Leading up to the start of training camp on Friday, we will set the stage for Vikings camp by taking a look at where things stand at each position group. Today, we will finish off the series with cornerbacks and safeties.
A QUICK REFRESHER: Where do we begin? The Vikings re-signed safety Andrew Sendejo and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Marcus Sherels. They inked free-agent safety Michael Griffin and corner Melvin White. They drafted Clemson defensive backs Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse. And they made Harrison Smith the NFL’s highest-paid safety. The flurry of activity helped give the Vikings their deepest secondary in years.
HOT CAMP STORYLINE: For the third straight year of the Mike Zimmer era, the Vikings head down to Mankato with very little clarity at the spot next to Smith. Sendejo, last year’s starting strong safety, signed a four-year deal to return and lined up next to Smith during the spring. Griffin, several years removed from his last Pro Bowl appearance with the Titans, received a one-year contract with just $750,000 guaranteed. And the Vikings still have relative unknowns in the athletic but inconsistent Antone Exum and Anthony Harris, a late-season practice-squad promotion in 2015. Zimmer probably won’t declare a winner in this wide-open competition until after the preseason, as was the case in both 2014 and 2015.
TOP BATTLE TO WATCH: Cornerback Trae Waynes, the team’s top pick in 2015, played sparingly as a rookie because Newman refused to relinquish his starting gig in his first season in Minnesota. No, that is not a reason to worry about Waynes. That being said, Waynes, who played pretty well in some late-season cameos, is not a lock to be in the starting lineup at the start of this season. He is going to have to unseat Newman, who is back on another one-year deal. This battle is going to be a fun one to watch.
POSSIBLY IN DANGER: Nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had a nice bounce-back season in his second year in Minnesota. What did he earn for his troubles? The Vikings used their second-round pick to draft his possible replacement. While it seems more likely that Alexander, who has a remarkable backstory, will take over for Munnerlyn when the veteran’s contract expires after this season, there is a chance it could happen sooner than expected. Cutting Munnerlyn would save the Vikings $4.25 million, but my imaginary money is on Munnerlyn holding off the rookie in 2016.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Xavier Rhodes has all the tools needed to become one of the NFL’s top cover men. But the fourth-year cornerback has yet to put it all together. After a promising second season in 2014, he got off to a slow start in 2015 before stabilizing in the season’s second half. Entering the fourth year of his five-year rookie contract, Rhodes can make himself a lot of money by finally taking the leap in this pivotal season.
EARLY ROSTER BREAKDOWN:
- On the 90-man roster: 10 cornerbacks, 6 safeties
- Projected to make the 53-man: 5-6 corners, 4-5 safeties
- Roster locks: 5 (Smith, Sendejo, Alexander, Rhodes, Waynes)
- Good bets: 4 (Munnerlyn, Newman, Sherels, Griffin)
- On the bubble: 5 (CB Jabari Price, White, Exum, Harris, Kearse)
- Longshots: 2 (CB Keith Baxter, CB Tre Roberson)