Vikings CB Group Underwent a Total Rebuild
One of the weakest spots of the Minnesota Vikings has been the cornerback room in the current offseason, but the struggles began earlier — in 2020. That was the year of a mass exodus. Defensive back specialist Mike Zimmer, the head coach until the end of the 2021 season, had to watch his whole CB room leave in free agency.
Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander departed, but none had much success elsewhere. However, the Vikings have had one of the worst secondaries in the league ever since, and the new regime had to make some significant changes after fielding another disastrous pass defense in 2022.
Vikings CB Group Underwent a Total Rebuild
Not much is left from the Mike Zimmer days, especially the cornerbacks left with him. Not one CB of his tenure is still with the Vikings. Not only the Zimmer guys left, but also most of the players from last year’s team.
Patrick Peterson had an extremely successful season considering his age and a couple of shaky seasons before that. He left in free agency and signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he will play under former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin. It’s certainly possible that the Vikings tried to keep the veteran in the building, but he signed a pretty big deal for a soon-to-be 33-year-old. The former All-Pro will make a total of $14 million for two years of his service.
But not only the star of the Vikings’ cornerback group of the last two seasons departed, but also Cameron Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan, Kris Boyd, and Duke Shelley.
Dantzler was waived after losing the trust of the second coaching staff in just as many years. The Washington Commanders claimed him off waivers and can now try to fix him. He played well in the past. Maybe head coach Ron Rivera can fix him. Dantzler is only 24 years old.
Duke Shelley, a surprise late-season star, signed a contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. The undersized cornerback unexpectedly had to play a huge amount of snaps when his teammates Andrew Booth, Akayleb Evans, and Cameron Dantzler had to sit out multiple games. He won the starting gig opposite Peterson. Despite his heroics, Shelley only received a one-year $1.3 million contract from the Raiders, a comically low number. Not many Vikings fans understood why the team didn’t try to get a deal done.
Kris Boyd, a special team ace and backup cornerback, agreed to join the Arizona Cardinals. He was a fan favorite and a feared gunner on punt coverage, but his contributions to the defense were limited. Boyd only saw the field on 37 snaps on defense, most of them in Week 18 when the Vikings pulled every stater at halftime.
The final departed player is Chandon Sullivan, the slot cornerback. Sullivan, a former Packer, signed a one-year contract last offseason and was a serviceable nickel CB but still a weakness on the football field. The veteran is still a free agent, and a reunion with the purple team shouldn’t be ruled out because the team currently doesn’t have a player with slot experience other than top-signing Byron Murphy. However, better options are available, and he doesn’t have any ties to the new defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
Minnesota’s roster weak spot is still the defensive backfield. The Vikings employ five cornerbacks, but only one has proven to be an NFL-caliber player. Murphy can be one of the best CBs in the game. That’s why the Vikings signed him. He’ll be the top cornerback of the 2023 Vikings.
Other than him, there isn’t anyone with much experience. Booth and Evans, two 2022 draft selections, missed big parts of their rookie campaigns with injuries. Evans looked promising in a game against the Commanders when he went up against Terry McLaurin. The two young guys have a chance to clinch a starting spot in the next five months.
In addition to the two, the Vikings have Kalon Barnes and Tay Gowan on the team. Neither should be considered a likely contributor in the upcoming season.
The Vikings need to add more players to help Murphy fix a dreadful passing defense. Minnesota has only one draft selection in the top two rounds, and some other holes to fill, including wide receiver and defensive tackle, but a cornerback in the draft is almost a given, considering the current state of the CB room. Deonte Banks from Maryland is a common mock draft target for the purple team.
In addition, another signing in free agency, maybe even a couple of players, is also a likely outcome. There are still some excellent cornerbacks available. The team has five cornerbacks under contract; expect the team to enter training camp with about twice that many cornerbacks.
Former Vikings Starter Heads to Pittsburgh
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt
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