Four Free Agents the Vikings Should Prioritize Re-Signing
The Vikings are heading into what should be a fascinating free agency period. They have the least salary cap space of any team in the NFL, as they currently need to clear roughly $12 million just to get under the projected cap. Once they do that – by cutting some players and restructuring the contracts of others – they'll have to clear additional space in order to re-sign their own free agents, pay their rookie class, and potentially bring in some veterans from other organizations.
18 players who were on the Vikings roster in 2019 are free agents this offseason.
Many of those players will not be back next season. Once the team clears up some space, here are four they should prioritize re-signing and keeping in purple.
1. Anthony Harris, Safety, Unrestricted Free Agent
The biggest question the Vikings are facing as they head into free agency is whether or not they should re-sign Anthony Harris, who is one of the best players on the entire market, regardless of position. Harris led the NFL with seven interceptions across the regular season and playoffs, and finished as the No. 1 safety in the league in PFF's grading system. He's developed into a truly elite coverage safety with game-changing skills as a ball-hawk. Mike Zimmer and the Vikings would love to have him back.
The issue is cost. Harris is projected to command $13 to $14 million annually and may want a four-year deal. If the Vikings manage to clear up $40 million in cap space, giving them $28 million to spend, would it be worth allocating half of that on Harris? I believe it would, and that Rick Spielman and cap guru Rob Brzezinski should find a way to keep Harris around for the future, which might mean clearing even more than $40 million.
The Vikings have given no indication that they're giving up on the idea of competing for a championship with their current core. It's a core that will look different next year – longtime veterans like Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joseph, Riley Reiff, and Everson Griffen may be necessary cuts for cap purposes – but this is not a team that wants to go with a full rebuild just yet. At least not in 2020, the final year with Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook under contract. Paying Harris and keeping him alongside Harrison Smith is a great way to ensure that the secondary stays competitive despite potentially losing all three of its starting corners. Harris is almost three years younger than Smith and projects to deliver elite production for another four or five years. With Jayron Kearse almost certainly out the door and Andrew Sendejo not a reliable starting option, the Vikings should pay Harris big bucks to keep him in purple.
2. CJ Ham, Fullback, Restricted Free Agent
It may seem odd to think about spending money on a fullback in the year 2020, but the Vikings should do just that with Ham. And, realistically, it's not that much money; around $2 million per season should be enough to keep Ham. The Vikings also know how important a fullback like Ham is to what they want to do offensively. They're bringing Gary Kubiak's offense back for a second year, and Ham will continue to play a big role in both the running and passing game. He's an excellent, experienced blocker who has also shown he can be an effective option as a receiver from time to time. The Duluth native is a restricted free agent, so the Vikings can match any offer he receives.
3. Eric Wilson, Linebacker, Restricted Free Agent
The Vikings have a pair of linebackers hitting free agency this offseason in Wilson and Kentrell Brothers. Of the two, Wilson should be the priority to re-sign. He'll be 26 next season, and it appears that Wilson's best days of football are still ahead of him. The Cincinnati product is extraordinarily athletic and is growing as an all-around linebacker year after year. His quickness allows him to succeed in pass coverage and provide another pass-rushing threat for Mike Zimmer's defense. Wilson has five sacks and 107 tackles over the past two seasons, despite playing behind Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr and not seeing the field on nickel packages. Brothers is a special teams ace, but Wilson is capable in that area as well and shows much more upside as a base linebacker on defense.
4. Dan Bailey, Kicker, Unrestricted Free Agent
This one should be fairly straightforward: The Vikings found stability at kicker for the first time in a long time in 2019, and should do whatever it takes to maintain it. The veteran Bailey drilled 27 of 29 field goal attempts last season, including all three from 50-plus. He did miss four extra-points, but that was likely more fluky than anything else. Bailey is also excellent on kickoffs. After everything the Vikings have been through with Blair Walsh, Kai Forbath, and Daniel Carlson, they should make sure Bailey sticks around.
The Vikings should also consider bringing back Britton Colquitt, though not because of his punting (which was merely solid). Colquitt's skill as a holder seemed to make a world of difference for Bailey in 2019. After a couple of down years for Bailey, Colquitt's consistency in the holding game helped him get back to being one of the league's best, like he was for many years in Dallas. The Vikings may value that enough to bring Colquitt back.
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