The Vikings have 16 unrestricted free agents coming off the books after this season and have Everson Griffen’s contract status up in the air on top of that.
Of the unrestricted free agents, including players such as Trae Waynes, Rashod Hill, Mackensie Alexander, Dan Bailey, Stephen Weatherly, Jayron Kearse and Eric Wilson, the biggest name might be Anthony Harris.
The 28-year-old safety is in his fifth year with the club after going undrafted in 2015 out of Virginia. This has been easily his best season as he has posted career highs in tackles (60), interceptions (six) and pass deflections (11). His six picks are tied for the NFL lead with Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots and Tre’Davious White of the Bills.
In April, the Vikings signed Harris to a one-year, $3.1 million contract. By comparison, Gilmore recently signed a five-year, $65 million deal with New England while White was a first-round draft pick who signed a four-year, $10.1 million deal out of LSU.
How has Harris been able to have this kind of season intercepting passes?
“I have been able to just continue to try to develop my game while working on defense,” he said. “I have been able to put myself in position to make some plays and sometimes just being in the right spot at the right time, they have been able to throw me a couple. I am just really looking to continue to improve my game all around and really just look to help my team any way that I can.”
He said that while he’s not concerned with his contract status now, he knows it will be a topic in the offseason.
“I like Minnesota, but right now I’m just focusing on the season right now, focusing on enjoying the guys in the locker room, having a good time playing on the field with them,” Harris said. “I’m not really thinking about anything past that.”
Learning from a loss
In the Vikings’ 23-10 loss to the Packers on Monday, Harris did his part, finishing with three tackles, two pass deflections and an interception off Aaron Rodgers on the first play in the second quarter, which led to the Vikings’ only touchdown, a 21-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs.
Harris said the Packers didn’t attack the Vikings in any unique way; the defense just let up on a few big plays that turned the game.
“They came out tried to run the football and take some shots,” Harris said. “Then you know they tried to attack us with some quick throws outside. For the most part I think we played a pretty solid game, besides one or two plays where we really allowed them to get an explosive play, which resulted in a touchdown. We just have to work on being more consistent throughout the entire game defensively, and then just work on continuing to put together good drives offensively and get some points.”
The Vikings’ contest with the Bears on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium opened with the Vikings as seven-point favorites but quickly dropped to just one point, as the oddsmakers wonder if the Vikings are going to use all their starters with nothing on the line, since they are locked into the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
Still, Harris said this is an important game for the team to bounce back and be in a positive mind-set heading into the playoffs.
“I think that’s just the character of the team, guys with their work ethic and believing each other and wanting to go out there and get better and looking to improve each week,” Harris said. “So I think with the type of team we have, guys will be locked in this week, continuing with their preparation to go and see the Bears.”
Building momentum will be a big part of their final game, and there’s no question Mike Zimmer and the coaching staff will want the team playing its best heading into its wild-card contest. Harris also believes momentum is important.
“So we’ve been able to secure ourselves a spot in the playoffs,” he said, “so right now it’s just focusing on having that winner’s mind-set, putting together some good football going into this last regular-season game to build some momentum.”
What does he look for from the Bears, who are 7-8 and coming off back-to-back losses to the Packers and Chiefs?
“I see an offense with a lot of explosive weapons out there, a lot of speed, the quarterback [Mitch Trubisky] is mobile, can get out of the pocket and hurt you,” Harris said. “Defensively they have some really talented pieces, as well. So we’re going to have to definitely come prepared and ready to play.”
The Twins and the Gophers football team are both learning that with great success comes opportunities for their assistant coaches — the question is how the teams will fill those positions to keep their momentum next season.
The Twins lost assistant pitching coach Jeremy Heffner, who became the pitching coach of the Mets. Hitting coach James Rowson left to become the offensive coordinator and bench coach of the Marlins. And bench coach Derek Shelton took over as manager of the Pirates.
Now the Gophers, who had one of the best seasons in school history, are going through those same issues as offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca is joining Penn State coach James Franklin as the Nittany Lions offensive coordinator.
There’s no question that Franklin had to be impressed with the game plan that Ciarrocca put in place in the Gophers’ 31-26 win over the Nittany Lions in November. The 460 yards the Gophers totaled in that game was the second-highest mark given up by Penn State all season.
And while P.J. Fleck has long said he wants his assistant coaches to get promotions while he finds the next great assistant coach, having Ciarrocca move to another Big Ten team just five days before the Outback Bowl is a tough loss.
The fact that Ciarrocca won’t coach in the game is also a big blow, even if the Gophers have a game plan in place.
And Penn State’s move to get Ciarrocca now, when his buyout is still just $50,000 as opposed to the $250,000 he would have had after new contracts went into effect after this season, means the university is out $200,000 that could have been put toward a new offensive coordinator.
Fleck’s new contract stipulated that he would get an additional $1.05 million for next season to pay toward assistant coaches, so hopefully that money will help him attract a top candidate.