We’re now four-plus days into free agency, and plenty of moves have been made across the NFL.
The Vikings started out the new league year by inking two familiar faces to deals.
Linebacker Anthony Barr, who was slated to become a free agent, re-signed to continue his NFL career in Minnesota. The Vikings also brought back defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, whom they drafted in 2014. Stephen played four seasons in Minnesota before spending the 2018 campaign in Seattle.
On top of the two signings, the Vikings worked with defensive end Everson Griffen, who restructured his contract in a way that opened some additional cap space for Minnesota.
Albert Breer of The Monday Morning Quarterback covered all things free agency in this week’s column, including 10 takeaways from teams’ transactions thus far, one of them being “credit to the Vikings for keeping their own.” Breer wrote:
Last year they were aggressive in going and getting Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson, and the thought at the time was that they were going to have pick and choose between four cornerstones going into contract years: Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Kendricks got done in April. Diggs and Hunter followed suit within days of each other in July. And then the thought, a valid one, was that Barr would be the casualty of the cap crunch. So the fact that he, like the other three, is now signed long-term, regardless of the circumstances? Nice cap gymnastics by Minnesota cap chief [Executive Vice President – Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski, along with [General Manager] Rick Spielman and [Assistant General Manager] George Paton.
Breer wrapped up his 10 takeaways by suggesting that fans “keep an eye on value pickups on the trade market now.”
The reason the Giants moved to acquire veteran guard Kevin Zeitler, the Browns got pass rusher Olivier Vernon and Jets dealt for Kelechi Osemele, as we covered last week, was in anticipation that the price would get out of control on a weak free-agent market, which is exactly what happened. So I’d expect teams will be active the next couple weeks [inquiring about] veterans nearing the end of their contracts at positions that were either weak, or where spending got out of whack in free agency.
Goessling delves into ‘what’s next’ for Vikings offseason moves
Now that the initial wave of free agency is in the rearview mirror, what’s next for the Vikings? That was the question posed by the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling, who wrote the following:
[The] Vikings still have an offseason to-do list highlighted by the offensive line, where Danny Isidora — he of 361 career NFL snaps — is the only guard on the roster who’s played in a regular-season game.
Goessling quoted Spielman, who spoke with media members Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve had probably tons of things that we’ve explored and are continuing to explore,” Spielman said. “There’s a lot of things that can happen between now and the draft. There’s a lot of things after the draft that can happen. You’re always adding. You never know opportunities that come your way on potential trades or whatever. So we’ll just see how everything evolves, but it never ends.”
Keeping the focus on offensive line, Goessling opined a few options that could be feasible for Minnesota through the draft or free agency:
The Vikings — who made Brian O’Neill just the third lineman Spielman has selected in the first two rounds of the draft last year — could be helped by what’s considered to be a strong class of offensive linemen this year. They could also explore lower-tier free agents such as former Falcons tackle Ryan Schraeder, in whom they’ve reportedly shown interest. Schraeder, who was released by Atlanta in February, wouldn’t factor into the NFL’s formula for determining 2020 compensatory picks and thus wouldn’t jeopardize the Vikings chances of obtaining a high pick for losing Sheldon Richardson to the Browns.
Goessling again quoted Spielman, who reminded reporters that the organization has a cap plan in place.
“We have to have a cap plan; where do we have to be to sign our draft picks? What do we have to be at by September in order to have enough money in the bank if we have to go out and get replacement players as guys get hurt? We don’t plan it like, ‘OK, Day 1, this is where our cap is going to be.’
“We’ve got a cap-planning thing, what do we have to be in May and where do we have be at when the 53 [players on the regular-season roster] come in,” Spielman added. “It’s a year-round financial plan as you go through the process.”
Stephen’s return to Vikings defense ‘could spark an alteration’
Having Stephen back in the fold should prove advantageous for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
When asked what his primary role in Minnesota’s defense will be, Stephen told media members that he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Tim Yotter of Viking Update wrote about Stephen’s return to the Vikings and the impact it could have:
The Vikings certainly could draft a defensive tackle in the early rounds next month, but Stephen’s familiarity has him as the front-runner to be the 3-technique next to nose tackle Linval Joseph, as well as having the ability to rotate for Joseph if necessary.
But Stephen’s return could spark an alteration to Mike Zimmer’s defense, too.
“One of the things I felt like all along this year that if going into next season we have maybe a little bit more size in the middle, that would help the linebackers and some of the secondary guys, help solidify some of the running game,” Zimmer told Twin Cities media members on Thursday. “We’re talking about doing some different things defensively this year, and being able to have a guy with Shamar’s versatility along with Linval [Joseph] inside, I think it will help us change some of the packages that we run.”
Yotter said he doesn’t anticipate Stephen “to oppose anything Zimmer suggests.”
He may be a key piece to the defensive line after Richardson’s departure, but Stephen prefers to do his work in the background, whether that’s playing nose tackle or 3-technique.