The departure of slot specialist Captain Munnerlyn over the weekend falls into the #asexpected category of offseason maneuvering.
Munnerlyn has said the Vikings made him an offer. But he signed with the Panthers because his first NFL team offered him a bigger contract and a shot at an every-down role, something he no longer had here.
The Vikings drafted Mackensie Alexander in the second round last year when they didn't immediately need a corner, in part because Munnerlyn was in a contract year. And, knowing Munnerlyn was likely a goner, they kicked the tires on K'Waun Williams a few weeks ago, too.
But that doesn't mean the loss of the slot specialist won't sting.
While Munnerlyn was "just a nickel," something he often said with an eye roll, he still played more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps over the past two seasons as coach Mike Zimmer's third cornerback. And he often lined up against shifty slot receivers, which is no easy task.
Zimmer was complimentary of Alexander at the scouting combine.
"He's a very, very talented kid that is still really [learning]," he said.
But the Vikings, who plan to start Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes on the outside in 2017, must cover themselves in case the confident young cover man out of Clemson does not seize that role this offseason.
One nickel the Vikings have reached out to, according to my colleague Andrew Krammer, is the aptly-named Nickell Robey-Coleman, who last week was cut by the Bills, who have a new coaching staff.
Robey-Coleman, like Munnerlyn, is a few inches shorter than Zimmer prefers. And he got benched in the middle of last season. But, according to PFF, the 25-year-old has been stingy in the slot, which Zimmer must agree with or the Vikings wouldn't be calling Robey-Coleman’s agent.
There are some other intriguing options available to play nickel.
Corey Graham, who was Robey-Coleman's teammate in Buffalo, was solid in the slot for the Ravens before joining the Bills, who moved Graham to safety. He has been a reliable special-teams performer, too.
Lardarius Webb, who was Graham's teammate in Baltimore, was a very good defender in the slot early in his NFL career and also has lined up on the outside and at safety, where he played last season. Webb is worth a look, though past injuries could limit his effectiveness inside.
Leon Hall had some excellent years playing for Zimmer in Cincinnati. But the 32-year-old played sparingly last season with the Giants. Maybe Terence Newman can direct him to the football fountain of youth?
Jerraud Powers, who spent 2016 in Baltimore, is also a free agent.
As of this morning, we believe that Robey-Coleman is the only one of the aforementioned bunch the Vikings have reached out to. But that could change as they look to fill the 5-foot-9 void left by Munnerlyn.