There was a time last season when the Minnesota Vikings looked like the best team in the NFC. Nobody was quite sure that was the case, but they had the record to be in the conversation. Minnesota even battled for the conference’s top seed into December, finishing with a 13-4 record. But they lost, at home, to the New York Giants in the Wild Card round.
The Vikings are going to have to make some tough roster decisions to start the offseason. Minnesota is currently facing a salary cap deficit of more than $24 million. Only two teams are in worse shape, cap-wise.
Minnesota Vikings free agency preview
Players to target
It’s a cliche to say that the best free agents are the ones on your own team. While that’s not always true, the Vikings would be wise to eliminate one of their offseason needs by re-signing center Garrett Bradbury, who just wrapped up his rookie deal.
If someone really shakes the money tree in Minnesota, the Vikings could try to land one of the market’s top defensive players. Someone like DL Javon Hargrave, CB Jamel Dean or LB Lavonte David would instantly improve that defense, but those players are going to command the kind of contracts that teams more than $24 million in the red can’t usually afford.
The Vikings might be better off looking for bargains with upside in free agency. A versatile cornerback like Jonathan Jones of the Patriots could be an asset in this defense. Of course, they could also re-sign Patrick Peterson, who’s a free agent this year, and maybe try and find one more player to bring in next to him.
Linebacker is a deep position in free agency this year, and teams like the Vikings without much cap room could probably find some starting caliber players without breaking the bank. Leighton Vander Esch is an interesting name for Minnesota. He’s just 26 and coming off one of his best pro seasons to date.
There is already a lot of speculation that the Vikings could part ways with wide receiver Adam Thielen. He’s got a ginormous contract and appears to be slowing down. If they do let go of Thielen, they’ll need another wideout to pair with Justin Jefferson. Someone like DJ Chark could be a good fit, but, again, probably out of their price range. Would they be able to take a flyer on someone like Parris Campbell, a versatile player who’s struggled with injuries? That might be their best bet to address that need via the open market.
With Dalvin Cook under contract for three more seasons, the top running back job is secure. He played all 17 games this season, but he’s dealt with injuries off and on prior to that. Cook will turn 28 right before the season starts too, getting up there for a player at his position. All this is to say that the Vikings should probably prioritize re-signing Alexander Mattison. He’s got to be the best backup running back in the league, a gold-tier insurance policy for when Cook can’t play. The problem for Minnesota is that Mattison could easily command a starting role somewhere else, and the contract that goes with it, so keeping him may not be an option.
Don’t forget about the backup quarterback job either. Nick Mullens is a free agent. He could easily be re-signed for a nominal amount, and don’t be surprised if that’s the case. But here’s where the Vikings need to start thinking about the future. Kirk Cousins signed a hefty extension last year, but that deal could potentially be voided after this season. Is he the long-term solution here? That’s not going to be a question decided in free agency, but what Minnesota does about its backup role could hint at their thinking for the future.