The Vikings added to their defensive arsenal last week, including a pair of signings that CBS Sports' Jared Dubin included among the NFL’s “most intriguing” free agency moves on defense.
Minnesota kicked off its free agency action by signing defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who's not only a talented player but also a first-rate person off the field. On Thursday, the Vikings added longtime Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, who also is known for his off-field work and is the team’s fifth-oldest player. Dubin wrote:
[Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's veteran cornerback rehabilitation center has found a new member. He has previously revived the careers of guys like Terence Newman (twice) and Xavier Rhodes, and will now try his hand with Patrick Peterson. I expect it to work.
Dubin added called it an "odd pairing" of defensive tackles Tomlinson and Michael Pierce because "they are both primarily run defenders." Tomlinson last week refrained from detailing expectations for his role in Minnesota but did say he's excited to play with Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns.
The other signings that Dubin dubbed intriguing were as follows: John Johnson III and Troy Hill to the Browns; Bud Dupree and Denico Autry to the Titans; Roy Robertson-Harris, Tyson Alualu, Shaquill Griffin and Rayshawn Jenkins to the Jaguars; Mike Hilton, Chidobe Awuzie and Trey Hendrickson to the Bengals; and Haason Reddick, Denzel Perryman and Morgan Fox to the Panthers.
The Vikings are scheduled to play the Browns (home), Bengals (road) and Panthers (road) during the 2021 season.
Dubin pointed out that although Carolina used all of its draft picks on defensive players last season, the Panthers "still finished 24th in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders' DVOA."
So the Panthers added a pass rusher in Reddick (coming off a career-best 12.5 sacks in his first season as a pure edge guy) on a value deal; a run-thumping linebacker in Perryman; and a versatile interior defender in Fox who can play next to Derrick Brown on both run and pass downs. The Panthers still have plenty of work to do, particularly in the secondary, but the defensive makeover is continuing apace.
The matchup between Cleveland and Minnesota will mark the teams' first since Kevin Stefanski was hired as the Browns head coach in 2020. According to Dubin, "Cleveland's biggest defensive issue last season was covering the deep middle of the field."
The Browns ranked 28th in Football Outsiders' DVOA against deep passes, an issue that undermined the rest of their unit. Enter Johnson, one of the best and most underrated center-field type safeties in the league. As we saw last season, though, he has the versatility to rotate down into a two-high look and play the run just as well as he covers in space. He's just a really good player, and a perfect fit for what this team needed. The Browns also brought his former teammate, Hill, along with him, to replace departed corner Terrance Mitchell.
PFF gives Vikings 'average' grade for Peterson & Tomlinson signings
As free agency continues, analytics site Pro Football Focus is handing out grades to individual teams for their transactions. PFF's Brad Spielberger and Ben Linsey are working together to evaluate each team's major signings, and they called the Vikings additions of Tomlinson and Peterson "average."
Tomlinson profiled as one of the better interior defenders available on the market this offseason. He came in as the highest-ranked player at the position on PFF's free agent rankings following the Giants decision to franchise tag his teammate Leonard Williams. Tomlinson is coming off a career-high 74.6 pass-rushing grade in 2020, but he has really shined as a run-stuffer in the middle of New York's defensive line. His 70.3 run-defense grade this past season marked the first time in his career where he fell below 79.0 in that regard.
Minnesota will now have two big, run-first interior defensive linemen with 2020 free agent signing and opt-out Michael Pierce set to return to the defense. The Vikings should have little trouble controlling the line of scrimmage against the run with both of those players on the field, which allows for more freedom in coverage.
View photos of new Vikings DT Dalvin Tomlinson who recently joined the team.
Why the average grade, then? Linsey and Spielberger said they would have rather seen the Vikings add a "disruptive, pass-rushing threat at 3-technique" or defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter.
Linsey and Spielberger said that Peterson "grew into one of the game's top cornerbacks" since being drafted fifth overall by the Cardinals in 2011 but that he's taken a "step back" over the past two seasons.
View photos of new Vikings CB Patrick Peterson who recently joined the team.
From 2011 through 2018, Peterson earned a 90.4 coverage grade while allowing an 81.5 passer rating on throws into his coverage. Across the past two years, those numbers have moved to a 57.3 coverage grade and a 102.5 passer rating allowed. Peterson[will turn 31 in July], but it feels premature to say his dip in play is solely due to age. There is the chance that a talent like Peterson can pick things back up in Minnesota's system, which relies much more on zone coverages than Arizona's.
Peterson will join a young cornerback group that features Mike Hughes along with 2020 draft selections Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney. This isn't great value for Minnesota considering Peterson's dip in play of late, but the hope will be that a change in scenery helps brings out the player who allowed fewer than 400 yards into his coverage in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons.