Last week, it was all about the offensive and special teams free agents that could potentially land in Minnesota this offseason. This week, it is all about the defense.
For a unit that ranked fifth in points allowed last season, one would think that the Vikings do not have much to improve upon for 2016. However, improving in a few areas this offseason with free agent signings could help propel Minnesota’s defense into one of the NFL’s best in more categories than just points allowed.
Finding a safety to play next to Harrison Smith is priority number one on this defense’s offseason checklist, as well as improving the play at few other positions. The Vikings, who spent the fourth least amount on free agents last offseason, will likely bring in players who put a smaller dent in their wallet and shy away from the free agents looking for their big payday.
Vincent Rey, ILB
2015 NFL Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Expected 2016 Value: $6.5 million
When Eric Kendricks was drafted by Minnesota last spring, the hope for the team was to eventually move him to his natural position at weak side linebacker. Kendricks did play middle linebacker while at UCLA, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and the team felt his skills would be better utilized on the outside.
If Minnesota is able to find a capable inside linebacker through free agency or the draft this offseason, it could allow Kendricks to move to the weak side and become even more dangerous. Without breaking the bank, it is possible that the Vikings could bring in a free agent that is more than capable of stepping in as their defense’s new middle linebacker.
Vincent Rey was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals during the last four seasons of Zimmer’s tenure as the team’s defensive coordinator. He played sparingly during those four seasons but did not flourish until Zimmer left for Minnesota.
After registering just 88 total tackles in his first four seasons, Rey started 21 games for the Bengals in the last two seasons registering a total of 219 tackles. His opportunities came mostly as a result of injuries to the team’s starters, but Rey still performed well when his name was called upon to fill the void.
As mostly a career backup with Cincinnati, the Vikings could offer Rey an opportunity to be a full time starter in the middle of their defense. He would not really have to learn anything new to play for Minnesota either, as they basically run the same defensive schemes as the Bengals.
At 28-years-old, Rey still has plenty left in the tank to make an impact on a team like the Vikings. If Rey lands in Minnesota, he could be the middle linebacker the team has been searching for since E.J. Henderson left in 2011.
Jason Jones, DE
2015 NFL Team: Detroit Lions
Expected 2016 Value: $2.5 million
For a defensive line that combined for 30 sacks in 2015, adding another player to the unit may not be something one would expect the Vikings to do. But the depth that Minnesota could gain by signing a player like Jason Jones is something the team may not want to pass up.
As the Denver Broncos proved in this season’s Super Bowl, a lethal pass rush can make the difference in determining a champion. The addition of a 6’5″, 272 pound player in Jones to an already talented Vikings defensive line could be the difference the team needs to turn into a true championship contender.
Even though his numbers are not off the charts, Jones would help provide Minnesota’s defensive lineman with more opportunities to rest during games. With additional rest periods, the Vikings defensive lineman could possibly have a better chance at making an impact towards the ends of games.
Having played in both Detroit and Tennessee during his eight year NFL career, Jones is familiar with the both the NFC North and AFC South divisions. Coincidentally, 10 of Minnesota’s 16 opponents next season call those two divisions home.
Walter Thurmond, FS
2015 NFL Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Expected 2016 Value: $3 million
It is very possible that the best safety currently in the NFL is on the Vikings roster. The problem is, Harrison Smith’s incredible abilities cannot make up for the lack of talent that Minnesota has placed next to him in the last few seasons.
From Jamarca Sanford, to Mistral Raymond, to Robert Blanton, to Antone Exum, to Andrew Sendejo, the Vikings have been unable to find another safety to pair with Smith since they drafted him in 2012. There are a few free agents available this offseason that could potentially solve Minnesota’s safety problem.
Thurmond could be a possible candidate to fill the Vikings void at safety. The former Super Bowl Champion is a former member of the talented Seattle Seahawks defensive backfield known as the ‘Legion of Boom’.
Could Thurmond bring some of the boom to Minnesota? He definitely cannot be worse than what they have already tried before, can he?
The Vikings decided to stick Sendejo next to Smith last season and although he finished second on the team in total tackles with 74, Sendejo struggled in his first season as a starting NFL safety. He seemed to be in the right place at times during games, but would consistently miss tackles and get beat in pass coverage.
Now Thurmond did play free safety like Smith last season, but Zimmer’s defense requires his safeties to be able to play both safety positions so signing another free safety should not become a problem. Last year with the Eagles was actually Thurmond’s first full season even playing as a safety since he lined up as a cornerback during his first few years in the league.
Due to Thurmond’s experience as a cornerback, his abilities could allow Zimmer and the Vikings defense to throw a variety of different looks at an opposing offense. With Thurmond on the field, he could essentially take over the duties of the slot cornerback on some plays and allow Minnesota to have an extra pass rusher on on the field.
Adam Jones, CB/PR
2015 NFL Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Expected 2016 Value: $2 million
In the first part of this series, it was mentioned that the Vikings could be searching for someone different to return punts next season due to the lack of production Marcus Sherels has had recently returning punts. Enter Adam Jones.
Yes, that Adam Jones. The one who was formerly known as ‘Pacman’ Jones.
His career has been marked by controversy, including the 2015 NFL playoffs, but there is one factor in Minnesota that could make the difference in Jones’ behavior. His name is Mike Zimmer.
Jones was a member of the Bengals defense from 2011 to 2013 when Zimmer was the team’s defensive coordinator. Zimmer made sure that Jones knew none of his previous on or off the field behavior would be tolerated in Cincinnati.
The teachings and guidance of Zimmer has proven to be beneficial for Jones in their time spent working together. Jones has been flagged for a total of 15 personal fouls without Zimmer as his coach in his career, compared to only three that he drew during his time with the coach.
With his erratic behavior being under control, Jones could provide a spark for both special teams and defensive units for the Vikings. A player that can make an impact in two of the three phases of football is insanely valuable in a league controlled by a salary cap.