Bill Parcells once said, “If they want you to cook the dinner, they should at least let you buy the groceries.” Mike Zimmer is a Parcells disciple, and that philosophy rings true as the Minnesota Vikings head into free agency.
Zimmer will have his list ready to go as he looks to fix the Vikings’ defense. After a year in which Minnesota ranked 27th in yardage allowed and 29th in points allowed, Zimmer has needs to fill to cook up a top-10 unit next season.
The Vikings also have problems on the offensive side of the ball. While they should wait until the NFL Draft to find a receiver, Klint Kubiak will want to pick up a couple of things, including a main course in the trenches.
These improvements won’t come cheap, and the Vikings are projected to be roughly $5 million over the salary cap. After the purging they’ll need to do some binging through the free-agency version of ALDI, so we take a look at some of the things that should be on Zimmer’s shopping list.
One “Aged” Cornerback
For Zimmer’s defense, the main ingredient is always the cornerback. Like a fine steak, Zimmer prefers an aged corner. Mike Hughes and Holton Hill succumbed to injuries last season, and Zimmer had to develop players on the fly, resulting in a tumultuous rookie season for Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler.
Dantzler showed promise toward the end of the year, and Gladney could improve as a first-round pick, but the Vikings need to find depth. Instead of trotting out Chris Jones as a backup, they need to find a veteran who has had success in the NFL.
They could try several players they passed on last offseason, such as Logan Ryan, Darqueze Dennard, and Desmond King or look at other veterans Troy Hill and Nickell Robey-Coleman. Whoever the Vikings decide on, stopping teams from abusing the younger corners will be a top priority for Zimmer.
Two Fresh Guards
Young guards are like fresh, organic produce. And for years, the Vikings’ guards have been like spinach. They’re massive and strong when in the bag (or in development) but shrivel up when thrown into the pan (or a starting job). While the Vikings could take another guard in the later rounds of the draft, the best place to solve their decade-long issue is in free agency.
At this time last year, the Buffalo Bills were also in the market for guards. They wound up signing several veterans and, in a Joker-inspired tryout where the winner gets a starting job and the loser is off the team, ended up with too many starting-caliber guards. As a result, they traded Wyatt Teller to the Cleveland Browns, where he became Pro Football Focus’s top-graded guard.
If the Vikings find the next Teller, they shouldn’t trade him away. But their best approach should be to find as many quality guards in free agency and throw them together like a fresh salad. These ingredients would pair beautifully with Brian O’Neill and Riley Reiff anchoring the edges to create a functioning offensive line.
Two tons of defensive line depth
While the cornerbacks are the steak of this meal, the defensive line is the side dish that complements it. Just like some garlic mashed potatoes, the defensive line helps the secondary stand out.
Last season, its was about as effective as a sack of raw spuds. They relied on several developmental projects who they put into starting roles when Danielle Hunter was injured. Ifeadi Odenigbo ended up exclusively in a defensive end role, which limited his effectiveness, and the Vikings were caught flat-footed behind him.
D.J. Wonnum has shown flashes, but he could be more effective in the role Odenigbo played two seasons ago when he recorded seven sacks. The Vikings had no other notable production from the edge other than Yannick Ngakoue, who led the team with five sacks in six games.
The issues continued in the middle of the defensive line. Although Shamar Stephen moved to a more natural role at nose tackle, the Vikings couldn’t get penetration in the middle. Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes were not effective at the 3-tech, and Hercules Mata’afa is a situational pass-rusher who was less effective on the edge.
Even with Hunter and Michael Pierce’s return, the Vikings need to find depth along the defensive line. The solution could be an early draft pick on Kwity Paye or Christian Barmore, but it’s going to take an extra veteran to fix their issues.
A safety for dessert
With the pending departure of Anthony Harris, the Vikings will be in the market for a starting safety. While we’ve gone through meat, potatoes, and even a salad in this list of metaphors, the spot next to Harrison Smith is the dessert of the team because the Vikings don’t need a lot from the position.
Smith is one of the best safeties in the NFL and is showing no signs of slowing down. His excellence makes life easier for the guy playing next to him, like hot fudge on a vanilla ice cream sundae.
The Vikings need to find a safety who complements Smith like Harris did. Jaquiski Tartt and Duron Harmon are two coverage safeties who would look great in the secondary and wouldn’t require a developmental project like Josh Metellus to step up too soon.
If the Vikings can find a coverage safety and the other things on this list, they will improve in 2021.