Suddenly the Minnesota Vikings are loaded with draft capital and have a little wiggle room with the salary cap. To be exact, they have 12 picks — four of which come in the first 105 picks and $11.5 million in cap space. That number can be doubled if the Vikings trade safety Anthony Harris, who reportedly is garnering plenty of interest.
Trading Harris could be the final step before the Vikings start to buy on the free agent market and look toward the areas that can be filled immediately by the draft. With the trade of Stefon Diggs and free agent exit of Trae Waynes, the Vikings have serious needs at cornerback, safety, receiver and defensive tackle and ancillary needs at defensive end and guard and/or tackle.
We know how many players they need and at which positions they need in order to field a starting group but another question that has to be asked is: How much production the Vikings need to make up in order to continue to contend in the NFC?
Among receivers with at least 90 targets, Diggs had the eighth highest quarterback rating when targeted at 110.7. Diggs made up 31% of Kirk Cousins’s total 3,603 yards passing and gained 11.4 yards per target. When throwing to anyone else, he averaged 7.4 yards when throwing to anyone else. Per NFL NextGen, Diggs’ 41.3% of total air yards ranked third in the NFL only behind Denver’s Courtland Sutton and New Orleans star Michael Thomas. He also led the NFL with 635 yards on throws traveling more than 20 yards. Per PFF data, he was worth 0.40 wins above replacement, which, in comparison to current free agents, is in the same ballpark as Emmanuel Sanders and double Randall Cobb.
It’s unlikely that one player will be able to replace Diggs’s numbers unless the Vikings find a way to land Sanders or hit a home run right away in the draft. However, only two rookie receivers in 2019 were targeted more than 90 times and just six of 15 with more than 40 targets graded over a 70 by PFF’s system.
It isn’t that hard to find 63 catches but catch totals can be deceiving. It might take No. 3 receiver Bisi Johnson taking a step forward and the Vikings finding a reasonably-priced veteran on the market like Tajae Sharpe or Breshad Perriman and landing an instant-impact starter in the first or second round of the draft to combine for the total value of Diggs.
Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander
While the Vikings did not receive impressive performances by their cornerback group, Waynes was worth 0.22 WAR and Alexander 0.16 WAR by PFF’s system and Rhodes was a negative player at minus-0.10. Waynes and Alexander were average players by PFF grades, ranking as the 46th and 48th corners and gave up 109.9 and 90.2 ratings on throws against, respectively. Rhodes was one of the worst corners in the NFL, giving up a 127.8 rating.
Top draft pick in 2018 Mike Hughes is likely to take over one job. Last year he allowed a solid 93.2 rating on throws his way and it’s plausible Holton Hill plays a role as well. Filling in the outside corner production is possible with a savvy signing. Buffalo’s Kevin Johnson, for example, had a higher WAR than Waynes last year in only 407 snaps. There were also eight rookies with better QB ratings against. So the Vikings could select a corner at 22 or 25 (or trade up) and have a good chance to replace the outside performance right away.
The nickel spot is tougher. Rookies rarely can play inside instantly and despite Alexander’s uninspiring play at times, he was solid. The only regular nickel corners on the market are Brian Poole, Kyle Fuller and Nickell Robey-Coleman. They will have significant interest but it won’t be impossible to land one veteran.
While the safety market and draft class each offer quality players, Harris’s 2019 production will be extremely difficult to cover. Last season he was flat-out one of the best safeties in the NFL, intercepting six passes, grading as PFF’s top safety and producing an impressive 0.65 WAR. The closest free agent to his WAR was Tre Boston, who signed a three-year deal to stay with the Panthers.
The perception of the safety position alongside Harrison Smith is that anyone can be improved by his excellence but in 2016 Andrew Sendejo had his best season and posted 0.40 WAR. As for the rookie class, the Vikings could pick someone in the first or second to replace Harris but last year only one regular starting rookie graded over 70 by PFF metrics. Harris’s grade was 90.5.
It would be advantageous if the Vikings could work out an extension with their veteran safety rather than having to part ways because he’s very difficult to replace.
Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph
Griffen’s sack total in 2019 wasn’t as impressive as 2017 but his overall performance wasn’t much different. Per PFF he produced 0.14 WAR, just 0.02 below his ’17 mark and he still ranked as the 26th best player at his position and 14th best in QB pressures.
The free agent market has been paying inferior edge rushers more than the Vikings can afford. The Dolphins gave Shaq Lawson, who was worth 0.08 WAR and had 28 fewer pressures, a three-year, $30 million deal.
If the Vikings can’t convince Griffen to return they will turn to emerging D-lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo and company. But Griffen’s impact on offenses would be tough to replace as he draws significant attention away from Danielle Hunter.
Joseph’s value has dipped significantly since ’17 when he was worth 0.17 WAR. Last year he was worth just 0.04 WAR, which could be replaced by a combination Jaleel Johnson, Armon Watts and Shamar Stephen or a veteran minimum free agent.
If the Vikings trade Harris, they will have to replace 1.46 wins, according to PFF’s data. While one-and-a-half wins might not sound huge, it’s the difference between making and missing the playoffs and the equivalent of top free agents Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Chris Harris and Jadeveon Clowney all combined.