Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen
Leading up to free agency in mid-March, we will examine a multitude of angles pertaining to the Minnesota Vikings’ free agency approach.
The notion that two No. 1-caliber receivers were all the Vikings needed to succeed in the passing game got debunked late last season when defenses sold out to stop Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Mid-season signee Aldrick Robinson became the team’s most reliable third target, but he also played less than a quarter of the team’s snaps. And he’s a free agent.
Laquon Treadwell struggled to make an impact and dropped too many passes, Brandon Zylstra rarely saw the field and rookie Chad Beebe dealt with injuries in limited action. The Vikings’ depth at wide receiver got exposed and should be an offseason priority if they are serious about equipping Kirk Cousins with every possible resource. If they dabble in free agency, they’ll likely need to find a shorter-term contract with Diggs already locked up long-term and Thielen potentially due for an extension.
Level of FA need on a scale of 1 to 10: 6
Because of Thielen and Diggs’ proclivity from the slot, Minnesota has the flexibility to look at both inside and outside route-runners. Here are some options:
30 OR OLDER
Chris Hogan: Coming off a very Hogan-esque season with the Patriots, notching 35 receptions for 532 yards. For five straight years he’s been between 34-41 catches and 420-680 yards. Adds another effective slot candidate to the mix with Thielen and Diggs.
Golden Tate: A durable, high-end talent who is probably at his lowest value in a while after a mid-season trade raised questions about his character and forced him into a new situation that might’ve limited his ceiling. Was top five in yards after catch for four consecutive years prior to 2018. Could be attainable on a bridge deal if he’s looking to recoup value.
Demaryius Thomas: Enjoyed five straight 1,000-yard seasons in Denver from 2012-16. Was traded to Houston for draft picks mid-season and tore his Achilles’ tendon for the second time in his career in late December. It took Thomas around eight months to recover the first time around back in 2011. If he can follow the same timeline, Thomas might be ready for the regular season or shortly after. Has an obvious connection to Gary Kubiak.
SOLID, NOT SPECTACULAR
Jermaine Kearse: Acquired by the Jets two years ago in the Sheldon Richardson trade. Had his lowest production last year (371 yards) since 2013, partly because of injury and partly because of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold’s growing pains. Thrived when he assumed a larger role in Seattle from 2014-16 after Tate left, and was No. 5 in passer rating when targeted in 2015. Would likely command a higher percentage of slot reps.
Tyrell Williams: Operated on a one-year deal worth less than $3 million last year and caught 41 passes from Philip Rivers. Three years removed from a 1,000-yard season. Has posted strong YAC totals and high passer-rating-when-targeted figures. Able to run routes outside and from the slot. Has struggled with drops in the past.
Donte Moncrief: Had a nice rebound season with the Jacksonville Jaguars after two down years with the Colts. Has shown a penchant for more explosive plays on account of his speed.
CHEAPER, BUT MAYBE SOME UPSIDE?
Cordarrelle Patterson: The Vikings confessed that they could have used Cordarrelle Patterson more effectively after he was well-utilized by the Patriots last season. Could a reunion be considered? Patterson would also provide an answer at kick return.
John Brown: Has a 1,000-yard season on his resume from playing with Carson Palmer, but has dealt with injury concerns and drop issues throughout his career. Posted a bottom-five reception percentage each of the last two years.
Jordan Matthews: Had the fifth-best passer rating when targeted of any receiver last year with 25-plus targets, even though he didn’t get as many slot reps where he’s most comfortable. Averaged almost 900 yards per season from 2014-16. Injury history is a concern as he hasn’t played all 16 games in three years.