The rumors around the league are flying before free agency starts, and with backup quarterback Matt Cassel signed, the most obvious positions of need that free agency is well-equipped at addressing are becoming hot commodities to talk about.
The premier cornerback in free agency seems to be Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner, who had an excellent season last year, and has been a very good player since his introduction to the league from UCLA in 2010. In fact, in the last four years, Verner ranks 18th in adjusted yards per attempt given up of all cornerbacks who have had 1000 snaps in that period, and 12th of all CBs who have had 2000 snaps. In the more instructive, yet still flawed, yards-per-attempt given up metric, Verner ranks 7th and 5th of the two groups of CBs.
It remains, no matter how it is sliced, that Verner has been very good on film and in the box score, and his reputation as a physical, hard-nosed corner who helps in the run game can only help him. Given that he’s spent some time (successfully) defending the slot position, his value only increases.
It’s hardly a surprise, but the Minnesota Vikings are interested in him.
The team has spent a little bit of time building a physical secondary, with the additions of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith in recent years underscoring the importance of tough play in their respective positions.
Darren Wolfson of ESPN1500 was the first to report the Vikings official interest in Verner, who current DB coach Jerry Gray had under him in Tennessee. Verner is not expected to make any visits, but is expected to sign a deal very close to the open of free agency on March 11th.
The other teams known to be interested in Verner are the New York Giants, the New York Jets (who just released cornerback Antonio Cromartie), the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers. For fairness’ sake, it should be noted that there are probably a few other teams not known to be interested who are in fact actually interested.
In other free agency news, the Vikings have indicated an interested in a nose tackle after releasing Letroy Guion, and have shown interest in former Buccaneer, Eagle, Panther and Jaguar Derek Landri, as well as versatile defensive lineman Arthur Jones, Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas, and likely a few more.
Derek Landri has played in one-gap 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, but they’ve almost exclusively been attacking, one-gap type schemes that encourage penetration over control. At some stops, he played a heavy rotation of 1-tech looks (Jaguars, 2012 Eagles, Buccaneers), and at others he played almost exclusively in the 3-tech role (Panthers, 2011 Eagles). In every stop, he did not play an exclusive defensive tackle role. Last year, he sprained his MCL before being cut by the Bucs.
Arthur Jones has played in the Ravens’ hybrid scheme both as a two-gapping defensive end head-up over the tackle and as a one-gapping 3-technique or 1-technique with very few two-gapping 0-technique snaps. The vast majority of his snaps have been in a one-gap role.
Cam Thomas was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2010 and in those years didn’t earn a consistent starting role behind Antonio Garay, but has played well above average for a backup nose tackle while playing a fair number of starts in 2013. In his first 2013 start, he grabbed Matt Schaub’s first interception of the Houston QBs short 2013 campaign (batted in the air by Jarret Johnson). In that last year with the Chargers he played all over the interior, taking snaps as a one-gapping 3-tech and 1-tech attacker and a two-gap 5-tech and 0-tech run-stuffer.
Tom Pelissero seems to think that Paul Soliai might be on their shortlist after the brief film session head coach Mike Zimmer hosted with local media. Darren Wolfson said shortly after that the Vikings have in fact contacted him.
Paul Soliai has played as a nose tackle in both one-gap and two-gap schemes, a 4-3 recently with the Dolphins and a 3-4 in Miami before that.
It seems that the general theme of the Vikings interest are in dual-capable players who have played in multiple fronts and gap concepts, something head coach Mike Zimmer hinted at a few months ago when speaking of some of the hybrid schemes the Vikings may employ. Versatility is a key word when tracking the Vikings DT moves, and because coach Zimmer has often expressed a preference for working from the inside out (“enabling the defensive tackles”) it’s a decision the Vikings will not make likely.
The Vikings also are interested in former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, who has a visit scheduled with the Vikings. In addition to cornerback Alterraun Verner, the Vikings are taking a look at Nolan Carroll, cornerback of the Miami Dolphins.