It’s time to calm down about the secondary
The other day I went to the grocery store.
After waiting 20 minutes just to get inside the building, I am free to browse the mostly empty shelves of whatever the hoarders left for the non-reactionary families.
Rounding my third aisle consisting only of off brand pastas and organic mystery meat, I come across two people fighting for the last pack of toilet paper. They are screaming and cussing at each other in front of their children, soon resulting in the bag being ripped and toilet paper spilled all over the floor.
A couple of days have passed since that ordeal and I’m still not sure who is freaking out more; Two hoarders viciously fighting over the opportunity to buy their 27th pack of toilet paper, or Vikings fans after learning the team is letting a number of players leave in free agency.
In the secondary alone: The team cut Xavier Rhodes. The team lost Trae Waynes to the Cincinnati Bengals. The team lost Mackensie Alexander to -also- the Cincinnati Bengals. The team lost Andrew Sendejo to the Cleveland Browns. The team lost Jayron Kearse to the Lions.
But I’m calm. I’m collected. I’m cool.
I’m cooler than Gardner Minshew in jorts and a cutoff. I’m cooler than Jimmy Garoppolo hitting on Erin Andrews in a post-game interview in prime time. I’m cooler than Martin Lawrence after two pills of ecstasy.
I’m not calm because I have given up, nor am I calm because I’m willfully burying my head in the sand pretending all of this hasn’t happened.
Let’s take a step back for a moment.
I want everyone reading this to start massaging both your earlobes with your thumbs and index fingers. Take in a deep breath, as much oxygen as you can take in. Slowly exhale, close your eyes, and say “Woooooosahhhhhh”.
Are we back? Good.
Now, I want everyone to raise their hand who thought our cornerback play was outstanding last year.
Anyone? Anyone at all?
The cornerback play last year for the Minnesota Vikings was by far the weakest part of the defense. The team allowed the 6th highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks last year with 65.6%, most of which can be attributed to Mike Zimmer constantly calling for loose coverage to avoid yet another play in which Xavier Rhodes gets embarrassed.
So, let me ask this question: Why is everyone panicking about the Vikings not re-signing the mediocre talent from last year?
If your only answer is, “So we have depth that is familiar with the playbook”, you aren’t thinking in the right terms.
I think everyone with half a brain is fine with Xavier Rhodes getting released from the team. Jayron Kearse was always scheduled to leave after being charged with DUI and gun charges mid-season. Trae Waynes getting a three-year $42M contract from the Cincinnati Bengals is laughable. The safety known as Andrew “Pendejo” to all of my south of the border Vikings fans departing for the Cleveland Browns just means that, barring an addition in free agency, the team is forced to retain Anthony Harris, one of the best safeties in the league last year. Mackensie Alexander signing with the Cincinnati Bengals for $4M is a bit disappointing, but someone else on the team, quite possibly Anthony Harris, can spend time in the nickel cornerback position.
All of these departures don’t concern me in the slightest. Do you know why?
Well-run franchises don’t pay for mediocre talent just to keep familiar faces on the roster.
Let me say that again for people in the back: WELL-RUN FRANCHISES DON’T PAY FOR MEDIOCRE TALENT JUST TO KEEP FAMILIAR FACES ON THE ROSTER.
As it stands, the Vikings have 12 draft picks in an extremely deep draft for cornerbacks. The team will get depth in the draft, and may very well still make a splash in the waning hours of free agency. In fact, depth is really all the team needs taking into account there are two very competent starting cornerbacks in Mike Hughes and Holton Hill ready for action.
According to PFF for the 2019 season, Xavier Rhodes received a grade of 46.4, and Trae Waynes received a grade of 65.1, for a total of 111.5.
On the other hand, Mike Hughes received a grade of 58.7 (after a 61.6 his rookie year, but more on that later…) and Holton Hill received a grade of 63.6, for a total of 122.3.
If that was unclear in any way, according to PFF, a combination of Mike Hughes and Holton Hill performed better than a combination of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes last year.
Tell me again why I should be worried and outraged that the team didn’t commit $14M/yr for Trae Waynes when the team already has a competent replacement in Holton Hill for $750,000?
In addition to Holton Hill, let me plant my flag and guarantee that this will be a breakout year for Mike Hughes.
The preseason of 2018 was riddled with sound bites and stories about Mike Zimmer giving high praise to Mike Hughes, a rookie cornerback who had never played a regular-season NFL game.
Mike Zimmer on Hughes: "This kid has been really good at understanding … our secondary scheme. … They've got to do pass-offs, they've got to carry, they've got to work in and outs with linebackers. He's done a really good job of that." #Vikings
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) August 14, 2018
Zimmer never gives praise to untested rookies. Never.
And yet, here was story after story about Zimmer praising Hughes work ethic, his comprehension of the defensive scheme, the way he rotates his hips to stick with receivers, his elite ball skills. When Mike Zimmer is gushing over a rookie cornerback like a prom date, he sees something really special in that player.
Mike Zimmer doesn’t typically praise rookies. And yet he’s providing plenty of compliments for Mike Hughes in the midst of an impressive training camp. Story: https://t.co/b41NL74wq5
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) August 15, 2018
Then, Week 1 came and validated everything Mike Zimmer had to say about Mike Hughes.
Midway through the third quarter in the season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium, Hughes intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo and returned it 28 yards for his first pick-six in his first NFL game.
Had Hughes not tore his ACL in week six of the 2018 season, we may already have had our Xavier Rhodes successor right before us.
For everyone saying Hughes had a below average year last year, do we need to talk about Dalvin Cook? The promising rookie who tore his ACL week four, had a lackluster performance during his second year, and exploded into mainstream relevance year three?
ACL injuries take time to heal; it is not uncommon for players to need a year or more to return to the same level of athleticism pre-injury. Dalvin Cook is one glaring and familiar example in a long, long laundry list of players who have had problems getting their athleticism back the year after an ACL tear.
It is worth noting Hughes suffered a neck injury at the end of the 2019 season, but Mike Zimmer has gone on record time and time again saying that injury will not affect his 2020 season in any capacity.
This is the year Hughes takes the leap and shows everyone what Mike Zimmer has seen in him all this time. This is the year Hughes shows everyone in the NFL, and all of you Vikings pessimists, that he can be a #1 cornerback.
So, do me a favor. Every time you want to freak out about the so-called “lack of depth” or “lack of skill” in the Minnesota Vikings’ secondary, take a deep breath, give yourself a nice long Woosah, and continue with your day.