If the Minnesota Vikings are going to capitalize on their immense potential next season, they must do serious work when 2017 NFL Free Agency gets under way.
This offseason, the Minnesota Vikings have too many tough decisions to make. Several players are likely headed for the chopping block, while there are a couple of gaping holes in the roster that must be filled. Put simply, it’s going to be a busy next few months for Minnesota.
It all starts with 2017 NFL Free Agency, though. That’ll be the perfect opportunity for the Vikings to find some more starting-caliber talent, while adding significant depth at positions of need. It’s not going to be easy considering how shallow the 2017 class appears to be, but GM Rick Spielman certainly has some tricks up his sleeve.
So what moves lie ahead for the Vikings? No one knows for sure, but I’m going to try to predict some chances coming Minnesota’s way. The focus should be on the offensive line, but we must also keep in mind that several players currently under contract could be let go. And then there’s the whole Adrian Peterson situation, which could play out a number of ways.
So, without further ado, here are my five predictions for moves the Vikings will make as parts of the festivities of 2017 NFL Free Agency.
Let’s be honest—Matt Kalil’s five seasons in the Twin Cities were erratic at best. However, after what we saw from the Vikings’ tackles in 2016, bringing back the former No. 4 overall pick wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Kalil has shown the ability to be an upper-echelon left tackle at times. While the consistency obviously isn’t there, it’s clear he can be relied upon when he’s healthy and his confidence is up. That’s not the most promising situation for Minnesota to be in, but anything is better than keeping T.J. Clemmings as the starting left tackle. So yes, I’m predicting the Vikings re-sign Kalil this offseason.
Is it a solve-all? Of course not. Is it the solution fans will all be cheering about? Not a chance. And yet, when it’s all said and done, Kalil may be the best option. It’s not like there are a ton of other intriguing options scheduled to be available during 2017 NFL Free Agency.
Maybe missing most of the 2016 campaign will have Kalil healthy enough to return to his Pro Bowl form. He’s more than capable of being a star on the blindside, which is why I believe Minnesota will give him one more shot to prove his worth.
At this point, Peterson has two options. Either he can take a pay cut or get the ax and take his first trip to free agency. There’s simply no way the Vikings are going to pay him $18 million in 2017, especially after the way the last two years have gone.
Fans will be hoping for the first option, but the second option seems far more likely. Chances are Peterson won’t be willing to take the type of pay cut necessary to make the Vikings comfortable enough to keep him aboard.
In fact, Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf has already made it clear there are some difficult decisions to make this offseason. He even went as far as telling the Pioneer Press that there would be some “tough analysis” ahead for Minnesota’s decision makers (more specifically, Spielman) when it came to Peterson’s future.
Peterson has been an otherworldly talent for much of his career. However, at this moment, he’s little more than an overpaid nuisance for the Vikings.
It’ll be a tough pill to swallow for many, but Peterson will be shown the door in the next month or so. It’s the right move for the Vikings, and the right move for the future Hall of Famer. It’ll be strange seeing him wear a different jersey in 2017, but that’s life in the NFL.
One of the Vikings’ biggest needs right now lies at defensive tackle. The team has a near-elite starter in Linval Joseph, but the depth behind him is unreliable at best. It’s not like they can depend on Sharrif Floyd after he missed nearly all of the 2016 season following a “clean-up” procedure on his knee.
That’s why they need to go out and find someone who can truly make an impact for this Minnesota defense. Enter Nick Fairley, who showed the ability to be a different maker with the New Orleans Saints in 2016.
Fairley’s NFL career has been a roller coaster ride up to this point, but there’s no denying he’s got the talent to be a star. He notched an impressive seven sacks in a rotational role with the Saints last season. That type of interior pass-rush ability could do wonders for a Minnesota defensive line already on the verge of greatness.
Teamed with talents like Joseph, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, Fairley could finally unlock his true potential. It’s going to take more than the $3 million he made in 2016, but it’s not like Minnesota is strapped for cap space.
If the Vikings truly are invested in being legitimate contenders in 2017, this would be a wise move. The defensive tackle depth must improve, and Fairley has the ability to make a world of difference on any given down.
As we all know by now, the Vikings offensive line was absolutely awful in 2016. While Brandon Fusco wasn’t the weakest link, he was certainly a part of the problem. That’s why there’s a good chance he’s shown the door this offseason. In fact, I’m predicting that’ll be exactly what happens to the Slippery Rock product.
Realistically, the Vikings couldn’t have asked for much more out of the former sixth-round pick. He showed starting-caliber skills early in his career, earning the five-year, $25 million extension Minnesota handed him in 2014. However, heading into 2017, it’s clear he’s become a bit of a sore thumb.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Fusco was annihilated in pass protection. While not to the level of Clemmings, he didn’t live up to his pricey contract or standing as one of the Vikings’ original starting five to start the year.
With no guaranteed money left on his deal, Fusco has already been named as a potential cap casualty (via ESPN’s Ben Goessling). While the Vikings don’t necessarily need to create cap space right now, there’s no need to pay a subpar guard that type of money. A change on the right side seems likely at this point in time.
With Fusco gone, the Vikings need a new starter at guard. Look no further than Kevin Zeitler, who is arguably the top guard talent scheduled to hit the open market this offseason. According to ESPN’s Katherine Terrell, Zeitler hasn’t heard from the Cincinnati Bengals about a new deal. The Pro Bowl guard is coming off another outstanding season, earning Pro Football Focus’ seventh-best rating at the position. That fact, however, could make things difficult for the Bengals to retain him.
Cincinnati has never been keen to entering bidding wars for its own free agents. They let Reggie Nelson walk last offseason, and now face the serious possibility of Zeitler swapping jerseys in 2017 as well. If that is the case, though, expect the Vikings to jump at the opportunity.
With Fusco out of the equation, Zeitler slides in at guard and immediately upgrades the Minnesota front five. Despite playing alongside an unreliable Cedri Ogbuehi in 2016, he did more than enough to earn a Pro Bowl nod. Although the Vikings’ offensive line isn’t much better, he’d be a welcomed addition.
Offensive line talent is scarce this offseason. That means convincing Zeitler to come to the Twin Cities won’t be easy with a bidding war likely to break out. However, with his ties to Mike Zimmer, I’m predicting Zeitler will make the smart choice to sign with a team on the verge of contender status.