Ifeadi Odenigbo is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the 26-year-old Vikings defensive end – having already been on three NFL teams – knows opportunities can be fleeting.
While Odenigbo said Monday young Vikings players should benefit in years to come from all the playing time this season, he reflected on the uncertainty of whether he'll continue to be involved in Minnesota after a trying season ended with 3.5 sacks as a first-year starter.
"It was probably a disappointing year for everybody, including me," Odenigbo said. "The defense never really found its groove or had an identity. Obviously, this offseason, whatever happens with the Vikings and everything, everybody's got to look back and see what we can improve on. You know, this business is a revolving door."
As an NFL restricted free agent, Odenigdo will have the decision mostly made for him as the Vikings have club control that allows them to tender a one-year contract this spring. Or they have to let him become an unrestricted free agent.
Odenigbo said he wishes he made the outlook clearer with better play. He didn't attend Sunday's season finale in Detroit due to a chest injury, and said the career-high 697 defensive snaps, which led the Vikings defensive line, weighed on him physically amid a year that started with promise and a full-time role.
"I'm angry how everything played out," Odenigbo said. "We had a lot of expectations going in. Obviously, these weren't the right circumstances. I'm a guy that I'm not going to think too much about the future. All I need to do is take a couple weeks off, get my body back up. The body was beat down quite a bit this year.
"Obviously, I played a lot this year and I think offensive linemen were learning my tendencies. Use this offseason to get better. Don't feel sorry for yourself, because this league will move on without you."
Wilson's 'great opportunity'
Linebacker Eric Wilson is one of 10 unrestricted free agents who may have played their last Vikings games. The 26-year-old former undrafted free agent is looking forward to his first big NFL payday after handling a career-high 15 starts while replacing first Anthony Barr and then Eric Kendricks.
Wilson finished with eight pass deflections, three interceptions, three sacks and a forced fumble. Wilson said he was living with Barr during 2019 free agency, and learned from his process about the factors – money, team fit, role, current roster – to consider.
"We'll see what happens," Wilson said. "It's a great opportunity to be successful, and if it's here, that's wonderful. I have a lot of, I guess, they're close friends, but they're really family members here. So, that would be great if there was an opportunity that made sense for the [Vikings] and for me."
The other nine unrestricted free agents are safety Anthony Harris, guard Dakota Dozier, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, quarterback Sean Mannion, tackle Rashod Hill, running back Ameer Abdullah, center Brett Jones, linebacker Todd Davis and safety George Iloka.
Vikings isolated 16 players in 2020
Thousands of COVID-19 tests and hundreds of proximity devices later, the Vikings made it through the NFL season at TCO Performance Center without the type of outbreaks that spread through teams including the Titans, Ravens, Broncos and Browns.
The Vikings did isolate 16 players, starting with receiver Justin Jefferson in late July through left tackle Riley Reiff on Dec. 30 because of positive tests or for being close contacts with an infected individual. Receivers coach Andrew Janocko missed a game due to COVID protocols. Other assistants and staffers also missed practices and handled duties virtually throughout the season.
"We were sitting there like two to three weeks before camp on those NFLPA calls, and we're like, 'Are we reporting?'" center Garrett Bradbury recalled. "We don't know what we're doing. Are we having a season? Is it going to start and then get shut down? Getting COVID testing every single day, wearing trackers around the facility, potentially getting fined if you don't have them. There was a lot when you sit back and look at it."
A stronger Cleveland in 2021?
Where offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland lines up in 2021 — guard? tackle? — is an open question headed into the offseason. Wherever he lands, Cleveland said an offseason goal is to bulk up to better protect quarterback Kirk Cousins after the Vikings allowed 39 sacks (tied for 20th in the NFL) with him starting nine games at right guard.
"Try to build on my weaknesses like anchoring in pass pro and things like that," Cleveland said. "Having the whole offseason should be nice for recovering with my body and gaining the strength that I know that I can gain. Just hitting the weight room every day, getting the nutrition right."
On the outside looking in
Nine NFL players had at least 10 touchdown catches this season; eight are in the playoffs, and receiver Adam Thielen is not. He said it's an odd feeling to have a career-high 14 touchdown grabs with a 7-9 season, but it reflects an 11th-ranked scoring offense compared to a 29th-ranked scoring defense, the Vikings' worst defensive ranking since Thielen was on the practice squad in 2013. Only the Packers' Davante Adams (18) and the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill (15) had more touchdown catches than Thielen.
"That's why I go back to work right when the season's over to try to help this team win games," he said. "So, that's kind of a weird thing, because obviously I didn't do enough to help this team win."
Beebe happy to be healthy
After battling injuries his first two years, receiver Chad Beebe is just happy to be healthy at the end of his third NFL season. The Vikings' No. 3 receiver averaged about one-third of the snaps and finished with a career-high 20 grabs for 201 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yard catch and run Sunday while bouncing off two Lions defenders just before halftime.
"It was a little unexpected. In a situation like that, you want to catch the ball and get out of bounds," said Beebe, a restricted free agent this spring. "I just kind of hunkered down and took the shot, and then I looked up and there was nobody really in front of me."
Vikings sign eight to 2021 deals
The Vikings signed eight players from the practice squad – quarterbacks Jake Browning and Nate Stanley, cornerbacks Cordrea Tankersley and Tae Hayes, fullback Jake Bargas, offensive linemen Zack Bailey and Blake Brandel, and safety Luther Kirk – to what are called futures contracts. Players not on an NFL active roster at the end of the regular season are eligible to sign these deals that don't begin until the start of the 2021 league year in March.