2018 NFL free agency: Possible fits for the Vikings
FOX Sports North
The National Football League continues to remind us there is no offseason in football. Just over a month after the Super Bowl concluded, free agency is set to begin March 14. The Minnesota Vikings have about $48 million in salary-cap room to shell out, which ranks ninth in the NFL. Most of that cash will likely go to fill their opening at quarterback -- whether it’s former Washington Redskins gunslinger Kirk Cousins or re-signing Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater -- but here are a few additional names worth keeping an eye on as Minnesota prepares to spend some dough.
DT Beau Allen
Although the Minnetonka, Minn., native didn’t root for the purple growing up (yes, he was a Packers fan), Allen could fit a need for depth in the trenches. In 15 games with Philadelphia last season, Allen tallied 20 tackles and a sack, helping the Eagles to a Super Bowl win.
CB T.J. Carrie
A former seventh-round draft pick, Carrie had what Pro Football Focus rated an above-average season with an 84.3 rating. In 2017 with Oakland, Carrie had 70 tackles, nine PD and two fumbles recovered. He could be an under-the-radar signing … although few quality cornerbacks are under the radar.
QB Kirk Cousins
It’s not often that a Minnesota team is the favorite to scoop up the top free agent in any offseason, regardless of the sport. But it appears that’s the case in 2018. The Vikings are reportedly in a battle with the New York Jets to land Cousins, the six-year veteran who’s testing free agency for the first time after racking up 25+ touchdown passes and 4,000+ yards in each of the past three seasons.
The biggest knock on Cousins is his career 26-30-1 record as a starter under center in Washington. But he had to shoulder most of the load, scraping by with basically no running game (Washington’s leading rushers the past three seasons: Alfred Morris, Robert Kelley and Samaje Perine) and limited weapons to throw to (leading receivers in 2017: Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis and Ryan Grant). His price tag is hefty -- reportedly around $90 million for three years -- but the pairing of Cousins’ reliability and Minnesota’s skilled playmakers on offense could be a match made for Super Bowl glory.
RB Isaiah Crowell
Crowell’s four-year run with Cleveland was mostly uninspiring. In two seasons as the Browns’ full-time starter, he rushed for 1,805 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. A fresh start (or just to get out of Cleveland) would bode well for Crowell. Latavius Murray, Minnesota’s bruising back in 2017, isn’t a guarantee to return next season, as the Vikings could cut him and save over $5 million in cap space. If that’s the case, Cook and Crowell could be the thunder-and-lightning combination the Vikings are looking for next season.
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RB Jeremy Hill
Like Crowell, the Vikings’ interest in Hill depends on what they decide to do with Murray. Hill rushed for 1,124 yards in his rookie season (2014) but has yet to find that groove again. He’s coming off a disappointing 2017 season, rushing for 116 yards on 37 attempts in seven games, falling out of grace with Cincinnati’s leadership. Head coach Marvin Lewis called Hill out after he elected to have season-ending ankle surgery in November last year. That will likely keep his value down on the market, so if the Vikings are looking for a cheaper option with upside in the backfield, Hill might be their guy.
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RB Carlos Hyde
While Dalvin Cook will undoubtedly be the Vikings’ featured back next year, the team will need to find a replacement for Jerrick “Jet” McKinnon, Minnesota’s second-string halfback for much of the last four years who will likely sign elsewhere this offseason. Like McKinnon, Hyde has proven he can catch the ball out of the backfield, coming off a career-best 59 receptions for 350 yards in 2017. Hyde, however, would be a definite upgrade in the running game, as he’s rushed for 1,926 yards and 14 touchdowns the last two seasons combined. But would Hyde want to join a Minnesota team with Cook in front of him on the depth chart?
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DT Star Lotulelei
With the possibility of veteran Tom Johnson leaving as an unrestricted free agent, Minnesota has a hole to fill in the middle of the line. Former first-round pick Lotulelei has had his moment, although largely has been inconsistent over his five-year career. He's coming off a season in which he had just 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks. As a rookie he had a career-high 42 tackles as well as three sacks and in 2016 he recorded four sacks. Mike Zimmer's defense seems to get the most out of players, so Lotulelei could be a good candidate for a rebound in Minnesota.
OG Jack Mewhort
Joe Berger, who started 64 games at center, left guard and right guard for Minnesota from 2011-17, was apparently a lock to retire after last season. He’s since gone back on that statement and will test the market as an unrestricted free agent. If Minnesota decides to move on from the 35-year-old, Mewhort could be a fit with the Vikings. A player who kind of gets lost in the shuffle since he played for Indianapolis, Mewhort has been a starter since he entered the NFL. In 45 career games, he's allowed just four sacks (and 2.5 of those came as a rookie). However, knee injuries limited him to five games in 2017 and 10 the year before. Mewhort turns just 27 in August.
OG Andrew Norwell
Another potential good fit at right guard, Norwell allowed just one sack and didn’t commit a penalty in 2017. He’s also played in all 32 games (plus four postseason contests) for Carolina the past two seasons. As the top guard available, he’ll be expensive -- Kevin Zeitler, the best guard on the market last year, signed a five-year deal worth $60 million with Cleveland. If the Vikings whiff on signing Cousins and have plenty of cheddar to spend, investing in the offensive line is never a bad idea. Another issue: former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman, now the GM of the Giants, might have eyes on bringing Norwell to New York.
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DT Dontari Poe
Poe might just be the top defensive tackle on the market -- luckily, the Vikings (for now) have a lot of cap room. At 6-foot-3, 346 pounds, Poe offers run-stuffing ability but also can get to the quarterback, recording 10.5 sacks with Kansas City over the 2013-14 seasons. Last season with Atlanta, where he signed as a free agent for $8 million ($7.5M in salary and $500,000 bonus), he had 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two passes defensed. In his six-year career, Poe has 15.5 sacks and 14 PD.
OG Justin Pugh
Pugh is intriguing because of his versatility. Since being selected 19th overall in 2013, he’s played 63 games for the New York Giants, starting games at every position on the line besides center. It would work well for the Vikings, as there’s been talk about sliding Mike Remmers inside to guard from right tackle. The downside? His history with injuries. Pugh was placed on injured reserve last season and missed New York’s final eight games with back problems, but he didn’t need to get surgery, which should keep his value high on the market.
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CB Patrick Robinson
Minnesota could have a need at nickel corner. Terence Newman, who’s filled the role for the Vikings the past three seasons, will turn 40 years old in September and showed signs of slowing down at times last year. Mackensie Alexander, drafted as Newman’s heir apparent in 2016, is still a big question mark after another up-and-down season in 2017. So why not fill the void with Robinson? He's no youngster, turning 31 in September, but that's still a far cry from Newman. Robinson is coming off perhaps the best season of his career, playing mainly in the slot and intercepting five passes the Eagles, including a pick-six off Case Keenum in the NFC Championship game. Sigh.
OG Josh Sitton
Sitton has made his rounds in the NFC North, playing for Green Bay (2008-15) and Chicago (2016-17), so why not make one more stop in Minnesota? A four-time All-Pro guard, Sitton is one year removed from not allowing a single sack in 13 games in 2016. The Bears declined an $8 million option on Sitton for 2018 after he committed just two penalties and allowed 3.0 sacks last season. Entering his 11th year in the NFL, Sitton will turn 32 in June, meaning this is his last shot for a substantial contract in the NFL. And he’ll probably want to join a contender after suffering through the last two seasons with the hapless Bears.