Following the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft, Vikings GM Rick Spielman hinted at the team looking at some veteran free agents who are still unsigned. With six open spots on their roster, plenty of cap space, and a few position groups that could still use an infusion of talent, Minnesota appears to be in position to add a vet or two before offseason activities get going this summer.
Now we've got two names that have been reported as possible targets: defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
Let's start with Kerrigan. The Vikings have shown interest in the four-time Pro Bowler who is the all-time leader in sacks for the Washington Football Team franchise, according to plugged-in local reporter Darren Wolfson of KSTP.
If there's one position where the Vikings could benefit the most from adding a veteran free agent, it's edge rusher. Danielle Hunter is coming off missing an entire season with a neck injury that required surgery, and his contract situation is still somewhat up in the air. Stephen Weatherly's year in Carolina seemed to prove that he's in over his head as a starter, while the young trio of D.J. Wonnum (2020 fourth round pick), Patrick Jones II (2021 third), and Janarius Robinson (2021 fourth) need plenty of development before they're ready to see major snaps.
Adding someone like Kerrigan would be fantastic for competition purposes. He would presumably be able to earn a solid share of immediate playing time on a one-year deal while also serving as a successful veteran for Minnesota's young DEs to learn from.
Drafted in the first round out of Purdue in 2011, Kerrigan has spent his entire ten-year NFL career with Washington. He put up at least 7.5 sacks in each of his first eight seasons, including 13-sack seasons in 2014, 2017, and 2018. For his career, Kerrigan has 95.5 sacks, 26 forced fumbles, 25 passes defended, and three pick-sixes.
He turns 33 in August and is no longer at the peak of his abilities, but Kerrigan recorded 11 total sacks over the past two seasons and has never posted a PFF pass rush grade below 67. Despite playing most of his career at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, he can put his hand in the dirt and line up at DE in a 4-3. Kerrigan is right up there with Melvin Ingram and Justin Houston among the top edge rushers on the market and would be a fantastic fit in Minnesota. (Everson Griffen is also still unsigned, but it seems unlikely that the Vikings would bring him back after some of the comments he made earlier this offseason).
Then there's Westbrook. The Vikings have had "preliminary conversations" with the former Jacksonville Jaguar, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Westbrook is just 27 and would be an interesting addition to the Vikings' offense. He won the 2016 Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football after posting 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns for Oklahoma that year. He was drafted by the Jags in the fourth round in 2017, falling that far primarily because of the off-the-field concerns.
Westbrook's most productive season came in 2018, when he had 815 yards and five touchdowns from scrimmage with a PFF grade of 71.3. He had 687 yards in 2019 but fell down Jacksonville's depth chart last season before tearing his ACL in late October.
There are a couple main reasons why signing Westbrook could make sense for the Vikings. He spent the last four years working with then-Jaguars receivers coach Keenan McCardell, who now holds that role in Minnesota. Beyond Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, the Vikings don't have any proven options competing for their No. 3 role. Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson have roughly 800 combined receiving yards in their careers, and recent fifth-round pick Ihmir Smith-Marsette has some promise but was also a fifth-rounder for a reason.
Westbrook could potentially give the Vikings a spark as a punt returner as well. He returned a punt for a touchdown at OU in 2016 and another one for the Jaguars in 2018. That year, his 14-yard average ranked fourth among all NFL players with double-digit punt returns. The Vikings don't have any clear options for their PR job on the roster. Beebe and K.J. Osborn gave them nothing in that department in 2020, and while they just drafted Smith-Marsette and Kene Nwangwu in part because they have experience returning kickoffs, neither one has much experience returning punts.
Still, I was a little surprised to see Anderson's report about the Vikings talking to Westbrook, simply because of his past off-the-field issues and Minnesota's recent Jeff Gladney situation. Westbrook was arrested twice for domestic violence in 2012 and 2013, but charges ended up being dropped both times. He was also arrested in 2016 for trespassing. Westbrook has avoided trouble since entering the NFL, and maybe the Vikings think reuniting him with McCardell would help him continue to stay on the right path. Regardless, it would be a somewhat notable signing for the Vikings with Gladney's future still up the air after his arrest for domestic violence in April.
On the field, signing Westbrook could either turn out like signing Tajae Sharpe (0 catches in 2020) did last year, or it could work out with him giving the Vikings more competition for the WR3 and punt returner jobs. Other available receivers include Golden Tate, Danny Amendola, and Larry Fitzgerald.
In addition to the defensive end and wide receiver positions, it wouldn't shock me to see the Vikings add a veteran cornerback after they chose not to draft one this year. Adding another defensive tackle or offensive lineman could also be in play.
Minnesota is projected to have around $4.9 million in cap space after signing its draft class, with another $7.9 million coming on June 2nd when Kyle Rudolph's contract comes off the books. That's more than enough room to make multiple impact additions.
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