The Vikings’ limited salary cap space meant they were unable to do much when free agency opened in March, but it’s fair to wonder if they are finished exploring the market.
While the NFL has done a remarkable job of keeping things on schedule during the coronavirus pandemic, including free agency, the draft and its schedule release, the usual second wave of free agency remains ongoing and, right now, appears to be frozen. That’s because the players that are left are guys that teams want to bring to their facilities so coaches and doctors can get a firsthand look at them.
That hasn’t been possible since free agency opened as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banned clubs from bringing players to their cities during the pandemic and also closed all team facilities for several weeks. Free agents still aren’t allowed to make visits, meaning guys like quarterback Cam Newton and defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen continue to look for work.
When free agency opened on March 18, the Vikings were near the bottom of the league in salary cap space. The decision to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a $66 million, two-year extension ($61 million guaranteed), enabled the team to clear more than $10 million in cap space for the 2020 free agency period.
Still, general manager Rick Spielman only added three free agents from the outside, including defensive tackle Michael Pierce (three years, $27 million); wide receiver Tajae Sharpe (one year, $1 million); and defensive end Anthony Zetel (one year, $1 million).
Pierce, who spent his first four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and is expected to take Linval Joseph’s place on the defensive line, was the only high-profile signing. The Vikings will attempt to point out the players they brought back, including putting the one-year, $11.4 million franchise tag on standout safety Anthony Harris, and also the additions they made in the draft.
But the reality is this team could use some more veteran help, especially when you consider the team’s 15-player draft class will be arriving with no on-the-field offseason program having been conducted. Jeff Gladney, the Vikings’ second pick of the first round and the 31st overall selection out of TCU, might be an outstanding player but can he really be expected to step in immediately?
Many believe the Vikings got a steal when Boise State offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland tumbled to them with the 58th pick in the second round, but can Cleveland be the opening day left tackle? And, if he is, can veteran Riley Reiff simply shuffle inside to left guard after exclusively playing tackle during his eight-year career?
This is where the possibility of dipping back into the free-agent market makes some sense. The Vikings aren’t exactly flush with salary cap space, but they no longer sit at the bottom of the league. According to the Over The Cap website, the Vikings have $12.3 million in cap room, placing them 18th in the NFL. That is just behind the New York Jets ($15 million) and one spot ahead of the Green Bay Packers ($10.9 million).
That $12.3 million comes down to $7.7 million once the projected $4.6 million that it will take to sign draft picks (that’s according to Over The Cap founder Jason Fitzgerald) is subtracted. That’s not a ton of room but it is enough to work out a potential one-year deal.
Here is the current list of available free agents. The top five are Newton, Clowney, guard Larry Warford, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Griffen. Other corners in the top 15 include Logan Ryan, Eli Apple and Dre Kirkpatrick. Ryan was the only one of the four listed to play in all 16 games last season.
So could the Vikings be tempted to add a veteran corner once they can get an in-person look at the player? It makes a lot of sense, especially since we aren’t talking about guys who will be negotiating from a position of strength. For that reason, the Vikings might not be done shopping for free agents.