The Vikings made a few splashes in the first wave of free agency, led by a pair of notable moves to help fortify Minnesota's defense.
The team announced this week that it added defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and cornerback Patrick Peterson to help a unit that struggled during the 2020 season.
Cody Benjamin and Jordan Dajani of CBS Sports recently handed out grades to teams for their work in the first few days of free agency, and gave an impressive ‘A-‘ mark to Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the front office.
Tomlinson is exactly their kind of addition: A big, gap-plugging body for Mike Zimmer's defense. His presence should help their edge rushing situation, so long as Danielle Hunter actually returns to it.
Tomlinson, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 319 pounds, was a 2017 second-round pick by the Giants.
Kevin Seifert of ESPN was also a fan of the Tomlinson signing, as he gave the Vikings a 'B' grade for beefing up their defensive line.
The best news here is that Tomlinson is young (27) and durable. He played in all 64 of the Giants games over the past four seasons, establishing himself as a reliable run defender. Along with the return of nose tackle Michael Pierce, who opted out last season, Tomlinson will unquestionably help the Vikings address their uncharacteristically soft run defense of 2020. (They allowed 4.56 yards per rush, No. 23 in the NFL.)
But it's an open question whether Tomlinson can be the kind of disrupter that we usually associate with the 3-technique position, where Tomlinson presumably will play with Pierce ensconced at the nose. The $20 million in total guarantees within this contract puts Tomlinson near the top 10 of 4-3 defensive nose tackles in the NFL, and he'll get to test free agency again before he turns 30. He'll help. But will he help enough?
As for Minnesota's other big move — the addition of Peterson — Seifert was actually higher on Minnesota getting the eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro to work with younger players in the secondary. He gave Minnesota a 'B+' grade for bringing in Peterson, who was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010s All-Decade Team that was announced in April 2020.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer loves his cornerbacks and doesn't mind if they are on the older side. In some cases, he prefers it. The 30-year-old Peterson will serve the Terence Newman role for Zimmer, as the veteran who might be past his prime but is still good enough to demonstrate for younger players how to execute the scheme at a fairly high level.
It wasn't a coincidence that the Vikings' defense collapsed last season after the team bid farewell to veteran cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler started a combined 25 games, and it did not go well. It can be trite to claim that a position group needs a leader, but Newman has shown how one knowledgeable veteran can influence the effectiveness of the entire room.
To get a perennial Pro Bowl player — and potential Hall of Fame inductee — to fill the role is a pretty decent way to go.
Minnesota also added linebacker Nick Vigil, who was formerly with the Chargers. The Vikings also re-signed wide receiver Chad Beebe and offensive tackle Rashod Hill this week.
All of Minnesota's moves can be found in the Vikings 2021 Free Agency Tracker.
View photos of new Vikings LB Nick Vigil who recently joined the team.
Hasan details best Vikings fits for remaining free agents
As mentioned above, the first wave of free agency is over and done with. Now the attention turns to the middle tier, where there are still plenty of solid players available.
The Vikings will have to navigate a reduced salary cap as they still look to bolster their roster, but Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently highlighted some players who could make an impact if they land in Minnesota.
Hasan listed 10 possible targets for the Vikings, but we'll focus on the first three here, as they all play different positions.
Defensive end Kerry Hyder topped Hasan's list to help boost a Vikings pass rush that had just 23 total sacks in 2020.
Bringing pressure always will be important for the Vikings, and it's the central feature of their famous third-down packages. While they have improved their run defense, they still need a pass rush package to get opponents off the field, and Kerry Hyder is perfect for that as a hybrid edge rusher and interior defender who can pressure the quarterback from either angle. He can provide effective rotational depth and step up if a starter goes down or be a designated pass rusher who can supercharge the third-down defense.
Hyder had 8.5 sacks in 2020 with the 49ers.
Hasan also mentioned former Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who was a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2016.
Former Vikings corner Mackensie Alexander signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Cincinnati Bengals and performed adequately, but not spectacularly. That describes his final two years with the Vikings, where he manned the slot well after a rocky start. Bringing him back would put some more experience on the roster, give the Vikings a floor for performance at the position and allow them to continue saving money against the cap.
He played in 13 games and made 10 starts for the Bengals, recording 47 total tackles (32 solo) with a tackle for loss, six passes defensed and an interception in 2020. He played a career-high 642 defensive snaps with the Bengals.
Hasan's third choice was offensive lineman Austin Blythe, who started 47 games over the past three seasons on the interior of the offensive line for the Rams.
While a tackle would help, an interior offensive lineman might help more, as it could help move Ezra Cleveland to his natural position on the outside. Austin Blythe is an athletic center with significant experience in zone-style blocking but might be considered for a switch to guard. While traditionally considered a bit small for a guard, he is not substantially smaller than other guards the Vikings have brought in. He hasn't been spectacular, but he's been functional and it's hard to find above replacement-level starters for cheap — and it doesn't look like he'll break the bank.
Hasan's full list of 10 possible targets in free agency can be found here.