Last week, I looked at the Vikings' ten pending unrestricted free agents and assessed the likelihood that each one returns to Minnesota. But that UFA crop doesn't nearly paint a full picture of the group of players that the Vikings have to make decisions on this offseason. There are also the potential cap casualties — players like Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Barr, and Riley Reiff that have been discussed at length — and extension candidates like Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, and Brian O'Neill.
Today, we're looking at a smaller, less important group: Minnesota's restricted free agents. Here's a quick explanation on NFL RFAs, if you're unfamiliar with the process (full article with additional details can be found at Pro Football Network).
An NFL player becomes a restricted free agent when his contract expires and he has just three accrued NFL seasons. A restricted free agent is free to negotiate and sign with other teams during the free agency period. However, their original team can offer them an RFA tender. That tender gives the original team the first right of refusal to match any offer made to an RFA. If the original team declines to match the offer, the new team must send a draft pick as compensation.
The only leverage that an RFA has is to get an offer that his original team will not match. However, that is easier said than done, particularly if a player comes with a first or second-round RFA tender. If his NFL team does not offer a restricted free agent an RFA tender, then he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Additionally, if a team withdraws a tender before the player signs it, he would also become an unrestricted free agent.
Last offseason, the Vikings had a couple important RFAs in fullback C.J. Ham and linebacker Eric Wilson, both of whom are former undrafted free agents. They signed Ham to a four-year extension and placed a second-round tender on Wilson. Unsurprisingly, no team wanted to part with a second-round pick to sign Wilson, so he returned to Minnesota on a one-year, $3.26 million deal (the price was a set number for all players with second-round tenders).
Let's take a look at the Vikings' four current RFAs and how they might fit into the team's plans in 2021.
DE Ifeadi Odenigbo
Odenigbo was selected by the Vikings in the seventh round back in 2017, but took a circuitous route to becoming an impact player in the NFL. After spending his rookie year on Minnesota's practice squad, he made stops in Cleveland and Arizona during his second season. The Vikings brought him back, and despite having been waived four times in two seasons, Odenigbo kept pushing and had a breakout season in 2019. The Northwestern product excelled in a rotational role on passing downs, finishing with seven sacks and a defensive touchdown.
In 2020, Odenigbo's role changed significantly. With all of his top DE teammates from the prior season either in new places or injured, he became a full-time starter. After Yannick Ngakoue was traded, Odenigbo spent the rest of the season as essentially the Vikings' only NFL-caliber pass rusher. He led the team with 42 pressures (per PFF), including eight against the Jaguars in Week 13. No one else had more than 22. Despite Odenigbo's pressure and hurry rates improving on a larger sample size, he finished with just 3.5 sacks. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that he saw the fifth-highest double team rate of any edge rusher in the NFL.
"I’m angry how everything played out," Odenigbo said after the season. "I’m not going to think too much about the future. All I need to do is take a couple of weeks off, get my body back up — the body was beat down quite a bit this year — get healthy again, then work on things and watch film from this year. Obviously I played a lot this year and I think offensive linemen were learning my tendencies. Use this offseason to get better. Don’t feel sorry for yourself because this league will move on without you."
In my opinion, the Vikings should look to bring Odenigbo back, whether via a long-term extension or, more likely, an RFA tender. They just don't have any other proven commodities at DE outside of Danielle Hunter, who is coming off of neck surgery. D.J. Wonnum could take a big step forward in year two, but that's no sure thing. The Vikings should absolutely address the position in free agency and/or the draft, but bringing Odenigbo back won't cost a ton. If Hunter is healthy, Odenigbo can either compete for that second starting job or play a bunch as a rotational and sub-package rusher. Either way, he won't see as much defensive attention and should be in line for a bounce-back year in the sacks department.
WR Chad Beebe
An undrafted free agent out of Northern Illinois in 2018, Beebe impressed in training camps and preseasons his first two seasons but couldn't stay healthy. He had just six total catches in six games across his first two years in the league. But Beebe earned his way onto the roster again in 2020 and finally was able to stay on the field. His 20 catches, 201 yards, and two touchdowns all ranked third among Vikings receivers. Beebe didn't do much as a punt returner, averaging fewer than five yards per return.
Against the Panthers in Week 12, Beebe appeared to have cost the Vikings the game with a critical muffed punt. But he made up for it by catching the game-winning touchdown with 46 seconds left, capping a career-best performance of seven catches and 63 yards. Beebe later added a 40-yard touchdown catch to end the first half against the Lions in Week 17.
Beebe is a solid slot receiver with some separation skills, but the Vikings should be looking to make an upgrade at their WR3 spot. If they bring Beebe back, it should only be as a depth/WR4 option.
RB Mike Boone
Like Beebe, Boone was a nice UDFA find by the Vikings in 2018. But with Dalvin Cook and others ahead of him on the depth chart, Boone has recorded just 407 total yards and four touchdowns in three seasons, with most of that production coming in 2019 when Cook was hurt. He has shown flashes of potential, most notably a 160-yard game against the Bears in Week 17 of 2019, but seems unlikely to ever become a starting RB in the NFL.
The Vikings may want to bring back Boone as their RB3, especially if they don't resign unrestricted free agent Ameer Abdullah. But Boone might hope they don't offer him a tender, as he might have a better chance to see the field elsewhere.
CB Chris Jones
The Vikings signed Jones, a former Cardinals and Lions CB, during the middle of last season because they needed depth at the position. He wound up playing in eight games, starting three of them, and seeing nearly 300 defensive snaps. The big corner had a great game against the Panthers, but other than that, was fairly mediocre. Perhaps the Vikings will want to give him another look in training camp this year.
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