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One Big Free Agent Will Leave the Vikings

At this precise moment one year ago, the Minnesota Vikings were staring down the barrel of several free-agent exoduses. The speculation was correct. Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Andrew Sendejo, Stephen Weatherly, Jayron Kearse, and Josh Kline all opted for a change of scenery. That is an inordinate amount of names – and thus experience – to depart a playoff team. For a few years, the Vikings have straddled the salary cap. So, in that regard, this turnover was quasi-inevitable.

If this mass migration was cause for one’s malcontent, take solace in knowing that nothing of the sort is on the agenda for 2021. Menial reservist players are on the chopping block, but only a handful of noteworthy folks will hop off the roster.

At the forefront of that group: Anthony Harris. The 30-year-old free safety is almost a lock to play for a different NFL team in 2021. And that is not because he is undesirable or a scourge on the organization. Harris can likely command a bigger piggy bank elsewhere. The Vikings retained him for 2020 on a franchise tender, and that decision appears to be cogent. Harris’ production substantially dipped in 2020 – but so did the Vikings defense overall. He led the NFL in interceptions during 2019. In the pandemic season, geese laid eggs in his INT stat bucket.

For 2019, Harris notched a team-best 90.6 Pro Football Focus grade. That’s right – per PFF, Anthony Harris was the best starter on the 2019 Vikings. His lack of inclusion on the 2019 Pro Bowl roster was felonious. As for 2020, Harris’ grade plummeted to 66.2 – the 19th-best score on the Minnesota Vikings. On that plunge – yuck.

Harris – a player that has participated in as many games for the Vikings as Daunte Culpepper – will be the one “big” free agent to split town.

Eric Wilson Important, too – But Not Irreplaceable

Eric Wilson is debatably a “big” name, and he likely will not play for the Vikings next season either. Yet, his production over the last two years is not quite on par with that of Harris from 2019. Wilson can be replaced – the 2019 Harris output is difficult to duplicate. That’s why the Vikings re-upped Harris for a 2020 prove-it extension. It was a sound maneuver.

Anthony Barr (he is expensive, too) will return to the Vikings starting lineup, perhaps on a restructured deal. Because Barr is available to the Vikings, Wilson is expendable. Minnesota will not have enough money to pay Eric Kendricks, Barr, and Wilson. In the trio, Wilson is the odd man out.

Too, his missed tackling is problematic inside a Mike Zimmer defense. In 2020, Wilson had a missed tackle percentage of 12.2%, The year before in that same linebacking spot, Barr tallied a 2.5% missed tackle percentage – near the top of the NFL.

Non-FAs May Leave

Pump the brakes for just a minute. Harris is the only true-blue free agent that will walk and leave a gaping hole at his position. But the team wil undergo some change.

Kyle Rudolph is handsomely paid to a fault – at least in comparison to the amount he was utilized in the Vikings offense for 2020. Riley Reiff was forced to redo his deal before the season; the team may have the same ask of him for 2020. Dan Bailey’s employment is outrageously up in the air. Shamar Stephen is not a guarantee to be back at his current $5 million sticker price. The internet will tell you that Kirk Cousins could be exchanged to the San Francisco 49ers or Los Angeles Rams for something.

So, stuff will happen. It’s how offseasons work. In terms of sure things, however, Harris playing not-on-the-Vikings is the real breaking news.

Calm Compared to Last Offseason

Minnesota shouldered dastardly turnover last offseason. The aforementioned 10 or so players leaving the team was a big damn deal. Many thought their absence could be circumvented by Mike Zimmer and his brilliant defensive brain cells. Had injuries not taken place, Zimmer might have done just that. But the defense was awful in 2020.

Zimmer need not worry about this offseason spawning a brand new feel of the team – like 2020. For good measure, Stefon Diggs was traded last March. That was a foundation-rattling ordeal. The odds of that occurring with an Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, or Danielle Hunter this go-round are slim.

Ultimately, Harris’ departure should be the one sizable, expected departure.

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Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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