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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Credits Vikings for 'Best On-the-Move Pivot'

EAGAN, Minn. – You never know how the free agency dominoes will fall.

But it is possible to identify the lead domino and plan for whatever direction it tilts.

For instance, Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell both have acknowledged they would have liked to keep Kirk Cousins in Minnesota; but when the two parties couldn't reach an agreeable deal, the best option for the team was to step away from that plan.

Randy Mueller of The Athletic recently delved into teams' free agency moves across the NFL and noted his biggest takeaways. Among them, he spotlighted the Vikings approach to their defense as the "best on-the-move pivot." Mueller wrote:

Losing four front-seven players from your roster could be devastating for many teams. Vikings edge players Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum and Marcus Davenport and linebacker Jordan Hicks all left for various deals elsewhere.

But Minnesota had a plan, replacing them with Jonathan Greenard (two years younger than Hunter), Andrew Van Ginkel (young, ascending player) and Blake Cashman, whose football IQ, range and ability to slip blocks make him a three-down inside linebacker and an upgrade over Hicks. That trio gives the Vikings a better package on defense moving forward than what walked out the door. Sometimes plans have to be fluid, and the Vikings decision-makers made me a believer in their evaluation skills, which I'd had some doubt about previously.

Mueller, a former NFL GM (Saints, 2000-01; Dolphins, 2005-07), added that he also liked the "pivot" to quarterback Sam Darnold on a one-year deal after Cousins departed for Atlanta.

"The money saved can still be put to use by upgrading their third wide receiver spot and extending wideout Justin Jefferson," Mueller opined.

Among Mueller's other takeaways were "best job protecting the fort," which he awarded to the Buccaneers, as well as "favorite" and "most puzzling" free agent signings.

He most liked the Chargers adding running back Gus Edwards, who previously had been in Baltimore.

I had thought all along that [Saquon] Barkley would be a culture upgrade for new coach Jim Harbaugh and his vision for the Chargers' new offense. But as Barkley's contract numbers crept higher, Edwards became more attractive. He brings a full toolbox and good production with just a bit less dynamic athleticism. The Ravens running-back-by-committee kept Edwards' numbers down, but he is a better player than that. He will be a 235-pound bell cow for a Chargers team looking to add toughness and physicality to fit its new identity.

And as for most puzzling?

Mueller pointed to the NFC North division and Chicago's signing of safety Kevin Byard.

Greenard & Van Ginkel among 'most intriguing' signings

CBS Sports' Jared Dubin also has been paying attention around the league during free agency.

He's seen some additions that made him scratch his head, while others have been interesting in all the right ways. Dubin published his list of "most intriguing" signings thus far and included Minnesota's addition of outside linebackers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel. Dubin wrote:

The Vikings let [Danielle] Hunter leave in free agency and spent the money on two younger players instead. Minnesota definitely needed to add edge rush help with Hunter out the door, and this duo is a really interesting one.

Van Ginkel has experience with Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores from when they were in Miami and should be a very valuable flex piece for Flores on the defensive front. Greenard is coming off a career-best 12.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits, and he played only 62 [percent] of Houston's defensive snaps last year. He turns 27 later this offseason and could still have upside to tap into.

Dubin also included Hunter joining the Texans in his post, writing "the fit here is fantastic."

*Hunter doesn't turn 30 until October and has reached double-digit sacks in five of his last six healthy seasons, including last year. Will Anderson, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, now has another premiere edge rusher to push the pocket along with him, and DeMeco Ryans has the bookends of a strong defensive line to run his system the way he wants to. And after signing Denico Autry and Tim Settle, the Texans got stronger up the middle, too. *

One of the other signings deemed "intriguing" (in a good way) by Dubin included the division-rival Packers adding Xavier McKinney.

The Packers have needed safety help for some time now, and McKinney is exactly the type of centerfield, sweeper type of player that fits them best. McKinney has also shown the versatility to line up both in the box and in the slot in addition to deep over the middle, and he should be a fun chess piece for new Defensive Coordinator Jeff Hafley to work with. Between him, Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes and Keisean Nixon, there's at least the outline of a good, young, versatile group here now.