In the 2018-19 season, the Minnesota Vikings saw their abundantly talented roster fall short of sky-high expectations. Though the Vikings underperformed, the good news is that the roster didn’t see much turnover.
At the onset of free agency, the Vikings had few starters to replace. Out of their cumulative 22 starters, 18 were returning. Linebacker, defensive tackle and offensive line (x2) were the positions vacated by starters Anthony Barr, Sheldon Richardson, Mike Remmers and Tom Compton. The team was also set to lose QB Trevor Siemian, RB Latavius Murray and S Andrew Sendejo, among others, though each of these players have a similar-caliber player already rostered: Kyle Sloter for Siemian, Ameer Abdullah/Mike Boone for Murray, and Anthony Harris for Sendejo.
The challenge in filling those spots was that the Vikings have severely limited cap space. Part of the issue with having a talented roster, is that you need to pay those players, not to mention the large contract that QB Kirk Cousins commands. As such, Spielman made the following move to round out the roster:
Re-Sign LB Anthony Barr (5-years, $67.5 million ; $33 million guaranteed)
The biggest move of free agency was when the Vikings pried Anthony Barr away from the New York Jets. Barr leaving this offseason seemed like a foregone conclusion due to the aforementioned limited cap space and the sizable contract Barr was set to command. Barr had a change of heart after agreeing in principle with New York and took somewhat of a pay cut to stay in Minnesota. Keeping Barr as the leader of the defense ensures the Vikings defense will be the unit fans have been accustomed to watching over the past few years. While some argue he doesn’t have the same impact he did earlier in his career, a lot of what Barr does won’t show up on the stat sheet. He calls the plays in the huddle, knows Zimmer’s defense as well as anybody, and as Zimmer stated, teams often account for him as the ‘fifth’ rusher in blitz packages. Barr’s presence alone has an impact ion a game that allows Zimmer’s defense to function the way it’s meant to. Retaining Barr was unexpected and made free agency an automatic success.
Sign DT Shamar Stephen (3-years, $12.45 million ; $6 million guaranteed)
Shamar Stephen took a one-year hiatus away from the Vikings and went to Seattle for the 2018-19 season. Though Stephen is a downgrade from incumbent Sheldon Richardson, he played nearly 40% of the defensive snaps on the 2017-18 Vikings that went to the NFC Championship game, so he is more than capable of making an impact on the defensive tackle rotation. Stephen isn’t flashy but he gets the job done, and adding him as a proven veteran with knowledge of Zimmer’s defense gives the Vikings additional flexibility at a reasonable cost.
Sign OG Josh Kline (3-years, $15.5 million ; $7.25 million guaranteed)
The Vikings needed a guard (or two, or twelve) and when Josh Kline was cut by the Titans, they found their man. Kline comes in and is the immediate starter at right guard. At the very least, he should be an upgrade from Mike Remmers and his 46 consecutive starts show his durability. Kline’s contract should keep him in Minnesota for at least the next two years. He’s not going to be a star, but he only needs to be slightly above-average for the Vikings to see this move pay dividends.
Sign K Dan Bailey (1-year, $1 million)
Dan Bailey struggled with the Vikings last year, making only 75% of his field goals (he was 97% on extra points at least). With minimal guarantees, Bailey is certain to have some competition with him in camp, though I’d be weary of a rookie kicker overtaking him based on what we saw last year. I’d expect Bailey to be the kicker for the season and once again hold my breath with every field goal.
In addition to the moves above, they made a couple of other depth signings that included dipping into the Alliance of American Football:
- OL Brett Jones (MIN)
- OL Dakota Dozier (from NYJ)
- CB Duke Thomas (AAF)
- S Derron Smith (AAF)
- DE Karter Schult (AAF)
- LB Greer Martini (AAF)
- DB Jordan Martin (AAF)
- WR Jordan Taylor (from DEN)
With free agency all but over, the Vikings have around $2 million in cap space and the draft to fill the rest of their needs. In order to sign those draft picks, another re-structure might need to be made to free up additional cap space, although Adam Thielen’s contract extension likely did enough for now. Keep an eye on Kyle Rudolph being another restructure candidate, if necessary.
As for what they will target in the draft, it’s clear that offensive line is the primary need. At least one will be taken with their first two picks. Defensive tackle, tight end, wide receiver and cornerback probably follow suit in that order. When it’s all said and done, the 2019 Vikings will look a lot like the 2018 roster. There aren’t any noticeable upgrades from the 2018 unit, so it’s up to the draft to change all of that. With the cap limiatations, keeping the team together was the top prioirity. The core of the roster has proven it has enough talent to make a Super Bowl run. They need to recapture some of the 2017 magic, and it starts with the draft picks providing that spark.