After the draft last weekend, the Minnesota Vikings roster seems pretty set. With most position groups having their starters established, they will go into OTAs and training camp with a pretty good idea of what the roster will look like.
But it doesn’t mean that the 2021 Vikings are a finished product. Although the starting positions are settled, they still don’t have depth in several areas. Adding a third wide receiver, another defensive lineman, and even another cornerback should be a priority.
The quickest remedy could be hitting the free-agent market. The Vikings are currently $7.7 million under the salary cap and will receive another $7 million from cutting Kyle Rudolph on June 1. While some of that money could be used to extend Brian O’Neill and Danielle Hunter, they still have enough to add more quality to their roster.
The Vikings have one of the best receiver duos in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, but they still don’t have a reliable third target to stretch the field. While Larry Fitzgerald would be the sentimental signing, the Vikings need someone like Aldrick Robinson, who can make defenses pay downfield.
Stills would be a perfect free-agent pickup for the Vikings, given his success on targets 20 yards or more. While he had a disappointing season last year for the Houston Texans, Stills generated a 121.5 passer rating when targeted 20 or more yards downfield in 2019, the 12th highest rating among qualifiers.
That success was partially dependent on the play of Deshaun Watson, but Kirk Cousins bring out similar production from him. Although Cousins ranked 19th with a 97.6 passer rating on throws 20 yards or more last season, he was third in the NFL in 2019 with a 119.7 passer rating on those throws.
The Vikings drafted Ihmir Smith-Marsette to develop into a deep threat, but it could take time for him to develop. Adding a veteran like Stills could rejuvenate the deep passing game and take pressure off Jefferson and Thielen.
The Vikings could decide to use their cap space to bring in one top-tier player, or they could bring in several mid-level players to create depth. So far this season, the Vikings have opted to go big, using sizable contracts to sign Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson. If the Vikings want to do this again, they could bring back Richardson.
During his 2018 season in Minnesota, Richardson ranked 16th among qualifiers in pass rusher productivity rating (6.4) and 14th with 47 total pressures. Those numbers tailed off after signing with the Cleveland Browns, recording a 5.1 PRP rating last season, but he still ranked 14th with 43 total pressures.
Richardson isn’t great at stopping the run, but the Vikings already have Michael Pierce and Tomlinson to take care of that. By mixing in as a situational pass-rusher, the Vikings can develop sixth-round pick Jaylen Twyman and find another way to create pressure.
At this point in free agency, it’s all about finding the players whose upside could be worth the risk. Right now, the Vikings are set to line up Danielle Hunter and a bunch of pet cats on the edge. Vernon would give them a veteran presence there.
He was a free agent bust after signing with the New York Giants in 2016 but played well in Cleveland last season. Vernon posted a 6.8 pass rusher productivity rating and 51 total pressures on the way to his highest career sack total (nine) since 2013 and started to look like the player he was before his big payday.
Unfortunately, Vernon also ruptured his Achilles tendon late in the season. It’s an injury that few have come back from, and there’s no guarantee that Vernon can build off what he showed last year. But it could come at a discount if his medicals check out.
Since Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014, the Vikings have had several chances to reunite with players from his past. While Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, and others have been linked to the Vikings, George Iloka has been the only notable player to sign with Minnesota.
But Atkins is a player from Zimmer’s past who is worth pursuing. The 6’1”, 300-pound defensive tackle was a fourth-round steal during the 2010 draft. In his four years under Zimmer, Atkins collected 29 sacks and made two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro selection in 2012.
However, he hasn’t been as productive lately. Atkins, 33, made just 4.5 sacks during the 2019 season and played eight games with a torn shoulder labrum last year. Signing a player coming off a major injury is risky, but he knows Zimmer’s system and isn’t too far removed from being an impact player. His injury history could also make him cheaper than Richardson, allowing the Vikings to add players elsewhere.
With the addition of Xavier Woods and Camryn Bynum in the draft, the Vikings are set at safety. But if they wanted to add some extra insurance, they could add a former first-round pick on the back end.
Hooker was the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and got off to a strong start with the Indianapolis Colts. While he recorded three interceptions and 22 tackles during his rookie season, a torn ACL that year was the first of many season-ending injuries he has suffered.
His injury history is a concern, but Hooker would be great depth behind Woods and Harrison Smith. If fourth-rounder Camryn Bynum can’t grasp the defense early, Hooker could play as an in-the-box safety or even be used in a “slinebacker” role that they tried with Jayron Kearse.
Given how much the secondary struggled last year, a little insurance feels warranted.