After a mildly productive first week of free agency, the Minnesota Vikings jumped into the second week head first and made some splashy signings.
Tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers were the only Minnesota Vikings signings of the first week as general manager Rick Spielman and company addressed their offensive line right away, but in the process watched many of their own productive free agents sign on with other teams.
Valuable contributors like Cordarrelle Patterson, Captain Munnerlyn, Matt Kalil, Jeff Locke, Audie Cole, Charles Johnson, Andre Smith, and Rhett Ellison have all moved on. Others like Adrian Peterson, Shaun Hill, Matt Asiata, Brandon Fusco, Justin Trattou, Zach Line, and Jake Long all await their future contracts and teams.
This 2017-18 Minnesota Vikings team will hardly resemble last years in regards to roster, special teams, and how their offense will run with a full off-season under Pat Shurmur. Gone are the days the purple and gold revolved around a hall of fame running back in Adrian Peterson. They now will take on the look of a pass orientated team under the arm of often injured quarterback, Sam Bradford.
The weapons currently lack, a guard position is open on the right side of the offensive line, and a kick returner is now a needed position in Minnesota. Currently, question marks surround what exactly should we expect from this offense so we can only guess at this point.
The second week of free agency was better, what else does Spielman have in store as we near the 2017 NFL Draft?
This time they actually signed a former Packer still in his prime and coming off his rookie deal, not to mention that this player, Datone Jones, is a former first round pick. Formerly an outside linebacker in the Packers 3-4 defensive scheme, Jones will now beef up the defensive end position and possibly slide into defensive tackle on pass plays. He joins a strong group in Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, and Danielle Hunter.
Jones hasn’t exactly been what many expected out of him when getting drafted out of UCLA in 2013, only compiling nine sacks in his four-year career. To his credit, he wasn’t much of a pass rusher in college, but made more plays behind the line of scrimmage then he has in the pros.
The Minnesota Vikings signed Jones to a one year, $3.75 million dollar deal, which could become $5 million if he hits all the escalators in the deal. To Minnesota, this is a prove it signing for the former Packer, letting him come to camp and battle it out for a roster spot.
After spending most of their cap on needed offensive help, this signing help bolsters the defensive front and provides depth to the front seven. If Datone Jones can just hit about 50 percent of his potential, the Minnesota defensive line may be one of the scariest to deal with in the league.
The Minnesota Vikings only had three receivers signed to the team before this much needed announcement, two of them on their rookie deals still. So the signing of Adam Thielen was extremely vital to the purple and gold. Another team-friendly deal for the Vikings, Adam Thielen signed a three-year $17 million dollar agreement with $11 million guaranteed. Spielman and company are still awaiting to see the potential from this Detroit Lakes, MN native, but got a glimpse of what could be last season.
It’s a feel good story watching one of their own make the team, then go ahead and become an impact player in just his fourth season in the league.
The wide receiver depth chart in Minnesota is filled out with two rookie deals and Jarius Wright’s two-year deal, that for some odd reason saw him get very minimal playing time last year. Now with four wide receivers signed to contracts, this position will also need to be addressed either through the draft or again in free agency.
For now, Minnesota must be thrilled to bring back their two top pass catchers in Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who will also be in the running for a new contract in two years. Minnesota remains hopeful that 2016 first-round pick, Laquon Treadwell, can exceed the production they received from Cordarrelle Patterson, well at least in the receiving department; in regards to Jarius Wright the jury is still out on what exactly happened, but hopefully he become productive once again as well.
Needless to say, signing Thielen mid-week was a nice reprieve for Vikings fans that have watched many of their own free agents sign with other teams throughout the off-season.
The fit may be a bit questionable as the Vikings signed this former Oakland Raiders standout, but Minnesota needed to make this move for two important reasons.
First, Minnesota needed a better pass blocker at the position with both Peterson and Jerick McKinnon failing to do their part when the offensive lineman were in need. One of Peterson’s well-studied issues was inability to be an efficient pass blocker, often misreading blitz pickups and providing support to the wrong side. McKinnon worked hard in that aspect, but just simply was overpowered and out matched at points.
Latavius Murray was solid in pass protection and per Pro Football Focus, he was the third best blocker at the position. Needless to say, it’s not the most attractive trait at the running back position, but a much-needed one for Minnesota. Murray will provide Bradford stability in the backfield.
Secondly, Latavius is a better receiver then Peterson. Simple as that, too many times Vikings fans watched Peterson drop an inadvertent dump off or bobble simple catches, Murray snatches passes without much issue.
Now where things come to question is the natural nature of this former Raider running the ball. Latavius Murray struggled with yards after contact, and does have issues using his vision sometimes behind the line. Minnesota’s offensive line ranked near the bottom allowing contact before yardage on run plays, so unless the Vikings O-line drastically improves with its new tackles and guard, Murray may still struggle in that aspect.
With the contract that Murray has possibly being voided after the first year, we can almost surely assert that Minnesota will be eyeing a running back in the draft as well.
Overall Minnesota’s offense will not be solely centered around the run game anymore, seems as if they are looking to change the dynamic on offense. If it’s anything comparable to what we saw towards the end of last season with Pat Shurmur, misdirection and screens may become more of an asset as this team pushes forward into 2017.