When Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr elected to return to the Twin Cities rather than join the New York Jets, he made his head coach Mike Zimmer a happy man. But he did not make it easier on the Vikings’ offense by signing a deal reportedly in the range of $14 million per season.
With little-to-no cap space heading into Wednesday’s official start of free agency, the Vikings still have needs at wide receiver, offensive line, No. 2 tight end and No. 2 running back. Some of these areas can be filled on draft day, but there are still options for the Vikings to add offensive players around Kirk Cousins in free agency. Here are five ways they can do so…
Trade Everson Griffen for a draft pick, sign either Golden Tate or Donte Moncrief
ESPN’s Courtney Cronin and the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling each reported on Tuesday that the Vikings have reached out to Griffen’s camp with an offer to restructure his contract. If that does not come to fruition, the Vikings could be looking to deal the veteran defensive end, who will carry a $11.7 million cap hit into 2019 if he doesn’t work out a new deal.
Moving Griffen for a draft pick to open up cap space would allow the Vikings to go after the remaining top playmakers on the market, including The YAC King Golden Tate. The former Lion has been the bane of the Vikings’ existence over the past few years in Detroit and Xavier Rhodes even called him one of the top five players in the NFC North. Tate caught 74 passes for 795 yards between the Lions and Eagles last year and produced three 1,000-plus yard seasons between 2014 and 2017. A dangerous playmaker alongside Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen could take the Vikings’ offense to the next level.
Moncrief is the other top receiver who still hasn’t been connected to a team in the “legal tampering” period. When healthy he has been an effective receiver. He averaged 13.9 yards per catch on 48 receptions last season playing with Blake Bortles and the Jaguars.
Both are likely to get “overpaid,” but the Vikings could use an additional receiver to take pressure off Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. With players on the rise like Stephen Weatherly on the defensive line and Anthony Barr probable to rush off the edge more often, Zimmer should be able to work around the loss of his edge rusher (as he did for five weeks last season).
Restructure Everson Griffen’s contract, sign Daryl Williams
Of course, Zimmer doesn’t want to lose a Pro Bowl defensive end, even if there is a chance he never returns to his peak form. Giffen is the motor of the defense and demands attention. If he agrees to stick around on a new deal, that could open enough cash for the Vikings to improve the offensive line.
The problem, of course, is a lack of quality linemen remaining on the market.
Former Panthers right tackle Daryl Williams was injured last season, but performed at a high level in 2017, making him the best remaining player up front. If the Vikings scraped together enough space to sign Williams, Brian O’Neill could slide into the left tackle spot and bump Riley Reiff to left guard. While it doesn’t make for a perfect offensive line, it would fill spots and allow the Vikings a choice between bringing back Nick Easton and drafting a guard in the first or second round.
Trade Trae Waynes, sign tight end Jared Cook and running back TJ Yeldon
The Vikings’ starting cornerback carries a $9 million cap hit. If moved, the Vikings might be able to swap his cap space for two players. Tight ends have been raking in decent contracts, so it’s plausible Cook will get paid a hefty sum, but he is also 32 and racked up career highs with a sagging Raiders team. Minnesota’s front office was interested in him as a No. 2 option to Rudolph last year
Cut Kyle Rudolph, sign Nick Easton and Quinton Spain or Chance Warmack (draft Noah Fant or TJ Hockenson)
This one would come as quite a shocker, but it isn’t unspeakable. If Rudolph does not restructure his deal, the Vikings could move on and create around $7 million in cap space. In a draft with all sorts of depth at the tight end position, it’s a defendable move despite Rudolph’s quality play and consistency.
A handful of dollars isn’t enough to add any heavy hitters, but it might be the cash required to bring back Nick Easton, who fits the Vikings’ zone scheme and played well in 2017 under Pat Shurmur and two of the solid interior linemen still remaining. Spain was a mediocre run blocker according to Pro Football Focus, but would make for a big upgrade in pass protection. He gave up just 16 pressures and one sack last season. Tom Compton allowed 34 pressures and seven sacks.
Chance Warmack has been a fill-in for the Eagles. With the Chargers, he put together several solid years and could be looking for a spot to compete for a starting role.
Restructure Kyle Rudolph’s deal, sign bargain receiver Ryan Grant, Dontrelle Inman or Pierre Garcon
Between Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins, Vikings QBs have a 67.5 rating when throwing in Laquon Treadwell’s direction. Their combined ratings are over 100 when targeting Thielen/Diggs. Adding another weapon should be a priority, even if it isn’t a big name like Tate. Garcon had success with Cousins in Washington as did Grant. Inman is a journeyman who grabbed 36 passes on 46 targets for the Colts last year for 412 yards and four touchdowns. None of these receivers will come at an excessive price.