The Vikings had a fairly big first week of free agency, making two major splashes on the defensive side of the ball by signing defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and cornerback Patrick Peterson. After Minnesota struggled mightily on defense last year, those two additions — along with the return of Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael Pierce — should make a world of difference in 2021. That has to make Mike Zimmer happy.
The new details of Barr's restructured contract give the Vikings over $10 million in usable cap space as of Tuesday. That presumably means they aren't done in free agency, with four major needs (offensive line, safety, defensive end, wide receiver) that could use addressing.
But for now, let's take a look at three ways the Vikings' start to free agency changes their needs and plan heading into April's draft.
Offensive line is now the clear favorite in Round 1
Prior to free agency, there were a solid number of positions regularly mocked to the Vikings in the first round. Defensive end and offensive line were the two most common, but defensive tackle (mainly Alabama's Christian Barmore), cornerback, and wide receiver were also frequent choices.
After the Tomlinson and Peterson moves, I think offensive line has to be considered the favorite in the first round, whether that's at No. 14 overall or after a trade back. That could change in the coming weeks, of course. But after two moves to address the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings desperately need to shore up their offensive line, and early in the draft is the best place to find an impact player there.
Yes, the Vikings still have needs on defense. But there aren't any safeties considered to be obvious first-rounders (TCU's Trevon Moehrig could be an option with a trade back), and the Vikings may not want to rely on a rookie safety learning all of Mike Zimmer's coverage shells. A defensive end is also still a possibility, but it's worth remembering that the Vikings have never taken a DE in the first two rounds since Rick Spielman showed up in 2007.
The saying is that free agency is for addressing needs and the draft is about value. I agree with that. The Vikings should, in theory, take the best player available when they pick in the first round, regardless of position. But with pressure on Zimmer and Spielman to win in 2021, offensive line might be too much of a glaring need to ignore, even if they add a cheap vet or two prior to the draft.
I'd expect to see a lot of mock drafts with the Vikings taking Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Sam Cosmi over the next five weeks.
Trading back feels even more likely now
I've said for a while now that I think the Vikings trading back in the first round makes a ton of sense this year. It might be even more likely after the team's two big moves in free agency.
This roster has a ton of high-end talent on both sides of the ball. Peterson described the Vikings as "loaded." But there are also a number of important holes that still need to be filled. It's not a roster that is one piece away from getting over the hump, by any means.
By making two splash signings last week, the Vikings used up the majority of their cap space. They could've taken the approach of signing more players for cheaper, but they decided to commit more money to a pair of starters in Tomlinson and Peterson (although the combined 2021 cap hit for that duo is just $14 million).
As a result, I think trading back and trying to recoup a second-round pick makes more sense than ever. Regardless of what they do with their remaining $10 million or so in free agency, adding multiple starting-caliber players early in the draft might have more of an immediate impact than grabbing a player at 14 and waiting until the third round to pick again.
Cornerback is less likely in Round 1, but remains a long-term need
Prior to the Patrick Peterson signing, I was starting to seriously consider the idea of the Vikings drafting a corner in the first round once again. Patrick Surtain II from Alabama is a very exciting prospect who played under Vikings defensive backs coach Karl Scott for the Crimson Tide.
The Peterson signing was big because he'll fill an important role as a veteran leader in that position group, in addition to taking a starting role on the outside.
But don't count out cornerback as a long-term need for this franchise. Peterson will be 31 this summer and only signed a one-year deal. Mike Hughes isn't going to have his fifth-year option exercised and will also become a free agent next offseason. Jeff Gladney isn't a sure thing to develop into a starter after struggling as a rookie. The Vikings could potentially use another young building block at that position.
With that said, I do think they'll hold off on spending a high pick on a corner until they evaluate what they have this fall.
As for some other position groups, Barmore is probably off the table because Tomlinson is signed for two years. Defensive end is a big one, but I remain skeptical that the Vikings would use a first-rounder on an edge rusher. And don't count out linebacker (Barr is set to hit free agency in 2022) or receiver (Thielen turns 31 soon and there's no clear No. 3 option on the roster yet).
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