Nervous time for Vikings Fans with Subtractions but Now Additions are Happening & Thoughts on Bud

Vikings Unveil Footage
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

I know from experience that it’s never easy in free agency when your team is tight against the cap. That usually means you have a playoff caliber team with a lot of high-priced players. So it’s tough for a GM such as Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to have to release players who have been long-time contributors such as Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks and then see players he’d like to re-sign leave as they get better offers elsewhere—including Dalvin Tomlinson signing with Cleveland and Patrick Peterson heading to Pittsburgh.

That’s life in NFL free agency and it’s tough for fans to be patient when they see good and popular players depart. But once salary cap space was cleared through player releases and Kirk Cousins’ contract restructure, things have started looking better for the Vikings roster through several re-signings of Vikings free agents including center Garrett Bradbury who played better last season after adding weight but had a rough playoff game against Dexter Lawrence and the Giants. Bradbury’s $5.25 million per year contract over three years is a good deal for him and the team.

Other important vet re-signings include kicker Greg Joseph (who made five game-winning field goals last season), backup QB Nick Mullens and Pro Bowl long snapper Andrew DePaola.

The Vikings dipped their toes into outside free agency by signing three players. Two of them bring a lot of talent but injury question marks—cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (2 years, $22 million) who missed eight games last season with a back injury but could fill a massive need at cornerback and edge rusher Marcus Davenport (one year, $13 million) who has missed 20 games due to injuries in his five-year career and is likely being counted on to replace Za’Darius Smith.

Murphy was a high second round pick in 2019 and three-year starter for the Cardinals, with his best year in 2021 when he had four interceptions, 12 passes defensed and 64 tackles. He had a game-winning fumble return for a TD against the Raiders last season. He’ll replace Peterson and bring more speed at outside corner but the secondary loses Pat P’s leadership.

The Vikings now hope their two corners from last year’s draft who are talented– Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans—can overcome their rookie year injuries and produce in 2023. But there’s an excellent chance the Vikings will fortify the corner position by using their No. 23 overall pick in next month’s draft to select another corner with speed from a strong draft class at the position.

Davenport was the No. 14 overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Saints due to athletic ability for a big man and he had a career-high nine sacks in 11 games in 2021 before having a poor season with only a half-sack in 14 games last season. He also will be shifting from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 defender in new coordinator Brian Flores’ defense. He’s a powerful player but his lack of consistent production coupled with his injury history make this a risky signing considering the cost (but at least it’s a one year deal so if he doesn’t pan out, both sides will move on).

Then there’s tight end Josh Oliver who comes aboard as the No. 2 tight end and will often be on the field with Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson. He was a third round pick of the Jaguars in 2019, joined Baltimore in 2021 and is reputed to be one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends. Oliver had only 14 catches for 146 yards and 2 TDs last season for the Ravens. His contract seems a bit pricey at three years, $21 million but we’ll see how effective he is.

Free agency is a moving target and the Vikings will continue to sign a few outside free agents and likely bring back several of their own free agents such as special teams ace and reserve corner Kris Boyd and backup tackle Oli Udoh along with corner Duke Shelley who started at the end of last season.

Minnesota will need to free up some more cap room to add players so we’ll be watching for restructures on Harrison Smith and a possible release of Dalvin Cook which could clear the way to re-sign Alexander Mattison as the team’s lead back (or Cook could return under a restructured contract). Za’Darius Smith’s release also is on the horizon to clear $12 million of cap room after his play fell off with only ½ sack over the last eight games as he dealt with knee soreness. He’s a great player who has trouble staying healthy and he’s turning 31 this year.

We’ll also keep an eye on contract talks that continue on possible extensions for Cousins and Danielle Hunter who both have only one year left on their deals. 

A Viking Icon—Bud Grant– passes away:

I worked with Bud for 10 years and remained close with him ever since. I was so sad to hear of his passing after living a great life to 95 years old. He is truly the most famous Minnesota Viking as a Hall of Fame coach who led the team to four Super Bowls and so many playoff appearances.

I saw Bud and visited with him many times in recent years and he stayed so sharp mentally. I’ll have more on some of my personal Bud memories next week. I send my condolences to the entire Grant family.

Around the NFL Observations in a busy week of early free agency:

1.The Aaron Rodgers to the Jets watch continues and the signing of ex-Packer wide receiver Allen Lazard by the Jets appears to be another indication that Rodgers is headed east to join Lazard.

2. Jimmy Garoppolo to the Raiders is a good move for them with a QB who is a winner (42-19 as a starter in New England and San Francisco) but the big if is whether Jimmy G can stay healthy. The 49ers made a big move in signing premier defensive tackle Javon Hargrave away from the Eagles who lost two other starters–linebacker T.J. Edwards (to Chicago) and safety Marcus Epps (to Las Vegas). But the NFC champs were able to re-sign the NFL’s best center in Jason Kelce, an excellent corner in James Bradberry and vet defensive end Brandon Graham who had 11 sacks last season. Top back Miles Sanders also is headed elsewhere but the Eagles have two first round picks so they should be just fine.

3. Two big trades involving Pro Bowl caliber players have occurred this week. Corner Jalen Ramsey goes from the Rams to Miami for a pittance (third round pick and backup tight end Hunter Long). And talented but injury prone tight end Darren Waller was traded by the Raiders to the Giants for a late third round pick. This gives QB Daniel Jones another excellent target if Waller can stay on the field.

4. In the NFC North, the Bears have been the most active team and they are definitely re-loading talent-wise. They traded the No. 1 overall pick to Carolina last Friday for two first round picks, two second round picks and a starting receiver in D.J. Moore. Chicago also had several solid free agent signings in guard Nate Davis (from Tennessee) and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (from Buffalo) and Edwards along with defensive end DeMarcus Walker (from Tennessee). The Lions added a quality starting corner in Cameron Sutton (from Pittsburgh). The Packers have been quiet in free agency as their discussions with the Jets on Rodgers have been going on.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl