The Minnesota Vikings landed two starting tackles, a starting running back and a depth defensive lineman so far in free agency. They’ve also seen one starting corner return and a handful of players find new homes. So where does that leave the Vikings’ roster? What positions need to be addressed still in free agency and the draft? Let’s have a look…
There hasn’t been a single peep from the Vikings or Sam Bradford’s camp about a potential extension, which hints at the Vikings’ starting quarterback heading into 2017 with uncertainty over his future. It’s possible the team wants to wait and see how Teddy Bridgewater’s knee recovers before they sign on for another five years of Bradford. They might also want to know if his stats from last season were fool’s gold. It was, after all, the best season of his career. They may want to find out whether he regresses or grows with an improved offensive line. The franchise tag option will always be there if a deal isn’t worked out.
After signing Murray to what essentially is a one-year deal, the Vikings likely will be looking to the NFL draft to add one more running back to the mix, especially in a draft that is said to be very deep with RBs. Murray has a favorable skill set for the West Coast offense and a good pass protector and pass catcher. There are enough shortcomings in his game to open the door for he and McKinnon to be 1A and 1B. Over the second half of the season, it seemed the Vikings figured out how to better use McKinnon. In his final six games, the third-year back averaged 4.1 Yards Per Carry and caught 31 passes.
The Vikings accomplished one of their biggest offseason goals, which was to sign Thielen to a contract extension. He now has an extremely reasonable contract through 2020. With Diggs and Thielen, the Vikings have one of the better 1-2 combinations in the NFL. While neither will be called the league’s best receiver, both are in the upper echelon of all-around receivers, which gives offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur all sorts of options. Behind Diggs and Thielen, the Vikings aren’t in great shape. It is unclear whether Laquon Treadwell will take a huge step forward or become a bust and Jarius Wright was almost completely cut out of the offense last year. Another receiver in free agency would be a big help.
The Vikings lost Rhett Ellison (and his dad) to the New York Giants, leaving them with an open spot. This year’s draft features a group of freak show tight ends who set the record for most sub-4.7 40-yard dashes at the NFL Combine. The Vikings tried to sign former Ram and Packer Jared Cook, but he chose the Oakland Raiders instead. That leaves a pretty light group of free agent tight ends, led by Raider Mychal Rivera, who caught 58 passes for Oakland back in 2014. Minnesota should feel like they are in good shape with Rudolph, who is coming off a career year. But as Bill Belichick has taught us, two receiving-threat tight ends on the field at the same time makes for a pretty tough matchup.
There isn’t a team in the league that improved at one position in free agency more than the Vikings improved at tackle. Of the available options, Reiff was arguably the second best behind Andrew Whitworth, who signed with the Rams. If he plays like he did in 2015, the last time he was at left tackle, the Vikings will be in decent shape both protecting the passer and in the run game. Remmers is a little more questionable, but he was an average right tackle on the 2015 Panthers, who went to the Super Bowl. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Hill is intriguing. He played well in his first game and might be a player the Vikings can develop. As for Clemmings and Beavers, well, the Vikings should probably draft another tackle or two.
The Vikings need more guards. Boone played fairly well in his first year as a Viking, particularly in pass protection. Sirles struggled with edge rushers when starting at right tackle, but is a powerful run blocker, which makes him an attractive candidate to start at guard. However, the Vikings should be looking hard at the guard position in the second round to compete for a starting job.
In a rough year for the offensive line, Berger’s excellent play stood out. When he was moved to guard, Easton filled in admirably. If Easton shows big improvement in training camp, the Vikings could consider starting Berger at guard.
This group keeps opposing quarterbacks up at night. Griffen has established himself as a top-notch all-around D-end who can stuff the run and rush the quarterback with power and speed. Last season, Hunter took a huge step forward, finishing fifth in the NFL in sacks. His speed and length make him a very difficult matchup for right tackles. Being able to mix Robison and Jones into the lineup gives the Vikings some versatility and very capable depth in case of injury.
When Floyd is healthy, he and Joseph make life difficult on any team hoping to run the ball up the middle. Floyd also gives an extra element of pass rush with his quickness off the line. Tom Johnson may be 32, but he can still get after the quarterback on third downs. In a fill-in role, Stephen can be serviceable, though it became clear that starting on a consistent basis might be too much to ask. The Vikings might want to add another DT in the draft or free agency to add to their depth at the position. They should be concerned about another year of Floyd on the shelf.
A few question marks here: Will Anthony Barr bounce back after a tough 2016? Will the Vikings have to adjust his role? Who will take Chad Greenway’s spot in the base package? Should the Vikings add a skilled cover linebacker instead of a run-stuffer or can Robinson or Brothers take that spot? One thing that’s not in question is Eric Kendricks’ talent. He proved in Year 2 to be a playmaker and exceptional cover linebacker.
Last season, Rhodes moved himself into the “elite” category. It will be worth watching to see whether the Vikings can lock him into long-term contract. Newman returns at age 39 after an impressive 2016. His role is yet to be determined. Waynes made enough progress for the Vikings to consider starting him on the outside and moving Newman to nickel. Alexander didn’t make a case for a job last year, so the Vikings could use one more experienced cornerback.
You won’t find too many safeties who can do as many things at a high level as Smith. He is the key to the Vikings’ defensive scheme. His importance was painfully obvious when he missed a game late in the year. Sendejo improved last season, playing reliably alongside Smith, but there was a massive drop off when Kearse or Harris was forced to play. It wouldn’t be a shock if the Vikings brought in one more safety for a backup job.
Thursday Night Lights at Mystic Lake. Click here for details