Could the greatest kick returner in NFL history be headed back to Minnesota this offseason?
It's safe to say Cordarrelle Patterson is down for a reunion with the team that drafted him in 2013. When a Vikings fan tweeted at him on Thursday, Patterson, who is an unrestricted free agent, told the team to get in touch.
It's unlikely to happen, but it's fun to think about. Patterson is a historically electrifying returner, a potentially dangerous weapon on offense, and has been a fan favorite at each of his NFL stops. He could add real value to the Vikings in multiple phases of the game if used correctly.
The reason it probably won't happen is that the Vikings don't have the cap space to afford a luxury like Patterson. They have roughly $4 million to spend after signing Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson, and even if they free up another $10 million or more with extensions for Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter, they have some serious roster holes to address with that money.
The Vikings need a starting safety, multiple offensive linemen, a defensive end, and a No. 3 wide receiver. They'll obviously have to address some of those areas in the draft, but it would behoove them to add veteran depth at a couple of those positions in free agency so they're not backed into a corner when the draft rolls around.
So for as fun as a Patterson reunion would be, it feels like a long shot. But hey, anything is possible.
There's an argument to be made that it would be money well spent, even considering the team's other needs. Patterson wouldn't exactly fill that No. 3 receiver need, as he has a grand total of 215 receiving yards over the past two seasons in Chicago, but he could be used as a running back/receiver/tight end hybrid in Minnesota if new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak wanted a unique chess piece to play with. More importantly, he would jumpstart a kick return game that has been dormant since his departure four years ago.
From 2009 to 2016, the Vikings got ten kickoff return touchdowns from Percy Harvin and Patterson, with at least one in seven of those eight seasons. Since then, they haven't had a single one. Changes to the kickoff rules in 2018 have played a role in that, but those changes haven't stopped Patterson from taking one to the house in each of the last three seasons — his latest coming against the Vikings last November.
Patterson was Minnesota's third first-round pick of the 2013 draft. His rookie year was nothing short of incredible, as he put up over 600 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage while leading the NFL in kickoff return average and touchdowns (2). But even as Patterson remained an incredible kick returner, his debut campaign would turn out to be his most productive season on offense to date.
When Mike Zimmer showed up in 2014 and hired OC Norv Turner, Patterson's play as a receiver fell off. Maybe he wasn't used right or maybe he wasn't good enough, but the results were disappointing. The Patriots and Bears have tried to turn Patterson into more of a running back in recent years, but that hasn't gone great either.
Still, Patterson has the potential to help a team's offense. He just turned 30 and is still a dynamic athlete with a rare combination of size and agility. His gravity as a gadget player can be valuable, even if that hasn't been fully unlocked since his rookie season under Bill Musgrave. He's also an incredible locker room personality and, as I've already mentioned, the greatest kick returner in the history of the league.
Depending on the price, that sounds like someone the Vikings could use. But Zimmer and Rick Spielman will presumably prioritize more pressing needs with their limited funds, leaving Patterson to find his fifth NFL team in 2021 instead of returning to his first.
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