Early Results from the Vikings Free Agent Signings

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers place kicker Eddy Pineiro (4) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Marcus Davenport (0) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings did not have much room to maneuver regarding free-agent additions. To bring new faces into the team this season, they had to let starters go — Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks. etc. — and appeared to be priced out of bringing back Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson.

Early Results from the Vikings Free Agent Signings

Restructures and extensions were made, and cap space was available to bring some players in. The Vikings made six notable signings that are on the current 53-man roster. After four games, it is time to look at the early results from the Vikings free agent signings.

Byron Murphy (CB)

Early Results
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings secondary was a major problem last season, so the Vikings swooped for Byron Murphy to be their CB1. The former Cardinal signed a two-year, $17.5 million contract with incentives that can rise to $22 million. That’s not elite cornerback money — 23rd among CBs average/per year — but you are expecting a good player for that price. Murphy’s role in the Vikings is difficult, as Brian Flores continually sends pressure and leaves the two perimeter cornerbacks on an island.

If teams get the ball out quickly — like the Chargers did particularly well in Week 3 — there are easy completions. Without safety help, asking Murphy to press the opposing receivers to try and tighten the coverage is fraught with danger. If the Vikings are getting carved up like they did by Justin Herbert, a shift in focus might be needed. However, if the pressure is working as it did against Bryce Young, then allowing some short to medium receptions is okay, as long as the big explosive plays aren’t allowed.

Verdict: PFF grades Murphy at a lowly 48.3, but I believe he has been better than that. However, the Vikings will want more from the guy they brought in to be CB1. He has had a niggling hip injury that will hopefully clear up and lead to his best football this season to be ahead of him. Tackling has been a disappointing feature of Murphy’s game in the first four games and is an area that needs immediate improvement.

Marcus Davenport (OLB)

Before taking the field in Week 4 against the Panthers, Marcus Davenport was public enemy number one in Minnesota. Davenport showed personality in interviews when asked about his injury status and gave no promises or timeline for his return. Some took issue with this, claiming it to be a sign of him not being committed to his job. He was ready to go in Week 4, and his impact on the game was huge. In a solid debut in purple, Davenport tallied 4 tackles, 2 pressures, a sack, a QB hit, and a tackle for loss while on somewhat of a snap count. 

Danielle Hunter had been plowing a lone furrow as the beginning and end of the Vikings pass rush in the opening weeks. Davenport’s physicality and arm speed were just the tonic for the Vikings pass rush woes. He gives opposing teams more to think about than just Hunter and opens the game up for others. His emergence was refreshing, and he showed his personality again in the post-game interviews when he joked with the media.

“I’m a hater of the media right now because y’all hurt my feelings, but I’m past that. I’m just lucky to go out there and play with my teammates again,” Davenport joked.

Verdict: PFF grades Davenport at a respectable 71.1 for his limited work so far. Injuries have hampered his career progress so far, which is why he is in Minnesota on a one-year, $13 million prove-it deal, with the money spread out. The Vikings saw a glimpse of why the Saints used a first-round pick to acquire Davenport’s services. If he can stay healthy and impact games like he did last week regularly, at just 27 years old, this is a player the Vikings should look to nail down to a long-term contract. 

Josh Oliver (TE)

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Eyes were raised when Minnesota used a good chunk of the limited resources they had to play with on a tight end after using a second-round draft pick to trade for T.J. Hockenson partway through last season. It wasn’t the obvious area of the team to spend free agency money, especially a three-year, $21 million deal. There was method in the madness, though, as Kevin O’Connell stated several times, the team’s intention to run the ball and Oliver’s prowess as a blocker who can make some plays was just the ticket.

Of course, the Vikings came out barely running the ball to start the season, and when they did, nothing was happening. That ship has been righted over the last two weeks, and Oliver is a big reason why. His run blocking has been excellent, and the Vikings trust him enough to leave him to block edge rushers one-on-one in pass-blocking reps — whether having any TE block an edge rusher one-on-one is a good idea is debatable. His role as a pass catcher has been limited thus far, but he already has a touchdown to his name. 

Verdict: Oliver has been as advertised and is perfectly fulfilling the role he was brought in for. He currently ranks as PFF’s number one TE with a grade of 89.5. When needed, he has a safe pair of hands, catching 7 of 8 targets for 49 yards and a touchdown. More of the same is what the Vikings will be asking of Oliver.

Dean Lowry (DL)

Minnesota desperately needed to add to the ranks on the defensive line with the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson. The answer was to sign former Green Bay Packer Dean Lowry to a two-year, $8.5 million contract. Lowry isn’t the man mountain that Tomlinson, and is a defensive end rather than a defensive tackle, which I think the Vikings needed. Lowry hasn’t had much impact as a Vikings, with just eight tackles and a pass deflection from four games.

Verdict: Lowry has seen his snap percentage decrease after each game this season, from 68% in Week 1 to 31% in Week 4. I don’t foresee that snap percentage returning to the Week 1 levels. He won’t be an every-down player and will be in the rotation. His overall grade of 40.5 from PFF shows the struggles he has had so far.

Brandon Powell (WR)

Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Powell (19) during warmups prior to the game at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports.

Brandon Powell arrived from the LA Rams to compete with Jalen Reagor as the Vikings punt returner. Powell won the job and has so far proved a safe pair of hands when catching the punts. Unfortunately, his best return, which came on a short punt collected at midfield and returned to around the Eagles 30-yard line, ended with a fumble. Outside of that, it has been steady if unspectacular, with Powell returning nine punts for a total of 46 yards.

Verdict: Besides the fumble, Powell has been reassuringly steady in fielding punts. The hope will be he manages to get a few longer returns in the coming weeks. On offense, Powell’s number has only been called once, where he caught his only target for a five-yard gain. Barring a spate of injuries at the WR position, he won’t be getting more than the occasional target, but he looks like a player who will be ready whenever he is called upon.

David Quessenberry (OT)

Just before the season started, the Vikings picked up David Quessenberry after the Buffalo Bills released him. The 33-year-old veteran came in to add experience and depth to the offensive line. It soon proved to be a wise move after Christian Darrisaw started the season with injury issues, and Oli Udoh suffered a season-ending quad injury deputizing for the starting left tackle. When Udoh went down in Week 2, Quessenberry stepped in to finish the game against the Eagles and have a solid performance.

Verdict: Quessenberry is now the next man up as the Vikings swing tackle. However, the Vikings won’t want to lose either of their elite tackles to injury. Should they need someone to step in for Darrisaw or Brian O’Neill for a short time, they are safe in the knowledge that Quessenberry can do the job.