Forget Re-Signing Davenport, No Franchise Tag for Vikings and Other Thoughts

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NFL free agency is less than three weeks away, and it’s a busy time for NFL GMs as they ponder franchise tags, fine-tune their free agency hit lists, get the salary cap in shape with planning for releases, restructures and signings to come, and prepare for next week’s NFL Scouting Combine. The draft is two months away.

Forget Re-Signing Davenport, No Franchise Tag for Vikings and Other Thoughts

Whew — and they call this the offseason? I speak from experience when I say that’s hardly the case compared to when I first started working for the Vikings when there was no free agency. February was a quiet month except for the Combine back then. Now it’s a whirlwind this month and all the way through free agency that opens March 11, the draft in late April, and then OTAs and minicamp. Mid-June through mid-July will allow team execs to catch their breath.

No Franchise Tag
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The league’s franchise and transition tag period opened this week and runs through March 5. Since the Vikings can’t tag Kirk Cousins or Danielle Hunter due to clauses in their expiring contracts, it’s doubtful they will tag any potential free agents. OLB D.J. Wonnum is the team’s next-best free agent, but the projected linebacker franchise tag amount is $22.7 million, far above Wonnum’s likely market value. Kicker Greg Joseph made $2 million last season, and the Vikings won’t tag him at $5.7 million.

Interestingly, the Vikings renegotiated the void date in Marcus Davenport’s contract to change it from February 20 to March 13. The intent is to allow more time for GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to see if there is a possibility of keeping Davenport at a far lower amount than his one-year, $13 million contract from 2023. If the contract had been voided or Davenport hit free agency on an expired contract, the Vikings would take a $6.8 million dead money hit to their 2024 cap.

Davenport was a risky signing last March as a former Saints first-round pick who missed 21 games with various injuries over his first five seasons. The Vikings were hoping for a repeat of Davenport’s 2021 season when he produced nine sacks, 16 QB hits, 39 tackles, and nine tackles-for-loss in 11 games for the Saints. He had followed that up with a half-sack and eight QB hits in 2022 for New Orleans.

Davenport was a big disappointment as he wound up playing in only four games (with two sacks and seven tackles, so he showed up as a solid contributor when he played, but four games for $13 million doesn’t cut it). It was good the Vikings only gave him a one-year deal, but I think re-signing him for another year is a mistake, even if the Vikings can get him back on a close-to-minimum salary deal with big incentives (which is all he should expect in free agency unless his agent can find another team willing to make an unwise move).

Vikings Buy Time
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Signing a player like Davenport goes against one of my cardinal rules in signing free agents: Don’t sign free agents with a significant injury history to lucrative deals except in rare cases with your own players.

Other NFL players who fell into this category last year were WR Odell Beckham by the Ravens ($15 million for one year after a lengthy injury history, including missing all of 2022 recovering from a torn ACL, and he produced 35 catches for 565 yards in 14 games and only four catches for 34 yards in two playoff games) and QB Jimmy Garoppolo by the Raiders (three-years, $72.75 million after being often injured in San Francisco; he suffered a concussion in Week 3 and after returning, he was benched in mid-season with nine interceptions in six starts).

I see bringing Davenport back as throwing good money after bad. It’s a much better move to put the Davenport money towards a new deal for Wonnum, who had his best season when he replaced Davenport and produced eight sacks, 15 QB hits, and 62 tackles in 15 games. Wonnum is coming off a torn quad that cost him the final two games, but that was the first major injury in his four-year career, so he’s a much less risky signing than Davenport.

There are exceptions to my rule on not signing free agents with a significant injury history if a GM has confidence the player has overcome his past injuries and is less of a risk moving forward. I don’t see that with Davenport, but I do think that’s the case for Wonnum and Cousins, who had never missed a start in his career before tearing his Achilles last season. The same goes for less concern in re-signing Hunter, who has stayed healthy the past two seasons while playing at a Pro Bowl level after his neck and pec injuries cost him all of the 2020 and over half of the 2021 seasons.

News on One Forgotten
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

I’ll be back next week with my Combine preview and more thoughts on free agency that opens on March 11 with the legal tampering period and on March 13 when free agent signings can become official. I’ll also give my opinion on which pending Vikings free agents should be priority re-signings for the team besides Cousins, Hunter, and Wonnum.

Around the NFL Observations:

1. Several top players will likely be hit with the franchise tag in the next two weeks if their teams can’t get long-term deals done before March 5 to lower the salary cap hit. The list includes Bengals WR Tee Higgins, Colts WR Michael Pittman, Giants RB Saquon Barkley, Jaguars Edge Josh Allen, Panthers Edge Brian Burns, Ravens DT Justin Madubuike, Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins, Bears CB Jaylon Johnson and Bucs S Antoine Winfield Jr. (the ex-Golden Gopher).

2. Thoughts on a couple of coaches landing new NFL jobs: I’m very happy for my close friend and fellow St. Louis Park native Marc Trestman, who has joined Jim Harbaugh’s Los Angeles Chargers staff as Senior Offensive Assistant.

Marc and I grew up together, and after his college football career as a QB at Minnesota and Minnesota State-Moorhead, I signed him as a safety for the Vikings during training camps in 1979 and 1980. He then launched his coaching career at the University of Miami. We worked together at the Vikings when he was an assistant coach on Bud Grant and Jerry Burns’ staffs as a Running Backs Coach and Quarterbacks Coach. He went on to several offensive coordinator positions in the NFL and college football and was the Bears’ head coach, winning three Grey Cups as head coach of Canadian Football League champs in Montreal and Toronto.

Marc is a brilliant offensive coach and will definitely be a big help to Harbaugh, Chargers OC Greg Roman, and QB Justin Herbert in the effort to return the team to playoff status.

Mike Zimmer Press Conference | Dallas Cowboys 2024. Zimmer took over as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator in February 2024 when Dan Quinn accepted a head coaching job with the Washington Commanders. Zimmer coached the Vikings from 2014 to 2021.

It was also good to see former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer return to coaching as the new defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Zimmer began his NFL coaching career as a defensive assistant, secondary coach, and DC in Dallas and was a successful DC in Cincinnati before being hired as the Vikings’ head coach in 2014. He directed several top defenses with the Vikings in his early years with the team.

Mike McCarthy better get off to a good start in his final season under contract, or Zimmer (who has a great relationship with Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones) is an easy choice as interim head coach if McCarthy is fired in midseason.  

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