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Vikings will likely bank on Anthony Harris carrying over strong play from 2018

The free agent market is flooded with talent at safety.

From Earl Thomas to Landon Collins to Tyrann Mathieu to Lamarcus Joyner, teams with a need on the back end will be able to find a top-notch player.

The Minnesota Vikings fall into that category. On Monday they announced that they would not be picking up the team option on safety Andrew Sendejo, who has started across from Harrison Smith for the entirety of the Mike Zimmer era.

But with limitations on cap space and a reported price tag around $10 million for a top free agent safety,

Even with Sendejo’s space off the books and the release of Mike Remmers, the Vikings are still only sitting with around $10 million and needs at multiple positions.

Barring a big move (a la releasing Everson Griffen or Kyle Rudolph), Anthony Harris is likely to be the starting safety across from Smith in 2019. On Monday the team announced a second-round tender was placed on Harris, who is a restricted free agent.

The Vikings could have placed a lower tender on Harris if they wanted, but clearly there was concern that he might be given an offer by opposing teams. Minnesota would have a difficult time matching other offers because of their cap situation, so the second-round tender acts as a deterrent for other teams to woo him away.

Harris has always been a favorite of head coach Mike Zimmer. He has beat out multiple contenders for a backup safety/special teams job since joining the team in 2015. But his value shot up last season when he replaced Sendejo on a full-time basis in Week 8 and played exceptionally well.

In 624 snaps, he was only targeted 13 times in coverage and picked off three of those passes, according to Pro Football Focus. Harris finished the season as the third highest graded safety in the NFL by PFF among players with more than 550 snaps. He rated as the league’s second best tackler, only behind Smith.

“He’s a smart guy, number one,” Zimmer said at his end-of-year press conference. “I think he’s increased his physicality this year, but I also feel like one of the things he does well, he anticipates and he’s got good vision. Back there at that position that’s usually a good thing.”

One thing Harris has going for him is that he can play in different spots, which is required for the job alongside Smith. Last season, per PFF, he lined up on the D-line 16 times, in the box for 141 snaps, in the slot 64 times and at free safety on 397 plays.

While Harris proved worthy of a starting gig, his success came in an extremely small sample. Safety grades regularly fluctuate from season to season. Sendejo, for example, posted grades of 51.9, 64.0, 80.9 and 69.7 in his four years as a starter.

So we can’t necessarily expect Harris to play at the same level in 2019 as he did in limited time during 2018. Whether he can carry over his performance will be one of the key questions about the defense next season.

Among the other things benefiting Harris is Zimmer’s history with getting the most out of defensive backs. Last season the Vikings saw injuries to Sendejo, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mike Hughes and still ended the year as the fourth best defense in the NFL in quarterback rating allowed.


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