The NFL new year is right around the corner now that the scouting combine has come to an end. Starting Monday, the league’s legal tampering window begins a couple days before free agency officially opens March 14. Setting the stage was the recent trip to Indianapolis.
Today’s deadline is likely to pass without any action again from the Vikings regarding the franchise or transition tag for the seventh straight season. The roughly $23.2 million cost to tag a quarterback seems a little rich for the Vikings and Case Keenum, even coming off 13 wins. Mike Zimmer’s recent comments showed his uncertainty about Keenum’s future, further clouding whether they’re interested in making him a long-term offer at all. Keenum will have other suitors likely promising him a starting role with starter money.
The Vikings have been successful restructuring contracts with veterans in the past. Even with Sharrif Floyd’s contract tolling, the Vikings would rank around the ninth-most salary-cap space. But should they begin pinching pennies to, perhaps, squeeze in a quarterback contract alongside extensions for Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr, one target for a salary trim is Latavius Murray. The Vikings have done so in the past with veterans from Brian Robison and Chad Greenway to John Carlson, though it failed with Alex Boone leading to his release last fall. The Vikings would save $5.15 million in cap space by cutting Murray, while heading into another heralded draft class at running back.
Outside of the quarterbacks, a handful of veterans are expected to test free agency, including from what we can tell center/guard Joe Berger, defensive tackle Tom Johnson, guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles and running back Jerick McKinnon. Once the new league year begins next week, the Vikings will have 53 players under contract for next season, among the fewest in the league. They can quickly fill up the 90-man roster by re-signing their own free agents. Coveted special teamer Anthony Harris is a restricted free agent who will cost $1.9 million to retain. The Vikings are open to re-signing Berger, Johnson and Sirles, at their price. Zimmer indicated the Vikings want to retain cornerback Terence Newman, who wants to play at age 40 next season. Based on performance alone, punt returner Marcus Sherels will likely get a new deal. Kicker Kai Forbath, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and guard Nick Easton (RFA) could also be re-signed.
These defensive backs are a step ahead. According to the NFL, only five defensive backs have posted 4.32-second 40-yard dashes in the last decade; three happened on Monday. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward (Ohio State), Donte Jackson (LSU) and Parry Nickerson (Tulane) all tied for the fastest times at the combine this year. Eight defensive backs in total ran sub-4.4. The Vikings could find the hyper-athletic traits they desire to bolster cornerback depth after last year’s trade for Tramaine Brock didn’t produce much.
Wanted: Three-technique help. The Vikings are looking for help at defensive tackle next to Linval Joseph. A full-time option is never easy to find in free agency, and it’s unclear how the draft board will shake out back at pick No. 30. Evaluators I’ve spoken to aren’t high on this draft’s depth at three technique. One first-round prospect, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, left the combine after he was reportedly diagnosed with a heart condition. Keep an eye on Florida’s Taven Bryan (6-4, 291), who is the type of special athlete the Vikings have taken chances on under Zimmer and position coach Andre Patterson.
The offensive line overhaul isn’t over. The Vikings could keep all the pieces in place, but where does Mike Remmers end up? Zimmer was noncommittal about Remmers’ position, saying future additions could decide his spot after he made three starts at guard to end the season. Either way, the Vikings will need bodies inside this spring with both Pat Elflein and Nick Easton coming off ankle surgeries. All while Joe Berger is set to enter a free-agent market that could bear more fruit for him elsewhere. At the combine, the Vikings spoke with a couple top interior options in Arkansas C/G Frank Ragnow, a Chanhassen product, and Ohio State C/G Billy Price.