Exciting Free Agents the Vikings Can Afford

Nov 8, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans cornerback Desmond King (33) before the game against the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Every year in free agency, there are a few teams with functionally unlimited cap space that warp all of the bidding wars. This could be the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021. It’s been the Cleveland Browns and the Las Vegas Raiders as well. The Jaguars have $82 million in functional cap space in the worst-case scenario. The New York Jets and New England Patriots each have over $60 million. If they want a free agent, they’ll be able to outbid a team like the Minnesota Vikings for him.

That may not be such a bad thing. In 2016, the New York Giants outbid everyone by a mile for Olivier Vernon, only to sneak him into the Odell Beckham trade as a contract dump two years later. Washington signed Paul Richardson for $40 million hot off the heels of a decent WR3 campaign in Seattle. Two years later, he couldn’t crack a 53-man roster. The big free-agency deals can blow up spectacularly. Even when the Vikings have cap space, they prefer to sit out the big-money auctions.

Who could be this year’s Linval Joseph or Riley Reiff? Minnesota can make some space easily if they want to, but they won’t do that unless there’s value to be had. The Vikings will need some value players at guard, cornerback, safety, and wide receiver (and perhaps more). Here are some players who could provide just that. Projected contracts come from PFF’s free agency page, made in conjunction with OverTheCap.

CB Desmond King (projected contract: 3 years, $17.5M)

There’s something strange brewing in Tennessee. Isaiah Wilson’s off-field issues look like they’re steering him toward a catastrophic release. Desmond King has friction with his coaches in a broken Los Angeles Chargers locker room, and the Titans only paid a sixth-round pick for a former All-Pro in the middle of the 2020 season. After doing so, his impact was limited, creating a perfect storm of value-deflating factors.

The Chargers used King as a box defender, nickel corner, and sometimes high safety. The Titans, due to need, put him almost exclusively at slot corner. King is a disruptor who can wreak havoc on the line of scrimmage and over the top. Placing him in coverage against slot corners neuters some of his best attributes. The Titans didn’t have much choice, but the Vikings would.

There is a wide zone revolution going on in the NFL. More teams are relying on heavier personnel packages, bootlegs, and outside zone runs to beat savvy Cover-3 zone defenders. In response, the wide-9 that Robert Saleh took to a Super Bowl and the corner blitz that Todd Bowles used to counter Patrick Mahomes should become more popular. In short, bring someone off of the edge to punish the naked bootleg. King is perfectly suited to that role.

If his disciplinary issues in L.A. don’t scare you, you should be in on Desmond King. Mike Zimmer loves to use defensive backs the way King was used in Los Angeles, and while his All-Pro rookie season seems like it’s far behind us, his usage and franchise turmoil play a huge role. At under $6 million per year, he’d be an excellent value to bolster a secondary in dire need of some disruptive power.

OG Jon Feliciano (2 years, $8M)

Feliciano has some injury issues that might tank his value. He ended up taking starts pretty often for the Buffalo Bills, but they never intended him to. In those years, he played admirably. In the playoffs, he held up well against DeForest Buckner and Calais Campbell. In the AFC Championship, he was undone to some degree by Chris Jones in the passing game but stonewalled him in the run.

That’s the story for Feliciano, but it’s not as extreme as, say, Garrett Bradbury‘s. His run blocking, especially in zone concepts, should entice the Vikings. His pass blocking is up and down but would be the least of their problems there. If his medicals check out, they should be interested in replacing the Josh Kline-type presence they so sorely missed in 2020.

Buffalo has a lot of work to do this offseason, which could leave Feliciano in the dust. This free-agent interior offensive line class is bursting with talent. Brandon Scherff, Joe Thuney, and Corey Linsley will soak up the bigger bidders. Brian Winters, the other Bills right guard, will also hit the market. The Vikings should have access and interest in someone who can at least turn in reasonable guard play.

WR Curtis Samuel (3 years, $27.5M)

Keelan Cole also works and has a Keenan McCardell connection, but let’s swing for a triple instead of a single. People view Samuel as a slot-only WR/RB hybrid. He can be more than that. He runs a 4.3, and the Carolina Panthers had great success moving him all over the formation. He’s most comfortable in the slot, but Carolina played him out wide and in the backfield at differing rates each week.

On passes beyond 20 yards, Samuel caught 10 of 13 targets for 279 yards and two long scores. Don’t view Samuel as just a gadget after-catch player. But the league might. With Chris Godwin, Will Fuller, and Allen Robinson on the market, anyone who wants to bid big money on a deep threat has other places to funnel that cash. Samuel doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a deep threat, but that doesn’t mean he can’t run a go route.

Samuel would cost a little more than $8 million per year, putting him squarely in the Vikings’ range. Add him to a corps of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, and you have three wide receivers who can line up anywhere and take something to the house.

S Xavier Woods (4 years, $25M)

There are a lot of interesting safety options in this year’s free agency. Depending on what you’re willing to put up with, there’s an option out there for you. Want to take a flyer on someone’s health? Malik Hooker‘s ceiling is somewhere in the clouds. Want to grab someone who was misused in 2020? Tre Boston calls your name. Want to take a high-profile flyer on a superstar of yesteryear? Earl Thomas would only cost $3.5 million a year.

The Vikings need safeties who can do everything. They won’t be interested in the best centerfielder who can’t sink into the box because of how it ruins their pre-snap adjustments. Zimmer wants as many options available down-to-down as possible. This eliminates a lot of possibilities on the market, but it highlights Xavier Woods.

The Dallas Cowboys have a decent chance to extend Woods before he hits the market. But with Dak Prescott drama looming and tons of other unrestricted free agents to take care of, Woods could be lost in the shuffle. He can play high, in the box, and even in the slot if you get caught out of position. That’s a mirror of the role the Vikings have asked Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris to fill, and for less than $7 million per year.

Every year, the Vikings can find value in the second wave. Don’t panic when big money is thrown into the abyss from teams without the wherewithal to search for efficient value. There will be players available to the Vikings, even with their restricted cap situation.

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Nov 8, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans cornerback Desmond King (33) before the game against the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

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