The Vikings made a lot of noise on the defensive side of the ball in free agency this year, but apparently they were also interested in the top return specialist on the market.
Jamal Agnew, who had an NFL-leading five return touchdowns with the Lions over the past four years, signed with the Jaguars for three years and $14.25 million this offseason. But in an interview with the Pick 6 podcast, Agnew revealed that the Vikings pursued him pretty seriously.
"A team that had a lot of interest in me was Minnesota," Agnew said. "I wouldn't have minded going to Minnesota and playing Detroit a couple times a year." Agnew went on to say that he think Jacksonville is a perfect fit for him in 2021.
This would've been a big pickup for the Vikings, as Agnew is one of the best returners in the NFL. His career averages of 11.6 yards per punt return and 25.8 yards per kick return are excellent, and he has five touchdowns in three fully healthy seasons. He was a first-team All Pro as a rookie after racking up 447 punt return yards and two touchdowns.
In the end, the contract Agnew received from the Jaguars was probably too steep for the Vikings. He's primarily a one-phase player, as he hasn't had much success as a cornerback or gadget wide receiver in the NFL.
What can we learn from this? Well, it means the Vikings at least recognize that they could desperately use an upgrade at their return spots. They had one of the worst special teams units in the league last year, and one of the many problems was that their returners were never able to give them a boost in the field position department.
The Vikings had 69 punt return yards as a team in 2020, which ranked 31st in the NFL. Chad Beebe and K.J. Osborn averaged a collective 4.3 yards per return, with a long return of 13 yards. Meanwhile, Agnew had 178 punt return yards and a touchdown last year on an average of 12.6 yards per return. Agnew's 28 yards per kick return was also much better than Minnesota's 21.9-yard average, primarily recorded by Osborn and Ameer Abdullah.
If the Vikings are interested in adding a dynamic returner, Cordarrelle Patterson is still a free agent. A reunion could benefit both sides, depending on the cost. However, Patterson would only solve the Vikings' kick return issues, as he's never been a punt returner. Some free agent receivers with experience returning punts include Dwayne Harris, Alex Erickson, and Dede Westbrook.
The Vikings could also look to add a player with return capabilities in the draft. Osborn, a 2020 fifth-round pick, might be facing an uphill battle to make the roster after a disappointing rookie season. The Vikings brought back both Beebe and Abdullah this offseason, but neither are inspiring options as returners.
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