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Which (affordable) in-house free agents should Vikings sign?

Even after releasing veterans Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph, the Minnesota Vikings are still short on salary cap space. According to they presently have $20.7 million — though more can be created with other moves like contract restructures or an extension for quarterback Kirk Cousins. As the league opens its free agency period next week the Vikings have 22 players from last year’s roster who are not under contract. Here’s a look at the affordable players who they should try to retain…

LB, Eric Wilson (RFA)

The Vikings signed Wilson as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and he quickly became one of the team’s best special team players. He played zero snaps on defense in his first year but was pushed into duty because of injuries in 2018 and quickly showed potential. In 2019 he saw more playing time when Ben Gedeon suffered a season-ending injury and played a total of 445 snaps (including playoffs). In two seasons as a fill-in, Wilson has created 11 pressures on just 44 pass rush snaps and given up a QB rating on throws in his direction of 95.3 (per PFF).

While Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are locked into their positions, Wilson gives them more flexibility because of his coverage and pass rushing skills. They can tender him at a very reasonable price but the possibility of another team giving him an offer exists. The Vikings should consider signing Wilson to an extension, especially if they are forced to consider moving on from Barr down the road because of his contract.

Via OverTheCap here are the tender prices:

DE, Stephen Weatherly 

A 2016 seventh-round pick, Weatherly developed from a practice squad body to a rotational regular. In 2018 he was called upon to fill in for Everson Griffen during the Pro Bowler’s five-game absence and showed the ability to create pressure off the edge. Last year he was asked to move from outside at times to inside in some passing situations because the Vikings lacked a true pass rushing three-technique D-lineman. Overall Weatherly had 31 pressures on 318 pass rushing snaps.

While Griffen would be very difficult to replace if decides to sign with another team, Weatherly could be a cost-effective option to take his spot in a rotation with Ifeadi Odenigbo. The price tag for a solid rotational rusher could be somewhere between $5-$7 million per year.

Here’s how he stacked up in terms of pressure rate:

*(includes playoffs)* Pass rush snaps Pressures Pressure rate
Danielle Hunter 616 97 15.7%
Everson Griffen 596 70 11.7%
Stephen Weatherly 318 31 9.7%
Ifeadi Odenigbo 299 26 8.7%
Linval Joseph 347 18 5.2%
Jaleel Johnson 256 11 4.3%
Shamar Stephen 350 6 1.7%
Armon Watts 53 4 7.5%
Jalyn Holmes 46 0 0.0%

FB, CJ Ham (RFA)

The fullback may be considered an endangered species in the NFL these days but the Vikings found plenty of ways to use CJ Ham to their advantage, whether it was creating blocking mismatches in the run game or using motions and formations to get a better read on defenses. He was treated like a chess piece, lining up at tight end on 36 plays, outside receiver 31 times and even the slot on five plays.

While he wasn’t as productive as the premier fullback in the game, San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk, Ham helped the Vikings improve significantly in the run game from 2018 to 2019 and caught 17 passes at 8.8 yards per reception. With Gary Kubiak in charge of the offense, you can bet there’s more where that came from. Ham was also used in all phases of special teams, making him a difficult player to replace.

K, Dan Bailey

Head coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL Combine that 2019 was the first time in his tenure that he wasn’t worried about the kicker. Despite some concerns in training camp that caused the Vikings to trade a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, Bailey was unfazed in the regular season, bouncing back to his old self with 27 made field goals on 29 attempts and 40-for-44 on extra point attempts. For his career the 32-year-old has made 87.3% of kicks, which ranks sixth all-time.

The only issue with re-signing Bailey is that there will be a ton of interest in his services. As a team the Vikings were fourth best in field goal percentage last season. There were 14 teams that made less than 80%, including the Tennessee Titans who only hit eight of 18 attempts all season. Kicker Mason Crosby signed a four-year, $16 million deal this offseason. That mark would be tough to match for the cash-strapped Vikings.

QB, Sean Mannion

While he only played in one game — a Week 17 start with nothing on the line — Mannion showed the Vikings during training camp and practice that he could be a trustworthy backup and a terrific contributor to the team in meetings and on scout team. He built a solid relationship with starter Kirk Cousins and has a very strong feel for the Kubiak offense, having played in a similar system with the Rams. Last year he made just under $900,000, which may be all the Vikings can afford for a backup QB.

T, Rashod Hill 

ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reported that the Vikings do have interest in bringing back their swing tackle, who has developed from a 2016 pickup off Jacksonville’s practice squad into a reliable player. Last year he was asked to fill in for 172 total snaps and allowed just one sack and one hurry, including playing nearly an entire game against the Eagles in which he allowed zero pressures. Last year Hill made $2.0 million.

P, Britton Colquitt 

After struggling to get the kicker-holder relationship in tact during camp, the Vikings picked up Colquitt off the pile of players released in final cuts and he turned out to be one of their better moves last offseason. Not only was he an effective punter but an outstanding holder, which played a role in Bailey’s terrific season. PFF graded him the fourth best punter in the NFL.


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