This offseason, the Minnesota Vikings nailed free agency, and they aren’t getting the praise they deserve. They played it safe by adding depth to the offensive line and swung for the fences on the defense. For a new front office searching for an identity, they aced their first test.
Three free agents really stand out to me this offseason: Jordan Hicks, Harrison Phillips, and Za’Darius Smith. Yes, they’re all defensive players. But it’s not so surprising if you look at last year’s defense and Minnesota’s departing free agents.
Hicks filled the middle linebacker spot next to Eric Kendricks. Minnesota’s shift to a 3-4 under Ed Donatell opened up another position, and Hicks has been a full-time starter every year of his career that he hasn’t suffered an injury. It’s safe to say that he has the experience to start alongside Kendricks.
It’s commendable that this front office went after one of the top-three available linebackers this offseason, a position that the old front office would neglect time and time again. Hicks is nearly as versatile as Kendricks, and they are only paying him $5 million per year. Hicks is a great fit next to Kendricks because of their complementary play styles.
Former Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Phillips is essentially replacing Michael Pierce, who replaced Linval Joseph at nose tackle before him. It’s a position that the Vikings seem to always fill in free agency. That’s how they got Dalvin Tomlinson too.
Based on how the Bills Mafia reacted to the news that he was departing, Phillips was a fan favorite in Buffalo. He has a great personality on and off the field. He’s entertaining in OTAs and has a knack for giving back to the communities he plays for. The defense is desperate for a vocal leader, and Phillips has a chance to be that, along with Za’Darius Smith.
Speaking of Smith, he might be the best player the Vikings signed this offseason. He has a pedigree as a pass rusher, plus they swiped him from the Green Bay Packers. Like Hicks, he’s a great pairing with his counterpart, Danielle Hunter.
In a sense, Smith helped make sense of the other two signings above. The Vikings needed pass rushers more than anything, and it was head-scratching that this signing took so long. I was nervous about their ability to get a premier pass rusher to pair with Hunter because the offseason was well underway when the Vikings worked this deal out with him.
Smith’s contract is heavily incentive-based because of his injury history, but he’s poised to return to full health. A signing of this caliber is something we haven’t seen from this team in some time, especially one that’s worked out. Obviously, we don’t know how this one will end up, but I can tell you it’s already better than the Mike Wallace or Alex Boone deals from the previous front office.
Yes, players like Joseph, Kirk Cousins, and maybe Terence Newman were bigger-name signings from the previous regime. But those were the exceptions to the rule. Rick Spielman and Co. lived and died by a conservative free-agency approach.
It’s also worth mentioning the depth the team signed this offseason. Most notably, the Vikings got Patrick Peterson back and added players like corner Chandon Sullivan, tight end Johnny Mundt (to replace Tyler Conklin), and guard Jesse Davis.
Peterson has a huge role on this year’s team, considering how many young corners they have. Mundt is needed because they were missing a tight end after Irv Smith Jr.’s departure. Many of these singings were safe moves, but necessary ones.
I would’ve liked to see more starting quality offensive linemen — *cough* J.C. Tretter *cough* — but he’s still available, so who knows. Besides, if one of the team’s many depth players can step up, it will sufficiently elevate the line.
As for the free-agent Vikings? Anthony Barr is the biggest name. He still hasn’t landed somewhere, which is not surprising given his situation.
Barr hasn’t been healthy in some time. He’s suffered knee injuries, and he just doesn’t fit in the new defense. I can’t imagine him playing full snaps in a 3-4. Where does he play? He’s a versatile 4-3 linebacker, not a true pass rusher, even though I would be curious how he does there.
I am a little more disappointed that Sheldon Richardson is gone. He could be a perfect fit for this team, but, like Barr, he is still available. But I know one thing: The Vikings need some interior edge players – like Richardson.
All of the other departures are not concerning, either because they’ve been replaced already or aren’t noteworthy.
Don’t forget that this is the first year of a new front office, and they’ve already made bigger moves at a higher frequency than the previous regime. That bodes well for balanced team-building.