The first wave of free agency is behind us, so naturally it’s time to take a step back and look at what Rick Spielman and Co. have done so far. Our full coverage of all the Vikings’ moves can be found here, but let’s run through some quick grades for the major moves.
Anthony Barr (5-year contract worth up to $67.5 million, $33 million guaranteed, cap hit of $5.6 million for 2019)
Look, I get it. Barr has been one of the most inconsistent players in the NFL over his career in Minnesota, and there’s no reason to think a new contract will suddenly end that. And it’s hard to argue that he’s being at least slightly overpaid here. But like I wrote earlier this offseason, the Vikings have to be operating in a relatively tight Super Bowl window. With Barr now signed long-term, the Vikings have their entire core locked in for the next few years. Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Linval Joseph are under contract through 2021. A decision looms on Trae Waynes, who’s set to make a lot of money on his fifth-year option this season. Everson Griffen restructured his contract and is also under team control, while Mike Hughes will still be on his rookie deal through the duration of their contracts.
That’s as good of a defense as there is in the NFL. There’s still work to do around the edges, but Barr was a player who couldn’t have been replaced easily. Minnesota still would’ve had a top-notch defense without him, but it would’ve taken time to find a player who could step into Barr’s role and replace him. Now, Mike Zimmer can continue building chemistry with this group without losing a step.
As for the financial aspect of the deal, which I’m sure people will have a lot to say about: the important part is that it fit under the salary cap. The Vikings managed to keep Griffen and still sign free agents after dealing with Barr’s contract, so it’s not like it completely debilitated their cap situation. And if it means Trae Waynes plays somewhere else next year, I’m okay with that. He’s much more replaceable than Barr.
Josh Kline (3-year contract worth up to $15.75 million, $7.25 million guaranteed)
I like that Spielman went out and signed a guard. I like that Kline comes at a bargain. I like that Kline has had success in the NFL. But...the guy was not very good last season, and this is a huge risk. There’s a reason he got a significantly smaller contract than last season, and the Vikings are putting a ton of faith in Kline to produce right away. As we’ve covered extensively, Minnesota basically has no guards on its roster. I’m praying the first-round pick goes in that direction, but even if it does, Kline was signed to start right away. If he plays like he did last season, we’re going to be having the same conversation we’ve had for years about terrible offensive line play and a lack of investment in it year after year.
The Vikings are not getting much better at tackle, so at least pre-draft, this is the biggest change to the offensive line. If Kline plays well, this contract will be a bargain and you can all laugh at me (I hope this is the case). But the Vikings are banking on a resurgent season from him, and if it doesn’t happen, the entire offense could be in a lot of trouble.
Shamar Stephen (3-year contract worth up to $12.45 million, $6 million guaranteed, cap hit of $2.33 million for 2019)
I have no idea where the money is coming from at this point, but the Vikings could do a lot worse in trying to replace Sheldon Richardson (who signed a 3-year, $36 million deal with the Browns). Stephen is another example of a guy who’s struggled with inconsistency, so Mike Zimmer will have some work to do. Stephen played the first four seasons of his career with the Vikings, so he has some familiarity with the defense as a whole.
This isn’t a make-or-break signing, but it’s encouraging to see Spielman actively making moves despite an obvious lack of money. If Stephen doesn’t pan out, the Vikings will still have other options along the defensive line. If he does, it looks like a bargain.
Other re-signings and player departures
I have absolutely no idea what to think about Dan Bailey, who was one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history but struggled during his first season in Minnesota. I think Vikings’ kickers are just cursed, no matter how good they were before they got to Minnesota. But also, Bailey could prove to be the most important player on this team.
Losing Latavius Murray hurts, but the Vikings were never going to pay him what the Saints did. I like Ameer Abdullah on a short-term contract, and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in an expanded role.
Trevor Siemian’s deal with the Jets probably means Kyle Sloter will get his chance to compete for the backup QB spot, which will be an interesting storyline during training camp. And yeah, Siemian didn’t exactly inspire confidence during last year’s preseason, so it is what it is (but #GoCats).
Lastly, Marcus Sherels isn’t going to be on the Vikings next season, and that sucks. The guy made it through eight (8!) seasons of barely making the roster, and was always an important presence in the punt return game. I’ll miss him, and so should you.