Minnesota Vikings 2020 impending free agents primer
Every offseason in the NFL is considered big, but it seems the Minnesota Vikings’ 2020 offseason has more on the line than usual. The Vikings came up one game short of an NFC Championship appearance in 2019 and face this pressing question: Can this roster ever get over the hump under head coach Mike Zimmer? And what moves can the team make as it ranks dead last in the NFL with minus-$12 million in cap space?
Before the Vikings dig into their mostly empty pockets for free agents around the league, they’ll have to address the impending free agents on their roster — 18 players — from running back Ameer Abdullah to linebacker Eric Wilson. Of the 18 free-agents-to-be, 16 are unrestricted while Wilson and fullback C.J. Ham are restricted.
Let’s dive in:
RB Ameer Abdullah, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 23 rush, 155 yards; 15 rec., 88 yards, 1 TD. 13 KR, 25.0 avg.
2019 cap number: $735,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Abdullah served as Minnesota’s third-string running back in 2019 behind Dalvin Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison. He’d bring a veteran presence to the running backs room and provide a bit more stability in what is sure to be an offseason full of turnover on the roster.
Why they wouldn’t: Abdullah doesn’t really excel at anything. He didn’t do enough in the kick return game to secure a special-teams role for next season, and he’s definitely not the featured back Detroit hoped he’d become when it selected him in the second round (54th overall) in 2015. The Vikings can easily get another Abdullah in the draft.
WR Mackensie Alexander, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 13 games (4 starts), 37 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits, 5 PD, 1 INT
2019 cap number: $1.37 million
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Alexander struggled in his first couple of seasons but improved drastically in 2018 and saw his role increase again this fall, as he played over 50% of the defensive snaps in 11 of 13 games. The progress is encouraging. The former second-round pick would also be cheaper to bring back than Trae Waynes (more on him later).
Why they wouldn’t: Other than a lack of cap space, there’s really no reason the Vikings wouldn’t want to re-sign Alexander.
K Dan Bailey, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 16 games, 27/29 FG (93.1%), 40/44 XP (90.9%)
2019 cap number: $2 million
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Bailey was very consistent for the Vikings in 2019, going 3 for 3 from 50+ yards and finished the season making 93.1% of his kicks. That mark put him fourth in the NFL among starting kickers, and it was no anomaly either, since Bailey connected on over 93% of his kicks in 2012, 2013 and 2015 with Dallas.
Why they wouldn’t: Bailey did miss four extra-point attempts in 2019, but it’s hard to imagine Minnesota parting with such a consistent kicker. Sure, there will be a cheaper option out there, but reliable kickers are hard to come by, as Zimmer and all Vikings fans know all too well.
LB Kentrell Brothers, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 13 games (1 start), 16 TKL
2019 cap number: $778,170
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Brothers has been a steady presence on special teams since he was selected in the fifth round by Minnesota in 2016. He also played every defensive snap in Week 17 when the Vikings rested their starters and tallied nine tackles.
Why they wouldn’t: Between Brothers and Wilson, a restricted free agent, the Vikings are more likely to bring back Wilson. Brothers’ position as a special-teams contributor is easily replaceable for cheap with a late-round draft pick. Plus, the 26-year-old might want to go somewhere else to get a shot where he’s not buried behind stars like Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks on the depth chart.
P Britton Colquitt, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 16 games, 62 punts, 45.2 avg, 24 inside the 20
2019 cap number: $930,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Colquitt joined Minnesota after getting cut by the Cleveland Browns right before the start of the season. The 34-year-old punter was steady in 2019 with no blocked punts, no punts returned for touchdowns and pinpointed 24 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Why they wouldn’t: Colquitt may have been reliable, but it is hard to say the Vikings could not find a better replacement. He averaged 45.2 yards per punt, which was the seventh-worst mark in the NFL. His 24 punts inside the 20 ranked third-to-last among NFL punters and his long was a punt of 59 yards, making him the only NFL punter not to have a punt go for 60 yards or more.
LG Dakota Dozier, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 16 games (4 starts)
2019 cap number: $735,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Dozier was just fine when he made four starts at guard this season due to injuries. Minnesota might bring him back for stability at left guard behind the struggling Pat Elflein. Plus, Dozier has two seasons of experience playing under current Vikings offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rick Dennison, who was with the New York Jets (along with Dozier) in 2018.
Why they wouldn’t: The Vikings could decide to pursue a starting left guard in the draft or in free agency to replace Elflein. Although Dozier is a solid backup, he hasn’t proved he can be trusted with a full-time starting role.
S Anthony Harris, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 14 games (14 starts), 60 TKL, 6 INT, 1 TD, 1 FR
2019 cap number: $3,095,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Harris was arguably the breakout player of the 2019 season for the Vikings. He had a nose for the football and was often in the right place to make a play. His six interceptions were tied for the most in the league with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore of New England. Harris, 28, still has prime years left in his career as well. Pro Football Focus also gave Harris a 91.6 regular-season coverage grade, which was the best among safeties.
Why they wouldn’t: After such a great season, Harris will undoubtably be looking to break the bank this offseason. Minnesota should see him as an offseason priority, but some other team may be able to offer more.
FB C.J. Ham, restricted free agent
2019 stats: 16 games (7 starts), 7 rushes, 17 yards; 26 targets, 17 catches, 149 yards, 1 touchdown
2019 cap number: $645,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Ham’s statistics may not pop off the screen, but the Duluth native was a key cog in Minnesota’s running game by paving the way for Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. The fourth-year fullback even made it to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk.
Why they wouldn’t: Ham was an effective member of the Vikings offense, but maybe his price tag could be higher than what Minnesota wants to pay a fullback.
RT Rashod Hill, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 15 games (1 start)
2019 cap number: $2 million
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Hill is an asset due to his ability to play both left and right tackle. He’s started 16 games over the last three seasons at both tackle positions. Finding an upgrade over a reliable swing tackle isn’t easy.
Why they wouldn’t: Offensive linemen are a prized commodity in the NFL, and many teams are desperate for depth and talent. Other teams could pursue the versatile Hill and sign him to a price out of the Vikings’ range.
C Brett Jones, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 2 games (0 starts)
2019 cap number: $677,647
Why the Vikings would re-sign him:. Jones was limited to two games this year after he suffered a torn MCL in practice and was placed on injured reserve Nov. 14. The asking price of a veteran backup center coming off a knee injury isn’t much at all.
Why they wouldn’t: The Vikings are set at the center position in first-round pick Garrett Bradbury, and Jones isn’t exactly irreplaceable as a backup.
S Jayron Kearse, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 15 games (3 starts), 27 TCK, 6 PD, 1 INT
2019 cap number: $736,056
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Kearse locked down Denver tight end Noah Fant and broke up a pass on the final play of Minnesota’s come-from-behind 27-23 victory over Denver on Nov. 17. That was his shining moment.
Why they wouldn’t: Minnesota has bigger fish to fry at the safety position (see Harris, Anthony). Plus, it doesn’t seem like Kearse wants to be here. He tweeted out the “peace” emoji right after the Vikings suffered a season-ending loss San Francisco. And for one last piece of evidence: Kearse has been in Zimmer’s doghouse since his DUI charge back in October. Adios.
QB Sean Mannion, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 3 games (1 start), 12-for-21 passing (57.1%), 126 YDS, 0 TD, 2 INT
2019 cap number: $895,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Mannion did not see much action in 2019 and got his only start in a meaningless Week 17 matchup against the Chicago Bears. The fifth-year signal caller was not spectacular in the Vikings 21-19 loss, but he showed he was capable of operating the offense. The Vikings also chose to sign him from the Los Angeles Rams last offseason, so they must see him as a solid backup.
Why they wouldn’t: As far as NFL backup quarterbacks go, Mannion probably is not the best possible option out there. There will likely be some more experienced backups available that Minnesota could trust to fill in if Kirk Cousins missed extended time next season.
S Andrew Sendejo, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats (with Philadelphia and Minnesota): 15 games (3 starts), 39 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 4 passes defensed
2019 cap number: $437,647
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Sendejo played the first nine games of the 2019 season in Philadelphia before getting waived and re-signing with the Vikings prior to Week 11. In his second stint in Minnesota, the veteran safety snagged two interceptions and broke up two passes. He was primarily used on special teams during the regular season but managed to play 61% of defensive snaps in the Vikings’ playoff win over the New Orleans Saints at slot corner — a position he’d never played before. He clearly fits in Minnesota’s defense, so if he still has some gas in the tank he could easily be back in 2020.
Why they wouldn’t: Sendejo will not be a high-priced free agent, but he will be in his age-33 season in 2020. The NFL is a young man’s game, and for as much veteran savvy as Sendejo has, Minnesota could draft someone to fill his role.
CB Marcus Sherels, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats (with Miami): 5 games (0 starts) 6 PR, 23 yards; 2 KR, 57 yards
2019 stats (with Minnesota): 3 games (0 starts) 6 PR, 33 yards; 1 KR, 9 yards
2019 cap number: $141,765 (prorated for $218,824)
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Sherels is the epitome of a fan favorite. The Rochester native walked on to the University of Minnesota football team then signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2010. Since then, he has gone on to be the franchise all-time leader in punt returns, punt return yards and punt return touchdowns with five. A great punt returner can change a game, something Sherels is familiar with during his time in Minnesota.
Why they wouldn’t: Sherels was in and out of the league in 2019 and was cut from the Vikings in October. After a stop in Miami, Sherels was re-signed when Mike Hughes got injured near the end of the season but did not emulate his previous production. The veteran returner averaged 5.5 yards per punt return as a Viking in 2019, signaling that his best days are most likely behind him.
WR Laquon Treadwell, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 13 games (1 start), 9 rec., 184 yards, 1 TD
2019 cap number: $592,541
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Standing at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Treadwell has the frame to be a great blocking wideout. He’s also familiar with the Vikings’ offensive scheme, which is the main reason he was brought back midseason in 2019.
Why they wouldn’t: Considering the Vikings used a first-round pick on Treadwell in the 2016 draft, the former Ole Miss player has left a lot to be desired. He has never recorded more than 302 receiving yards in a season, and after the Vikings waived him then re-signed him to a one-year deal last season, it is unlikely Treadwell sees a fifth year in purple and gold.
CB Trae Waynes, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 14 games (14 starts), 58 TKL, 4 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT
2019 cap number: $9.1 million
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Drafted as a potential running mate opposite Xavier Rhodes, Waynes grew into that role and actually surpassed Rhodes as the Vikings’ best cornerback in 2019 as the veteran’s play continued to decline. Who else will the Vikings turn to? Rhodes is a candidate to be cut this offseason and Alexander and Waynes are free agents, leaving the Vikings with Mike Hughes as the top corner that is guaranteed to be on the team in 2020. If the Vikings move on from Rhodes, they’ll need Waynes back for sure.
Why they wouldn’t: Cornerback might be the NFL’s riskiest position to commit to an expensive, long-term deal. Only the elite cornerbacks, like Rhodes when he signed the five-year extension in 2017, get that treatment, and many never see the field for the full deal. While Waynes has been solid across his five-year career, we’re not sure his level of play warrants the risk of what will likely be a pricy, multiyear contract.
DE Stephen Weatherly, unrestricted free agent
2019 stats: 16 games (1 start), 24 TKL, 5 TFL, 9 QB HITS, 1 FF
2019 cap number: $720,000
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: The fate of Weatherly depends heavily on what the Vikings do with Everson Griffen. Griffen has the option to void his contract after reaching performance benchmarks in 2019, the first year of his restructured deal. If he decides to go elsewhere or if the Vikings think he’s replaceable, they could turn to Weatherly, who proved his worth as a backup in 2019.
Why they wouldn’t: If Griffen does return to Minnesota, he stands in front of Weatherly on the depth chart along with Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo at defensive end, the Vikings’ most talented and deep position. Weatherly might prefer to pack it up and earn a bigger paycheck somewhere else.
LB Eric Wilson, restricted free agent
2019 stats: 16 games (6 starts), 57 TKL, 6 TFL, 5 QB HITS, 1 FR, 3 SK
2019 cap number: $648,334
Why the Vikings would re-sign him: Wilson has done nothing but impress when call upon to start in place of an injured starter like Ben Gedeon, who he replaced for the final eight games of the season. Wilson made six starts and posted career bests in tackles (57) and sacks (3.0) while playing in 36% of the defensive snaps. Also, he’s never missed a game over his three-year career.
Why they wouldn’t: Unless Barr and/or Kendricks get injured, Wilson may never get a chance to become a full-time starter for the Vikings, as both of those linebackers are under contract until 2023 and 2024. A team could swoop in and offer Wilson a starter-worthy contract, which the Vikings would have the chance to match but likely wouldn’t if that situation arose.