The football world will assemble in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Combine, meaning that offseason news will be flowing. Here’s five we’ll be looking for with the Minnesota Vikings…
Progress on current free agents
Teams will be meeting with agents throughout the Combine to assess where things stand with players who are about to hit the free agent market. The Vikings have 18 players whose contracts will expire at the end of the league year, 16 of which are unrestricted free agents and two are restricted free agents. They will aim to find out what the expected price tag and market interest will be on each player and assess whether they can bring them back despite a lack of cap space.
Do top free agents like Everson Griffen, Trae Waynes and Anthony Harris want to return or test the market? Could a player like Stephen Weatherly be sold on an expanded role? What are the expected tenders on RFAs CJ Ham and Eric Wilson?
Releases, trades and contract extensions
The Vikings have numerous difficult decisions, including whether to release quality players like Riley Reiff and Linval Joseph to create cap space or aim for restructures/extensions that could lower their cap hits. Xavier Rhodes getting released would appear to be a foregone conclusion but the possibility exists of trading him for a late or conditional draft pick. Kyle Rudolph doesn’t appear to be on the chopping block but he was underutilized last year and carries a $8.8 million cap hit. He would carry some value on the trade market.
We will also get a sense of whether there is “truth to all rumors” with Stefon Diggs. Without any credible reports of a split between Diggs and the Vikings, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be shopping him in Indy but since his decision to skip practices prior to Week 5 last season, there’s been a steady rumble about him being unhappy in Minnesota.
Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins’s representatives will be sitting down with the Vikings to lay out expectations for extensions. Cook is in a tough spot with some recent deals for running backs going bust and other teams like the Chargers and Steelers playing hardball with Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell. Last year Ezekiel Elliott signed a $90 million deal, setting the bar for RBs who are the centerpiece of their offense. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network suggested that Cook is unlikely to participate in offseason activities without a deal.
On the Cousins front, the Vikings have to decide whether they simply want to walk away after 2020 or aim for a short-term deal or look for an extension that will keep him in Minnesota for the remainder of his career. Russell Wilson’s $35 million per year contract is the current standard for QBs and may be a starting point for Cousins’s side.
The looming possibility of a 17-game season will have to be considered by both sides as that could change the dynamic of current deals.
Prior to the Vikings’ win over the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, there were numerous reports that a loss to the Saints could mean major changes. Since the Vikings came out with a victory, does that mean we will see long-term extensions for the coach and GM? Are they still tied together with their deals or would ownership extend one longer than the other? Last year at the Combine we found out that they had both been extended through 2020. We’ll see if there is more news on that front this time around.
It’s hard to know where negotiations will go between the Vikings and Cousins but the team’s approach in the draft will tell us a lot about where they’re headed. The door is open for all possibilities at the moment. They could draft a first-round QB if the internal consensus is that Cousins is not the long-term answer, they could pick a mid-rounder if they see him as signing a short-term extension or they could ignore the QB market altogether if he’s staying long term.
Players like Anthony Gordon of Washington State and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts will be under a lot of scrutiny at the Combine. Each has an opportunity to increase their draft stock or see it fall through the floor. If the Vikings are into a mid-rounder, which seems like the most plausible scenario if they do draft a QB, those are the two players they might be most interested in.
Defensive positions of strength
Even if the Vikings retain some of their current talent on defense there will still be plenty of needs on that side of the ball. We will start to find out which positions have the deepest talent pools and which are top-heavy. Positional strength in the draft could play a role in which players the Vikings choose to retain. For example, when Adrian Peterson’s contract ran out in 2017, the Vikings knew that there were a bunch of terrific running back prospects in the ’17 draft, including Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Marlon Mack and Kareem Hunt.
We’ll have a much better sense of which spots can be filled immediately by draft picks as the Combine progresses.