The Vikings are about to embark on a free agency journey next week. Daniel House provides two roster scenarios and discusses what a Kirk Cousins signing might mean for the future.
Updated: March 9, 2018, 2:25 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings are about to embark on a free agency journey next week. As rumors swirl about the pursuit of quarterback Kirk Cousins, fans are starting to wonder what his signing would mean for other positions on the roster. Does a move like this mortgage the future? What are the backup plans if Cousins’ contract is too rich for the Vikings’ blood? I have provided two scenarios for free agency with and without a Kirk Cousins signing. It doesn’t feel like the Vikings will drastically put a dent in the past philosophy of drafting and retaining talent. In the end, it comes down to whether they feel Cousins along with draft pieces, is enough to take the next step. If they don’t think it’s the case, the team will likely have more flexibility to add four pieces to a roster already filled with talent across position groups.
Kirk Cousins, QB, (Redskins)
If the Vikings sign Kirk Cousins, it is almost a guarantee the deal will be structured to ensure the current “draft and retain” philosophy continues. The Vikings could sign Cousins to a three-year deal with a heavy signing bonus, while front loading the contract for future cap relief. The goal is to continue drafting well and maintaining the philosophy of retaining talent from within. A short-term deal with these contract parameters leaves room to add years to the back of contracts for Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, similar to what the team with Xavier Rhodes in July. Cousins has been an efficient quarterback out of play-action and has excellent arm talent throwing all over the field. His downfield accuracy would be a significant upgrade and could take off with the duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs at his disposal. Cousins has thrown for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns during each of his past three seasons. He will command big money, but the Vikings might decide they want to win now and take advantage of the fact they came so close to playing in the Super Bowl last year. Is Cousins the missing piece? Probably not. The offensive line needs to take another step if the Vikings want to compete in the NFC.
Patrick Robinson, CB, (Eagles)
The Vikings might want to add more talent to the secondary in free agency. They could find a nickel cornerback by signing Eagles defensive back Patrick Robinson. He will likely average just over $6 million per year on a multi-year deal. Robinson might not have major exposure to the system, but many in the league talk about his football IQ and work ethic. During Super Bowl week, many people I talked with touted his ability to prepare, while illustrating a strong football IQ on the field. This is the type of signing which wouldn’t break the bank, but provides an upgrade at the nickel cornerback spot. The move could allow Mike Zimmer to slide Mackensie Alexander outside, an area where he is a more natural fit.
Jay Bromley, DT, (Giants)
Jay Bromley is a player the Vikings should sign with the idea he can develop into a solid contributor. He was a rotational player last year and is just 25 years old. He has nice length inside (6-foot-3) and has flashed as a rotational pass rusher. Sounds like a perfect under-the-radar signing to replace Tom Johnson, right? He is the type of player Rick Spielman and Co. like to add – young and hasn’t hit full potential yet. Bromley could be signed to a low stakes “prove it” contract to compete inside at defensive tackle. The Vikings need to find an option via free agency or the draft. Bromley is a name to closely monitor in the second or third wave of free agency.
Focus on extensions
Depending upon how Cousins’ deal is structured, the team might decide to extend Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks this offseason. After getting the extension done, they could try to get a deal done for Danielle Hunter in 2019. However, might it be wise to extend Hunter now, after completing a season that wasn’t up to his full potential? The Vikings certainly want to get these players locked up, but they need to think about the best way to make it happen. If they sign Cousins, they’ll like lose one of the main core players in two years.
Re-sign Case Keenum or Sam Bradford
The Vikings decided to let Case Keenum test the market by not placing the franchise tag on him. This isn’t a surprising move because the team would have been forced to pay Keenum roughly $23 million this year. It provides flexibility for the team to explore the Kirk Cousins market before deciding whether it makes sense to retain Keenum. The Vikings could offer Keenum a three-year contract hovering around the $18 million per year mark to keep him in Minnesota. The move would allow the Vikings to explore signing other free agent pieces to improve various phases of the roster. Keenum can fit in John DeFilippo’s system, especially considering he has the athletic ability to extend plays. He won’t be the same downfield passer as Cousins, but he will have the right players around him to be successful. The skepticism about whether Keenum is a product of the system makes people wonder whether the team could consider signing Sam Bradford, while drafting a quarterback high in April. With the knee problems, this seems less likely, but the door is certainly open. The most logical move would be to retain Keenum, but the risk is certainly high for this move, too.
Trey Burton, TE, (Eagles)
I think Trey Burton should be a high priority for the Vikings in free agency. If they sign Kirk Cousins, it probably is a little difficult to offer Burton a respectable deal. Burton will likely sign a deal which hovers around the $7-8 million per year mark. He has worked with John DeFilippo in Philadelphia and provides the Vikings with the type of tight end they’ve been searching for in recent seasons. Burton can line up all over the field and provide a matchup threat for the Vikings’ offense. Last year, Rick Spielman made it known the team tried to sign Jared Cook in free agency. It was important in 2017, but has additional meaning with John DeFilippo’s offense placing heavy emphasis on spreading the field and using an athletic tight end. Burton would nicely complement Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan, who have different skill-sets.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, (Seattle)
The Vikings may elect to wait until the draft to sign a defensive tackle, but Sheldon Richardson is on the free agent market. Richardson is a pure three-technique defensive tackle and would be an excellent fit in the Vikings’ defense. He has 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but people have been skeptical about his lack of production recently. Richardson needs to play at three-technique for the vast majority of his snaps. When he did this in 2014, he was dominant in the New York Jets’ defense. Richardson is the missing piece the Vikings need to place their defense in another tier. This year’s draft class has strong options at defensive tackle, but by signing Richardson, the team could focus on adding offensive line talent and another pure pass rusher in April. Richardson will likely command around $12 million per year on the open market, which is a number the Vikings can afford if they don’t break the bank at quarterback. The idea of Linval Joseph inside with Sheldon Richardson is very intriguing within an already talented defensive line. Instead of investing money into Tom Johnson, it’s worth spending a little more money to land Richardson.
Re-sign Joe Berger/test the value of Josh Sitton, OG, (Bears)
Perhaps the Vikings may decide they want to re-sign Joe Berger to provide a little stability until they can develop young talent at the guard spot. They may elect to draft Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price and Berger could handle starting duties until Price recovers from surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. He would be affordable and the team could continue evaluating the guards they draft, along with Nick Easton and Danny Isidora. The team could also take a long look at Josh Sitton, a four-time Pro Bowler, who will command around $7-8 million per year on the open market. However, at 31 years old with numerous ankle injuries, the team may decide to keep Berger (if he doesn’t retire), while drafting more talent.
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