Super Bowl LVI is in the rear-view mirror, which means all 32 teams are officially turning the page to next season.
The NFL Scouting Combine is fast-approaching, which will be followed by this spring's free agency period.
While it's probable, of course, that some players will reach new deals with their teams before hitting the market, analytics site Pro Football Focus ranked the top 200 players currently slated to test the free agency waters.
Among the names highlighted by PFF were two Vikings defensive backs: cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Xavier Woods, who were listed at Nos. 93 and 106, respectively. PFF wrote the following of Peterson:
One of the best cornerbacks of the decade, Peterson hoped to revive his career with a fresh start in Minnesota, but his tenure with the Vikings was underwhelming to say the least. Now entering his age-32 season, Peterson perhaps may explore a move to safety — as he has alluded to in the past — because his abilities as a man-cover corner are dwindling.
Worth noting in addition to PFF's commentary on Peterson, though, is that teams rarely targeted the eight-time Pro Bowler throughout the season.
Peterson's strengths were listed as "physicality, reading tendencies/route concepts and run defense."
According to PFF, teams should view the 32-year-old Peterson as more of a CB2 at this point in his career.
He still has enough experience and savvy to hold up overall, but he isn't as quick or rangy as he once was, which hurts his production in both zone and man coverage.
Woods' strengths were listed as "versatility and coverage when lined up in the box." He was given mixed reviews after one season in Minnesota.
Woods signed a one-year flier with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency in the 2021 offseason in a tough market for safeties and had an interesting season playing opposite star safety Harrison Smith. Woods played [more than] 1,200 snaps, second-most among defensive players, and set career highs as a run defender and tackler with 87.5 and 88.0 marks, respectively. However, his 58.3 coverage grade was a career low, and Woods' first season with a sub-60.0 coverage grade.
Still, Woods has the makings of a later-wave but good-value free agent who has shown the ability to excel against the pass and run at different times. He could have a big-impact year if he could put it all together.
Another Viking included in PFF's rankings was linebacker Anthony Barr, who implied following the Vikings Week 18 contest that he may not be back in Purple. He was ranked No. 86 on the list of impending free agents.
Barr agreed to a pay cut before the 2021 season that also voided the 2022 and 2023 seasons on his five-year extension signed in 2019. Better luck with his health led to a respectable 63.8 overall grade and 72.6 pass-rush grade in 2021. Barr is a bit of a unique player, generally deployed as a Sam linebacker in a 4-3 scheme who occasionally gets his hand in the dirt.
Nevertheless, there were several interested teams last time he was a free agent — he came very close to signing with the New York Jets before ultimately returning to Minnesota — so it seems defensive coaches think they can find a way to put him in positions to succeed and utilize his athletic ability.
What can teams learn from Bengals & Rams reaching the Super Bowl?
Minnesota's longtime division rival Matthew Stafford now is a Super Bowl champion.
Stafford was traded to the Rams last year after spending 12 seasons with the struggling Lions; in his first season out west, he helped lead the Rams to a Super LVI victory. Los Angeles was given a run for its money, though, by Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
What can teams learn from the two teams that reached the ultimate stage to cap the 2021 season? That's the question CBS Sports' Jared Dubin recently delved into, posing four big-picture answers.
View the best celebration photos from the 2021 season, shot by Vikings photographers.
Dubin topped his list with "be open to all manner of player-acquisition." He wrote:
In the age of the salary cap, teams are very careful about managing their books. In recent seasons, that has often meant an emphasis on building through the draft, re-signing homegrown players, not doing much spending in free agency, and hoarding picks instead of being aggressive to acquire veterans who might be more expensive but are also ready to contribute at a high level.
Dubin said both the Rams and Bengals proved "that teams need to be a bit more open-minded."
No team has more defined the concept of going all-in than the Rams, who have been trading draft picks by the dozen for quite a while now. Since selecting Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick back in 2016, the Rams have not made a single selection in the first round. They even traded two first-round picks to move away from Goff when they decided he wasn't good enough to get them over the top, so they could go and get Matthew Stafford instead.
But it wasn't just Stafford. The Rams have been acquiring players for draft picks for a while now. Jalen Ramsey. Von Miller. Even Brandin Cooks back in the day, before they later traded him away for some picks in the middle rounds of the draft. (That's not to say they have a roster of mercenaries; they actually had the highest rate of homegrown players in the NFL this season.)
The Bengals, meanwhile, had been one of the most spending-averse teams in the NFL before this most recent era of the team. They finally decided to splurge on outside free agents over the past couple offseasons, and it helped them build a strong, versatile defense that was able to shapeshift and handle all kinds of opponents. They would not have gotten here without Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Vonn Bell.
View the best photos of Vikings player arrivals from the 2021 season.
Dubin also said teams should "put their freaks in position to succeed," as demonstrated by the Rams utilization of Aaron Donald and Stafford, and the Bengals highlighting Burrow's specific skill set.
And the final two? Teams have to be able to beat the blitz, Dubin noted, as well as be able to "get home" without blitzing.