Analysis

Is Harris a High Priority for the Purple Defense?

Probably not, sadly.

Before the 2020 off-season began, I was all aboard the Anthony Harris hype train. It was for good reason, as Harris tied for the league lead in interceptions last year, and he was the definition of homegrown, undrafted talent. Given his story and rise to stardom, I, along with many other Vikings fans, believed Anthony Harris should be one of the team’s top priorities this off-season. But, after reviewing Mike Zimmer’s defensive values, and looking at the teams that made it to the Super Bowl, I no longer think that is the case.

First and foremost, it should be established that I am a huge fan of Harris. As a matter of fact, he has been my favorite current Viking for two years, and it is hard to know he might have to go. It really does seem like him leaving is inevitable though, given Minnesota’s undesirable cap situation, and comments made by head coach Mike Zimmer at the NFL scouting combine.

When speaking to reporters, Zimmer said: “I love Anthony. If he doesn’t come back, I think he’s earned everything he’s got, but if you put up the positions most important on defense, it’s probably not going to be safety.”

Defensive linemen and linebackers tend to be more valuable in Zimmer’s, and most modern NFL schemes, so the Vikings have previously used their high draft capital to target these positions. Look at the two contestants in last year’s Super Bowl. Both defensive lines were laced with talent, especially the runner up 49ers. The Vikings were more or less overrun by guys like Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner, and these players continued to wreak havoc all through the playoffs.

Someone may initially disagree with the previous statement of the Vikings not valuing safeties, pointing to success stories like Smith, Harris, and Andrew Sendejo in recent years. If you look closer, you will notice that Zimmer inherited Smith from the Frazier regime, and both Harris and Sendejo were undrafted free agents who developed over time. Moral of the story: Zimmer has proven he can develop players at this position, and he hasn’t given much draft priority to safeties.

No doubt, both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman would love to have Harris back and playing alongside veteran Harrison Smith. However, Harris has proven himself as a top-notch player at his position, and he is due for a big payday. Unfortunately, the Vikings likely can’t afford it.

The only way I can see Minnesota retaining Harris is by using the franchise tag, which would keep him with the Vikings for one more year, but at a high price. When the franchise tag is used, the instating team must pay that player the average salary of the top five players in the league at that position.

If Spielman believed there would be money available for Harris further down the road, this might be smart, but there is no reason to count on that coming to fruition. Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook are entering the last year of their current deals, and they will also demand a large portion of the Vikings salary cap. They are also likely more valuable to the team as point scorers on offense.

As much as fans love Harris, he likely isn’t a high priority for Spielman and Zimmer. Maybe, and we can only hope, money will be found or the franchise tag will be used, as it is painful to let a homegrown star go. Stay tuned to see how the story unfolds.

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