The ‘Must Have Back’ List of Vikings FAs Is Surprising

Starters in 2023
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings welcomed back defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga and offensive tackle Blake Brandel over the weekend on affordable deals, shrinking the team’s list of internal free agents from 18 to 16.

NFL’s annual free agency period begins in less than three weeks, and Minnesota is expected to make at least a handful of moves to revamp a defense that ranked 30th in points allowed last year.

The ‘Must Have Back’ List of Vikings FAs Is Surprising

But before that — so, like, now — the club must evaluate its own free agents to determine who’s worthy of returning in 2023. This is the list of Vikings free agents:

  • Kris Boyd (CB)
  • Garrett Bradbury (C)
  • Jonathan Bullard (DL)
  • Andrew DePaola (LS)
  • Ben Ellefson (TE)
  • Bisi Johnson (WR)
  • Greg Joseph (K)
  • Alexander Mattison (RB)
  • Nick Mullens (QB)
  • Patrick Peterson (CB)
  • Austin Schlottman (C)
  • Duke Shelley (CB)
  • Irv Smith (TE)
  • Dalvin Tomlinson (DT)
  • Chandon Sullivan (CB)
  • Oli Udoh (OT)
Must Have Back
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

But here’s the surprising part — none of those men must return to the roster for vitality. Of course, some will indeed rejoin the franchise for 2023, especially to fill out depth in spots, but the assortment is largely a “group of guys.”

Duke Shelley stands off the page because his 2022 campaign was as marvelous as it was unforeseen. With an 82.9 Pro Football Focus grade, Shelley was the NFL’s fourth-best cornerback in 2022, if that can be believed. The Vikings would be wise to re-sign Shelley, perhaps to learn if his first year with the Vikings was lightning in a bottle. They aren’t required to bring Shelley back as the CB1 solution, but letting him walk for cheap to another franchise would be silly.

CB Represents Fortune
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports.

Garrett Bradbury is intriguing, mainly because 2022 was the first season where his pass protection wasn’t godforsaken. He improved with head coach Kevin O’Connell at the helm, and welcoming him back would offer offensive line continuity. But, like Shelley, he’s not required.

Alexander Mattison and Irv Smith contributed on offense, yet the Vikings have Ty Chandler and T.J. Hockenson, so cross them off the list in a pinch. Greg Joseph was the ultimate sweet and salty kicker, dependable with football games on the line but untrustworthy for dinker extra points. Figure that one out.

Dalvin Tomlinson was the Vikings most consistent defender, but the club didn’t do anything with his contract on Monday at the dead-cap-penalty deadline, possibly signaling an end to his tenure in Minnesota. Minnesota re-signed the aforementioned Tonga over the week, who could be on the starting DT menu in 2023.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Patrick Peterson was terrific in 202 but will be 33 this summer. He may or may not replicate his upper-echelon performance this autumn. Long snapper Andrew DePaolo will return. Defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard was “just a guy” and an Ed Donatell favorite, at that.

Ben Ellefson is a TE3. Bisi Johnson has been injured in back-to-back seasons for 33 games. Nick Mullens is the backup to a QB1 who never gets hurt. Austin Schlottman struggled tremendously as a backup center to Bradbury. Chandon Sullivan didn’t play well enough to merit a second year in purple. Kris Boyd is a special teamer and will probably get re-signed by the Vikings. And Oli Udoh is a reservist tackle who might return to the Vikings, too.

Besides Tomlinson, Shelley, and perhaps Peterson, there are very few necessity guys. The Vikings got off easy with this smorgasbord of 16 free agents. Big names are minimal.

Expect some to return, but when your phone buzzes in the next few weeks detailing Vikings Free Agent xxxxx xxxxxxxx Signs with Team xxxxxx — it’s really no big deal.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by