Monday, June 6, 2016

The Vikings Are Building for the Future

Image Courtesy of Sporting News

Extending Harrison Smith is just more proof the Vikings are building with the future in mind. Daniel House explains how the Vikings have retained their own drafted talent. 

Updated: June 6th, 2016 12:30pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings signed safety Harrison Smith to a 5-year, $51.25 million extension that includes a $10 million signing bonus, and $15.27 million guaranteed, according to reports. This new contract makes Smith the highest paid safety in the NFL. The Vikings selected Harrison Smith with the 29th pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Since the moment he dawned the purple #22 for the Minnesota Vikings, Harrison Smith proved he would be an integral piece for the future of the Vikings' defense. In 53 total games, Smith has tallied 402 total tackles, three forced fumbles, 5.5 sacks, and 12 interceptions. He has become one of the most vital playmakers within the defensive scheme. He has the versatility to play deep in coverage or step into the box against the run. His ferocious playing style and fearless tackling skills have given him the nickname "Harry the Hitman" among Minnesota fans. Smith can blitz off the edge, drop deep into coverage, quickly close on an interception, or blow up a running back in run support. He is the jack-of-all-trades for Mike Zimmer's defense.

Entering the offseason, signing Harrison Smith was a critical bullet point on the Vikings' agenda. His value in every aspect of the game is unmatched. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks have had a passer rating of under 68.0 when targeting him in coverage in three of his first four seasons. Additionally, he has allowed just 68 receptions on 120 targets for nine touchdowns, with 12 interceptions and 12 passes defended.

He was solid at rushing the quarterback and was tops in the league at pass-rush productivity among safeties in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. As I noted earlier, Smith was also an excellent player against the run. Pro Football Focus has graded him positively against the run in each of the last three seasons.

One could argue Smith is the most complete safety in the NFL. His above average skills and fearless playing style have given the Vikings defense a new swagger they haven't had in the past. It's hard to imagine Smith hasn't had a viable option alongside him in the backend of the defense either. Mike Zimmer has repeatedly voiced the importance of finding a safety that can effectively play alongside Smith. If Jayron Kearse or Anthony Harris make strides and can play well, Mike Zimmer will utilize Smith all over the field. He can isolate him in various spots across the field and become more devious with how he is used.

Smith has battled some injuries and missed time during his career, but also played through many of them, including a painful foot injury. It's clear when Harrison Smith isn't on the field, the Vikings defense takes a whole new dimension. He is the anchor of the secondary and a leader of the defense in every way.

The Vikings are building their roster through retaining the talent they add in the draft. GM Rick Spielman and his staff have done an excellent job of finding talent that can be developed by head coach Mike Zimmer and other members of the staff. Eight of the projected starters on the defensive side of the ball were selected by the Vikings. Five of those players have been added in the Vikings massive draft haul since 2012 (Barr, Kendricks, Floyd, Rhodes, Smith). On the other side of the ball, 9 of the projected starters were added through the draft and five of them were added since 2012 (Kalil, Wright, Bridgewater, Diggs, Treadwell). With the success the Vikings had in the draft, they have added players in free agency to fill the holes they have in the roster. For example, this offseason they added Alex Boone and Andre Smith to fuel more competition up front.

In the near future, the Vikings will need to decide whether they will extend Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Anthony Barr. All three of those players have played a pivotal role in the recent success of the Vikings' defensive unit. Recently, the front office has valued signing their own players as Brandon Fusco, Blair Walsh, Jarius Wright, and Kyle Rudolph have signed extensions before their contracts expired.

The Vikings will need to re-sign all of their young talent by the time the 2018 season approaches. This means the next few years could be critical as the Vikings make a push for the playoffs. As the team gets closer to 2018, the cap situation will become more compressed and it could lead to losing some young talent they can't afford.

However, the Vikings cap situation doesn't look ominous entering the 2017 season. Even with Smith's new deal, the team still has over $15 million in cap space available with Adrian Peterson under contract at $18 million for the 2017 season. That number doesn't seem realistic and with other moves the team will make to refine the roster, their cap situation and roster structure has been handled logically with building for the future in mind.

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