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Thread: Looking ahead: position by position reviews

  1. #1

    Looking ahead: position by position reviews

    All by Andrew Krammer at 1500ESPN.com



    This is the beginning of a position-by-position look at the Vikings with a focus on free agency, the draft and the 2016 season.

    Quarterbacks

    2015 playing time

    Teddy Bridgewater: Started all 17 games, 97.4 percent of snaps

    Shaun Hill: Backup for all 17 games, 2.6 percent of snaps

    Taylor Heinicke: Inactive for all 17 games

    Upcoming free agents

    None.

    Noteworthy number

    • 8.9 percent — Blake Bortles leads the NFL with 106 sacks taken over the last two seasons. While he’s been brought down a lot more than Teddy Bridgewater (83), they share the same sack rate at 8.9 percent since entering the NFL. The emphasis on depth at quarterback grows as the Vikings retool and open up competition along a tattered offensive line. Bridgewater has managed to stay relatively healthy, aside from taking an illegal knockout blow against St. Louis, to make 28 of 29 starts since becoming the guy. They’ll be searching for ways to better protect him this offseason, and potentially seek better insurance plans than the 36-year-old Shaun Hill.

    2016 salary cap hits, position rank

    Shaun Hill: $3.25 million, 29th

    Teddy Bridgewater: $1.87 million, 35th

    Taylor Heinicke: $528,333, 64th

    Quotable

    “I think that we always want to look to bring quarterbacks in. Not necessarily to compete with Teddy. Teddy is our quarterback, he’s going to be our quarterback and there’s no doubt about that going forward. But we’re always going to be looking for quarterbacks. I think it’s an important position that whether it be in the draft or free agency or wherever, that we continue to have guys at that position.” — head coach Mike Zimmer on Jan. 12.

    Pending free agent market

    Includes Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chase Daniel, Matt Schaub, Scott Tolzien, Brandon Weeden, Matt Hasselbeck, T.J. Yates, Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson, Dan Orlovsky, Colt McCoy, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Cassel and Charlie Whitehurst.

    Draft

    Never say never, especially in January. Right now, the educated guess is unlikely. In four drafts under the full control of general manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings have taken one quarterback in Bridgewater. Whether it be Josh Freeman, Matt Cassel or Shaun Hill, they’ve attempted to surround the drafted franchise player with free agent veterans. They’ve used other resources for young quarterbacks, but not often draft picks. Taylor Heinicke was a priority UDFA signing last spring and will likely remain the project in waiting. That leaves possible turnover at the veteran backup role, where Hill showed his age last season.

    Bottom line

    The Vikings have their starter in Bridgewater, with the only possible change coming behind him. Hill’s most extended duty last season came during 21 snaps in the overtime win vs. St. Louis. He completed 2-of-6 passes for 15 yards, making five handoffs on six plays after regulation to set up the game-winning field goal. The current quarterback pool isn’t considered deep in the NFL. Even so, the Vikings might not see Hill as worth the $3.2 million base salary he’s due next season, none guaranteed.

  2. #2
    Running backs

    2015 playing time

    RB Adrian Peterson: Started all 17 games, playing 64.8 percent of snaps

    FB Zach Line: Appeared in all 17 games, playing 21.4 percent of snaps

    RB Matt Asiata: Appeared in all 17 games, playing 19 percent of snaps

    RB Jerick McKinnon: Appeared in all 17 games, playing 16.2 percent of snaps

    Upcoming free agents

    Matt Asiata, unrestricted

    Zach Line, restricted

    Noteworthy number

    • 47 — The number of third downs for which Adrian Peterson was on the field. The Vikings’ highest-paid player and leader on offense was more often than not removed from critical situations because of the superior pass protection from Matt Asiata or superior routes and hands of Jerick McKinnon as a receiver. Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2015, was on the field for less than a quarter of the Vikings’ 199 third downs in the regular season. It was a way for the coaching staff to keep Peterson fresh, but also a way to maximize the offense on third downs.

    2016 cap hit, position rank

    Peterson: $12 million, 1st

    McKinnon: $738,750, 43rd

    Quotable

    “You look at the young guys. Jerick, he comes in a lot on third down and he presents a different piece to our offense, running routes and things like that. I envision myself doing things like that at a different level so that’s what I mean by being more involved and being more diverse when it comes to the offense we have.” — Adrian Peterson, Jan. 11.

    Potential free agent market

    Includes Matt Forte, James Starks, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris, Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory, Ronnie Hillman, Chris Johnson, Bilal Powell, LeGarrette Blount, Charcandrick West, Khiry Robinson, Tim Hightower and Bobby Rainey

    Draft

    The Vikings did their research on many draft prospects last year and with Peterson turning 31 in two months, this year shouldn’t be any different. The priority is low if the Vikings hang on to Peterson as expected. A selection could be made with more than him in mind, as they could lose Matt Asiata to free agency after he served as the primary third-down back. There remains an exit for the Vikings should they want to move on from Peterson. The bulk of his 2016 salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the new league year, which is March 11.

    Bottom line

    Can Peterson become a ‘better fit’ for Norv Turner’s offense in Minnesota? That’s the offseason question. The Vikings wanted him on a snap count, which manifested in taking him off the field on passing downs, often removing their biggest threat in critical spots. To change that, Peterson said he’s focused on two improvements this offseason — ball security and becoming a better fit (receiver, pass protector) entering his 10th NFL season. Asiata is a pending free agent and faces a tough decision between staying where he got his first opportunity, or searching for an offense with even more chances. Line is a restricted free agent who wants to stay as the lead blocker for Peterson. McKinnon saw a bump in playing time at the end of the regular season and scored three touchdowns in the final three games. McKinnon is a versatile player, and the example of a better fit alluded to by Peterson. Even if the pieces remain, the Vikings still have a puzzle to configure at running back.

  3. #3
    Wide receivers

    2015 playing time

    Mike Wallace: 17 games, 73.2 percent

    Stefon Diggs: 14 games, 65.8 percent

    Jarius Wright: 17 games, 43.2 percent

    Adam Thielen: 17 games, 20.2 percent

    Charles Johnson: 11 games, 20 percent

    Cordarrelle Patterson: 17 games, 5.6 percent

    Upcoming free agents

    Adam Thielen: exclusive rights free agent

    Noteworthy number

    • 55.4 — For much of the season, the Vikings activated six receivers and still couldn’t get much out of the passing game. Stefon Diggs is the team’s only receiver in the last two seasons to average over 50 yards per game as Teddy Bridgewater has navigated through a carousel of targets. Diggs’ 55.4 receiving yards per game are the franchise’s most since Percy Harvin in 2012. The Vikings haven’t produced a go-to downfield threat since Sidney Rice in 2009. Last spring, they traded for Mike Wallace to fill that void. Instead, Wallace jumped into a lackluster attack with a banged up offensive line and struggled to connect with a young, uneven quarterback. Another hopeful candidate for that role, Charles Johnson, fell out of favor and had a disappointing second season in Minnesota, ending with four straight inactives. Enter Diggs as their next hopeful standout.

    Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

    Wallace: $11.5 million, 10th

    Wright: $2.6 million, 54th

    Patterson: $2.3 million, 58th

    Johnson: $600,000, 127th

    Diggs: $581,928, 141st

    Quotable

    Vikings’ coach Mike Zimmer on if he expects Mike Wallace to return: “Those are all things we have to determine here in the next week moving forward. I would like him back, I love the kid, I love his heart. He didn’t b—- one time about not getting the ball. He just went and worked every day and tried to get guys better. He loves it here, he loves Teddy. If it can get worked out, I’d like to have him back. But I want to do what’s best for Mike Wallace, too.”

    Potential free agent market

    Includes pending free agents Alshon Jeffery, Anquan Boldin, Rueben Randle, Travis Benjamin, Malcolm Floyd, Brian Quick, Jermaine Kearse, Mohamad Sanu, Marvin Jones, Andre Holmes, Rishard Matthews, Jason Avant, Ricardo Lockette, Marc Mariani, Nate Washington, Hakeem Nicks, James Jones

    Draft

    The Vikings have used both free agency and the draft to surround their recent franchise quarterbacks with talent. Their find of Stefon Diggs in last year’s fifth round, and the recent miss on Cordarrelle Patterson in 2013’s first round, could impact the thinking of some at Winter Park, though it’ll come down to many present factors. That includes their depth of dive into free agency and their interest in this year’s draft prospects. They could benefit from a taller option for Bridgewater, who charts a high completion percentage, but has been tentative and inaccurate downfield.

    Bottom line

    The Vikings face a healthy amount of uncertainty at receiver, with an opening for a No. 1-style playmaker. Diggs’ emergence suggests he could take that role during his second NFL season. Wright has been a solid slot receiver, while Thielen may re-sign as a key contributor on special teams. Outside of those three, they’re searching for answers. Wallace could be better off elsewhere should the front office elect not to honor the $11.45 million base salary he’s currently due next season, none guaranteed. Johnson’s fall from grace, combined with the promise shown in 2014, makes his situation even more unpredictable after ending the year as a healthy scratch from the game-day rosters. And the Vikings haven’t used Patterson, an unreliable route runner, as anything more than a kick returner in the last 1.5 seasons. They currently have seven receivers under contract for next season, including Isaac Fruechte and Terrell Sinkfield.

  4. #4
    Tight ends

    2015 playing time

    Kyle Rudolph: 17 games, 82.6 percent

    Rhett Ellison: 15 games, 44 percent

    MyCole Pruitt: 17 games, 22 percent

    Upcoming free agents

    Rhett Ellison: unrestricted free agent

    Noteworthy number

    • 1,522 — The Vikings leaned heavily on tight ends during the 2015 season, perhaps more than originally planned. The 1,522 snaps divvied up between Rudolph, Ellison and Pruitt were the most over the last four years as the Vikings often used heavy personnel to pave the way for a run-first unit led by Adrian Peterson. With an offensive line down two starters all season, Norv Turner turned to multiple-TE sets as a way to counter their issues up front in both run and pass scenarios. A healthy Rudolph made this possible, but even he admitted an adjustment period to a role emphasizing more blocking than receiving. An improved offensive line could send Rudolph down the field more in 2016.

    Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

    Rudolph: $7.3 million, 6th

    Pruitt: $582,647, 66th

    Quotable

    “Obviously, I want to be out there running around catching balls, but what good does it do if I’m running down the field and we’re not getting the ball out? There’s a lot of different responsibilities I have. Our staff’s great about reminding me, helping me like ‘Look, you’re not not doing anything. You are making a difference in a game and you’re helping us win.'” — Kyle Rudolph during the 2015 season on his varied role.

    Potential free agent market

    Includes pending free agents Antonio Gates, Marcedes Lewis, Jermaine Gresham, Vernon Davis, Benjamin Watson, Dwayne Allen, Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Miller, Larry Donnell, Josh Hill, Tony Moeaki, Rhett Ellison, Logan Paulsen and Tim Wright.

    Draft

    Outside of a five-year contract for John Carlson in 2012 free agency, the Vikings have stuck to the draft for landing tight ends. Obviously, depth has been added through all means, including Brandon Bostick as a street free agent last season, but their core has come through the draft. Rudolph (2011), Ellison (2012) and Pruitt (2015) were all selected by the Vikings within the last five years. Ellison figured to be a priority re-sign before his devastating injury, and it’ll be interesting to see how they go from here. Should they look to add another long-term player, the draft has been their main tool.

    Bottom line

    Rhett Ellison’s torn patellar tendon in the Jan. 3 season finale at Lambeau Field will provide a tough road ahead for Ellison, and a potentially difficult free agency decision for the Vikings. Ellison has played in 59 of 66 games since he was drafted in 2012, and served a linchpin role last season as the Vikings’ primary blocking tight end. The recovery from a torn patellar tendon is thought to be more difficult than returning from a torn ACL, marking Ellison’s future uncertain as his contract expires in March. Even if Ellison stays, the Vikings will likely need additional help, at least as insurance, with Rudolph and Pruitt the only two healthy options under contract in 2016. They have the go-to receiver at the position in Rudolph, and his role could pivot back toward receiver depending on the Vikings’ repair job along the offensive line. Pruitt, the fifth-round pick last year, showed promise in limited action, though it remains to be seen if he could take Ellison’s varied role. All under the watch of new position coach Pat Shurmur, with former TEs coach Kevin Stefanski shifting to running backs.

  5. #5
    Offensive linemen

    2015 playing time

    C Joe Berger: 17 games, 100 percent

    G Mike Harris: 17 games, 100 percent

    G Brandon Fusco: 17 games, 99.9 percent

    OT T.J. Clemmings: 17 games, 99.4 percent

    OT Matt Kalil: 17 games, 99.3 percent

    OT Austin Shepherd: 17 games, 3.1 percent

    C/G Zac Kerin: 17 games, 0.1 percent

    OT Jeremiah Sirles: DNP

    C Nick Easton: DNP

    C John Sullivan: Injured reserve

    OT Phil Loadholt: Injured reserve

    OT Carter Bykowski: Injured reserve

    Upcoming free agents

    G Mike Harris, unrestricted free agent

    OT Carter Bykowski, exclusive rights free agent

    Noteworthy number

    • $14.08 million — The Vikings had their fourth- and fifth-highest cap hits on injured reserve for the entire season between center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. That $14.08 million is about 10 percent of their salary cap, and will stay in 2015. The injuries, which included a couple back surgeries for Sullivan and a torn Achilles for Loadholt, may impact their futures in Minnesota. Prior to injury, they were two of the team’s best linemen. That’s not a guarantee moving forward, and the Vikings will have to weigh their projected futures with their other options in-house, free agency or the draft.

    Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

    Kalil: $11.096 million, 3rd (among left tackles)

    Loadholt: $7.75 million, 2nd (among right tackles)

    Sullivan: $5.83 million, 9th (all centers)

    Fusco: $4.05 million, 21st (all guards)

    Berger: $1.04 million, 22nd (all centers)

    Clemmings: $656, 239

    Sirles: $600,000

    Shepherd: $542,424

    Kerin: $525,000

    Easton: $525,000

    Faciane: $450,000

    Quotable

    “I haven’t seen [Loadholt or Sullivan] in six, seven months now, so we’ll just have to see how all of that goes. I have no idea. Right now, I think we need to compete at that position. I think guys need to come in and compete whether it’s Sullivan or Loadholt or Kalil or whoever it is. They need to compete.” — head coach Mike Zimmer, Jan. 12 on state of recovering Sullivan/Loadholt and the O-line.

    Potential market

    Includes pending free agents at…

    Tackle: Russell Okung, Andre Smith, Donald Penn, Mitchell Schwartz, Joe Barksdale, Kelvin Beachum, Cordy Glenn, Byron Bell and Jake Long

    Guard: Alex Boone, Kelechi Osemele, Mike Harris, Manuel Ramirez, Evan Mathis, Jeff Allen, Richie Incognito, Ted Larsen, Ramon Foster, Johnnie Troutman, Chris Chester, J.R. Sweezy and Brandon Brooks

    Center: Stefen Wisniewski, Ben Jones, Ryan Wendell, Gino Gradkowski, Tim Barnes, Josh LeRibeus, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Lyle Sendlein and Tony Bergstrom

    Draft

    The Vikings haven’t found much success drafting offensive linemen lately, but that can’t deter them as this unit needs fixing. They currently have a lot of unproven, young talent after two early-season trades for depth followed three draft picks last spring. Though one selection, Tyrus Thompson, didn’t make it to the regular season. Clemmings was a disappointment in 17 starts, and Shepherd served as a bit player. Rick Spielman could seek a Day 1 starting candidate at guard or tackle with the 23rd-overall pick.

    Bottom line

    Mike Zimmer didn’t hesitate on the offseason’s top priority to fix the offensive line, letting go veteran position coach Jeff Davidson less than two days after the Vikings’ wild-card loss to Seattle. Tony Sparano leads a group in need of repair, whether that means a complete overhaul or refining the current players. Those decisions have an increased element of unpredictability as proven veterans in Sullivan (back surgery) and Loadholt (Achilles) return from debilitating injuries. General manager Rick Spielman has until March 9 (new league year) to decide whether or not he’ll honor Kalil’s expensive fifth-year option. Kalil is guaranteed over $11 million if he’s on the roster at that point. Should the Vikings want to see a fifth year from Kalil before deciding on his long-term future, a young team and a healthy cap outlook make that possible. They can afford it. Overall, the tackle situation is murky, including Loadholt, who is returning from consecutive season-ending injuries and due a non-guaranteed $5.4 million in the final year of his contract. Clemmings, the replacement at right tackle, showed how far he has yet to go. All while Fusco, a strong starter before last season, needs to get back on track at left guard. They’ve got a few solid in-house options between Joe Berger, who turns 34 in May, and Harris, who could re-sign as a guard and tackle option after a solid season. Sullivan should get every chance to return from consecutive back operations last fall and — if he’s healthy — retain his spot at center. That only highlights uncertainty the Vikings face along the offensive line. They currently have 11 linemen under contract for 2016, and many ways to go.

  6. #6
    Defensive linemen

    2015 playing time

    DE Brian Robison: 17 games, 83.7 percent
    DE Everson Griffen: 16 games, 81.1 percent
    DT Tom Johnson: 17 games, 69 percent
    DT Sharrif Floyd: 14 games, 50.5 percent
    DT Linval Joseph: 13 games, 50.1 percent
    DE Danielle Hunter: 15 games, 37 percent
    DE Scott Crichton: 13 games, 11.4 percent
    NT Kenrick Ellis: 9 games, 7.7 percent
    NT Shamar Stephen: 5 games, 5.8 percent
    DE Justin Trattou: 5 games, 2 percent

    Upcoming free agents

    Justin Trattou, unrestricted free agent

    Kenrick Ellis, unrestricted free agent

    Noteworthy number

    • 8 — To injury, the Vikings lost a half of a season’s worth of games between their starting defensive linemen. Yet they fronted the franchise’s best scoring unit since 1988. The strength of Mike Zimmer’s improved Vikings defense fell in the trenches, where they were forced to flex their depth. Veteran Tom Johnson and rookie Danielle Hunter contributed beyond expectations, setting a solid rotation moving forward. Now, the Vikings need starting DTs Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph to stay healthy for the line to reach its potential. And Hunter’s emergence, which included the second-most sacks (6.0) by a rookie last season, gives the Vikings another long-term option as Robison turns 33 in April.

    Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

    Griffen: $8.2 million, 8th (among 4-3 DEs)
    Joseph: $6.35 million, 11th (among 4-3 DTs)
    Robison: $5.25 million, 18th
    Floyd: $2.57 million, 23rd
    Johnson: $2.35 million, 26th
    Crichton: $797,831, 34th
    Hunter: $692,806, 44th
    Stephen: $616,287, 52nd
    Zach Moore: $600,000
    B.J. Dubose: $450,000
    Toby Johnson: $450,000

    Quotable

    “You could make an argument that it is,” the Vikings’ deepest D-line in years, said Brian Robison. “We’ve had some really good defensive lines here, back when we had Jared [Allen], Kevin and Pat [Williams], Ray [Edwards]. Some of those guys, and now with us here. I think you could definitely make an argument for that.”

    Potential market

    Includes pending free agents at…

    End: Jason Pierre-Paul, Muhammed Wilkerson, Justin Tuck, William Hayes, Jason Jones, Wallace Gilberry, Greg Hardy, Akiem Hicks, Olivier Vernon, Malik Jackson, Jared Crick, Andre Branch and Adrian Clayborn

    Tackle: Haloti Ngata, Nick Fairley, Sealver Siliga, Terrance Knighton, Henry Melton, Tyrunn Walker, B.J. Raji, Ahtyba Rubin, Brandon Mebane, Al Woods, Ian Williams, Jaye Howard, Corbin Bryant and Ricardo Mathews

    Draft

    The Vikings’ current defensive line is the product of both solid draft choices (Griffen, Floyd) and well-executed free agency deals (Joseph, Johnson). They’ve selected third-round defensive ends in consecutive drafts, and right now the defensive line is not a major position of need. Though they could continue to look for late-round depth at defensive tackle, where Johnson is aging and their starters have been banged up.

    Bottom line

    The Vikings have long-term plans in place at all four starting spots, with the only foreseeable change coming if a young player like Hunter plays Robison out of the starting lineup. His left defensive end spot could become more of a timeshare next season with Hunter, who was a quick study as an impactful rookie. Otherwise, the Vikings are set with a disruptive front including Griffen, Joseph and Floyd. General manager Rick Spielman should have little reason not to pick up Floyd’s fifth-year option this spring. Though Floyd’s major concern is health, having missed eight games in his only two years as a starter due to knee and ankle injuries. They’re also undergoing two offseason surgeries in this group between Griffen (shoulder) and Joseph (toe). Griffen is expected to undergo his operation after the Pro Bowl this weekend. Joseph was on his way to a Pro Bowl season before severely injuring his toe in Week 12. Should Floyd have his fifth-year option picked up, the six main contributors (four starters, two backups) are all under contract through at least 2017.

  7. #7
    Linebackers

    2015 playing time

    Anthony Barr: 15 games, 78.2 percent
    Eric Kendricks: 15 games, 72.4 percent
    Chad Greenway: 17 games, 57.7 percent
    Edmond Robinson: 10 games, 4 percent
    Jason Trusnik: 9 games, 3 percent
    Audie Cole: 7 games, 3 percent
    Brandon Watts: 7 games, 3 percent
    Casey Matthews: Injured reserve

    Upcoming free agents

    Chad Greenway, unrestricted free agent

    Audie Cole, unrestricted free agent

    Jason Trusnik, unrestricted free agent

    Casey Matthews, unrestricted free agent

    Noteworthy number

    • 632 — Relegated to a two-down role for the first time in his 10-year career, Chad Greenway ultimately played beyond what was expected of him after injuries held back full-time starters Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Still, Greenway saw a career-low 632 snaps as the Vikings established their long-term future at the position between first- (Barr) and second-round (Kendricks) draft picks. He turned 33 this month, is soon to be a free agent and wants to return for an 11th season in Minnesota. They’ve got room for his leadership, but there are two hoops all veterans face: Do coaches believe he can still play? And is the price right?

    Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

    Barr: $3.48 million, 12th (all 4-3 OLBs)
    Kendricks: $1.17 million, 39th (all ILBs)
    Watts: $600,000
    Robinson: $542,078
    Terrance Plummer: $525,000

    Quotable

    “I think with the adjustments to my playing time and a lesser role this past season, it made me so much fresher. So much cleaner of a season to not be playing 70 snaps a game at my age, it was certainly nice.

    “I definitely want to play another season. Clearly I want to play another season in Minnesota, that’s what it’s all about for me,” Greenway said on 1500 ESPN this month. “I just don’t feel like my career is going to end in that manner. It’s just such a hard pill to swallow, hard way to end a career. There’s never going to be a good way to end it. Just the way I feel, I feel like I can play football one more season. I would play somewhere else, that’s obviously not my goal.”

    Potential market

    Includes pending free agents, from 4-3 and 3-4 schemes…

    ILBs: Shea McClellin, Vincent Rey, Derrick Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, Rolando McClain, Kelvin Sheppard, Danny Trevathan, Mason Foster, Dane Fletcher, Cole and Jasper Brinkley.

    OLBs: Mark Barron, Von Miller, Tamba Hali, Bruce Irvin, Aldon Smith, Michael Neal, Greenway, Nick Perry, Emmanuel Lamur, Tahir Whitehead, Courtney Upshaw, Nigel Bradham and Nathan Stupar.

    Draft

    General manager Rick Spielman’s enabling of the defensive makeover has no better example than the draft, and specifically at linebacker. The Vikings have paired early- and late-round picks in each of the last two drafts for four of the current five linebackers under contract in 2016. And they’ll be looking to add linebackers again this offseason. This group could look a lot different next season, with a possible opening in the base defense.

    Bottom line

    Shortly after drafting Kendricks, coach Mike Zimmer said he may be better suited, long-term, as an outside linebacker. He immediately settled into the open competition at middle linebacker, taking over for the traded Gerald Hodges and making 12 starts. Kendricks impressed, specifically as a nickel linebacker in coverage, and could shift to a full-time role on the outside. Though the status quo could be maintained should Greenway be given another season. If it’s the former, they’ll be looking for a middle linebacker. The Vikings’ duo of Barr and Kendricks plans to lead this defense for years to come, with the question marks falling around them. This unit was deep before losing two of the three middle linebacker candidates in Hodges (trade) and Cole (injury). Now half of the position group is soon to be free agents.

  8. #8
    Cornerbacks

    2015 playing time

    Xavier Rhodes: 17 games, 94.7 percent
    Terence Newman: 17 games, 89.9 percent
    Captain Munnerlyn: 17 games, 66 percent
    Trae Waynes: 16 games, 18.1 percent
    Marcus Sherels: 17 games, 0.8 percent
    Josh Robinson: 6 games, 0.6 percent
    Jabari Price: Injured reserve

    Upcoming free agents

    Terence Newman, unrestricted free agent

    Marcus Sherels, unrestricted free agent

    Josh Robinson, unrestricted free agent

    Noteworthy number

    •194 — The experience drop off will be as large as possible when the Vikings make the transition from Terence Newman and his 195 career starts to last year’s first-round pick in Trae Waynes, who made just one start his rookie season. Even though head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s ‘not handing out jobs’ in January, the future could very well be now for his lengthy duo at cornerback between Waynes and Xavier Rhodes. After a bumpy introduction with three penalties in his first preseason game, Waynes drew just one flag in fewer than 200 defensive snaps in the regular season.

    2016 salary cap, position rank

    Munnerlyn: $4.58 million, 35th
    Waynes: $2.94 million, 43rd
    Rhodes: $2.48 million, 47th
    Price: $615,455
    Melvin White: $600,000

    Quotable

    Head coach Mike Zimmer on first-round pick Trae Waynes: “I think he has a better understanding of what we’re asking the corners. I think he understands he has to be tighter in coverage than what he was in the beginning. I think he has a better understanding of the techniques that are being played. He still has things he’s got to continue to work on. In this league, it’s not good enough to be close to your guy. You’ve got to deny your guy the football, and he doesn’t do that all the time.”

    Potential market

    Includes pending free agents Josh Norman, Prince Amukamara, Jeremy Lane, Jerraud Powers, William Gay, Leon Hall, Alan Ball, Adam Jones, Newman, Deshawn Shead, Patrick Robinson, Robinson, Sherels, Janoris Jenkins, Nolan Carroll and Morris Claiborne.

    Draft

    Like defensive line, which has been addressed with valuable picks in recent drafts, cornerback likely won’t top general manager Rick Spielman’s priority list. They’ve got two young first-round picks between Waynes and Rhodes, as well as a solid slot cornerback in his prime in Captain Munnerlyn. While they’ve got starting candidates, they currently only have five corners under contract for next season.

    Bottom line

    Having just wrapped up his 13th NFL season, Terence Newman hasn’t publicly stated whether or not he wants to play another season. After leading the Vikings with three interceptions in 17 starts, including one at safety, the Vikings would likely welcome Newman back if for nothing more than coaching and reliable depth. He turns 38 in September. Waynes will lead the competition for the left cornerback spot after mainly serving as a special teams cog as a rookie. Zimmer has said he still wants to see tighter coverage from Waynes, who admitted to learning the NFL boundary between physical and flagged last season. Rhodes had a rough start to 2015 before finding his stride late, which started with shadowing the Falcons’ Julio Jones in Week 12. Munnerlyn thrived in his second season with the Vikings, and enters the final year of his deal in 2016 on solid ground as the slot corner. The personnel could look much different behind those three. Newman’s playing future is uncertain, and he leads the three free agents including Marcus Sherels, who serves strictly as a punt returner, and Josh Robinson, who is likely moving on after being seldom used by this coaching staff.

  9. #9
    Safety

    2015 playing time

    Harrison Smith: 14 games, 75 percent
    Andrew Sendejo: 14 games, 73.4 percent
    Robert Blanton: 17 games, 20.5 percent
    Anthony Harris: 5 games, 12.9 percent
    Antone Exum Jr.: 12 games, 12.5 percent

    Upcoming free agents

    Andrew Sendejo, unrestricted free agent

    Robert Blanton, unrestricted free agent

    Noteworthy number

    • 13 — After switching between Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo in 2014, the Vikings entered last offseason seeking a fresh breath at safety next to Harrison Smith. Even so, head coach Mike Zimmer felt the most comfortable with Sendejo. And it’s worth noting that even as injuries held Sendejo out late in the season, Zimmer went back to him once healthy, and in the thick of the NFC North race with Green Bay. Sendejo made a career-high 13 starts, and could very well re-sign after serving as part of a successful season on defense aside from being a proven special teams ace. That doesn’t mean Zimmer won’t want continued competition at that spot, with a pair of young, in-house candidates on deck.

    2016 salary cap, position rank

    Smith: $5.28 million, 19th
    Exum Jr.: $628,947
    Harris: $525,000
    Johnny Lowdermilk: $450,000

    Quotable

    Head coach Mike Zimmer, in early December, on options at safety: “Everybody wants to jump the gun on these one-game things. After the first week, Exum Jr. was the savior and now [Anthony Harris]. You know, it’s about over the course of time. Let’s finish out these games and figure out how [Harris] does, and we’ll evaluate more.”

    Potential market

    Includes pending free agents Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Tashaun Gipson, Louis Delmas, James Ihedigbo, Tyvon Branch and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

    Draft

    The Vikings’ frugal approach to free agency has resonated at safety, where they were reportedly in on New England’s Devin McCourty last year before the price got too high. Though they’ve been equally as quiet in the draft since selecting Smith in 2012’s first round. Even with the constant carousel of starters, general manager Rick Spielman has only selected two safeties (Blanton and Exum Jr.) in the 37 picks since Smith. They snagged Anthony Harris as a priority undrafted free agent signing last year, and he showed promise. The Vikings’ action in free agency, which includes a couple Bengals among a potential pool of starters, will go a long way toward their draft approach.

    Bottom line

    Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo. Four different starters have lined up next to safety Harrison Smith in Week 1 of each of his four NFL seasons. The Vikings’ search predated Zimmer, and he’s the latest to continue searching for continuity on the back end of the secondary. Sendejo was clearly thought of as the Vikings’ best internal option last season, though a couple coaches were impressed by Anthony Harris in his two starts. Harris, Antone Exum Jr. and even Terence Newman received starts for an injury-thinned group over Blanton last season. That may signal the end of Blanton’s four years in Minnesota as he’s a pending free agent. Smith is entering the fifth-year option portion of his rookie contract, though he may see a lucrative multi-year extension before next season. A new contract for Sendejo could signify just how much they liked his play last season. In the same vein, a lower-end deal or parting ways could show they’ll, once again, continue competition next to Smith.

  10. #10
    Season Tickets, First Deck
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    After reading through all that info you posted Hyper it's obvious to me that the most pressing need is to fix the OL. I think Zimmer feels that way also considering the fact he fired Jeff Davidson and replaced him with Tony Sparano. Zimmer fixed the defense now he wants the offense fix and it's going to start with the OL.

    I'm curious to find out what approach the Vikings will take to fix the OL. Could they possibly sit tight and hope that the return of Sullivan and Loadholt will solidify the line? Maybe resign Harris to play RG and bank on Fusco finally getting the hang of LG? They could end up with a starting OL of Kalil, Fusco, Sullivan, Harris and Loadholt. Doesn't sound so bad does it? They would have Berger and T.J. Clemmings as backups. They would probably carry a total of 9 on the 54 man roster. So they would have Austin Shepherd, Zac Kerin, Jeremiah Sirles, Nick Easton and Carter Bykowski to choose from to fill the final two spots.

    My guess is they will look hard at free agency to see if any of the available top tier offensive linemen would be a major upgrade. If they think there is someone like that they will push hard to get him. If not I think they will bring in a FA on the cheap that has something to prove. I also think they will draft two offensive linemen. One of them will taken be in the first three rounds ... possibly the first if someone drops to them and they feel they can't pass on him.

    In any case, with Mike Zimmer providing the impetus, I expect the Vikings to have a much improved OL next season.

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