With the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine underway in Indianapolis, teams and league pundits alike are also keeping an eye on the impending free agency window.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently rolled out its list of the top 200 players due to hit free agency on March 16, and three Vikings defenders landed in the group.
The highest-ranked Minnesota player was linebacker Anthony Barr, whom PFF placed at 86 on the list. PFF wrote:
Barr agreed to a pay cut before the 2021 season that also voided the 2022 and 2023 seasons on his five-year extension signed in 2019. Better luck with his health led to a respectable 63.8 overall grade and 72.6 pass-rush grade in 2021. Barr is a bit of a unique player, generally deployed as a Sam linebacker in a 4-3 scheme who occasionally gets his hand in the dirt.
Nevertheless, there were several interested teams last time he was a free agent — he came very close to signing with the New York Jets before ultimately returning to Minnesota — so it seems defensive coaches think they can find a way to put him in positions to succeed and utilize his athletic ability.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Anthony Barr from the 2021 season.
Barr's strengths were listed as follows: (1) Size and athleticism, (2) One of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the NFL and (3) Few negative plays against the run.
PFF also specified Barr's scheme fit/role:
STARTING STRONGSIDE (SAM) LINEBACKER: Barr has made the successful transition from collegiate edge rusher to off-ball linebacker in the NFL, but he's still best utilized in a role that lets him get after the quarterback as a blitzer. He has consistently met expectations against the run over his eight-year career, producing both negative and positive grades at one of the lowest rates at the linebacker position.
The other two Vikings on PFF's list of top free agents were cornerback Patrick Peterson (No. 93) and safety Xavier Woods (No. 106).
Peterson signed a one-year deal with Minnesota last spring after spending 10 seasons with the Cardinals. He was rarely targeted by opposing quarterbacks, though. PFF suggested that Peterson "perhaps may explore a move to safety – as he has alluded to in the past – because his abilities as a man-cover corner are dwindling."
Peterson may have a year or two left as a second corner for a team without better options. He has enough experience and savvy to get by and be solid, but elite receivers will put him in a bind.
Woods also signed a one-year deal with the Vikings in 2021. PFF said he had an "interesting" season starting opposite Harrison Smith.
Woods played over 1,200 snaps, second-most among defensive players, and set career highs as a run defender and tackler with 87.5 and 88.0 marks, respectively. However, his 58.3 coverage grade was a career low, and Woods' first season with a sub-60.0 coverage grade.
Still, Woods has the makings of a later-wave but good-value free agent who has shown the ability to excel against the pass and run at different times. He could have a big-impact year if he could put it all together.
ESPN predicts Kirk Cousins as Vikings starting QB in 2022
The fun thing about the NFL offseason is that there's almost no way to predict exactly how things will play out. Trades, free agency signings, draft picks … everything is on the table for all 32 teams across the league.
Which is why there's plenty of speculation every year about which quarterbacks will start where. And because there are questions around Aaron Rodgers and his future with Green Bay – or the NFL in general – it seems this year is generating even more buzz.
ESPN's Field Yates took a stab recently at predicting every NFL team’s starting quarterback for the 2022 season.
He sees Kirk Cousins staying in Minnesota as the most probable scenario. Yates wrote:
If Minnesota decides it is time to retool the franchise, step one would likely be to add draft capital by trading away Cousins. He has a $35 million fully guaranteed salary for 2022 – the final year of his deal – meaning he has a ton of leverage if Minnesota tries to negotiate an extension (if he doesn't get the offer he wants, he can get his money this season and hit the open market next March).
I've got my eye on this one, but a rerun with Cousins still feels most likely.
And for what it's worth to Vikings fans, Yates also believes Rodgers will stay put with the Packers and remain a division adversary.
A decision from Rodgers will come sooner than later, as the Packers need to make critical franchise decisions that tie directly to whether Rodgers stays or goes.
It has been a roller-coaster 10 months since the news first broke of Rodgers' frustrations in Green Bay, but a run-it-back season feels – at the moment – most likely. And Green Bay will again be amongst the best teams in the NFL this season.