The Vikings have spent many of their available cap dollars on additions to a defense that gave up the fourth-most points in the NFL last season.
Their latest and certainly most high-profile signing brings plenty of experience to a young cornerback room.
According to two league sources, the team is adding former Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, who comes to Minnesota on a one-year deal worth up to $10 million. The eight-time Pro Bowler joins a team in dire need of experience in the secondary. He'd played his entire career for Arizona, which drafted him fifth overall in 2011.
Peterson is scheduled to receive an $8 million base salary, and can make up to $1 million in playing time-based incentives, with another $1 million available if he makes the All-Pro team.
He is the second significant signing for the defense after the Vikings agreed to terms with run-stuffing nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson on Monday.
Peterson's pedigree will help first-year defensive backs coach Karl Scott with a group that relied heavily on rookies Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney a year ago. Peterson had slipped in coverage the past two years, allowing passer ratings above 100 when he was targeted for the first time in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.
In Minnesota, though, he'll play for Mike Zimmer, a head coach who prizes experience in the secondary and speaks glowingly of the work Deion Sanders and Terence Newman did in his defenses toward the ends of their careers.
Peterson played at LSU when Justin Jefferson's older brother Jordan was the Tigers' quarterback and the youngest Jefferson was tagging along in the locker room after games. Now, Peterson lines up across from Justin Jefferson in practices.
The Vikings rebuilt their secondary on the fly a year ago, parting with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander while betting they could get first- and second-year players ready despite the lack of an offseason program because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Zimmer admitted during the season he had misjudged the roster, though, and after the Vikings allowed 52 points to the Saints on Christmas Day, he said matter-of-factly, "This is a bad defense. Worst one I've ever had."
Secondary coach Daronte Jones left to become the defensive coordinator at LSU, and the Vikings added Scott to replace him, before another offseason that could be short on in-person coaching.
The Vikings could also hope to get Mike Hughes back from a neck injury that dates back to the 2019 regular-season finale and limited him to four games last season. The team figures to decline Hughes' fifth-year option later this spring, and would save $1.1 million by releasing the 30th overall pick in the 2018 draft, though a source said he's feeling good during offseason training and expecting to be back in Minnesota.
With the 30-year-old Peterson, the Vikings are betting they'll get a steadying presence in their secondary and a source of wisdom for their younger players. The cornerback didn't return kicks or punts his last two seasons in Arizona — and it's unclear whether he would be a candidate to do it in Minnesota — but was one of the game's most electric return men early in his career.
His deal comes after the Vikings employed a number of cap maneuvers to clear space in free agency, adding three void years to Tomlinson's deal so they could spread out a $12.5 million signing bonus and working to convert $10 million of Adam Thielen's base salary to a signing bonus, which would lower his 2021 cap hit by $7.5 million.
The Vikings could need to make several other moves to create more cap room — like a possible contract extension for safety Harrison Smith or a new deal for Danielle Hunter that both addresses the defensive end's concerns about his existing deal and lowers his cap hit.
On Wednesday, the first day to officially sign free agents, the Vikings brought back wide receiver Chad Beebe on what a league source said was a veteran minimum $920,000 contract. The team had decided not to place a restricted free agent tender on Beebe of at least $2.1 million.
Running back Mike Boone, another one of the team's restricted free agents, joined former Vikings assistant general manager George Paton in Denver, signing a two-year deal with the Broncos.