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Lunchbreak: PFF Gives Vikings 'A' Grade for 2024 Free Agency's First Wave

It was a busy start to free agency for Minnesota.

A day after reaching a deal with running back Aaron Jones, the Vikings agreed to terms Wednesday with four new players: quarterback Sam Darnold, linebacker Blake Cashman and outside linebackers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus is providing live grades for free agency additions across the league and, as of Thursday morning, had given the Vikings "A" grades in fit/need for the team's first five new-player signings.

PFF gave the Greenard addition an A+ for fit/need and A- for value, writing the following:

Getting younger with the talented Jonathan Greenard makes a lot of sense. Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores will surely love Greenard's ability against the run, in addition to a still-developing arsenal of pass-rush moves, with his super long arms keeping him clean against tackles as he turns the corner.

For Van Ginkel, PFF reminded that the former Dolphin will be reuniting in Minnesota with Flores.

We were not confident in how to approach Van Ginkel's projection, given his injury history that trickled into this past season, but he was remarkably efficient as a pass rusher in 2023 and the advanced metrics alone certainly would've pointed to a stronger deal like the one he signed here.

Rounding out the Vikings Day 1 defensive additions, PFF said Minnesota native Cashman "had a breakout season" in 2023 for Houston, "flashing ability as a pass rusher and also looking smooth dropping and moving laterally into coverage."

PFF added that Cashman "creates a fun tandem" with 2023 undrafted rookie Ivan Pace, Jr.

The Vikings agreed to terms with Jones just one day after he was released by the division-rival Packers, with whom he spent his first seven NFL seasons.

Jones needs to be a member of a committee to stay fresh, efficient and explosive, but he is all of those things when healthy. Add in that he's still one of the better pass catchers at the position, and this could be a great low-cost signing that also steals a franchise legend away from a bitter rival.

And lastly, PFF noted that Darnold will reunite with former Jets teammate Josh McCown, whom the Vikings recently hired as their quarterbacks coach entering the 2024 season.

There were legitimate flashes at the end of the 2022 season in Carolina for Darnold, and we know teams still believe in the former No. 3 overall pick. At the end of the day, with Kirk Cousins off to Atlanta, Minnesota had to make a fairly sizable move with [its] first-round draft pick sitting at No. 11 overall, and player agents were well aware of that reality. We now wait to see if they add a rookie at No. 11 or after a trade-up, with a roster that looks vastly improved on defense after Day 1.

Click here to see PFF's grades for all teams as free agency continues.

Lewis: Vikings enter 'new phase' of team-building plan

The Kirk Cousins era has come to a close in Minnesota.

Cousins has officially signed with the Falcons, and the Vikings agreed to terms Wednesday with Darnold.

Alec Lewis of The Athletic wrote Thursday morning that Cousins' departure "shifts [the] Vikings team-building plan into [a] new phase."

The Vikings can now pair a promising salary cap situation with a rookie quarterback contract. To use [Vikings Head Coach Kevin] O'Connell's words, they can build a roster around whomever they draft. They can plug holes in areas with major cracks in recent years.

Lewis pointed to the 49ers and Brock Purdy's rookie contract as an example, saying, "That's how you add defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to an already-stacked defensive line featuring Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, like San Francisco did last offseason."

"And that's how you find yourself in an aggressive enough spot to trade four draft picks for running back Christian McCaffrey," Lewis added.

He went on to note Philadelphia moving up to draft Carson Wentz in 2016 and Washington moving up to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012.

Two lessons emerge: (1) Identifying quarterback talent is immeasurably difficult, and (2) reaching for the player you think is likeliest to be a star — and that player failing — does not immediately place you in a doomsday scenario. Building a roster with a rookie QB contract is like expanding your safety net. You still might fall — it may even be likely. But there is a solid chance you'll land, even if you've discarded your most premium assets.

Lewis said O'Connell and Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah still must be vigilant in their decisions and "establish belief in their long-term vision."

Doing so, though, might not require much more than a season of patience. Evaluate a quarterback option, (potentially) trade up to pick one and allow him to develop. Then in 2025 and '26, utilizing nearly $100 million in cap space, surround them with talent in free agency and/or via trade. Unearth some late-round gems in the draft, and you'll live in a vastly different and potentially invigorating new world.