A reporter asked Captain Munnerlyn what his concerns are about leaving the NFL’s “No. 3-ranked” defense in Carolina for a Vikings outfit that ranked considerably more putrid during a nightmarish 2013 season.
“Actually,” said the 5-8, 195-pound cornerback, “we were the No. 2-ranked defense in Carolina. Not No. 3.”
OK. But can you tell us where the Vikings ranked, Captain? (Answer: 31st in yards allowed, last in points.)
“No, I actually haven’t looked at it,” Munnerlyn said. “But I’m sure with these signings and with the people they brought in, we’ll be ranked in the top 10.”
Whether or not the Vikings are signing the right people won’t be known until the league starts keeping score in the fall. But so far this spring, they’ve been filling positions of need with seemingly capable bodies at a rapid-fire pace the past week.
The 25-year-old Munnerlyn, who signed a three-year, $14.3 million deal with $7 million guaranteed, was the latest addition until moments after his conference call ended on Thursday night. That’s when reports surfaced and were confirmed that the Vikings also had reached a one-year agreement with 27-year-old cornerback Derek Cox. Cox is a 6-1, 180-pounder who struggled last year in San Diego but had some productive seasons in Jacksonville before that.
Add Munnerlyn and Cox to quarterback Matt Cassel, defensive end Everson Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph, and the Vikings had addressed each of their top four needs before Day 3 of free agency had come to a close.
Wait, there was more.
You want depth at nose tackle and possibly another interior pass rusher at the three-technique tackle position? Well, the Vikings addressed the former on Thursday by re-signing eight-year veteran wide body Fred Evans to back up Joseph. As for the latter, that could come Friday as former Bears tackle and 2012 Pro Bowler Henry Melton continues a visit that began on Thursday. Melton, who had 13 sacks from the tackle position from 2011 to 2012, must prove to the Vikings that his knee is coming along well after being surgically rebuilt in October.
By the time Melton arrived at Winter Park later in the day on Thursday, Munnerlyn’s visit was nearly complete. His original plan to leave Winter Park to visit the Buccaneers and Jets was scrapped when, according to Munnerlyn, the Vikings showed him a defensive scheme he’s comfortable with, matched the financial offer he was looking for and shortened their preference for a five-year deal to three years, “just so I could get another contract before I’m 30.”
The Vikings sat out on the first wave of cornerback movement that saw bigger names such as Vontae Davis, Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis and Alterraun Verner land more lucrative deals. The Vikings had reached out to Verner during the three-day negotiating period but also had Munnerlyn in mind because of his strength in being able to slide into the slot in passing situations. That was something the team sorely lacked after releasing Antoine Winfield last spring.
“I’ve been doing that for three years now, starting outside and then when it’s time for third down, sliding inside,” Munnerlyn said. “I’m kind of used to doing it. I actually like it. At first, I didn’t see how those guys cover those guys in the slot. I’m like, man, it’s very tough to cover guys in the slot. But it takes patience and time to get it. But I think I got it down.”
Last year, second-year pro Josh Robinson was asked to do that for the first time in his career. He struggled before being injured and now could be in danger of losing his roster spot with Thursday’s signings and last year’s late surge by Shaun Prater.
Cox was a third-round draft pick of the Jaguars in 2009. He had 12 interceptions in four seasons before signing a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chargers before last season. Injuries and inconsistent play caused him to lose his starting job and get released.
Munnerlyn, meanwhile, is coming off career highs in tackles (77), pass deflections (12) and sacks (3½). He also returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns, giving him five touchdowns in seven career picks, including four in the past two seasons.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Panthers in 2009, Munnerlyn began his overachieving career as a punt returner before becoming a full-time defensive starter in 2011.
“I don’t shy down to nobody,” Munnerlyn said. “I don’t care if you’re a 6-7, 6-8 lineman, I don’t shy down from you.”
Besides the late-round chip on his shoulder, Munnerlyn said his career was helped early on when a coach in Carolina showed him film of Winfield, who did quite well for himself for 14 seasons despite also being only 5-8.
“My coach was like, ‘Man, you remind me of Antoine Winfield,’ ” Munnerlyn said. “So I started watching film of him and I kind of stole some of his game and brought it to my game. I don’t hit as hard as he does. He can really bring it when he tackles. But I try to go out there and make the tackles when they come to me and make plays. Just like him.”