The Minnesota Vikings came into this season with high expectations for their offense. They finished fourth in total yards in 2020, but it felt like there was something left on the table after finishing 11th in points scored. There were several ways to bridge that gap, but one of the easiest paths was by adding another wide receiver.
The Vikings could have signed a third receiver in free agency or added one in the draft. Instead they waited to add Dede Westbrook days before training camp began. A big reason for that was the presence of Irv Smith Jr.
Minnesota was last in the NFL in three-receiver sets last season because of their depth at tight end. With Smith’s receiving ability, the Vikings felt like they could rely on him to be their primary option behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
But Smith’s season-ending knee injury might change the way that the offense is run. Rick Spielman traded for Chris Herdon to help fill the void, but there’s nothing in Herdon’s past that indicates he’s up for that challenge all by himself.
Herdon had a great rookie season with the Jets in 2018 with 39 catches, 502 yards, and four touchdowns, but his 2019 season was derailed by a four-game suspension and injuries. After a disappointing 2020 campaign, Herndon entered this season as the starter during Jets camp but couldn’t win over the new coaching staff.
Speaking to reporters after the injury, Mike Zimmer told reporters that he may consider running more three-receiver sets this season.
It’s an idea that sounds challenging when you consider the roster. Westbrook has yet to see the practice field during his recovery from a torn ACL, while K.J. Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are unproven.
This raises the possibility the Vikings could go back to the free-agent market to get a receiver. Looking at the current list of availabilities, their top options are Larry Fitzgerald Jr., Golden Tate, and John Brown.
Fitzgerald would be a great story thanks to his Minnesota roots. After serving as the Vikings’ ball boy in 1998, it would make sense for Fitzgerald to end his Canton-worthy career in his home state. Alas, his former teammate Patrick Peterson shot that down on his All Things Covered podcast, saying that if he returns for an 18th season, it would be with the Arizona Cardinals.
With the ultimate One of Us story unlikely to happen, the Vikings could turn to a former divisional nemesis. Tate spent five years with the Detroit Lions and wound up being a solid third receiver between Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. There’s a chance that the Vikings could bring him in for a look, but he’s an exclusive slot receiver, which could take opportunities away from Jefferson, who already has that covered.
That could make Brown the most likely upgrade. Brown is younger than Tate and Fitzgerald and is two years removed from posting a 1,000-yard season with the Buffalo Bills. His speed makes him a deep threat to take the top off the defense and could free up Thielen and Jefferson in the passing game.
According to Spotrac, the Vikings have $16.4 million in cap space. Even if they extend Brian O’Neill, there’s plenty of room to add a receiver either now or after Week 1 when all veteran contracts are non-guaranteed.
The Vikings know that everything is on the line this season and have littered their roster with one-year contracts. If they want to get serious about contending this year, using one more on a receiver like Brown would make sense.