The sports world might be in a state of a shutdown but NFL business never stops. Even on a Wednesday in mid-March, 5 days before the (scheduled) start of free agency across the National Football League. Despite a bunch of clubs emptying their facilities, the Minnesota Vikings were one of the few to make moves as they cut CB Xavier Rhodes and DT Linval Joseph, freeing up approximately $19 million in cap space.
The move more than makes sense for Rhodes and marks the beginning of a search for the way the next edition of the Vikings secondary will look like. This could be harder, considering Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are also set to hit the market, but Minnesota just became more flexible. Mike Hughes is currently the only guarantee to be a starter at cornerback, with the position being amongst the priorities for the Vikings in free agency.
Xavier Rhodes was a high-profile defensive player for a couple of years. Then, 2019 happened: Rhodes had an allowed passer rating in coverage of 123.8 – a number he’d like to wipe out of his memory in order to deliver week in and week out for his next NFL team.
Linval Joseph signed with the Vikings in 2014, Mike Zimmer’s debut campaign up north. He never made more than 4 sacks in a season but was a reliable interior pass-rusher for most of his tenure in Minneapolis. However, going into his age-32 season and with the deal of star defensive end Everson Griffen also coming to an end, the Vikings need to move on from Joseph to either franchise tag Griffen or pursue a new defensive playmaker.
With all said and done, the Vikings now have $19,334,056 to spend this upcoming offseason. The main challenges ahead for Viking general manager Rick Spielman include clearing up the Griffen situation and establishing a new core in the secondary but moving on from Rhodes is the right start towards bumping salary and creating a new, solid passing game defense.
After another increase in the NFL salary cap, the franchise tag for a defensive end stands at $19,316,000, which technically means the team can still use the tag on Everson Griffen but remain virtually just below the $199-million threshold. Today’s moves make such a scenario even less likely new holes leaping at the forefront of the list of needs for the Vikings. A Stefon Diggs trade that has been flying around for months could further alter their plans, adding WR as a position Minnesota will need to put minimal investment into. Diggs, who collected over 1,000 yards in receptions for the second season in a row, is owed $10.9 million in 2020 and a total of $47 million over the next four years, meaning the only path to tagging Griffen and signing other free agents goes through parting ways with the Minneapolis Miracle hero.
Another very favorable possibility would be to tag safety Anthony Harris, who allowed just 44.4 passer rating when in coverage, as well as only 15 completions from 23 attempts through the air. The tag money for safeties is about $12 million, leaving another $17 million in cap space and the flexibility to both get a new pass-rusher and improve elsewhere on the field. This would be, in the condition that the Vikings trade Diggs, the better move if the team wants to acquire WR upgrades. And still, losing Griffen would be a tough pill to swallow.
Although rumors about a possible trade started to fade away even before the world of rumors was taken over by another type of news, a deal which would also supply the Vikings with extra future picks seems inevitable.
Griffen’s ability to attack the passer is a quality that the Vikings need to keep on their side if they want to win football games. Therefore, this only confirms the changes that the secondary will undergo, and here are some possibilities on what the next CB tandem might look like:
Plan A: Mike Hughes and Logan Ryan
If Rick Spielman and his staff elect to keep Harris via the franchise tag, the Vikings’ attention will turn to the cornerback market to spend a part of the remaining $17 million and then hopefully complete a minor signing in another area.
Logan Ryan was terrific for the Titans and is almost a guarantee to be let go since both Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry are on expiring deals and only one of them can be franchise tagged. He started all 16 games and intercepted 4 passes, most or him since 2013. His demands are likely to be in the $10 million-$15 million range, which is very affordable for Minnesota.
Plan B: Mike Hughes and Trae Waynes
Trae Waynes isn’t a subject of comparisons when it comes to options for the Vikings at the cornerback in free agency. However, he has one very notable advantage as opposed to the star backs on the market and it’s that he comes cheaper, leaving the team with the ability to improve the D-Line and the WR core if they choose to tag Anthony Harris.
His numbers show a slowdown, with his allowed passer rating skyrocketing from 85.5 in 2018 to 107.9 in 2019, with only Rhodes posting worse numbers amongst the team’s corners. Better things are to be expected from him going into 2020 but his decreased payday is a good piece of news for the Vikes.
Plan C: Mike Hughes and Mackenzie Alexander
Alexander is a very likely option in the event of the Vikings suddenly changing up the strategy and prioritizing another need, putting it at the top of their wish list. This is an especially good option if they tag Griffen – and are left empty-handed with just $10 million.
What gives this the thumbs down is Alexander’s inexperience as he started just 4 of his 13 appearances throughout the 2019 regular season. This depends on inside factors that could give this a go but hazard isn’t among the team’s likings with their secondary going through an overhaul at a critical period during which the team’s still competitive. The division isn’t going to get easier with the Packers returning as NFC North champions and the Lions and Bears ready to spend.