Hey friends, we’re back for another Zone Coverage roundtable. Brandon Warne here, and I’ll again be moderating a panel of experts — this time, from our team of Minnesota Vikings wonks. We’ll chat about offseason topics as well as what each guy liked most about the Super Bowl that was hosted at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Brandon Warne: What free agent are you most interested in bringing back to the Minnesota Vikings? Is there a No. 2, and if so A. who and B. are they a close threat to the first guy? You guys know it’s Teddy Bridgewater for me, of course.
Sam Ekstrom: Obviously the most important area is the quarterback situation, where I believe they may bring back Case Keenum, but I’ve advocated for a roll of the dice on Teddy Bridgewater and discouraged the notion of breaking the bank for Kirk Cousins. But aside from that craziness, I wouldn’t mind them bringing back Terence Newman — again. He’s still got enough left in the tank to be a competent rotational player along with Mackensie Alexander. On the offensive side, I’d love to free up the funds to re-sign Jerick McKinnon, but McKinnon may not be interested in reprising his role as Dalvin Cook’s backup. I’d also give a second-round tender to restricted free agents Nick Easton and Jeremiah Sirles to get them back.
Arif Hasan: It’s difficult to avoid the quarterback discussion, and I think that any such discussion starts with making a hard decision on Case Keenum. I think it’s quite possible that the Vikings could keep both Keenum and Bridgewater on one-year deals, but I think it’s more likely that Keenum seeks his fortune elsewhere on a longer deal with more guarantees and that the Vikings may balk at what he could end up costing.
With all of that out of the way, I think the highest priority is Terence Newman, who filled in ably for Mackensie Alexander and was a big part of the nickel rotation. His roles as a nickel corner and as a team mentor are both invaluable to the Vikings and keeping him on the roster until his legs fall off seems like the best strategy.
Other than that, Jerick McKinnon comes to mind as the kind of running back that John DeFilippo could really get a lot out of, especially given how well he utilized both Duke Johnson and Jay Ajayi in his previous stops. Unfortunately, it seems more likely than not that McKinnon will find a larger role elsewhere. Other than that, there aren’t many unrestricted free agents that are extremely high priority, unless Joe Berger does something slightly unexpected and decides to delay his retirement. They will also want to sign Tom Johnson and/or Shamar Stephen, but they will fill that role regardless in free agency, though depth at defensive tackle is always good.
Luke Inman: In a quarterback league, you have to look long and hard at both Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater. For my money, retaining Bridgewater at a discount price is the dream scenario. I need to see Bridgewater with the current core and weapons the front office has built since he last stepped on the field to sleep easy at night. A developed star-studded receiving corps and rebuilt offensive line will do wonders for any signal caller. While most teams are paying their starting quarterback close $25 million on average, stealing Bridgewater for under $10 million seems like a fairy tale come true. Remember, while people have written him off after a horrific knee injury, he’s still just 25 years old and was regarded as the No. 1 prospect in the entire 2014 draft class by numerous experts. No way in hell am I letting him walk away now, in a pass-happy league. The kid showed flashes with Charles Johnson and Matt Kalil. I have to see him with Stefon Diggs, Riley Reiff and Dalvin Cook before showing him the door.
Jerick McKinnon is a tight second. The superstar athlete had arguably the best combine performance of any player in history for his position and has transferred his God-given talents to the field with increased production every single year. You could argue if “Jet” was ever given a full-time role he would be producing at the same level as some of the best in the league.
Sure, running backs are a dime a dozen now; however, you’ve developed and watched Mckinnon grow under your own roof into a home-run hitter in both the run and passing game, why let another team reap the benefits of all your hard work now? Retaining him at a modest price is very realistic given his position. Is anyone else asking, “What happens if Dalvin Cook goes down again?” I’d hate to be behind the 8-ball if that were to happen next season over a small fraction of the salary cap.
Brandon: Who are the top-three free agents on each of your wish lists? My uneducated opinion is Andrew Norwell, Sheldon Richardson and Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Sam: This is tricky because, sure, you’d love to throw money at all the best free agents, but the Vikings aren’t necessarily in a position to make big splashes — with the obvious exception being the quarterback position, which is sort of an independent conversation.
Hopefully you make a run at Sheldon Richardson or one higher-priced guy — which I’m sure Luke and Arif will cover below. Beyond that, I foresee an offseason of low-priced, low-risk, unsexy deals with players who provide depth and may have to compete for jobs with the Vikings’ youth. Exciting, right?
Within that vein, you could try tight end Troy Niklas, who was a former second-round pick but had his four years with Arizona wrecked by injuries. At defensive tackle, you could try out former Buccaneer Clinton McDonald, who can get after the passer but isn’t really interested in stopping the run. At corner you could bring in Marcus Williams — no, not that Marcus Williams — the one from Houston who attended Minnetonka and subsequently NDSU.
Arif: Sheldon Richardson is an easy pick because I could easily see him turning this defense from “one of the best of the year” to “one of the best of the decade.” The Vikings this year were close and he’s one potential piece of that.
Aaron Colvin might be too pricey to put here, but if he’s not he’s worth looking into as competition in the slot. As crazy as Terence Newman’s longevity is, he’s clearly lost a step. I think Mackensie Alexander could be poised for a breakout, but having a veteran slot corner from a good defense compete with him for the spot can only help.
Andrew Norwell is a good guard on a bad offensive line and that may unfairly depress his market despite how young he is. I’m not sure that there are any guards on the market that perfectly “fit” the Vikings scheme, but Norwell is versatile and multi-capable. I think it’s particularly important to invest in a guard because the Vikings need two, not just one.
Luke: We have to remember the golden rule when it comes to Rick Spielman’s offseason plans. Retain your own core players and build your roster through the draft. Saying that, there’s only one realistic free agent I have my eyes on and I’d push all my chips in one him. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is an absolute monster inside the trenches. The former top-15 selection was an All-Pro player from the get-go for the New York Jets and has quietly only gotten better. While last year’s rookie Jaleel Johnson has shown flashes in his limited playing time, it’s Richardson who could turn an already great unit into a flat out dominant rotation. Pay him whatever he wants and watch the Vikings defense turn into the most feared unit in the entire NFL. Not only is he that good but, you’re able to get him at a bargain rate after coming off a weird year thanks to the mess the Seahawks put him in.
Brandon: How messy is this Teddy Bridgewater situation going to get?
Sam: If you believe rumors that circulate on Twitter, those who claim to be in the know have all said they don’t believe the contract will toll, which simplifies the issue a lot: Bridgewater becomes a free agent. If the market suddenly gets hot for him, the Vikings may have to overpay for him, which they shouldn’t hesitate to do if they believe he can still play.
The only way it gets messy is if the Vikings dig in their heels and fight hard to toll the contract. Then if it doesn’t toll, Bridgewater may be turned off from re-signing.
Arif: I don’t think it will get messy. Both sides want certainty, both sides want to avoid messiness and both sides want the same ultimate end goal: Bridgewater on the team. While it would be nice for the Vikings to save $4-8 million, they have enough cap space to spend avoiding this whole thing while also keeping Bridgewater happy.
Luke: How could it not get messy? I have to think Teddy Bridgewater’s camp isn’t going to take highly of being low balled for another season as the front office does everything in their power to toll his contract. It’s an easy argument to point out Bridgewater hasn’t played in nearly two years and paying any player whose career was in jeopardy due to a knee injury won’t command big bucks on the open market. Still, Bridgewater was regarded as the number one quarterback prospect to come out of the draft just a few years ago while playing the most important position in sports. Even career back-ups at best like Mike Glennon are pulling in a cool $18 million per year. No shock there, that’s just the going rate for quarterbacks in today’s NFL. You think Bridgewater’s agents are going to be cool with making kicker money again? Wake up.
Brandon: OK, here’s a wild card question — what was your favorite part of the Super Bowl? It can be literally anything. I thought turning the area around U.S. Bank Stadium purple — even if it was not real — was great. Also: the pass that Foles caught in the end zone. That call took some big stones, man.
Sam: How could you pick a favorite? The whole thing was phenomenal: quarterbacks catching (or dropping) passes, defenses playing like they belonged in the Big 12, amazing venue, killer halftime show, catch-rule controversies, remarkable play-making, etc. But I probably laughed the hardest when Al Michaels followed up his “California Angels” slip-up by saying Matt Patricia would be coaching for the Detroit Pistons. So we’ll go with that.
Arif: Sam is a broadcaster nerd so it makes sense that he went with Al Michaels. For me, it has to be the two quarterback pass-catching plays. The absurdity of having two quarterbacks who move at a combined three miles per hour catch passes from skill position players, combined with the fact that one of them worked for a score, is impossible to beat. This Super Bowl is going to be one that people talk about for a while, and those two plays are definitely a part of it.
Luke: For me, it’s the worst Super Bowl since the Broncos versus Atlanta in 1999. Covering the Vikings during a magical run was something I’ll never forget. However, the excitement and anticipation of being one game away from becoming the only team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl in your own stadium, followed by a 38-7 collapse, put a bitter taste in my mouth I just couldn’t shake. Give credit to the Eagles, as they were clearly the better team down the stretch and proved their worth on the big stage.
For the first time in my adult life, I found myself glued to the commercials more than the game itself. I didn’t think Justin Timberlake’s halftime show was as bad as everyone said it was, and the Prince tribute will be something I will always remember.