The Minnesota Vikings may have made some head-scratching free-agency moves this offseason, but there has to be a reason they signed a 30-year-old cornerback and a nose tackle instead of bolstering the offensive line, right?
You would think the first position they would go after would be a starting offensive guard or pass rusher to complement Danielle Hunter.
Were these signings their first choice, or was the organization forced to go with Plan B because they missed out on other notable free agents?
I’ll try to answer that by looking at players who would have been a fit but signed elsewhere.
KEVIN ZEITLER, GUARD, BALTIMORE RAVENS
3 YEARS, $22 MILLION
Kevin Zeitler should have been the first guy on the Vikings’ radar, right? A veteran who is one of the best guards in the NFL to shore up Minnesota’s youthful line?
Well, money wasn’t the only reason the Vikings didn’t sign Zeitler.
Zeitler primarily plays in man-blocking schemes and the Vikings are a zone-blocking team. In short, the Vikings want guards who can move laterally to protect an assigned zone. Zeitler is used to being assigned to a defender and moving north and south.
Obviously, if he’s talented enough he could have adjusted to Minnesota’s scheme. But it’s clear the front office has a specific player they are looking for. Guys like Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland. They are relatively smaller, quicker linemen who can move out and block on screens and outside runs.
It may not be the best way to build a line, but it’s the path Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman chose.
JOE THUNEY, GUARD, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
5 YEARS, $80 MILLION
Another guard who the Vikings missed. Joe Thuney, like Zeitler, primarily plays in a man-blocking scheme. But unlike Zeitler, Thuney cashed in.
Thuney spent five years with the New England Patriots and played well, but he may have been overpaid by Kansas City. After losing Mitchell Schwartz, Eric Fisher, Kelechi Osemele, and a few other depth linemen, the Chiefs were desperate to rebuild a line through free agency to protect Patrick Mahomes.
That’s why they sold out to bring in Thuney.
The contract only guarantees about $48 million of that $80 million, but that’s a lot to ask for from a guy who Bill Belichick didn’t even want to bring back.
SHAQUILL GRIFFIN, CORNERBACK, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
3 YEARS, $44.5 MILLION
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Jacksonville overpaid for a cornerback.
In all seriousness, this is a guy I was hoping the Vikings would take a swing at. He’s a young and improving corner. They were probably not willing to match this price tag due to his inconsistencies and the fact that they already have some promising young corners on their roster. Hence the Peterson one-year rental.
Minnesota is already invested in developing their own guys, so signing Peterson makes perfect sense if that’s what Zimmer is set on. Peterson is the perfect mentor for Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. They got a year of experience and now they have a mentor.
Plus, money can’t be the only issue here. If they were willing to shell out the $10 million for Peterson, why wouldn’t they have Rob Brzezinski do the same to bring in Griffin?
The team wanted a proven corner who could teach the younger players a thing or two.
KEANU NEAL, SAFETY/LINEBACKER, DALLAS COWBOYS
1 YEAR, $5 MILLION
HE’S ONLY MAKING $5 MILLION!? WHY DIDN’T THE VIKINGS GET HIM? THEY NEED A SAFETY!
There’s a reason Keanu Neal is only making $5 million on a one-year deal. First of all, his former coach is the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys. If anyone knows how to use Neal, it would be Quinn.
And now he’s not even slated as playing at safety. You would think Zimmer would be interested in a versatile player on defense, but in reality he just doesn’t have the coverage skills to line up in the secondary.
Plus, Zimmer already has a safety who lines up in the box in Harrison Smith. They need to fill Anthony Harris’ spot at free safety, but Neal does not fit there. And if he was good enough to be a safety, he wouldn’t be a linebacker.
RILEY REIFF, TACKLE, CINCINNATI BENGALS
1 YEAR, $7 MILLION
After having one of the best seasons of his career, it’s disappointing that the Vikings were unable to keep Riley Reiff, especially at the cost of his current contract. But there are a few variables that make his departure complicated.
Imagine taking a pay cut so that your employer can hire someone, only to have them leave after six weeks on the job. That’s what happened to Reiff after the Vikings traded a second-round pick for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Ngakoue was meant to replace Hunter, who went down with a season-ending neck injury. Instead of replacing Hunter’s production, Ngakoue was shipped off to the Baltimore Ravens after just six games with the Vikings.
It’s not hard to believe that Reiff may not have wanted to continue playing for the Vikings after that, especially after they failed to make the playoffs. He may have been willing to take a pay cut to help keep the team competitive, knowing that Hunter was out for the season.
It’s also been reported that Reiff made it clear he wanted to play right tackle instead of left, something the Vikings would be unwilling to do with O’Neill locking down the right side.
Ultimately this one didn’t come down to money, it was Reiff simply wanting out of a situation that didn’t suit his demands.
CARL LAWSON, DEFENSIVE END, NEW YORK JETS
3 YEARS, $45 MILLION
He may be a lesser-known name when it comes to free agents, but it’s not due to physical ability. Carl Lawson is an up-and-coming pass rusher who played four seasons with the Bengals.
With as good of a pass rusher as Lawson is, it’s surprising there wasn’t too much talk of him joining the Vikings. The Bengals run a similar defense to the Vikings and Zimmer was the defensive coordinator there before coming to Minnesota.
It would have made sense that he would be affordable because he’s not a marquee name. But he ended up earning a higher salary than Shaquill Griffin, one of the more coveted free agents around the league.
Lawson is a pure pass rusher, which may be why the Vikings didn’t pursue him. He is abysmal against the run. The Vikings are sure to improve their pass rush with the return of Hunter and Anthony Barr. But since the departure of Linval Joseph, they’ve had trouble defending the run. That’s why they went and signed Tomlinson to pair with Pierce.
The Vikings aren’t focused on improving what they are already capable of. They want to shore up areas of weakness from last year.