The Vikings made a sizable free agency splash late in the offseason by signing veteran cornerback Bashaud Breeland to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million on Friday. The 29-year-old Breeland has had some issues with inconsistency and penalties during his seven-year career with Washington, Green Bay, and Kansas City, but he's an athletic, talented all-around corner who gives the Vikings a big boost of depth and competition at that critical position.
One day later, here are some additional thoughts on what the Vikings signing Breeland means for their cornerback room and the team as a whole heading into the 2021 season.
Breeland reportedly expects to compete for a starting job on the outside
Breeland had other options in free agency, most notably the Chiefs and Bears. He signed with Minnesota because he envisions himself playing a significant role on this defense. Specifically, he "expects to compete for a starting outside cornerback spot," according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. Tomasson's report says Patrick Peterson is expected to start at one spot on the outside, which would leave Breeland and Cameron Dantzler competing for the other job.
That makes sense. Of Breeland's roughly 5,300 career defensive snaps, over 4,100 have come on the outside, with 669 in the slot and 505 as a box safety. He's primarily a boundary guy.
It also makes sense that Peterson's job is safer than Dantzler's, at least for now. Peterson is a potential future Hall of Famer who the Vikings shelled out $8 million (plus incentives) to land in free agency this offseason. His track record and role as a key veteran leader are reasons to believe he's atop the cornerback depth chart as things stand. And while Peterson is coming off a couple down seasons in Arizona, he was following No. 1 receivers during that time and should benefit from a change in responsibilities and scheme under Mike Zimmer.
Given all of that, it would be very surprising to me if Peterson wasn't starting Week 1 against the Bengals. But with Breeland now in the fold, he'll have to play well to keep that job all year; both Dantzler and Breeland were better than Peterson was last season and are younger.
A training camp competition between Dantzler and Breeland would be a very interesting one. Dantzler graded as PFF's No. 22 cornerback out of 121 as a rookie, flashing elite potential in games against the Jaguars and Bears. He's got the size and movement ability to be a potential star in the NFL, and he's the only one of the Vikings' top four corners with a long-term contract.
However, Dantzler did miss five games last season to injury and dealt with some inconsistency throughout the year. Breeland has a significant advantage in experience and has the Super Bowl pedigree from his time with the Chiefs. That could be an intense battle for a job during camp, which should only make everyone involved better.
In my eyes, the most likely outcome is that Peterson and Dantzler keep their starting jobs, with Mackensie Alexander in the slot and Breeland starting the year as the CB4 (with Harrison Hand, Tye Smith, and perhaps Jeff Gladney behind him as depth). I think there's a solid chance Zimmer could employ a rotation to keep guys fresh, with Breeland getting snaps on the outside and potentially in the slot as well. And of course, with how often corners get banged up, Breeland would see extended playing time if any of the top three went down with an injury.
The bottom line is that Breeland is a huge pickup for the Vikings' depth at cornerback. He'll push the guys in front of him and he'll see the field plenty in 2021, one way or another.
Avoiding penalties is going to be key
Breeland is a physical corner who has good technique in man coverage, impressive ball skills, and the ability to step up and make plays as a tackler. His primary issue is a tendency to get grabby at the top of routes or after being beaten. Penalties have been a problem for Breeland throughout his career, and that's something the Vikings will try to work on with him this offseason.
Interestingly enough, he's not the only corner acquired by the Vikings this offseason who has struggled with penalties. Here are the top two CBs in the NFL in penalties per game (including playoffs) in 2020:
- Patrick Peterson: 0.63/game (10 in 16 games)
- Bashaud Breeland: 0.53/game (10 in 19 games)
Peterson has had an incredible career, but his physical style of play has also lent itself to drawing some flags over the years. That's a heightened concern now that the soon-to-be 31-year-old has lost a step or two of his elite athleticism.
Zimmer and DBs coach Karl Scott will work on technique with Breeland, Peterson, and their other corners, and they'll try to put the two veterans in position to avoid committing those penalties. That could mean more zone coverage where they don't have to carry receivers deep downfield or across the field on crossing routes.
The Vikings' defense is now even more loaded with veterans
Last year, the Vikings were forced to play a ton of rookies or other young players on defense due to injuries, opt-outs, and a general lack of talent on that side of the ball. This year should be basically the complete opposite. Here's a look at the team's expected contributors, sorted by experience:
- CB Patrick Peterson: 11th year
- SS Harrison Smith: 10th year
- CB Bashaud Breeland: 8th year
- LB Anthony Barr: 8th year
- LB Eric Kendricks: 7th year
- DE Danielle Hunter: 7th year
- DE Stephen Weatherly: 6th year
- LB Nick Vigil: 6th year
- CB Mackensie Alexander: 6th year
- FS Xavier Woods: 5th year
- DT Michael Pierce: 5th year
- DT Dalvin Tomlinson: 5th year
- CB Cameron Dantzler: 2nd year
- DE D.J. Wonnum: 2nd year
That's 12 guys with at least four years of experience in the NFL. Other young players like Cameron Smith, Harrison Hand, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, and Patrick Jones II could see snaps, but the vast majority of Minnesota's 2021 defense will be made up of veterans who have seen a few things in the league. That should be a huge benefit for both the overall performance on the field and the development of the younger guys.
- Breeland is the second Super Bowl winner on the roster, joining Britton Colquitt.
- Breeland choosing the Vikings over the Chiefs (arguably the league's best team) and the Bears (a division rival with a young QB) feels important.
- This move might suggest that Gladney is on his way out of Minnesota due to his legal troubles.
- The roster is now at 89 players, and tryout corner Amari Henderson could become the 90th (although it's now unclear if he will still be signed).
- There's a real chance that with Peterson, Dantzler, Alexander, Breeland, Hand, Smith, Kris Boyd, and Parry Nickerson, the Vikings have one of the best cornerback rooms in the NFL, even without Gladney.
Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.