The Minnesota Vikings are two days away from Mandatory Minicamp with $11.7 million available in cap space.
This is foreign territory for the team as pickings are usually slim during the summer for Vikings and free-agent money. In theory, general manager Rick Spielman could allow the money to roll over to next offseason, but that is unlikely to occur if history is a reasonable indicator. If Spielman does actionize that policy, it will be the turning of a new leaf.
Here’s what the Vikings do not need: quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, linebackers, and cornerbacks. Because the Vikings were so awful on defense in 2020 — Mike Zimmer is a defensive coach that loathed the transgression — Spielman signed gobs of cornerbacks this offseason, cementing Zimmer’s reputation for CB obsession. Indeed, the Vikings welcomed Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Amari Henderson, Tye Smith, and Parry Nickerson new to the organization amid the last three months.
At 11 cornerbacks on the June roster, the Vikings need not sign any more cornerbacks. It would enter “for the love of God” territory.
As of June 12th, Minnesota owns the 14th-most cap space available in the NFL. It’s a better spot to live than, for instance, the Philadelphia Eagles, who rank dead last in remaining funds ($1.6 million).
The needs are sparsely visible on Spielman’s current 90-man roster. No Vikings lifer would complain if a veteran offensive lineman was signed — presumably to end the Dakota Dozier experiment that was re-upped for 2021. Trai Turner, Mike Pouncey, Nick Easton, and James Carpenter are all men currently available via OL free agency. It is unclear if rookie guard Wyatt Davis will start Week 1 at Cincinnati. So, to disallow a familiar sentiment — the one where the Vikings shove a patchwork offensive line together and pray — adding an experienced offensive trenchman would certainly be worthwhile.
A third wide receiver from free agency would be celebrated. Ordinarily, Zimmer opts for a Laquon Treadwell, Olabisi Johnson, or Chad Beebe and washes his hands of WR3 prominence. That strategy worked fine and dandy in 2020 as the Vikings ranked 3rd leaguewide in yards gained and 11th in points scored. But a bonafide WR3 would generate excitement for a franchise that is WR3-starved for the last 6-10 years. Pass-catchers like Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate, and Dede Westbrook do not have 2021 NFL homes as of now. Any of those three would be instantly considered an upgrade.
And that’s if Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a rookie WR from the University of Iowa, does not climb the ranks of the depth chart this summer. There is some enthusiasm that Smith-Marsette is in the process of doing just that.
The most crucial need for this 2021 Vikings roster is defensive end. Danielle Hunter’s contractual status arrives a day of reckoning this Tuesday — he is said to be miffed with this current deal — when minicamp commences. If Hunter is a no-show, Zimmer is down to Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, and Patrick Jones II for EDGE options — a formula that is eerily similar to the ill-fated 2020 campaign.
If Hunter does arrive at camp or if he is extended in the coming months, the roster could still use a veteran defensive end. The elephant in the room question mark for the 2021 depth chart is this: Are Weatherly, Wonnum, and Jones II “enough” of a pass-rushing presence at RDE to torment opposing quarterbacks akin to the Everson Griffen era? Should this inquiry meet a quick “no,” then it’s time to explore a free-agent RDE with the $11.7 million. Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, and even Griffen himself are available for free-agent acquisition.
Minnesota has slightly above-average cap space available, so it is feasible to sign one big-name personality like Justin Houston, two mid-tier free agents like Larry Fitzgerald and Trai Turner, or three “depth guys.”
The roster isn’t flawless, but it can get very close to damn-good before Week 1 if areas are addressed — particularly RDE and WR3.