Restricted free agency is the NFL’s way of giving teams an option to hang on to some of their prized developmental assets. The Vikings have decisions coming on three of theirs in the next few weeks.
Undrafted free agents, or late-round picks who have been waived and re-signed, hit their RFA season after three accrued seasons, giving teams a cheap option to retain the player and possibly negotiate a longer-term deal. Ifeadi Odenigbo, Chad Beebe, and Mike Boone are eligible for RFA tenders this month, but none seem like locks to stay with the Vikings. Let’s look at the three situations.
The former seventh-round pick was a starter last year, which would seemingly make this an easy decision.
But not so fast.
There are the three tiers of RFA tenders:
- First-round tenders mean that any team that tries to offer the player a better deal would risk losing a first-round pick. This seldom happens because players that good rarely hit RFA status without a contract extension.
- Second-round tenders are a bit more common. The Vikings used this tender on Adam Thielen in 2017 when he was just emerging as a potential star, and since very few teams are going to risk a second-round pick, this essentially locks the player up.
- Finally, there is the right-of-first-refusal tender, which connects the player’s original draft round to the tender (i.e., Odenigbo, seventh-round pick) or has no draft compensation connected if the player is a UDFA. Here are OverTheCap’s estimates for 2021 tender amounts:
The Vikings could easily secure Odenigbo with a second-round tender at around $3.4 million. Still, Minnesota is in penny-pinching mode right now as they enter free agency over the salary cap. A right-of-first-refusal would save over $1 million — good for a veteran-minimum salary on the late free agency market — but it may also put Odenigbo at risk of being poached. Odenigbo’s last two years are nothing to blush at, even though 2020 was a slight step back. His 10.5 sacks since 2019 will catch other team’s eyes, particularly his seven sacks in 2019 in a rotational role. Via Pro Football Focus, Odenigbo finished 34th of 59 last year in pass-rushing productivity out of full-time edge rushers and 31st of 63 in pressures. Middle-of-the-pack defensive ends still get paid; just look at Stephen Weatherly signing a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Carolina Panthers last year even though Odenigbo overshadowed him in the rotation with the Vikings.
Weatherly is actually an important factor to consider here. Having just re-signed him for $2.5 million this year, the Vikings have locked him onto the roster, more or less. Danielle Hunter‘s future is somewhat murky due to his alleged contract demands, but for now he’s assumed to be the team’s starter. And D.J. Wonnum isn’t going anywhere after Andre Patterson lobbied to take him in the fourth round last April. That already creates a clogged defensive end group before free agency or the draft begin. The Vikings could make Odenigbo expendable by signing another piece in free agency or drafting a pass rusher in the early rounds.
The smartest way to go might be to offer Odenigbo the original-round tender for just over $2 million and see if anyone bites. If the Vikings bring in an edge rusher who proves to be better, the tender is non-guaranteed, and Odenigbo could be a training camp cut. On the other hand, if Hunter is shipped off for some reason, then retaining Odenigbo becomes critical. In that scenario, the Vikings would presumably have more cap space and could afford a secure second-round tender.
As lovable as Beebe is, this feels like a non-tender. In Beebe’s first healthy season in a decade, he amassed 20 receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. For one, those stats aren’t multi-million-dollar material, but Beebe’s good health was an outlier after an unfortunate string of surgeries.
The lowest tender would surely secure Beebe on the Vikings without much risk, but would it still be overpaying? Probably.
There are other ways to get wide-receiver help that are more cost-effective. Drafting gets you four cheap years if you pick correctly, and signing an established veteran would likely provide more assurances of performance and health.
By all means, the Vikings should explore re-signing Beebe on the unrestricted market. If he’s willing to return for less and accept a WR4 role, that’s great. But Minnesota has Bisi Johnson and K.J. Osborn in the mix as well, and they’re not typically a club that rotates receivers frequently.
The Vikings are reportedly interested in bringing Boone back, but as the case is with Beebe, probably not through a tender. Giving Boone over $2 million after the way he was used the last three years would be head-scratching, even if his play would indicate he deserves it. Boone has a career average of 5.3 yards per carry but has touted the ball just 71 times since he entered the league in 2018. In his one big chance to shine — Week 16 of 2019 — he struggled in a start against the Green Bay Packers and never seemed to regain the team’s trust. Ameer Abdullah even saw reps before Boone in 2020.
Boone could make another organization very, very happy. He’s lightning-fast, shifty, and can catch the ball. He’d be perfect in a timeshare for a team that doesn’t rely as heavily on its starter as the Vikings do with Dalvin Cook. Freeing Boone would give him a chance to find a more productive niche while Minnesota can find almost any UDFA running back to do the same work.
Sam Ekstrom covers the Vikings with colleague Matthew Coller at Purple Insider. Check out the Purple Insider Podcast here and consider subscribing to the Purple Insider newsletter for daily Vikings news from credentialed reporters.