the starting job to Andrew Sendejo at the end of the season. If the Vikings can find another high-end safety to put next to Smith, they'll have a dynamic foundation for their defense.

Draft vs. free agency: Alabama's Landon Collins is the top safety in the draft class, but he could turn out to be better as an in-the-box player than an open-field safety. Considering how much the Vikings like to move Smith around, they could use a safety who excels in the open field. Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt got some attention from the Vikings at the combine after impressing during Senior Bowl practices, but his coverage skills would need some refinement. Zimmer talked about his reluctance to stock the roster with free agents, but all things considered, this could be a position where it's worth spending some money.

Cream of the crop: New England's Devin McCourty is expected to be the top safety on the market, and he'd be a fantastic fit for the Vikings; he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie cornerback in 2010, is one of the best coverage safeties in the game and would be right at home as the lone deep safety in situations where Smith is playing near the line of scrimmage. He'll command big money if the Patriots let him hit the open market, but if the Vikings want to splurge, McCourty would be a great candidate.

Other options: Denver's Rahim Moore is another impressive coverage safety (his gaffe in the 2013 AFC playoffs notwithstanding). He recovered from the compartment syndrome that nearly caused him to lose a leg, and he showed impressive range as a deep safety in 2014. Louis Delmas played in the same scheme in Miami that the Vikings use in Minnesota, and while he's recovering from a torn ACL, he could be worth a gamble if the Vikings think he can return in time to contribute.

Growth from within: The Vikings drafted cornerback Antone Exum with plans to convert him to safety, and after a year mostly playing special teams, he could get a longer look during organized team activities this spring. He's got the size and range to be an intriguing option. Blanton enters a contract year after his first season as a starter, and will be fighting to keep a first-team job in 2015.