Free agency has resulted in a few additions to the Minnesota Vikings roster with the vast majority coming on the defensive side of the ball. The only big name player to walk was Jared Allen, but with the re-signing of Everson Griffen and addition of others, the Vikings defense has clearly gotten better.
The two biggest signings were cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (three years/$11.25 million) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (five years/$35.5 million). Both should be instant starters for the Vikings even though Munnerlyn plays primarily in the slot, compared to Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson –two taller corners who play on the outside. The Vikings are also reported to have signed former San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox who is 6-foot-1 and could start opposite Rhodes if he impresses during training camp.
The Vikings are likely done signing corners, but with Robinson and Cox competing for the right cornerback spot they may elect to add another through the draft to either raise the competition level or add more depth. The rest of the secondary will consist of Harrison Smith and either Andrew Sendejo, Jamarca Sanford or Mistral Raymond at the strong safety position.
Sendejo impressed when filling in for the injured Smith last season, and with the Vikings having a stronger secondary this year compared to last, Sendejo’s run stopping ability could be what ultimately wins him the starting job. It’s not a dominant secondary, but with Smith, Rhodes and Munnerlyn all 25 years or younger it’s a young group that should only improve as time passes.
The signing of Joseph to be the team’s replacement for Kevin Williams was a smart move by management as it’s a position that’s crucial to stopping the run, which is something the Vikings have slowly stopped doing over the years. There were reports the team was also interested in former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, but with news that Melton has left town and is meeting with other teams it appears as if the Vikings have missed out on his services.
A front line consisting of Robison, Joseph, Sharrif Floyd and Griffen should be good enough to improve on the 110 yards per game they allowed on the ground last season, while also taking some pressure off a secondary that still has plenty to prove. Although there were plenty of defensive holes to fill prior to free agency starting, the only glaring weakness of the Vikings defense now comes at the linebacker position.
Although scheduled to make over $8 million this season, Chad Greenway is coming off the worst season of his career, and if it hadn’t been for some good faith on the side of management he likely would have been forced to restructure his contract to stick with the team. With the cap number Greenway carries it’s inevitable he will be a starter next season, but the release of Erin Henderson has left the Viking short a middle linebacker.
Bringing back Jasper Brinkley doesn’t improve the defense by much, but him and Michael Mauti are currently the only two middle linebackers on the roster, meaning the position will be weak next season if they don’t improve it through the draft.
The outside linebacker spot opposite Greenway is also unclaimed at the moment as Marvin Mitchell and Gerald Hodges — who combined to play just 312 snaps last season — are the only two on the team’s roster. There is plenty of linebacker talent at the top in the coming draft, most notably Khalil Mack (Buffalo) and C.J. Mosely (Alabama), but if the Vikings go in a different direction with the No. 8 pick they will still have the option in the second-round to add a starting caliber player such as Chris Borland (Wisconsin) or Kyle Van Noy (BYU).
It was obvious when the Vikings hired Mike Zimmer to be the new head coach there would be plenty of changes on the defensive side of the ball, but a strong free agency period has the Vikings primed for a solid draft and better overall team in 2014. The Vikings still have $15 million in cap space, and needing to save roughly $6 million for rookies there is still money to be spent before the May 8 draft rolls around.