Minnesota Vikings 2022 Offseason Previewby Mike Fanelli February 17, 2022 0 comments
The Minnesota Vikings ended the 2021 NFL season with an 8-9 record, finishing second in the NFC North. After eight years with the franchise, the Vikings fired head coach Mike Zimmer. They also fired general manager Rick Spielman after 16 years with the team. To replace Spielman, the Vikings hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the Cleveland Browns’ former Vice President of Football Operations. They then hired former Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach. Hiring a new head coach and general manager was only the first steps for the Vikings as they have several difficult decisions to make this offseason.
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Pending Free Agents
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they are in one of the worst positions heading into the offseason. According to Over the Cap, they are a projected $15.6 million over the cap. Of their 20 upcoming free agents, seven of them played at least 55 percent of the snaps in 2021. Furthermore, the Vikings have several defensive starters scheduled to hit the open market next month. With their difficult cap situation, the Vikings could have several new starters on defense next year.
Woods played 100 percent of the snaps in his first year with the Vikings. He was the only Viking to play all 1208 defensive snaps this season. Woods also had a career-high 108 total tackles this season, the third-most on the team. His 10 passes defended and three interceptions this season were career and team highs as well. After spending the first four years of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, Woods might have found a home in Minnesota. However, depending on the offers he gets on the open market, the Vikings might not be able to re-sign him, given their cap situation.
Over the first three years of his career, Conklin had only 43 targets. However, after Kyle Rudolph joined the New York Giants and Irv Smith Jr. suffered a torn meniscus in the preseason finale, Conklin took over as the starting tight end this season. Conklin had 61 receptions on 87 targets and three touchdowns in 2021. He was productive for the Vikings as 42.6 percent of his receptions resulted in a first down. However, Conklin will likely sign with another team this offseason with Smith returning next season.
Greg Joseph (RFA)
Joseph has bounced around so far during his NFL career. However, he might have found a home in Minnesota. The 27-year-old kicker had a career year in 2021, making 36 of his 40 field goal attempts, including seven of nine attempts from 50 plus yards out. Joseph also had 76 of his 94 kickoffs result in a touchback. After struggling with kicker issues for years, the Vikings finally have one they can trust. As a restricted free agent, the Vikings can match any offer another team makes Joseph. Fans should expect Joseph back in Minnesota for next year.
Potential Cap Casualties
With a projected negative $15.6 million in cap space, the Vikings will need to get creative this offseason. Unfortunately, they don’t have many cap casualties as the Vikings have several poor contracts, led by Kirk Cousins. The veteran quarterback has a $45 million cap hit for 2022, the highest on the team. However, the Vikings can create $35 million in cap space if they trade Cousins this offseason. That said, unless the Vikings receive an appealing offer for Cousins, he will be back in Minnesota next season.
Danielle Hunter ($14.6 Million Saved)
When on the field, Hunter is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He had back-to-back seasons with 14.5 sacks in 2018 and 2019. However, he has missed 78.8 percent of the games over the past two years because of injuries. Hunter missed the 2020 season with a cervical spine disc hernia and 10 games in 2021 because of a pectoral injury. If the Vikings release Hunter with a post-June 1 designation, they will open up $20 million in cap space. Given the lack of cap space, the Vikings could cut or trade Hunter and replace him with a pass rusher in the draft.
Michael Pierce ($6.5 Million Saved)
In March 2020, the Vikings signed Pierce away from the Baltimore Ravens with a three-year deal worth $27 million. However, Pierce opted out of the 2020 season because of Covid-19. Unfortunately, Pierce missed nine games this season because of an elbow injury. In the eight games he played, Pierce totaled only 20 total tackles and three sacks. With Pierce turning 30 years old during the 2022 season, the Vikings could release the veteran defensive tackle, opening more snaps for younger players like Armon Watts and James Lynch.
Adam Thielen ($5.9 Million Saved)
The Vikings won’t release Thielen. However, they could decide to trade the veteran wide receiver. He will turn 32 years old before the start of the 2022 season. The Vikings could decide to trade away veteran players this offseason, opening up playing time for younger players. After some impressive moments this season, the Vikings have high hopes for K.J. Osborn moving forward. Furthermore, the 2022 NFL Draft is full of talented wide receivers. If a team calls about Thielen, the Vikings could trade him and get younger at wide receiver.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
With several players on defense set to hit the open market, the Vikings will need to find some replacements on the open market. However, that will be easier said than done with their current cap situation. With their lack of cap space, the Vikings will have to sit out the first wave or two of free agency. Instead, they will have to strike bargain deals with veterans or get creative when working out the details of the contracts.
Casey Hayward, Las Vegas Raiders
Hayward had an impressive 2021 season with the Raiders. He had nine passes defended, his most since 2017. Even at 32 years old, Hayward played 94 percent of the defensive snaps last season. He also gave up only a 91.9 quarterback rating when targeted in 2021. That said, Hayward likely won’t re-sign with the Raiders after defensive coordinator Gus Bradley left for the Indianapolis Colts. With Patrick Peterson hitting the open market next month, Hayward could be a cheap replacement.
Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles
While he was a former first-round pick, Barnett struggled to get on the field. He played more than 68 percent of the defensive snaps in only one season. Furthermore, Barnett had only 21.5 sacks during his time with the Eagles. He had a career-low two sacks in 2021 and had only one year with over 5.5 sacks. Barnett will be looking for a new team this offseason after the Eagles gave Josh Sweat a three-year extension in September. If the Vikings move on from Hunter and Everson Griffen this offseason, Barnett could step in as a starter on a one-year prove-it deal.
Malik Hooker, Dallas Cowboys
Last offseason, the Vikings hit a home run with the signing of Woods. After spending time with the Cowboys, he signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Vikings. If he leaves for a big deal in free agency, the Vikings could return to Dallas well. Hooker struggled with injuries during his time with the Colts. After four years with them, he signed with the Cowboys last year and played a career-high 15 games. Like the Vikings, the Cowboys are in a tight spot salary cap-wise. Hooker could find himself having to accept another prove-it deal this offseason. If he does, the Vikings should target him.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
Over the past few years, the Vikings have invested their first-round pick on the offensive side of the ball. The last time they used their first-round pick on defense was on Mike Hughes in 2018. However, that likely changes this year with all their pending free agents on defense. While the Vikings will have all of their picks on day one and two of the draft, they don’t have a fourth-round pick thanks to the Chris Herndon trade.
Round 1, Pick 12: Edge Rusher
Luckily for the Vikings, the draft class is loaded with talented edge rushers. While Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are the two biggest names of the class, there are several other talented edge rushers in the draft this year. George Karlaftis could be an option with this pick. However, if he is off the board, two names to keep an eye on are David Ojabo and Jermaine Johnson. Ojabo has as much potential as any defensive end in the draft class. Meanwhile, Johnson had an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. If the Vikings move on from Hunter, expect the team to spend their first pick on an edge rusher.
Round 2, Pick 46: Safety
While Kyle Hamilton is the star of the safety class, there are several excellent prospects this year. Some potential options with this pick include Jaquan Brisker, Daxton Hill, and Jalen Pitre. With Woods probably hitting the open market and Harrison Smith having just turned 33 years old a few weeks ago, the Vikings need to address the safety position early in the draft.
Round 3, Pick 77: Cornerback
Next month, two starting cornerbacks in Peterson and Mackensie Alexander will hit the open market. While the Vikings have a few younger cornerbacks they like in Cameron Dantzler and Kris Boyd, they need more depth. The ideal target with this pick would be Coby Bryant. While Ahmad Gardner was the star of the Cincinnati defense, Bryant played as much of a critical role for the Bearcats last season.
Early 2022 Expectations
After back-to-back losing seasons, the Vikings have a critical offseason ahead of them. They could go several directions this offseason. The Vikings could attempt to retool and make a playoff push next year. However, they could also trade away veterans like Cousins, Thielen, and Smith to jump-start a rebuilding project. Given the hiring of O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah, a complete rebuild is unlikely. Depending on how things shake out with the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings could win the NFC North next season. However, fans should expect another year around .500 in 2022 unless the team undergoes a complete rebuilding project.
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