When NFL Free Agency opened, it was expected that the Minnesota Vikings were going to be big players, and they were. They struck early, with two big signings, one on each side of the ball.
QB Kirk Cousins and DT Sheldon Richardson took all the headlines over the first few days of free agency, and deservedly so. They are marquee players filling the two biggest positions of need on the Vikings roster, and their signings garnered all the headlines.
Yet, as the buzz of those signings began to wane, news came that WR Jarius Wright had signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers. True, Wright only had 18 receptions in 2017, fourth among wide receivers on the team, but he had a penchant for making a clutch grab when the Vikings needed it the most. When I wrote the SMR talking about the first few days of free agency, I called Wright a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ guy, because that’s what he was. They didn’t look his way very often, but when they did he made the most of his opportunity.
He’s been productive before, catching 42 and 34 passes in 2015 and 2016, before bottoming out at 11 and 18 the last two years. It’s easy to say that WR3 has been an overlooked spot as a weapon the last couple seasons in Minnesota, and that’s fair, but with Cousins coming in, it looks to pick up again. He has a history of targeting WR3 in Washington, so it feels like a reliable guy in that position will be a big part of the offense in 2018. I posted this tweet a week or so ago from my buddy Andy Carlson, but it’s worth circling back to:
Kirk Cousins' WR3:— Andy (@AndyCarlsonShow) March 14, 2018
2015: D-Jax – 30-528-4 on 59 targets
2016: Crowder – 67-847-7 on 99
2017: Ryan Grant – 45-573-4 on 65#Vikings WR3
2015: Jarius – 34-442-0 on 50
2016: Cordarrelle – 52-453-2 on 70
2017: Treadwell – 20-200-0 on 35
WR3 suddenly a viable gig in MN.
When you add in Jerick McKinnon’s 51 receptions heading to San Francisco, the Vikings suddenly find themselves a bit thin at WR with Wright gone. The guy most people assume will assume the WR3 role, Laquon Treadwell, made some progress last year, but when Case Keenum needed a play to be made he rarely looked Treadwell’s way.
In some ways, it makes a lot of sense for the Vikings to promote Treadwell and give him a chance. It’s a clean slate and a new quarterback to work with, and he’s a former first round pick. But behind Treadwell, there’s no one to look to for a big play behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
And WR3 is in play for a 50 catch season. Yes, Dalvin Cook will return, and Latavius Murray will step up and become more of a pass catcher than he was last year to offset McKinnon’s catches out of the backfield, but is there a guy behind Diggs and Thielen right now, today, that you can look to with confidence and say ‘yeah, he’ll catch 50 passes’?
Even though Wright isn’t a top target, I have a feeling the Vikings are going to desperately miss him at some point in 2018, and for that reason, letting Jarius Wright leave for Carolina is the worst move in free agency so far this year.