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Matthew Coller: Remaining needs for the Vikings in free agency

Matthew Coller looks at the best remaining free agent wide receivers, cornerbacks, guards and defensive linemen.

It’s been an eventful week for the Minnesota Vikings. Let’s have a look at the latest developments and players they could still target in free agency…

Harrison Smith restructures contract to return

On Wednesday evening NFL Network reported that Harrison Smith is coming back for a 13th season in 2024. His new contract will pay the star safety $9 million. Last year Smith played 1,111 total snaps and returned to a versatile role under defensive coordinator Brian Flores. He split that snap count between lining up (per PFF) on the D-line 190 times, in the box 390 snaps, 346 at free safety, 151 in the slot and 39 at outside corner.

The move has ripple effects on the defense, starting with Josh Metellus’s role. The hybrid linebacker/safety likely would have been moved into Smith’s role had the All-Pro elected to retire but instead Flores can still use two safeties to play mind games with opposing quarterbacks. It also allows for continuity with the secondary. Flores asks much of his cornerbacks and safeties and Smith’s return will make at least five starters from last season (Smith, Metellus, Bynum, Murphy Jr., Blackmon) who are familiar with his system and philosophy. The Vikings still are likely to add another cornerback.

While Smith may not be the impact player he was in 2017, he still finished by PFF in the top half of the league (26th of 63), allowed only a 78.8 QB rating on throws into his coverage (21st) and he had the fifth most QB pressures among safeties.

As far as his legacy goes, Smith already solidified himself as one of the great Vikings in history and a potential Hall of Famer. Another quality year on the books only adds to his HOF case. If he were able to make the Pro Bowl, he would reach rare air among defensive backs. Only 28 corners or safeties have made the Pro Bowl seven times.

Danielle Hunter signs with the Texans on nearly fully guaranteed contract

Hunter’s status was one of the biggest questions heading into the offseason. It turned out that his price was too high for the Vikings. Hunter signed with the Texans for two years, $49 million with $48 million fully guaranteed.

The Vikings and Hunter haggled over contract for years so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he found a new location but his exit does raise questions about why the Vikings elected not to trade him during the middle of last season. Kirk Cousins had already gone down with an Achilles injury and their chances of making the postseason were cut down significantly. They likely could have gotten a second-round pick for his services, which would have been helpful in a year where they may need to trade up.

The Vikings’ answer to losing Hunter was signing Houston’s Jonathan Greenard for four years, $72 million and $42 million fully guaranteed. So Hunter received $6 more million guaranteed but Greenard’s deal is two years longer.

Should the Vikings have matched the price? Well, there is certainly an argument for it. Over the last two years he has remained completely healthy after missing much of 2020 and 2021 and racked up 27.0 sacks and two Pro Bowl appearances. That’s hard to replace.

However, if the Vikings are looking longer term than just 2024, they would be giving out huge dollars for a short-term player in Hunter. Greenard hasn’t yet turned 27 and could be a major part of the defense coming together over the next few seasons, plus his deal allows for much more cap flexibility. Hunter leaving most likely works out best for both parties.

Hunter leaves as one of the great pass rushers in Vikings history. Even with Pro-Football Reference including the old timers before the sack was an official stat, Hunter still ranks sixth in franchise history behind only Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, John Randle, Alan Page and Chris Doleman. He is a Ring of Honor player without question.

Powell, Brandel, Bullard return, Vikings let two go

The Vikings elected to re-sign free agent receiver Brandon Powell to a one-year, $2 million deal. He caught 29 passes for 324 yards last year and served as the punt returner. Powell hadn’t previously been an impact player as a receiver, topping out at 156 yards for the Rams in 2022 but he proved to be a trusted option when Justin Jefferson went out and memorably caught the game-winning pass from Josh Dobbs against the Falcons.

Blake Brandel is also back on a three-year, 9.5 million contract. The team appeared to like the way he developed as a backup guard and his signing price indicates that will likely be his role going forward with a possibility of competing for a spot depending on what else they do in the rest of free agency.

The Vikings announced defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard is coming back as well. He played over 600 snaps last season, the highest of his career. Presumably he will be in more of a rotational role next season.

The team did not tender offers to Cam Akers or Khyiris Tonga. It appeared that Tonga was not a fit with Flores as he had been in 2022 with Ed Donatell’s defense. Akers had his moments but tore his Achilles in Week 9.

Best remaining free agents

The Vikings still have needs at guard, defensive tackle, corner and WR3. Here are some of the best remaining free agents at those positions….

Defensive tackle

DJ Reader — An absolute mountain, Reader has been an elite run defender for years and created pressure by pushing the pocket last year (34 QB pressures on 314 pass rush snaps. He will be 30 years old and is likely to come at a high price.

Arik Armstead — Armstead only played 509 snaps last year. In that span, however, he picked up 5.0 sacks and created 42 pressures. The Vikings have been lacking a difference-making interior rusher since Sheldon Richardson in 2018. Armstead is also 30 years old.

Sebastian Joseph-Day — The former Ram has mostly been an average do-it-all interior D-linemen. He managed 25 pressures on 604 snaps in 2023.

Teair Tart — In 2022 Tart had a breakout season for the Titans creating pressure up the middle and stuffing the run but in 2023 the Titans surprisingly released him mid-season. It’s possible the Vikings could see him as not being a culture fit but he is talented and only 27 years old.


Kevin Zeitler — Even at 33 years old Zietler had a good year with the Ravens allowing just 19 QB pressures all season. His run blocking might not be where it once was though.

Connor Williams — Williams has scored high marks as a guard and center over the last four years. He graded a 90.5 in run blocking last season and could be one of the few true differences makers on the interior.

Jon Feliciano — A proven journeyman who has been above average as a pass blocker, Feliciano can play any of the interior spots.

Dalton Risner — Stood out as a pass blocker last season but the Vikings may be hesitant to bring him back due to run blocking ineffectiveness.

Greg Van Roten — Another bounce-around guard who had a quality season in Las Vegas last year. He would likely come at a reasonable price.


Xavien Howard — The soon-to-be 31-year-old hasn’t produced the numbers that he did with Brian Flores, which could be due to scheme change or age. Flores might view him as a reclamation project with the right scheme.

Adoree Jackson — After a down year in 2023 the Vikings might be able to get a deal on a player with a long history of quality play.

Levi Wallace — Has never been a game-changer but Wallace is a consistently solid starter who has allowed only an 86.6 QB rating on throws into his coverage for his career.

Kendall Fuller — A top notch cornerback who could shift the entire Vikings secondary, Fuller has graded among the best of the best in the last three seasons. His price may not be small though because there are very few quality corners left on the market.

Wide receivers

Marquise Brown — If the Vikings were looking for a three-deep, Brown could be a strong deep ball option. The problem is that Calvin Ridley blew up the receiver market with a $23 million per year deal that may make solid receivers like Brown more expensive.

Curtis Samuel — A playmaker in Carolina, Samuel didn’t exactly work out the way Washington hoped but he still managed 64 and 62 receptions over the last two years.

KJ Osborn — While Osborn is coming off a down year, he is still above average as a No. 3 receiver and might not find the market he was looking for.

Hunter Renfrow — The ex-Raider is a good route runner and is two years separated from a 100-catch season.

Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown (2) runs with the ball during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown (2) runs with the ball during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.