EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have made tough decisions in the past two weeks to become salary cap compliant by the start of the new league year.
The moves included the termination of contracts of tight end Kyle Rudolph, kicker Dan Bailey and left tackle Riley Reiff.
Less than a week remains before the new league year opens at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 17 and brings teams the opportunity to sign free agents.
Vikings.com is continuing its positional outlook series with linebackers.
Anthony Barr, Ryan Connelly, Troy Dye, Eric Kendricks, Blake Lynch, Cameron Smith
2020 Stats: 2 games (2 starts); 6 tackles (6 solo); 94 defensive snaps (8.8 percent)
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 3 completions allowed on 3 pass attempts by opponents for 20 yards and an allowed passer rating of 94.4
In some ways, it feels like not that long ago when Barr was hitting the open market and appeared to be taking off with the Jets (2019 free agency). He instead took a lesser offer to stay in Minnesota. The Vikings definitely missed his presence for most of the 2020 season.
View the best linebacker photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
2020 Stats: 14 games (0 starts); 1 defensive snap; 198 special teams snaps
Claimed off waivers in September, the Eden Prairie native helped on special teams and could be a candidate for more time on defense with the benefit of a full offseason.
2020 Stats: 11 games (5 starts); 28 tackles (13 solo); 2 passes defensed; 202 defensive snaps (18.8 percent); 142 special teams snaps
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 8 completions allowed on 12 pass attempts by opponents for 60 yards and an allowed passer rating of 106.2
The rookie was pressed into action after Barr was injured in Week 2. Dye also suffered an injury against the Colts that led to his placement on Injured Reserve, but he worked his way back to action.
2020 Stats: 11 games (11 starts); 107 tackles (69 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 6 passes defensed, 3 interceptions; 754 defensive snaps (70.2 percent); 66 special teams snaps
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 29 completions allowed on 41 pass attempts by opponents for 278 yards and an allowed passer rating of 58.8
Kendricks, who has been on an amazing ascent, was turning in his finest season yet when he was lost for the final five games because of a calf injury he suffered during a practice. His allowed passer rating has gone from 90.7 in 2018 to 82.8 in 2019 to 58.8. Kendricks' excellence in 2020 helped a position group — and defense — decimated by injuries and departures. His absence down the stretch hurt the Vikings in multiple ways.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2020 season.
2020 Stats: 4 games (1 start); 12 tackles (8 solo), 1 pass defensed; 77 defensive snaps (7.2 percent); 61 special teams snaps
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 2 completions allowed on 3 pass attempts by opponents for 53 yards and an allowed passer rating of 109.7
An undrafted free agent a year ago, Lynch did well in an abbreviated training camp and spent most of the season on the practice squad.
After testing positive for COVID-19 at the start of training camp, Smith underwent an extensive evaluation that revealed a congenital heart defect. He soon underwent surgery and began a journey that he hopes will lead him back to the field. Smith admirably stayed connected with the team throughout the season.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
Todd Davis, Hardy Nickerson and Eric Wilson
2020 Stats: 11 games (6 starts); 35 tackles (16 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 2 passes defensed; 281 defensive snaps (2.6 percent); 78 special teams snaps
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 17 completions allowed on 22 pass attempts by opponents for 214 yards and an allowed passer rating of 122.2
The Vikings picked up the veteran who was part of the Broncos win in Super Bowl 50 after his release in September. He brought some helpful experience as the group kept calling on less-experienced players.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Todd Davis from the 2020 season.
2020 Stats: 14 games (1 start); 14 tackles (9 solo), 1 pass defensed, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles; 102 defensive snaps (9.5 percent); 234 special teams snaps
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 1 completion allowed on 3 pass attempts by opponents for 64 yards and an allowed passer rating of 42.4
Nickerson joined Minnesota in mid-August and went back-and-forth between the practice squad and active roster multiple times.
2020 Stats: 16 games (15 starts); 122 tackles (62 solo), 8 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 8 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries; 1,034 defensive snaps (96.3 percent); 104 special teams snaps
Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 45 completions allowed on 65 pass attempts by opponents for 366 yards and an allowed passer rating of 74.3
The Vikings were able to add Wilson as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He was a restricted free agent a year ago, which helped Minnesota retain his services. Wilson delivered his best season, which makes some think he can fetch a price beyond what the Vikings can offer.
It's incredibly difficult to think of a position group in any defense that went through more than the Vikings in 2020. It started early with the loss of Smith and Ben Gedeon (Physically Unable to Perform). Take away Barr early and Kendricks late, and that's a pair of Pro Bowlers who work incredibly well in tandem.
As mentioned earlier, Barr opted to remain with the Vikings because of his connection to the team. Wilson is super close with teammates, as well, but also likely wanting to maximize his opportunities.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was asked earlier this month about Minnesota's situation at linebacker.
"We went through a lot of different scenarios on if we got Danielle Hunter and [Michael] Pierce back, and then you have Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks back – you can't fill every hole with expensive players," Spielman said. "So that's where it comes into play on, well, if we've got some guys on our roster that if we're not able to sign Eric Wilson back, then a Troy Dye or a Lynch or a Connelly or someone like that steps up. Or you draft another guy.
"If you have those two guys on your roster (Barr and Kendricks), it's hard to spend that much money on three linebackers," Spielman continued. "So it's hard to say that you can put it in a square box because depending on what you do and how you create room, it gives you a lot of different avenues to go down on how you want to keep. Anthony is a critical piece – I know Coach Zim' has spoken about it – of our defense."
Head Coach Mike Zimmer has spoken about Barr's effect in shaping plans of opposing offensive coaches, who either scheme for him or pay a price.
WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE?
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently released his list of the top 101 potential free agents on March 1 and has updated it. For the purpose of these positional outlooks, we grouped players that Rosenthal categorizes as "edge rushers" with defensive linemen since Minnesota's base defense is a 4-3 instead of a 3-4.
That leaves just three linebackers in Rosenthal's Top 101: 33. Jayon Brown, 45. K.J. Wright and 67. Kyle Van Noy.
Brown has started 33 of the 56 games he's played in regular seasons. His tackles decreased from 105 in 2019 to 76 last season when he missed six games. He did, however, record five tackles for loss, eight passes defensed, an interception and two forced fumbles for the Titans in 2020.
The Vikings have played the Seahawks enough for fans to be quite familiar with Wright, who has started 140 of 144 games in regular seasons since his selection in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Wright has 66 career tackles for loss, six interceptions, 54 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and 13.5 sacks. Wright recorded a pick and recovered a fumble against Minnesota last October. He's a combined 6-0 against the Vikings (includes one playoff game).
After beginning his career in Detroit, Van Noy thrived after joining New England. He started 45 of 51 games for the Patriots from 2016-19, recording 16.5 sacks and forcing five fumbles. Van Noy played in three consecutive Super Bowls, helping New England win in LI and LIII.