If the Minnesota Vikings plan on being contenders next season, they must find the perfect fits for their biggest needs during 2017 NFL free agency.
Put simply, the Minnesota Vikings have a lot of ground to cover in the coming months. After a promising 2016 campaign came crashing down on top of them, it’s clear some upgrades are needed if the playoffs are in their plans for 2017.
Luckily, there are numerous opportunities this offseason to make the aforementioned upgrades. Most people tend to focus on the NFL Draft, but the best chance for the Vikings to address their needs may actually come during 2017 NFL free agency.
The only problem is Minnesota doesn’t have an abundance of cap space to work with. According to Spotrac.com, the Vikings currently have about $21 million at their disposal. That number could increase significantly based on some potential roster moves, but it’s nothing more than a waiting game at this moment.
Still, the Vikings should have enough spending power to at least fill a need or two during free agency. With that mind, I’ve put together a look at their biggest needs and perfect fits for said needs. Minnesota must make some bold moves when the new league year begins, and signing one or two of the names on this list would help this franchise get back on track.
Chances are, Captain Munnerlyn will not be re-signed this offseason. If that’s the case, the Vikings will need a new slot cornerback to fill the void in 2017. While there are some in-house options, I believe finding more talent at the position via free agency makes the most sense.
In this instance, I’m thinking a talent such as Logan Ryan would be an excellent fit. There’s a very good chance the New England Patriots opt to let him test the open market. When that happens, the Vikings have to jump at the opportunity to sign a productive, dependable playmaker in the slot.
Last season, Ryan stuffed the stat sheet with 92 tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defended and one sack. While he struggled on the outside to start the year, his transition to the slot worked like a charm. He quickly adapted to the move and shined in the new role, proving his status as a quality starting cornerback.
Minnesota is likely losing both Munnerlyn and Terence Newman this offseason. That leaves a significant hole across from Xavier Rhodes in the starting lineup. While they could test their luck with Trae Waynes or Mackensie Alexander, signing an experienced option such as Ryan seems like the right move.
Heading into 2017, the Vikings could use some added options at defensive tackle. Linval Joseph has the run-stuffing role locked down, but a new three-technique with the potential to consistently rush the passer is needed.
That’s where a talent such as Nick Fairley comes into play. The former first-round pick is coming off an outstanding season with the New Orleans Saints, having racked up 6.5 sacks while proving to be one of the better interior pass rushers in the NFL. It just so happens that’s exactly what the Vikings need at this moment.
It’s not like they can rely on Sharrif Floyd. He missed all but one game last season due to a mysterious knee injury, and still appears to be an unknown heading into 2017. As I predicted previously, there’s a good chance Floyd is shown the door with the Vikings in need of some added cap space.
Even if Floyd returns, kicking the tires on Fairley still makes sense. The depth at defensive tackle is far from impressive for Minnesota, and the pass-rushing ability is even less exciting. Fairley would give them a plus starter with the potential to turn the Vikings’ defensive front into one of the NFL’s best.
The Vikings are faced with the overwhelming task of rebuilding the offensive line this offseason. There are a number of issues that must be fixed, and one of the most glaring lies at right tackle. It’s not like sticking with T.J. Clemmings or Jeremiah Sirles is a promising route to take.
Instead, Minnesota should search far and wide for an experienced candidate via free agency. Unfortunately, the pickings are going to be slim. The 2017 free agency class is among the worst in recent history in terms of quality offensive line talent.
With that being said, Sebastian Vollmer is an option worth taking serious if you’re the Vikings. The former All-Pro right tackle is coming off a season lost to a hip injury, but was one of the league’s best before that. With the New England Patriots unlikely to re-sign him, his starting-caliber abilities will be up for grabs come March 9.
The best part? Vollmer will likely sign a discount, “prove it” deal after spending all of 2016 on the sidelines. While the Vikings don’t have a ton of cap space, there are other areas of need this offseason. Getting a top talent at a reduced price seems like an ideal opportunity for Minnesota.
By all appearances, the Oakland Raiders and Latavius Murray are headed for a divorce. They appear set on letting him test the open market, where he’s likely to receive significant interest with few starting options scheduled to be available.
As it so happens, the Minnesota Vikings are likely to part ways with Adrian Peterson. The former NFL MVP is making way too much money after missing most of two of his last three seasons. Unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut, Peterson will get the boot in the near future.
If Murray isn’t re-signed and Peterson gets the ax, the Vikings could be a serious option to sign the former sixth-round pick. He’s proven during his two years as the Raiders’ top back that he’s capable of making big plays with his exciting mix of speed and power. Although he had a down year in 2016, Murray could thrive as Minnesota’s lead runner.
After setting Peterson free, the Vikings can use that cap space to sign Murray. The alternatives are limited unless they want to gamble on someone like LeGarrette Blount or Eddie Lacy. Assuming that isn’t the case, Murray has to be a serious consideration.
One way or another, the Vikings must make a groundbreaking move at left tackle. While re-signing Matt Kalil isn’t the worst idea, finding a more outstanding option on the blindside seems to be the only feasible plan of attack for Minnesota.
Look no further than Andrew Whitworth, arguably the top left tackle expected to be available during 2017 NFL Free Agency. The Cincinnati Bengals star isn’t going to come cheap and will likely have plenty of suitors, but the Vikings need to do everything in their power to convince him they belong atop his wish list.
Whitworth is coming off another tremendous campaign. His 2016 performance earned him Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 rating among offensive tackles, aided by his league-best rating as a pass protector. Even at 35 years of age, Whitworth is still one of the NFL’s top tackle talents and will command compensation to reflect that.
So if the Vikings are going to spend big this offseason, it needs to be on Whitworth. Maybe Mike Zimmer’s connection to the Bengals will help the Vikings contend for his services. Or maybe the fact that they’re a potential contender in 2017 will give him enough reason to take his talents to the Twin Cities.