Day 1 of the “legal tampering” period in the NFL saw all sorts of action. Just not in Minnesota.
Anthony Barr left for the Jets. Safety Landon Collins signed an $84 million deal in Washington, Nick Foles landed in Jacksonville for $88 million. the Lions added three top free agents in Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Jesse James and Tyrann Mathieu inked a huge deal with the Chiefs.
The Vikings were mostly silent.
The only moves coming from TCO Performance Center were the release of Mike Remmers, declining of Andrew Sendejo’s option and tenders for RFAs Anthony Harris and Rashod Hill. And the signing of defensive tackle Shamar Stephen.
Assuming Harris and Hill sign their tenders, the Vikings will have about $10 million in cap space to work with, according to Overthecap.com.
That leaves little room for the Vikings to go all-in on free agents.
Certainly there are players remaining on the market who would be solid fits in Minnesota like tackle Ja’Wuan James and guard Rodger Saffold. But the price tag could be tough to match. Tackle Trent Brown agreed to a deal worth around $16 million per year, which tells us the O-line market is expensive.
In order to create more cap space, the Vikings would have to move on from a key player. Cutting or trading Everson Griffen would save the Vikings more than $10 million. Releasing Kyle Rudolph would add $7 million in space and trading Trae Waynes for draft picks would tack on $9 million to the Vikings’ cap. But it’s unclear whether any of those things are going to happen.
The problem with those moves is that the Vikings would have to believe the free agent replacements would be more valuable than a star edge rusher, quality corner and Pro Bowl tight end.
It’s plausible that the Vikings see the market as too risky and decide to stand mostly still until much of the dust has settled and then look to acquired some bang-for-buck free agents after the first wave of free agency.
If they don’t make any noise over the next week, Vikings fans will be asking plenty of questions. What holes might have to be filled in the draft? Can they actually be a better team in 2019 than the 8-7-1 version from last year? Can they find diamond in the rough free agents in a few weeks when things have quieted down?
Last things first: At some positions of need, there are under-the-radar free agents who could come on reasonable deals. If the Vikings can’t sign top receiver Golden Tate, for example, they could end up with players like John Brown, Donte Moncrief, Chris Hogan, Jermaine Kearse, Randall Cobb, Pierre Garcon or Ryan Grant.
But there are positions in which good deals will be tough to find. On the offensive line, recently-injured guard Andy Levitre is one of the rare solid players who could come at a reasonable price. Nick Easton falls under that category as well. Good luck finding anyone else.
Defensive tackle is also short on talent aside from Sheldon Richardson and Ndamukog Suh. The Vikings’ decision to bring back Shamar Stephen likely lowered the odds of either Richardson or Suh signing in Minnesota.
Update: Sheldon Richardson signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns
At linebacker, Philadelphia’s Jordan Hicks and Cleveland’s Jamie Collins could be replacements for Anthony Barr. There aren’t many other options.
Update: The Vikings are re-signing Anthony Barr
So the Vikings are likely to be pushed to the draft to fill some needs. There are a number of highly rated prospects on the D-line in the draft and two top-notch linebackers expected to be taken in the middle of the first round.
On the O-line players like Cody Ford, Dalton Risner and Garrett Bradbury could all be instant impact players in the draft. That approach might simply make more sense than reaching to pay an O-lineman as they have in the recent past with Alex Boone and Mike Remmers.
Of course, rookies are unpredictable, even in a good draft.
That leaves us with the question of whether the Vikings can get back to the postseason with the same group.
The short answer is: If the front office does not add much more talent to the current group, things will have to go their way in a number of areas. On the offensive line, Brian O’Neill and Pat Elflein will have to take steps forward. Gary Kubiak’s scheme will have to get the most out of the O-line talent and set up Kirk Cousins for more success. Mike Zimmer will need Jalyn Holmes or Jaleel Johnson to step up into the three-technique role and thrive. Anthony Harris will need to repeat his 2018 performance across from Harrison Smith.
All of those things could realistically come together. Add a handful of made field goals and the Vikings end up back toward the top of the NFC North.
But if the Vikings end up sitting on free agency’s sidelines and they miss the playoffs again, we’ll be left wondering if they should have made sacrifices to go all-in to improve the supporting cast around Cousins.
Of course, this is the Vikings. Just because they sat out Day 1 does not mean they will be watching other teams have all the fun for the entire free agency period. However, with so little cap space, a big splash move seems less and less likely the deeper into the week we go.
5. Wait and do nothing until the first wave of free agents have signed, and then look for bargains
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) March 11, 2019