The Minnesota Vikings had an up and down season in 2020. After starting the year 1-5, head coach Mike Zimmer led his team to win the next five out of six games and was on the playoff bubble heading into the final quarter of the season. However, after a late-season collapse with a struggling defense bursting at the seams, the Vikings stumbled to a final 7-9 record. Unfortunately, it was an injury-plagued season combined with little cap space to take on any big contracts before the trade deadline. The Vikings only got rid of key players after trading away edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who somehow led the Vikings in sacks with five. However, it’s now time to look at how the Vikings can revamp their team for this coming season.
Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, the Vikings have 15 still pending free agents heading into the 2021 offseason. Like many teams, the Vikings are strapped for cash right now and likely won’t be able to re-sign many of their more prominent names heading to the open market. However, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, as a couple of bigger-name linebackers could be testing free agency this offseason.
Eric Wilson, Linebacker
With Eric Kendricks dealing with injuries in 2020, Wilson did a lot for the Vikings. The 26-year-old led the team in tackles with 122, capturing three interceptions and racking up three sacks. However, Wilson’s performance in 2020 may result in him seeing some bigger offers from other teams. Thus, making it more difficult for a money-crunched team like the Vikings to re-sign him. If the Vikings can find the space, they most certainly should bring back their leading tackler to line up beside Kendricks.
Todd Davis, Linebacker
Speaking of linebackers, Davis, when he was healthy, was a solid backup linebacker and a key contributor on special teams. Considering how back special teams were last season for the Vikings, they should try to retain the few positives. Davis also filled in nicely when called upon for defense, picking up 11 tackles in Week 13. The 28-year-old veteran linebacker should be near the top of the Vikings’ priorities to help keep a solid linebacking corp together when Anthony Barr returns next season from injury.
Anthony Harris, Safety
The likelihood that Harris winds up back on the Vikings roster is low. Harris played on the franchise tag this past season and likely wants more long-term security. However, unless that security involves fewer dollars, Harris will probably find himself on another team for the 2021 season. Harris led the league in interceptions in 2019 with six and also had 11 passes defended. While he didn’t record an interception in 2020, the price tag for him will likely be too large for the Vikings’ pocketbook.
Rashod Hill, Offensive Tackle
Hill has been a serviceable backup for the Vikings offensive line for five years now and is undoubtedly a favorite to return this offseason. Hill is a versatile backup that can play both guard and tackle when called upon. Plus, unless he is offered a starter-level deal in the open market, Hill will likely remain with Minnesota for at least another season. However, he isn’t the perfect backup, and the Vikings could look to upgrade. Nonetheless, Hill is familiar with the offensive system and is a good backup.
Ameer Abdullah, Running Back
Abdullah has been a substantial change of pace running back for the Vikings behind Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison‘s likes. The Nebraska product didn’t see as many touches in 2020 as he did in 2019, but he was a key contributor on special teams. Abdullah, nonetheless, is a solid depth piece to have in the Vikings’ backfield. Plus, he won’t break Spielman’s bank account, and he can fill his role on special teams and in the offensive backfield.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, Defensive End (RFA)
The Vikings were one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the NFL last season, totaling a whopping 23 sacks. Odenigbo was the leader among players on the roster at the end of the season with 3.5. While it wasn’t a pretty season, Danielle Hunter will be back next season, and pairing him with Odenigbo on the other side, wouldn’t be a terrible combination. Plus, Odenigbo comes at a much cheaper price tag and is still a restricted free agent, giving the Vikings some control over the 26-year-old edge rusher.
Potential Cap Casualties
According to Over the Cap, the Vikings are tight in terms of cap space. They’re currently in the red by just under $9.5 million. Fortunately, the Vikings do have a few players who are certainly getting paid more money than their production shows on the field. Or age has started to come into play. If the Vikings even just let a couple of the players listed below go, they’ll be back in the positive to make a play at a few free agency targets.
Riley Reiff, OT ($11.75 million saved)
This decision would likely divide Vikings fans. Reiff certainly wasn’t awful in 2020 but considering his cap hit for 2021 of nearly $15 million; he certainly isn’t worth that type of money. PFF gave Reiff a 71.4 grade on the year, and he is one of the line’s better pass blockers. However, unless Reiff is willing to restructure, general manager Rick Spielman will see the amount of space he could free up and likely take his chances on a cheaper value offensive tackle.
Harrison Smith, S ($10.5 million saved)
The Vikings will have to make some tough decisions this offseason, and saying goodbye to their safety duo might be one of them. Cutting Smith would save the Vikings over $10 million and free up money for them to pursue a bigger signing on the open market. Smith proved again in 2020 that he is one of the best safeties in the NFL. But, unless he is willing to restructure his deal or sign an extension freeing up money this season, he could be out the door in Minnesota. The Vikings are proof that having two great safeties cannot fix a lousy coverage unit.
Kyle Rudolph, TE ($5 million saved)
This seems the most logical of the cuts here and still frees up a fair amount of cap space. Rudolph is due $9.3 million in 2021, and with Irv Smith Jr and Tyler Conklin chomping at the bit for more reps, his $4.3 dead cap hit doesn’t sound too bad at this point. Rudolph has been a staple of the Vikings’ offense but played in 12 games last season and caught just 28 passes for 334 yards and one touchdown. Smith Jr and Conklin are a much cheaper and younger option for the Vikings moving forward.
Shamar Stephen, DE ($3.75 million saved)
Stephen has been a decent depth piece for six years now for the Vikings. However, the former seventh-round pick turned 30 a few days ago. It would save a decent amount of cap for the Vikings to improve elsewhere this offseason. Of the potential casualties listed here, Stephen is one of the more obvious choices behind Rudolph. The age and value don’t line up right now, and Stephen will likely be testing the free agency waters this offseason. Stephen played in all 16 games last season, recording 34 tackles and just 0.5 sacks.
Open Market Free Agents
As mentioned, the Vikings don’t have a lot of money to work with at the moment. Thus, don’t expect many splash signings in free agency this offseason. However, suppose they take care of a few cap casualties or get some of their higher-paid players to restructure or sign an extension, perhaps Kirk Cousins. In that case, the splash signing presents an opportunity. But, expect more veteran or depth signings in the open market.
Tashaun Gipson, S, Chicago Bears
Safety will likely be a need for the Vikings. With Harris likely departing in free agency and Smith potentially being a cap casualty, Gipson would be a smart veteran grab for Minnesota’s secondary. While Gipson didn’t have a career year last season, the nine-year veteran still had a pair of interceptions, seven passes defended, and 66 tackles. Gipson would provide a competent veteran presence in their secondary who can play both safety positions and all for a reasonable price.
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
The need for veteran presence at the cornerback spot showed its ugly head in 2020. Rookie corners Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler were forced into the starting roles and had to learn on the fly. Breeland would be a substantial veteran addition to the Vikings corner room who can also contribute well on the field. The former Packer and Chief served a four-game suspension at the beginning of 2020 but still grabbed two interceptions, defended nine passes, and racked up 38 tackles. The price tag for Breeland could be high this offseason, but if the Vikings can make it work financially, it would be a solid signing.
Jon Feliciano, OG, Buffalo Bills
Feliciano would be a versatile interior blocker for the Vikings. Minnesota saw several struggles on the interior offensive line, and Dakota Dozier is up for free agency. Feliciano would be a solid depth piece and could even start at guard or center should they need him. According to Pro Football Focus, Feliciano played well in his return from a pectoral injury and did not allow a single sack in 2020. The six-year veteran also only had two penalties in 2020 and can be serviceable in both run and pass blocking.
Nick Easton, OG, New Orleans Saints
Easton would be another option for the Vikings in retooling their interior offensive line. Easton dealt with injuries this past season, resulting in him suiting up for just nine games, and the Saints eventually cut him to free up some cap space. However, Easton has starting guard potential, and if nothing else, he is a solid depth piece to have. Plus, the Vikings’ interior offensive line is in desperate need of some new faces as Ezra Cleveland will likely be sliding out to the tackle position for 2021.
Chris Conley, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Vikings have two stars at wideout in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, but the depth behind them is suspect. Conley had served this third wideout role before and did alright for himself these past two seasons in Jacksonville. The 28-year-old wideout tallied 40 or more receptions and at last 450 yards in his past two seasons with the Jaguars and hauled in seven touchdowns. Conley’s asking price likely won’t be very high, and he could certainly fall into a definite role behind Jefferson and Theilen.
Previewing the Draft
This is where the Vikings are going to have to make their money this offseason. Speilman will have to hit on their top-100 picks, which they have three of this season. The Vikings traded away their 2021 second-rounder to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for Ngakoue. Still, they got a third-round return for the pass rusher from the Baltimore Ravens.
Round 1, Pick 14: Pass Rusher
While the offensive line is a priority for the Vikings in free agency, Minnesota should prioritize the defense through the draft. The Vikings should address one of their most significant needs with a legitimate pass rusher with their first pick. The Vikings will get Hunter back from injury, but the question remains: who will line up on the opposite side. While Gregory Rousseau has gained a fair amount of traction with this pick; however, a more proven and less raw prospect would be Kwity Paye out of Michigan.
Round 3, Pick 79: Safety
Addressing this position in free agency is a must, but adding a young safety here would also be a smart move. Smith is starting to get up there age-wise, and now, his partner in crime for 2021 is in the air. While this safety class doesn’t jump off the screen, there are a handful of players who could make some noise in the latter parts of day two. Paris Ford out of Pittsburgh comes to mind with this pick. Or if the Vikings want to take a bit more of a gamble, they could take a player like Tyree Gillespie out of Missouri. Gillespie would fill the strong safety role well, especially if he’s eased into the system through his first season.
Round 3, Pick 91: Defensive Tackle
With their final top-100 pick, the Vikings need to continue to add depth to the defensive line. Michael Pierce will likely be back next season after opting out of the 2020 season, but finding who will line up beside him should be taken care of within the first few rounds of the draft. A prospect like Osa Odighizuwa would be an excellent addition to the line. Odighizuwa is a versatile defensive lineman that offers the potential to be kicked outside in pass-rush situations and is a good gap defender on the interior.
Early 2021 Predictions
The Vikings were a defense away from making the playoffs this past season. Cousins is Minnesota’s quarterback right now, and to be fair, he played well in 2020. Therefore, the Vikings can make some noise in the NFC North if they retool their defense for the upcoming season. With an improved secondary that will have Mike Hughes and Holton Hill back from injury, this could be a legitimate wild card team in 2021.