Free Agency

MINNESOTA VIKINGS FREE AGENCY PREVIEW: The Safeties

[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 sixth article, focusing on the safeties.  In case you missed it, feel free to check out the quarterbacksrunning backs, tight ends, fullbacks and specialists.]

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:

Ryan Clark S 35 WAS TBD $635,000 UFA
George Wilson S 33 TEN TBD $2,300,000 UFA
Mike Adams S 33 IND TBD $635,000 UFA
Antrel Rolle S 32 NYG TBD $9,250,000 UFA
Dawan Landry S 32 NYJ TBD $1,825,000 UFA
Will Allen S 32 PIT TBD $635,000 UFA
Jim Leonhard S 32 CLE TBD $570,000 UFA
Danieal Manning S 32 HOU TBD $570,000 UFA
Raymond Ventrone S 32 SF TBD $335,294 UFA
Brandon Meriweather S 31 WAS TBD $899,411 UFA
Sherrod Martin S 30 JAC TBD $469,412 UFA
Quintin Demps S 29 NYG TBD $1,000,000 UFA
Colt Anderson S 29 IND TBD $635,000 UFA
Dwight Lowery S 29 ATL TBD $600,000 UFA
Charles Godfrey S 29 ATL TBD $386,471 UFA
Jamarca Sanford S 29 NO TBD $300,588 UFA
Tanard Jackson S 29 WAS TBD UFA
Jimmy Wilson S 28 MIA TBD $1,442,475 UFA
Kendrick Lewis S 28 HOU TBD $635,000 UFA
C.J. Spillman S 28 DAL TBD $570,000 UFA
Devin McCourty S 27 NE TBD $5,115,000 UFA
Louis Delmas S 27 MIA TBD $3,500,000 UFA
Nate Allen S 27 PHI TBD $3,000,000 UFA
Stevie Brown S 27 NYG TBD $2,750,000 UFA
Taylor Mays S 27 CIN TBD $795,000 UFA
Ron Parker S 27 KC TBD $645,000 UFA
Jeromy Miles S 27 BAL TBD $635,000 UFA
Anthony Levine S 27 BAL TBD $495,000 RFA
Christopher Conte S 26 CHI TBD $1,564,400 UFA
Da’Norris Searcy S 26 BUF TBD $1,552,106 UFA
Jeron Johnson S 26 SEA TBD $1,453,125 UFA
Sergio Brown S 26 IND TBD $1,400,000 UFA
Darian Stewart S 26 BAL TBD $1,300,000 UFA
Marcus Gilchrist S 26 SD TBD $1,258,600 UFA
Quinton Carter S 26 DEN TBD $758,750 UFA
Isa Abdul-Quddus S 26 DET TBD $695,000 UFA
Danny McCray S 26 CHI TBD $630,938 UFA
Major Wright S 26 TB TBD $570,000 UFA
Kurt Coleman S 26 KC TBD $570,000 UFA
Deshawn Shead S 26 SEA TBD $570,000 ERFA
Kelcie McCray S 26 KC TBD $570,000 RFA
Eddie Pleasant S 26 HOU TBD $495,000 ERFA
Larry Asante S 26 OAK TBD $293,471 RFA
Christian Scott S 26 TEN TBD RFA
Matt Merletti S 26 IND TBD RFA
Aaron Henry S 26 OAK TBD RFA
Rahim Moore S 25 DEN TBD $1,415,313 UFA
Sean Richardson S 25 GB TBD $571,667 RFA
Duke Ihenacho S 25 WAS TBD $570,000 RFA
Jaiquawn Jarrett S 25 NYJ TBD $570,000 RFA
Delano Howell S 25 IND TBD $570,000 RFA
Brynden Trawick S 25 BAL TBD $495,000 ERFA
Brandian Ross S 25 OAK TBD $469,412 RFA
Michael Thomas S 25 MIA TBD $411,706 ERFA
Trevor Coston S 25 CHI TBD RFA
Robert Golden S 24 PIT TBD $571,667 RFA
Rodney McLeod S 24 STL TBD $571,333 RFA
Johnson Bademosi S 24 CLE TBD $570,834 RFA
Tashaun Gipson S 24 CLE TBD $570,500 RFA
Trenton Robinson S 24 WAS TBD $570,000 ERFA
Bradley McDougald S 24 TB TBD $495,000 ERFA
Will Hill S 24 BAL TBD $368,824 RFA
Jordan Kovacs S 24 MIA TBD $232,941 ERFA
Chris Banjo S 24 GB TBD $87,353 ERFA
Pierre Warren S 22 NO TBD $148,235 ERFA

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.

PREDICTION

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.

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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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8 Comments

  1. Adam, great article.

    I noticed 2 Seahawk safeties on the FA safety list. Shead and Johnson are both back ups on one of if not the best defense in the NFL. That alone, makes me wonder if they would be a good fit for the Vikings via free agency. Both are 26 years old and maybe ready for prime time? Johson is probably the better fit at SS. Most likey won’t break the bank either.

    When the vikings signed DT Joseph and CB Munnerlyn last year, I thought that was a great move prior to the draft. This allowed them to focus on other needs.

    If SS Landon Collins or OT/G Brandon Scherff fell to the Vikings, I think that would be a “no brainer” 1st round selction no matter who they sign.

    Maybe they can trade back and grab OLB Shaq Thompson or ILB Benardrick McKinney.

    What do you think?

  2. Only guy I want to see is McCourty. He’s got amazing range and he would be ideal to push Harrison into a more natural SS role. Otherwise I’m content not spending and letting Blanton develop.

  3. Robert Blanton was the Vikings leading tackler by a wide margin. He also grades out well on PFF. Benjamin, I agree, I’m content to develop Blanton and not break the bank on a FA safety.

    SS Jaquiski Tartt from Samford is one of the hardest hitting safety in this draft class. If he tests well at the combine, look for this unknown gem to shoot up draft boards.

    Joe, the Vikings have had success trading up into the backend of the first round. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it again, and this time target a linebacker… S Thompson, B McKinney or Eric Kendricks are guys Zimmer could want to go up and get.

  4. I’m not that keen on breaking the bank for a FA safety.Harrison has to be paid and we have a lot of contracts expiring in 2016.
    Number 1 defensive priority is MLB,we must improve greatly on stopping the run.Running backs were let loose in our secondary every other play,if we can do a better job at stuffing the run then that should help to keep DBs fresher.
    I’m quite happy to give Blanton & Exum another year and go from there.

    1. We just need another LB. Someone to compliment Barr. I like Shaq Thompson or Eric Kendricks. McKinney is intriguing at 6’5″ but games I’ve watched he has terrible instincts in coverage. Terrible. He would be a first down only MLB. Not very valuable in the NFC North.

      Safeties, we have to take Collins if he’s at #11. McCourty is too expensive. Those would be the only two significant upgrades to Blanton. Otherwise, draft S in mid-rounds for competition.

      As always another great article from VT! SKOL!!!

  5. I’m in the “let’s see how far Blanton can go” brigade so I wouldn’t target saftery in either free agency or the draft. And yeah, I wouldn’t mind bringing Sanford back at all. Before his injury he had developed into a solid starting NFL safety who deserved a lot more respect than he got from the fans, as Arif Hasan has written in the exhaustive detail we all have come to know and love.

  6. I am happy with Blanton also, as long as the Vikings improve the linebacker corps (either OLB or MLB) and add a good corner to play opposite Rhodes. I honestly believe that is all this defense needs.

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