The Minnesota Vikings were one of the worst special teams units in the NFL during the 2020 season. The ins and outs as to why have been covered in great detail throughout this offseason, so I don’t see much reason to do it again.
All I’ll say is with new coordinator, Ryan Ficken, hopefully new schemes will help rejuvenate what has been a very good unit in the past. A new, dynamic returner would go a long way as well. Byron Pringle is certainly an excellent candidate to fill that role.
After playing a very small role in 2019 with the Chiefs, Kansas City expanded his role in 2020. He returned 10 kickoffs for an average of a whopping 32 yards per return and caught 13 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. The receiving numbers aren’t eye popping, but it’s hard to accomplish that on a team with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Sammy Watkins.
That’s a pretty tough top five, and it led to him being buried in the depth chart. Minnesota would undoubtedly have a larger role for him in their offense if he chose to go that route. Pringle’s returning skill set is still a little raw, but he is becoming extremely explosive. His speed is one of those unteachable assets, and he showed why with a 102-yard return touchdown against Denver.
With all three of Robinson, Watkins, and Pringle entering free agency, it will be tough to retain that entire core. Admittedly, Pringle is by far the easiest to keep given his exclusive rights free agency status. For those that don’t know, basically all Kansas City has to do in that situation is offer him a contract, and he would either have to stay or sit out the 2021 season.
That said, the Chiefs have plenty of players to bring back this offseason. With a list of free agents that includes Austin Reiter, Mike Remmers, Robinson, Watkins, Alex Okafor, Bashaud Breeland, and Daniel Sorensen, bringing back a kick returner that only brought back 40% of the team’s kicks may not be the highest priority for this team. It’s possible that Kansas City would be content letting him go somewhere else.
Minnesota’s Void at the Position
Ameer Abdullah was the Vikings lead kick returner in 2020, bringing back 15 kicks for 352 yards. The six-year veteran is set to enter unrestricted free agency, and given his 2020 role of RB3, Minnesota may let him walk in search of other options.
Not only that, but there have been rumors of Denver potentially having interest in Abdullah for a couple reasons. For one, the Broncos recently made Minnesota’s former assistant GM and vice president of player personnel, George Paton, their GM. Denver also has Melvin Gordon entering free agency and Philip Lindsay potentially serving a DUI suspension to start the 2021 season, so depth at the running back position could be a major focus for that team. With Paton’s connection to Abdullah, it is probable that he will pursue the 27-year-old.
While Pringle may be raw right now as a receiver and returner, his potential is undeniable. With Abdullah’s impending free agency, it is much more likely that Pringle will be a cheaper option as well. Of course, there is always the possibility that Kansas City brings him back, especially if they were to lose both Robinson and Watkins, so Minnesota must keep their options open. That said, Pringle would be a dynamic receiver and returner for a Vikings team that could certainly use both going into 2021.