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The future of the Vikings, part 9: The safeties

Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending.

Here are parts 1-7:


running backs

wide receivers

tight ends

offensive line

defensive line



And now for the safeties…

The season couldn’t have ended much worse for the Minnesota Vikings’ safeties. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo were torched by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Vikings’ 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship game. But that was their only bad game of the year. The pair have been playing together now for the entirety of the Mike Zimmer era and they seem to be getting better every year. Zimmer uses his safeties to throw off the quarterback’s reads. Having good chemistry appears to play a role in their sustained effectiveness.

How much longer will Smith and Sendejo be together? Do the Vikings have enough depth at the position? Let’s have a look

The results

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith is making a case for defensive MVP

The Vikings’ Pro Bowl safety made a case for not just being the best player at his position this season but the best player in the entire NFL. At season’s end, only Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald scored a higher grade by Pro Football Focus. He rated as the No. 1 safety against the run and the pass. Smith intercepted five passes – including one against Chicago that set up a game-winning field goal. He picked up 1.5 sacks, both coming in a home win over Green Bay. He set a career high in pass deflections with 12 and stuffed six runs, the second highest of his career.

Andrew Sendejo

Midway through the season, Harrison Smith was quoted as saying Sendejo has always been a good player, he was simply overlooked. That may be true, but 2017 was easily his best season in the NFL by PFF metrics. He ranked 11th in the NFL with an 86.8 rating (out of 100), which is more than 10 points higher than his previous high in 2014. Sendejo picked off two passes and set a career high in pass deflections (7). Both Smith and Sendejo played a major role in the Vikings ranking No. 1 against opposing running backs and No. 2 against tight ends in yards allowed per game.

Anthony Harris

It was a good year to be a safety for the Vikings. In 2016, when Harris filled in the Vikings struggled to slow down opposing teams’ passing games. This time around he was much better, scoring an 81.4 by PFF grades, which would have ranked him 30th in the NFL if he had enough snaps to qualify. His strong play was needed as he totaled 254 snaps between the regular season and playoffs. Harris’s best moment came against the Los Angeles Rams when he forced a Cooper Kupp fumble at the goal line.

Jayron Kearse

Last year Kearse was the first man off the bench when Sendejo went down. That was not the case this time around. However, the 2016 seventh-round pick did find a role for himself in 2017 as a punt gunner. While he only saw 28 defensive snaps, Kearse played nearly 70 percent of special teams snaps.

The options

— Harris is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, meaning he is a player whose contract has expired and has three or fewer tenured years in the league. He can only re-sign with the Vikings. If they elect not to re-sign him, he would become an unrestricted free agent. After a solid year as a fill-in, the Vikings have no reason to let Harris walk.

— If the Vikings did want to add another safety to the mix to create some more unique looks and personnel on defense, they could add a defensive back like Darius Butler to play on third down passing situations. The Vikings could move Smith up to a linebacker spot with either Eric Kendricks or Anthony Barr at LB and have Sendejo and the other safety play over the top. They could also mix in looks to have Barr as a defensive end and Everson Griffen move inside over a guard as the Eagles occasionally do with Brandon Graham.

— Outside of Darius Butler, some other part-time safeties on the market include Los Angeles’s Cody Davis, Miami’s Nate Allen, Houston’s Eddie Pleasant and Philadelphia’s Corey Graham.

— It would be surprising if the Vikings moved on from Sendejo any time soon, but they may be looking for the future at the position somewhere in the draft. It’s very unlikely that would be before the third round.

The bottom line

The Vikings have a truly elite player and another very good player at the safety spot. Smith and Sendejo’s play helped Minnesota rise to the top of the NFL in defense. But in an effort to keep adapting and stay ahead of great teams like the Eagles, the Vikings could consider adding a versatile defensive back from a fairly good free agent crop to give them more flexibility.

  • cka2nd

    A Day 3 draft pick, a couple of college free agents, you can always run someone at a guy on the bench like Kearse, but I wouldn’t expect, nor want, any change in this quartet between now and next season.

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  • Gordon Guffey

    I look for the Vikings to get Sendejo signed to a 3 or 4 year deal before FA starts ~ He is one of those guys they need back ~ It wasn’t that long ago some ((( including some reporters ))) thought he should be cut and that he was one of the worst safeties in the NFL ~ It took him for or 5 years to prove them wrong ~ He had some ups and downs along the way but he has panned out since Zimmer took over ~ I believe it must be hard to do all of the things Zimmer asks of his DB’s as it seems to take then a couple of years to start to show they were worth either the pick or the money in FA ~

    Just a gut feeling on my part ~ I believe both Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse will be back in 2018 with a possible draft pick on the way ~

    Getting a good 3 Tech who can put better pressure on the QB up the middle would help all f these guys in the back end of the defense ~

    • linus

      Sendejo won’t be a free agent until 2020 and will be on the downside of his career by then (age 32), so there’s no need to extend him.

      • Gordon Guffey

        I thought he was a FA this year ~ Thanks linus for that update ~ Eased my mind big time ~

    • Vikoments

      Sendejo has persistently been a liability in the middle of the field not just in the game with Philly. Smith to often bails Sendejo out. In 2016 QBs completed long gainers that Sendejo should have covered. In 2017 there was some improvement but he still jams with shoulder tackles instead of wrapping up. Cam N. juked him out of his shorts and scored the final TD in the game. Alshon Jeffrey torched him when he was playing for the bears. One would have to expect something close to the same in the Eagles game.

      Problem is we don’t have anyone better.

      I agree about the 3 technique.

      • Gordon Guffey

        We would just have to agree to disagree ~ Smiley Face 🙂

  • Corn Bread

    I think we should sign Eric Reid and let training camp sort out the rest.

  • patrick

    what about bringing newman back and using him to backup the safety spot?

    • Troy D. Kern

      No way. The guy lost a step. He was good in his prime. But too old to play a young mans game.

  • styx rogan

    Bendayho go to go

  • Matt Rowe

    I know they both had great seasons. But the sour taste in my mouth from watching them get repeatedly burned big time against Philly will linger for a while…

  • Andrew Stead

    The article asks “how much longer will Smith and Sendejo be together” but doesn’t come close to answering. Age and contract status, and some attempt to handicap this would have been useful.

    The overall issue: the league is designed to foster parity. A team can’t keep everyone. At least one and more likely two of Waynes/Alex/Hunter/Kendricks/Barr are going to move on after their rookie deals. I appreciate the position group breakdown, but one can’t look at these upcoming UFAs in that kind of isolation. Hunter is a lock, after that it gets more complicated.

    • linus

      Smith is 28 and signed through 2021. Sendejo is 30 and signed through 2019. So they’ll likely be together for two more years.

      • Andrew Stead

        Those 3 sentences would have greatly improved the article. We’ve all seen this movie before, though: Dejo may be approached with the typical paycut request after next year, and so it could be just one more dance.


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