To follow up our article from yesterday about the Minnesota Vikings’ offseason, we have a look at some more suggestions from the folks from Bristol about how the purple should handle business this offseason. This one comes from our close, personal friend (™ Sid Hartman) Bill Barnwell, who now writes for ESPN. He has five suggestions for each NFC North team for this offseason, and since we really don’t care about the other three teams at the present time, let’s take a look at his suggestions for the Vikings. We’ll do this Letterman Top Ten style and start from the bottom.
5. Lock up CB Xavier Rhodes. Perpetually one of the league's most underrated cornerbacks, Rhodes is a Pro Bowl-caliber player who was finally recognized as such in 2016. NFL.com noted that Rhodes led the league in passer rating allowed this season, and while individual cornerback statistics are perpetually a work in progress, Rhodes' play on tape matches the numbers.
I think that we can all be relatively certain that this is all a matter of “when” rather than “if” for the Vikings. Rhodes really came on in a major way this offseason, and while he’s under contract for this season under his fifth-year option, this is generally the time that Rick Spielman and company start working contract extensions with players that prove themselves worthy. Now, it’s just a matter of how big Rhodes is going to cash in.
4. Fix the offensive line. Regardless of who lines up in the backfield, the Vikings need to do more to repair a porous offensive line, especially at the tackle spots. The problem, of course, is that they're already down a first-round pick by virtue of the Bradford trade, although they have extra selections in the third and fourth rounds thanks to a trade with the Dolphins.
Honestly, this really could have been numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 (and 5, for that matter) on this list. We’ve beaten this horse into glue as best we can this offseason, and we can be relatively certain that this will be the team’s focus in both free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft.
3. Extend QB Sam Bradford. The Vikings probably wasted a first-round pick by trying to salvage their 2016 season with Bradford, but it wasn't his fault. Bradford produced his best season as a pro behind a dismal offensive line. He's signed for 2017 at a salary of $18 million, a few million dollars below the franchise tag for quarterbacks, but Bradford is set to hit unrestricted free agency after this season.
This one’s going to be a little trickier, and it all depends on how the Vikings feel about the progress of Teddy Bridgewater’s rehab from his knee injury. While I’ve always been of the mindset that Spielman and company made the Bradford trade with the mindset that Bradford was going to be the starter for at least two seasons, what happens post-2017 is a huge question mark right now. The Vikings could let Bradford walk after 2017 if they think Bridgewater is ready, but it might be more prudent to give him an extension to have more control over him in the future (and lower his 2017 cap figure in the process).
2. Let many of the free agents leave. The Vikings had one of the deepest rosters in football, but many of those players either took a step backward or failed to deliver on expectations in 2016. The Vikings can get by at cornerback without Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn. The Matt Kalil dream is dead after years of injuries at left tackle, and Andre Smith was a mess after his well-intentioned signing before the season.
It's surprising the Vikings haven't re-signed Rhett Ellison, who is a useful blocking tight end, and punter Jeff Locke has been part of a unit that has been above average in each of his four years with the team. Cordarrelle Patterson has been an excellent kick returner, but the Vikes may be blown out of his market if another team values him as a starting wide receiver.
A lot of the guys that are in-house free agents for the Vikings this season are, frankly, guys that they could do without. As Barnwell says, if someone values Patterson as a starting-caliber receiver and more than just a kick return specialist, the Vikings probably aren’t going to be willing to match what another team might offer. Terence Newman has played well in two seasons in Minnesota, but he’s 38, and Father Time is eventually going to win that fight. . .it’s just a matter of when. Munnerlyn might be the team’s highest-priority in-house free agent, but he could command a decent amount of money on the open market, too. It’s going to be interesting to see what Spielman does here.
1. Restructure Adrian Peterson's deal or release him. As much as Peterson might make sense elsewhere, there's no way the Vikings can retain him for the $18 million he's due to earn in 2017, given that no other back in the league has a cap hit of more than $8.8 million. The Vikings have until March 8 to decide how they want to handle a difficult situation with an all-time great.
Yep, this is the $18 million elephant in the room. Peterson’s cap figure is so ridiculous that, with the money he’s scheduled to make, the Vikings could theoretically pay both LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray. . .and still have money left over. Is Peterson willing to take a pay cut that would match his current (not his past) value? How much of a pay cut would that be? Are the Vikings even interested in bringing him back at a lower salary? Spielman said he wanted Peterson to retire as a Viking. . .of course, he also swore he wasn’t trading Percy Harvin, and we all know how that ended.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for Minnesota, and it all gets underway in less than two weeks.