There is an enormous talent gap between Harrison Smith and the next most talented safety currently on the Vikings roster, whomever that might be.
Smith is a dominant force that doesn’t get enough recognition, yet, on the national level. Soon he will almost certainly sign a blockbuster extension that not only gets him the money he deserves, but also the ink.
Smith is set to have a $2.271 million cap hit in 2015, but his new contract could come at any time. I would be very surprised if the Vikings let the contractual matter play out into next offseason, where they would risk having to use the franchise tag to ensure Smith remains a Viking. The good news is that Smith has recently stated he plans to remain a Viking.
Behind Smith is a hodgepodge of role players that have earned the optimism of a few Vikings fans, but could also be out of a job if the Vikings decide to invest their finite resources heavily into finding an upgrade to start next to Smith in the secondary.
Also entering contract years are safeties Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and Ahmad Dixon.
Blanton was a better starter in 2014 than I ever dreamed he would be, but that isn’t saying much, trust me. Sendejo has shown flashes, especially in the tackling department, but his coverage skills have me hoping he is relegated to special teams in Week One.
Dixon’s rookie season included being drafted in the seventh round by the Cowboys, being placed on the Vikings practice squad, being plucked away by the Chicago Bears, a brief time with the Miami Dolphins, again going the Vikings practice squad and then finally being brought up to the 53-man roster in Minnesota. There is some hope that he could be a dependable player, but he has a long ways to go before even that hackiest of bloggers is anointing him a future starter.
The most interesting name to keep an eye on here is Antone Exum Jr. who will enter his second year in 2015. Exum’s rookie year was largely a disappointment marred by mental errors and boneheaded penalties. Still, his physical talent was apparent throughout his playing time and another offseason of training could make him a viable contender for a starting position in the near future.
The ideal situation for 2015 involves Blanton, Sendejo and Exum Jr. serving in reserve roles and on special teams. Pairing up Smith with another high-quality safety would be one of the quickest ways for Mike Zimmer’s defense to take the next step.
Here is the Spotrac list of pending free agents at the safety position. They are listed from oldest to youngest and shown is their 2014 salary cap hit:
That is a long list of potential signings. Here are a few thoughts about a few of the names:
DEVIN MCCOURTY: There are only about four or five potential free agents that I would like to see the Vikings break the bank for and McCourty is one of them. The switch from cornerback has served the Patriots well and McCourty is dependable in all phases of the game. If he hits the open market, then he’ll be the best safety option available to teams in both free agency and the Draft. He will command a lot of money.
RAHIM MOORE: His career started with a bang, but it cooled quickly due to lateral compartment syndrome, and 2014 was about finding his feet once again. Moore’s latest season in Denver wasn’t a great one, but if he can get back up to full strength and full speed then he could end up being the free agent steal of the offseason. After all, Moore is only 25 years old.
TASHAUN GIPSON: Gipson is a restricted free agent, but every NFL team should be monitoring the Browns and the level at which they tender their young playmaker. He’s too good to leave others tempted to make a move, but this is the Browns we’re talking about, so who knows.
LOUIS DELMAS: Here is one of the top safeties in the NFL… except that he is almost never healthy. Delmas moved to Miami and proved that he is still the same talented and constantly injured safety he was in Detroit.
ERIC BERRY: In case you somehow missed it, Berry was diagnosed during the 2014 season with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I don’t know what to say here other than I hope Berry kicks cancer’s ass and can live a long and healthy life.
JAMARCA SANFORD: Any takers?
DA’NORRIS SEARCY: Bills fans got a pleasant surprise when the departure of Jairus Byrd didn’t equal and implosion in the secondary. A big reason for that was young safety Da’Norris Searcy who the Bills really should retain. If they can’t, however, then a needy team like the Vikings would surely be willing to pay the man.
MIKE ADAMS, ANTREL ROLLE, & DAWAN LANDRY: Rick Spielman seems to take no issue with bringing inexpensive veterans to training camp as competition. This is the over-the-hill club of talented safeties that seem to possibly have a good year or two left in them. The Vikings could certainly do worse than to rent one of these guys until another young talent can be found or developed through the Draft.
Safeties that are good at football have a hard time staying healthy because how they play the game. I think this is a big reason why you seldom see Rick Spielman go out and spend big on a pre-owned model with high mileage. Instead, he tends to draft safeties that have yet to endure the physical beating that comes with playing in the NFL.
Despite that trend, I expect Spielman and Zimmer to exclude no options as they try to find the perfect pairing for the middle of their secondary. I consider safety to be right up their with left guard and inside linebacker when it comes to the likelihood of an impact signing in free agency.
Watch for reports to surface linking the Vikings to some of the top safeties available in free agency. If that avenue turns out to be a dead end, then safety could very well end up being their top Draft need by May.
Also, expect Harrison Smith to get that extension at some point in 2015 while they other guys wait for their moment to impress the Vikings brass.