By: Abby Altman
At the beginning of free agency, it appeared as though the Minnesota Vikings were looking to rebuild, which is more than rare for a team coming off of a 13-4 season.
The Vikings have released several key veteran players, including Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, and Cam Dantzler in the last few weeks, and have 11 free agents they have not yet re-signed. Free agents Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson have joined the AFC North with the Steelers and Browns.
Minnesota has re-signed 7 free agents, including first-team all pro long snapper Andrew DePoala and kicker Greg Joseph on special teams. The Vikings also re-signed backup QB Nick Mullens and RB Alexander Mattison for offensive skill positions, and Austin Schlottmann and Garrett Bradbury on the offensive line. Jonathan Bullard is the only re-signed defensive player so far.
Second round draft pick TE Irv-Smith Jr is one free agent the Vikings will likely not resign. After the week 7 trade for TJ Hockenson, the Vikings filled in the gaps Smith Jr was leaving at the TE position. Even with a top 5 TE, Minnesota signed TE Josh Oliver from Baltimore.
Oliver is best known for his blocking abilities, so combined with Hockenson’s routes and hands, the TE position should flourish without the need for Irv Smith Jr.
Free agency is far from over, and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings should be looking at signing some more players before the draft. Here are some of Minnesota’s biggest needs this offseason.
Cornerback: One of the most important additions the Vikings need to find is cornerbacks. Minnesota released CB Cameron Dantzler Sr, after he failed repeatedly in coverage. The Vikings signed Byron Murphy Jr from Arizona on a 2 year deal. Murphy is a top man-to-man coverage defender.
Chandon Sullivan and Duke Shelley are both unsigned free agents as of now. Duke Shelley started 5 games at the end of the season, and exceeded expectations. Shelley is currently asking for more money than the Vikings are currently able to offer him.
Center: The 2022 season showed lots of issues for Minnesota at center. Starter Garrett Bradbury had struggled in past years, but showed real potential last season, before a car accident re-aggravated a back injury and took him out for the end of the season. Backup Austin Schlottmann started behind Bradbury, but suffered a season ending fibula fracture in week 17. Guard Chris Reed was forced to start at center, causing many issues and several delay of game calls.
Minnesota has re-signed both Bradbury and Schlottmann, but finding a new center to ensure stability is key for the Vikings offensive line.
Linebacker: The Linebacker position for Minnesota is appearing to look like a waiting game. Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter held down the position very well this past year, recording 20.5 total sacks between the 2 of them, however, Za’Darius Smith has recently requested to be released. It seems unlikely that the Vikings organization will release him, but a trade may be an option for the veteran outside linebacker. Danielle Hunter is injury prone, after undergoing multiple shoulder surgeries in recent years. Brian Asamoah III, coming off of his rookie season, shows ample potential to be the future for Minnesota’s linebackers, but that is yet to be known for certain.
Minnesota and LB Jordan Hicks agreed to a restructured contract, allowing him to avoid joining Eric Kendricks on the list of released MN linebackers.
Safety: Veteran Harrison Smith is still very active as a safety, tied for 1st in the league in interceptions among active players. Smith is 34 years old, and is no longer in his prime, although he’s still an asset to Minnesota’s defense.
Smith restructured his contract this past week, taking over a $10 million pay cut in order to stay in Minnesota. One of the most beloved players in Minnesota history has earned himself even more respect by taking such a massive pay cut, but one does have to question whether a player of his age will be enough on the field.
Defensive tackle: Minnesota’s most recent re-signing is DT Jonathan Bullard. Bullard was big at stopping the run game in 2022, but he will most likely not be enough for Minnesota to succeed at DT. Harrison Phillips has been the starter for Minnesota as DT, but drafting a new defensive tackle late in the draft may be necessary for the Vikings.
Wide Receiver: The Vikings main goal should be to build this franchise surrounding Justin Jefferson. The elite WR needs a wide receiver 2, after Adam Thielen aged out of his position on the MN Vikings. KJ Osborn is a solid WR3, but trading for, or even drafting, a WR2 should be a high priority. Jaxon Smith-Njigba out of Ohio State is a good fit for the Vikings offensive scheme, but it is unlikely he will still be available when the Vikings draft at pick 24.
Quarterback: It’s no secret that QB Kirk Cousins is getting old. Cousins has been the Vikings quarterback since 2018, and finished the 2022 season 4th in yards and T-5th in touchdowns with the Lions’ Pro Bowl QB Jared Goff. Cousins led the team to a 13-4 season, and was hindered by his defense in the first round of the playoffs. Cousins is 34 years old, and expensive.
The Vikings announced a cap conversion on Kirk Cousins’ contract that will allow them about $16 million in cap space. Cousins’ contract was going to cost the Vikings $36.25 million in 2023. With the conversion, that number goes down to just over $20.25 million, pushing dead cap money into 2026 and 2027, which are added void years in his contract.
It seems likely that Minnesota will allow Cousins’ contract to expire at the end of the upcoming season.
The NFC North is expected to turn a new page in NFL history next season. The Green Bay Packers are likely without a franchise QB for the first time in decades, and the Chicago Bears appear to continue their rebuild attempts.
The Detroit Lions, however, are the favorites take the NFC North for the first time in years. Minnesota and Detroit will likely go head to head for the NFC North title, but Detroit’s offseason has been far more successful than Minnesota’s, thus far.