Before the opening of free agency, the Minnesota Vikings will have a number of difficult decisions to make on current players who are either set to hit the market or are on the bubble as potential cap casualties. The Vikings’ front office will weigh which players can be replaced and which ones they should be trying to bring back. Here’s a look at how the current market compares to what the Vikings have in house…
*(PFF grades in parenthesis)*
Vikings free agents: Trae Waynes (65.1), Mackensie Alexander (65.7)
Potential cap casualties: Xavier Rhodes (46.4)
PFF top five free agent options: Byron Jones (76.1), Chris Harris (69.9), Logan Ryan (63.1), Brian Poole (79.0), James Bradberry (59.8)
Bargain options: Darqueze Dennard (72.2), Tramon Williams (71.7), Johnathan Joseph (64.0)
Other in-house options: Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd
Considering how Rhodes performed last season and the Vikings’ current cap situation, it’s hard to see the veteran corner returning. That would give the Vikings some space to spend on another veteran corner or to hand the job over to Hughes, who was a first-round pick in 2018. They could fill the spot with another high draft pick but the Vikings have often given young corners time to develop behind veterans.
In terms of talent, Waynes and Alexander are both in the ballpark of many of the top free agents but in a free agent class that is very weak at the top end they might get overpaid. But the positional value for cornerback is extremely high so it might be worth spending whatever cap space the Vikings can find on players who will be upgrades. Harris, for example, has been one of the better players at his position over the last five years. Even playing the nickel and in a down year he was worth more than Waynes in PFF’s Wins Above Replacement metric.
Of course, head coach Mike Zimmer has a knack for bringing in players who fit his system like Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn. He might be forced to find quality veterans who don’t carry the price tag of players like Harris and Jones. Zimmer would be familiar with Joseph, who played in Cincinnati from ’06-’10.
Vikings free agents: Anthony Harris (91.1), Jayron Kearse (89.0), Andrew Sendejo
PFF top five free agent options: Justin Simmons (90.8), Devin McCourty (80.7), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (74.2), Tre Boston (76.4), Jimmie Ward (84.9)
Bargain options: Karl Joseph (69.9), Tavon Wilson (71.8), Kendall Fuller (70.1)
Other in-house options: ????
The hardest question the Vikings will have to answer is: How much does Harrison Smith impact the player next to him? Harris has been one of the best players at his position by PFF metrics over the last two years and seems to be the perfect fit for Smith because of his intelligence and natural ball-hawking ability. But the top safeties are making somewhere in the range of $12-$15 million per year, which might simply be too much for the Vikings to afford.
The top end safeties in free agency are very good. That could push the price down for Harris considering teams have not traditionally spent huge dollars on the position. It also allows the Vikings to have other options if they see the spot next to Smith has majorly valuable in Zimmer’s defense.
Zimmer’s trust for Kearse faded over the last year. That would indicate that Kearse will be looking for work elsewhere. Sendejo may continue to fit as a situational player and special teamer late into his career.
The bargain options also relate to Smith. If underafted free agents like Harris and Sendejo can put together excellent seasons alongside the team’s superstar, does that mean that a $5 million veteran player like Joseph, Wilson or Fuller could perform better than they ever have in the past?
This could also be the season that the Vikings look to the draft for a safety.
Vikings free agents: Stephen Weatherly (50.2)
Potential cap casualties: Everson Griffen (77.6), Linval Joseph (71.2)
PFF top five free agent options: Chris Jones (86.3), Jadeveon Clowney (80.8), Shaquil Barrett (76.6), Yannick Ngakoue (72.0), Arik Armstead (89.6)
Bargain options: Michael Pierce (69.1), Shelby Harris (76.8), Michael Brackers (74.6)
Other in-house options: Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jaleel Johnson, Hercules Mata’afa, Armon Watts
Age is undefeated and even great players like Griffen and Joseph have seen their performances dip from the best at their position to mid-pack starters over the past two years. Certainly they still have a great deal of value and present plenty of problems for opposing offenses but it doesn’t quite add up to their present price tags. That leaves the Vikings with the option to attempt to re-sign Griffen for less and restructure Joseph’s deal or use the cap space to chase an elite player like Jones or Clowney.
The Vikings have been drafting D-linemen in the later rounds for years and that has left them with some solid pieces but it’s unclear whether they would trust Odenigbo, Johnson or Watts to hold down starting positions in a win-now window.
Depth at the position, especially D-end, makes it hard to justify another large contract for Griffen, despite what he’s meant to the organization. Of PFF’s top 100 free agents, defensive ends make up 10 of them and then outside of the top 100 there are still starters who have produced in the past like Michael Bennett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Adrian Clayborn and Vinny Curry.
Vikings free agents: Rashod Hill, Brett Jones, Dakota Dozier
Potential cuts: Pat Elflein (64.8), Riley Reiff (71.2)
PFF top five free agent options: Anthony Castonzo (81.3), Jack Conklin (80.6), Brandon Scherff (75.0), Joe Thuney (79.2), Jason Peters (82.8)
Bargain options: Demar Dotson (71.0), Stefen Wisniewski (70.9), Kelvin Beachum (67.1)
Other in-house options: Dru Samia, Oli Udoh
With Reiff set to make $13.2 million on the salary cap, the Vikings will either need to restructure his deal or move on. He’s been a solid left tackle since signing in 2017 but struggles against top-notch pass rushers. The Vikings could look to spend big and chase after Castonzo or Conklin or take a shot at getting Peters for one year at an exorbitant price. They could move Brian O’Neill to left tackle and replace the right tackle spot for cheaper.
At left guard the Vikings need to upgrade. They have tried filling spots in the bargain bin over the past few years and it hasn’t often paid off. A player like Scherff would make for a massive upgrade at a position that has proven more important to the Vikings than it would be some teams that have more mobile quarterbacks.