The Minnesota Vikings had plenty of money to spend this offseason, and they smartly used it to improve the league’s worst defense in multiple areas. The main weaknesses coming in were defensive line and the secondary, and new head coach Mike Zimmer did his best to shore both up for the foreseeable future.
The biggest signing the Vikings made was one I had been waiting for all season, and was actually completed before free agency began when they re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen to a 5-year, $42.5 million deal. Griffen will finally be given the starting role he deserves, and paired with Brian Robison, Sharrif Floyd and another big free agent, the Vikings should have an improved pass rushing and run stopping unit.
The other defensive linemen the Vikings signed were Linval Joseph of the New York Giants and Corey Wootton of the Chicago Bears. Joseph ranked as the Giants’ second best defensive linemen last season — according to Pro Football Focus — and listed at 6-foot-4, 328 pounds, he will be a welcomed presence onto the starting unit.
Wootton will primarily be a backup hybrid, as he came into the league as a defensive end, but spent considerable time at defensive tackle this past season. He’s a player that has the potential to be a starter for every NFL team, but until he can find his niche and develop technique, his role will be to simply fill in and give others rest.
The second area of need was the secondary, and the Vikings addressed this early by signing former Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to a 3-year, $11.25 million deal. Munnerlyn won’t be an every down player, as his 5-foot-8 stature limits him to a role in the slot, as opposed to Xavier Rhodes, who is 6-foot-1 and plays outside the hashes.
Munnerlyn is a player who is just as good against the run as the pass, and with Zimmer noting that stopping the run is his main concern, this is one of the better low-risk deals the Vikings made this offseason. It wasn’t the home run signing I had hoped for — that would have been Alterraun Verner out of Tennessee — but this means the Vikings could be looking early in the draft to target a taller cornerback to play opposite Rhodes.
The most important aspect of all these defensive signings is that all are entering their prime with their careers, with the oldest being Wootton at just 26 years old. Combining these new signings with a core made up of Rhodes, Robison, Griffen and Harrison Smith, the Vikings are in a good position to improve their defense year after year.
The Vikings also signed a few lesser known defensive players to serve as backups, but the main defensive moves that were made should help this team take a step forward in 2014. They were relatively quiet on the offensive side of the ball, but the re-signing of Matt Cassel after he opted out of his deal was a smart move the Vikings needed to make.
Although he’s not the future at quarterback, his two-year deal allows the Vikings to slowly develop a young quarterback, while having a veteran under center who can help this team win games. Although many fans aren’t high on Cassel’s return, he played in every Minnesota victory this past season, and had obvious chemistry with Greg Jennings early, a receiver who was underutilized with just 68 receptions for 804 yards.
Offensive line wasn’t a pressing need for the Vikings, but in order to squash any speculation they would be looking at an offensive guard prospect in the draft, they re-signed Charlie Johnson to a 2-year, $2.5 million contract, and brought in former New York Jets guard Vlad Ducasse to serve as competition.
The Vikings still have some holes to fill through the draft, namely linebacker and cornerback, but they improved more than anticipated and should have a better record this upcoming season. An early round pick will likely be spent on a quarterback as well, but don’t expect a rookie to be thrust into a starting lineup that is built to win now.