"The more you know" is a phrase used from time to time in the NFL to summarize value, but the next step beyond that might be "the more you enable."
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah this week made their first public comments since free agency opened and mentioned "versatility" as an aspect added by signees Byron Murphy, Jr., and Josh Oliver.
"Adding a guy like Byron Murphy was huge because it allowed us to have a player, truly, with that inside/out flex that in base defense he can be an outside corner; nickel defense, he can go inside," O'Connell said. "It's great to have the skill set to do it, but also the mentality to do that. Because they're really two different worlds when you're playing those positions. I've seen some players do it in the past that I thought [did it] at a really successful clip.
"Jalen Ramsey used to do it for us in L.A.," O'Connell added. "But I think Byron will be something where he's so instinctive, he's got great ball skills; when he gets around the football, he tends to get the football, take it away – like he did against the Raiders. He'll take it across the goal line."
O'Connell has increased familiarity with Murphy, the former Cardinal, from his two seasons as Rams offensive coordinator (2020-21). He said Murphy "loves football, loves competing."
Murphy will provide veteran experience (48 starts in 56 regular-season games played) to a group that had outside cornerbacks Patrick Peterson (Steelers) and Duke Shelley (Raiders) depart during free agency. Chandon Sullivan, who manned the nickel spot for Minnesota in 2022, entered free agency two weeks ago but has not signed anywhere yet.
O'Connell said the Vikings need to add to the position group "through the draft or possibly some other veterans" as they develop young cornerbacks like 2022 draft picks Andrew Booth, Jr., and Akayleb Evans. Booth and Evans dealt with injuries as rookies.
"Those guys are in the building every day, they're pushing each other, they're doing all the things that we're asking of them right now in what, really, is a voluntary basis," O'Connell said. "They're just in there working out on their own and choosing to be in our building, and I think there's gonna be some real positive things that come with that. That room will be a very competitive room throughout the spring and training camp – you guys know that, and I'm hoping to see some really good things come out of that room."
Adofo-Mensah mentioned Oliver and Murphy while recapping free agency so far during an interview with VEN's Gabe Henderson.
"The guys we brought in, we wanted to make sure we kept our culture the way it is. We're very proud of what we built, and we want to keep it going," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think one of the other things we had was a theme of versatility, but versatility that allows other people to be better.
"What I mean by that is somebody like a Josh Oliver who can actually make Justin Jefferson better," Adofo-Mensah said. "People don't realize really what I mean, and I think they'll see it when Kevin talks and kind of in how we play, but there's ways that guys we've added, you talk about Byron and how he can help our cornerbacks, his flexibility inside and out can help our young corners grow and really mature into the spots they want to play in, so that was a key theme of ours, and I think we accomplished that."
O'Connell elaborated on the potential impact of Oliver, who was regarded for his pass catching out of San Jose State before the 2019 NFL Draft and is now regarded as one of the position's best at blocking.
"It's about the balance of what you want to be on offense. A lot of times, we were successful moving the ball via the pass last year," O'Connell said. "What ended up happening is, that becomes something you can game-plan for with coverage and double teams on J.J. If you're playing zone coverage, how you're loading zones to wherever he is, still trying to make Kirk [Cousins] hold the football and take some hits in the pocket.
View photos of Vikings CB Byron Murphy Jr. during his first day at the TCO Performance Center with the team.
"The attrition of that on some of those normal downs is what I think stacks up late in games. He was remarkable late in games, leading us to comeback victories and closing many of our 13 wins out with great QB play," O'Connell said. "But the balance on offense takes the pressure off two people: the quarterback and the offensive line.
"If we can run the football more efficiently and marry the run and the pass with play-pass keepers and screens and different variations of the pass game on our terms, I think that's going to bode well [against] teams that want to feature so much coverage to Justin," he continued. "There's so much emphasis on what he does and what we do in the pass game that we've got to take advantage of that. We've got to run the football. We've got to move the ball efficiently. I think that will take some pressure off those normal downs, so that when we get to the weighty downs, those third downs and red zones, we can be that much better off."