Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen
It’s time to turn the page to the Minnesota Vikings offseason with free agency just over a month away and 20 free agents to consider.
Let’s look first at Minnesota’s defense. The two parts to follow will focus on offense and special teams. (NOTE: CB Marcus Sherels will be included in the special teams article.)
CB Terence Newman
2017 Salary: $3.58 million
The oldest player on the Vikings once again put together a solid campaign despite seeing his workload decrease from 73 percent to 56 percent of the defensive reps.
Newman’s three years in Minnesota have coincided with the rise of Xavier Rhodes and the improvement of young corners Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander — certainly no coincidence, considering Newman is one of the best instructors on the team.
The former Cowboys and Bengals corner has been non-committal about his future, saying after the Vikings’ NFC Championship Game loss: “I can’t tell you what I’m going to do in three weeks. It’s just kind of weird that it’s over.”
It’s clear Newman still has the durability to play, as well as the skills. Pro Football Focus’s signature stats graded Newman 23rd in the league in coverage.
The question is whether Newman wants to go through another taxing season in pursuit of his first Super Bowl.
Newman waited until mid-March last season before re-signing with Minnesota. In all likelihood, if Newman plans on retiring, he would let the Vikings know prior to free agency so they can map out their plan for replacing the veteran.
(UPDATE: Newman told KFAN Radio on Thursday that he would like to return next season.)
DT Tom Johnson
2017 Salary: $2.35 million
After four years in Minnesota, it’s fair to wonder if Johnson’s time with the Vikings is coming to an end.
Over the last two seasons, Johnson wasn’t able to generate the same type of interior disruption he did in 2014-15. In his first two seasons with Minnesota, he combined for 12 sacks and 39 tackles. The next two: just four sacks and 28 tackles.
With Johnson aging, Sharrif Floyd’s career in jeopardy and Shamar Stephen’s future murky, the Vikings will have to find ways to add depth to their interior defensive line.
LB Emmanuel Lamur
2017 Salary: $2.75 million
Aside from being the top reserve for a group of linebackers that rarely missed a snap, Lamur’s greatest impact was felt on special teams over the past two seasons.
That’s a steep price tag to pay for a nearly full-time special teamer.
The Vikings have a pair of young linebackers waiting in the wings in Kentrell Brothers and Eric Wilson who may be able to play a backup role at a lower cost.
DT Shamar Stephen
2017 Salary: $1.813 million
The Vikings have gotten great value from Stephen, the former seventh-round pick, but a knee injury in the playoffs could affect the defensive tackle’s future.
Stephen wouldn’t discuss the nature of his injury after the team’s divisional-round playoff game, but if his recovery will impede his chances of being ready for training camp, the Vikings may part ways.
If Stephen gets healthy, the team may attempt to bring him back as an early-down run-stopper, but it’s doubtful they would devote more than a couple million dollars.
S Anthony Harris (RFA)
2017 Salary: $615K
After getting acquired as an undrafted free agent in 2015, Harris has consistently delivered when called upon, making eight starts in three seasons and rarely seeming like a liability.
While he’s not as imposing a tackler as Andrew Sendejo or as versatile as Harrison Smith, Harris’ athleticism allowed him to succeed in spot duty on numerous occasions. Harris was considered the 14th-best safety in coverage with over 100 coverage snaps by Pro Football Focus.
Now that his deal is up, he’ll certainly be after more money. Harris was great value at his old salary, but the Vikings will have to determine whether he’s worth investing in further.
They may have to pull the trigger. Minnesota is shallow when it comes to safety depth, and it helps that Harris understands their system.
CB Tramaine Brock
2017 Salary: $980K
Acquired before the season as insurance at cornerback, Brock was used sparingly but struggled when called upon, allowing a 123.4 passer rating when thrown against this season.
The Vikings may be looking for cornerback depth, but it seems unlikely they’d bring back Brock as a candidate.