[Note: This segment is a part of a position-by-position look at what the Minnesota Vikings might be inclined to do during the 2015 free agency period. This is the eighth article, focusing on the cornerbacks. In case you missed it, feel free to check out the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, fullbacks, wide outs, specialists and safeties.]
Xavier Rhodes used 2014 to vault himself into the shutdown cornerback conversation and Josh Robinson, one Bears game excluded, thrived in his role on the outside in Mike Zimmer’s defense. The way those two stepped up last year was a huge reason why the Vikings were able to jump up to the seventh ranked passing defense in the NFL.
One of last year’s big free agency acquisitions was Captain Munnerlyn, who signed on for a three year deal worth $11.25 million, but he was disappointing as a Vikings and his post-season remarks indicate he knew it. Munnerlyn is due to have a cap hit of $3.8 million in 2015, but there would only be a $0.67 million dead cap penalty if they cut him, so it would not be a surprise if the Vikings approached Munnerlyn about taking a pay cut in exchange for job security. In fact, those talks are anticipated to take place in Indianapolis during the NFL Scouting Combine.
As a rookie, Jabari Price seemed like he was getting on the good side of the coaching staff, but that might have all changed when he was arrested in January for driving while intoxicated. He may not get released as a direct result of the incident, but it certainly casts a shadow of doubt over his long-term prospects.
Marcus Sherels is still one of the premier punt returners in the league, and a decent enough reserve corner in his own right, so I doubt the Vikings decide to move on prior to letting him play out his final contract year. Sherels is a local fan favorite that just keeps finding ways to make this roster, and I would expect no different in 2015. I do not think he’ll receive much buzz in the way of a contract extension, however, unless the 27 year old lights things up during the coming season.
That leaves Jalil Carter (age 25), Shaun Prater (25), and DeMarcus Van Dyke (26) all hoping to fend off newcomers and maintain roster spots throughout training camp and the preseason. Van Dyke offers some quality competition and could be a legitimate contender for a roster spot, while Prater showed some promise two years ago in spot duty. Antone Exum, who is listed as a safety, is a nice insurance policy to have on the roster because he has that flexibility to jump over to corner in a pinch.
Robinson, Prater, Sherels, and Van Dyke are all entering contract years with the Vikings. The closest to getting an extension would certainly seem to be Robinson, but I’m willing to bet the Vikings don’t look to lock up any of these guys until well into the regular season at the earliest.
I have the Vikings taking a top cornerback prospect in my mock draft (as of the date of this posting), but there is a fairly talented group of potential free agents that could also be of value. The saying “you can never have too many good cornerbacks” is all-too-familiar to Vikings fans and don’t expect Rick Spielman or Mike Zimmer to be simply content with the progress made in 2014.
Here is a list, sorted from oldest to youngest, of potential free agent corners. The list comes from Spotrac and the dollar amount shown is each player’s 2014 cap hit.
That is a ton of names to consider. There is no way I’m going to try to touch on them all, but here are a few observations as I scan the list:
DARRELLE REVIS: Yes, he’s on this list. Yes, there was some confusion that led Revis himself to think he would be a 2015 free agent. No, he actually will not be a free agent unless the Patriots release him due to cap concerns or other reasons.
BRANDON FLOWERS: I’m not sure the list has a clear-cut “best guy” winner, but Flowers should be near the top of most lists for teams that run a system friendly to his skills. Flowers plays his best football at left corner and is respectable in slot duty. He will probably be too expensive for the Vikings, but putting Flowers across from Rhodes would certainly seem like a good situation.
BYRON MAXWELL: A starting corner from the best secondary in the NFL? Yes, please. I can’t undersell how impressive it is to me that Maxwell managed to be the “other guy” to Richard Sherman’s “superstar” and still hold his own. The guy opposite of a true shutdown corner is historically getting picked on and burned with regularity. That was not the case with Maxwell.
ANTONIO CROMARTIE: At age 31, this would certainly be an out-of-character player for the Vikings to pursue this offseason. With that being said, his play in 2014 should earn him some respect in free agency, which should translate to a nice contract.
KAREEM JACKSON: A five year starter in Houston, the former first rounder has mostly been a dependable option so far in his career. Jackson was at the center of some worrisome conditioning reports in 2013, but those issues faded after he put together a nice 2014 campaign. The Texans are expected to retain him, but it sounds like they do not plan on using the franchise tag to do it.
PATRICK ROBINSON: This is actually the type of guy I could see the Vikings pursuing. He wouldn’t be such an investment that he would automatically supplant Josh Robinson, but instead could be used as a rotational guy and pressure Captain Munnerlyn to step up his game in the slot.
CHRIS CULLIVER: An ACL tear derailed Culliver’s 2013 season in San Fran, but he battled back and played fairly well in 2014. At age 27, he would be a decent addition to most secondaries and his asking price should be just a tick below some others on this list.
TRAMON WILLIAMS: His age (32) is an obvious concern, but he hasn’t really shown any significant signs of regression.
DEVIN MCCOURTY: I already mentioned him as my top free agent at the safety position in my preview of the safeties, but his flexibility to play corner makes this talented defensive back worth mentioning again. McCourty is in line for a huge pay day.
CHRIS COOK: Hey, somebody needs to mentor Jabari Price, right? Right?
Xavier Rhodes is the only guy we really can be certain of at this point in terms of placement on the depth chart. I really do think Munnerlyn will be back in Minnesota, but a contract re-do could be in the works, which would certainly make sense given his performance in 2014.
Robinson has a huge year ahead of him, with his rookie deal expiring, and his fate will largely depend on his ability to fend off competition and maintain a consistently high level of play for an entire season. Sherels is in a similar position, but his contributions on special teams are where he earns his bread.
The others make for some decent preseason competition, which is good, but I would be utterly flabbergasted if the Vikings didn’t add some more serious talent to the mix. The Vikings might not sign a corner to a blockbuster deal, and may not use the 11th overall pick on one, but it also wouldn’t be overly surprising if they did.
Watch for the Vikings to invest in the position this offseason, intending to keep the secondary headed in the right direction, and I’m betting that will involve moves in both free agency and the Draft.