The Vikings didn’t do a whole lot of business in free agency but they did upgrade through trades and the draft.
- Shaun Hill, QB: Two years, $6.5MM. $3.2MM guaranteed.
- Tom Johnson, DT: Two years, $7MM. $2.25MM guaranteed.
- Terence Newman, CB: One year, $2.25MM. $750K guaranteed.
- Cullen Loeffler, LS: One year, $1.05MM. $300K guaranteed.
- Joe Berger, G: Two years, $2.155MM. $130K guaranteed.
- Matt Asiata, RB: One year, $800K. $100K guaranteed.
- Mike Harris, T: One year, $1.542MM. Signed original-round RFA tender.
- Casey Matthews, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- DuJuan Harris, RB: One year, minimum salary.
- Mike Kafka, QB: One year, minimum salary.
After trading Matt Cassel – who we’ll talk about in a bit – the Vikings moved quickly to fill his spot on the depth chart by signing Shaun Hill. The seasoned veteran has played for four teams, including a stint with the Vikings from 2002-05. His latest stop was in St. Louis, where he played nine games (eight starts) last year and threw eight touchdowns against seven interceptions for an 83.9 passer rating.
Tom Johnson signed with the Vikings last offseason on a one-year contract, coming off of a three-year stint with the Saints. He impressed the coaching staff with a strong year in 2014 the led him to staying with the Vikings. He graded out positively as a rotation player on the defensive line according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and should continue to help the team going forward. Minnesota didn’t have many impact free agents hitting the open market this year but Johnson was one of the guys they wanted to retain.
Terence Newman spent the last three seasons in Cincinnati, starting 41 regular season contests for the Bengals during that stretch. By signing with the Vikings, the 36-year-old has reunited with Mike Zimmer, who was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati when Newman joined the Bengals. In 2014, Newman logged 75 tackles to go along with 15 passes defended and an interception, and graded as a middle-of-the-pack cornerback according to Pro Football Focus’ grades, placing 56th out of 108 qualified players at the position (subscription required).
Running back Matt Asiata was given an opportunity to shine in 2014 thanks to the absence of Adrian Peterson and, for a handful of games, he shined like a diamond. In March, Asiata was a restricted free agent and neither the running back nor the team knew what kind of role he would fill in 2015 thanks to Peterson’s status being up in the air and the emergence of freak athlete Jerick McKinnon. The two sides ultimately agreed to an incentive-laden deal that would protect Minnesota in the event of Peterson’s return and reward Asiata if he was starting and getting 20+ carries per game. Now that AD is back in action (more on that further down the page), it’s unlikely that Asiata will get to cash in on most of those incentives.
- Jasper Brinkley, LB
- Vlad Ducasse, G
- Jerome Felton, FB: Opted out
- Greg Jennings, WR: Released
- Charlie Johnson, G: Released
- Christian Ponder, QB
- Corey Wootton, DE
Greg Jennings was asked to restructure his contract in order to remain with the team, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement and that led to the wide receiver being released in mid-March. Jennings’ release saved the Vikings $5MM, but $6MM worth of dead money remains on the team’s 2015 cap. Jennings was catching passes from a combination of Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, and even Josh Freeman during his first year with the Vikes, and never appeared to be an ideal fit. Even after Teddy Bridgewater emerged as the starter in 2014, Jennings’ production was unspectacular — he recorded just 59 receptions for 742 yards last season. That’s a far cry from his best work. During the three seasons in which he played all 16 games, from 2008 to 2010, Jennings posted three straight 1,100-yard seasons, averaging about 75 receptions, 1,223 yards, and eight touchdowns per year.
Ponder, 27, started 36 games during his four years with the Vikings, though he was essentially the team’s No. 3 signal-caller in 2014, behind Teddy Bridgewater and Cassel on the depth chart. The former No. 12 overall pick is now with the Raiders and will serve as the understudy to Derek Carr. All throughout 2014 it was widely speculated that Ponder’s time in Minnesota was drawing to a close.
As a youngster with the Jets, the rap on Vlad Ducasse was that he was an extremely green (no pun intended) lineman with immense strength. Throughout his first four seasons with the Jets and his 2014 campaign with the Vikings, Ducasse still looked rather raw and never fulfilled his second round potential. The UMass product started just five games during his time with New York. He topped that number in ’14 alone, starting six contests in Minnesota while playing at both guard positions. In total, Ducasse played in 13 games last season, totaling 417 snaps, but graded as the league’s No. 61 guard among 78 qualifiers per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Vikings, understandably, didn’t make a great effort to keep him.
Jasper Brinkley wanted to return to Minnesota and in March, he made that known to everyone.
“I would love to come back,’’ Brinkley said. “They gave me an opportunity and it still feels like home for me. I would love to definitely come back. Coach Zimmer is doing great things with the team, turning the culture around there and everything is on the up and up.’’
Ultimately, however, that was not to be, as Brinkley wound up signing a two-year pact with the Cowboys. The veteran started 11 games for Minnesota last season, compiling 54 tackles and one sack.
Veteran guard Charlie Johnson started 61 of 64 potential regular season games for the Vikings over the past four years, but he was not welcomed back for the 2015 season. Despite his extensive experience (115 career starts), the 31-year-old received a negative grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in each of his four years in Minnesota, including a -12.1 mark in 2014.
Corey Wootton, 28, spent the first four seasons of his NFL career in Chicago before joining the Vikings for the 2014 season. While he has never been an every-down player, Wootton saw 22 starts and totaled 10 sacks during his final two seasons with the Bears. Last year in Minnesota, he came off the bench and recorded just a single sack.
- Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round pick from the Bills in exchange for QB Matt Cassel and a 2015 sixth-round pick.
- Acquired WR Mike Wallace and a 2015 seventh-round pick from the Dolphins in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick.
- Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 80) and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 193; DL B.J. Dubose) from the Chiefs in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick (No. 76; WR Chris Conley).
- Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 88; DE Danielle Hunter) and a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 143; TE MyCole Pruitt) from the Lions in exchange for 2015 third-round pick (No. 80; CB Alex Carter).
- Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 146; WR Stefon Diggs) and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 185; T Tyrus Thompson) from the Falcons in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 137; DT Grady Jarrett).
Exit Jennings, enter Mike Wallace. On March 13th, the Vikings acquired Wallace and a seventh-round pick from the Vikings for a fifth-round choice. Wallace, who spent the first four years of his career in Pittsburgh, signed a five-year, $60MM contract with the Dolphins prior to the 2013 season. He subsequently caught 140 passes for nearly 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns during his two years in Miami. The Dolphins will replace him with fomer Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills, who hauled in 63 passes for over 900 yards as a second-year man in 2014. Wallace is coming off a campaign that saw him tie a personal best with 10 TDs, giving him 47 for his career, and the Vikings hope to see more of that in 2015.
The Vikings probably didn’t mind parting with a fifth-rounder since they added one from the Bills in the Matt Cassel trade. For the Vikings, Cassel was largely expendable since he was their backup to Teddy Bridgewater. The Bills, however, were faced with major question marks at the quarterback position and needed to make a move for a proven vet.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked John Sullivan as one of the league’s better centers in 2014, with a +7.5 run-blocking grade buoying him to a 12th-place finish among 41 qualified players at the position. It was no surprise that the Vikings offered him another year on his deal.
- 1-11: Trae Waynes, CB (Michigan State): Signed
- 2-45: Eric Kendricks, ILB (UCLA): Signed
- 3-88: Danielle Hunter, DE (LSU): Signed
- 4-110: T.J. Clemmings, T (Pittsburgh): Signed
- 5-143: MyCole Pruitt, TE (Southern Illinois): Signed
- 5-146: Stefon Diggs, WR (Maryland): Signed
- 6-185: Tyrus Thompson, T (Oklahoma): Signed
- 6-193: B.J. Dubose, DL (Louisville): Signed
- 7-228: Austin Shepherd, OL (Alabama): Signed
- 7-232: Edmond Robinson, OLB (Newberry): Signed
The Vikings were widely connected to Michigan State standout Trae Waynes in the weeks leading up to the draft and they did not make fools of the prognosticators. Waynes possesses top-end speed and many believe that he will be a natural fit for Zimmer’s system. Mike Mayock of NFL.com is one of the many pundits who feels that Waynes is an outstanding corner, particularly in press coverage. As a junior in 2014, Waynes three interceptions and eight pass breakups and finished sixth on the team with 46 tackles.
After taking Anthony Barr in 2014, the Vikings went back to the well when they took fellow UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. Kendricks boasts solid in-game speed and can also drop back for man-to-man coverage when needed. If Kendricks can add weight to his frame without losing speed, he could have a very bright NFL future ahead of him.
- Learned RB Adrian Peterson was reinstated by the NFL.
- Exercised 2016 fifth-year option for T Matt Kalil ($11.096MM).
- Exercised 2016 fifth-year option for S Harrison Smith ($5.728MM).
- Signed, and then released, S Taylor Mays. $10K in dead money will remain on 2015 salary cap.
- Claimed TE Brandon Bostick off waivers from the Packers.
- Signed nine players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 10 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
Of course, the biggest story for Minnesota didn’t have anything to do free agency, trades, or the draft. Instead, the Vikings waited and waited to find out if they’d have the services of embattled running back Adrian Peterson and in April, they got confirmation of his reinstatement. Just one problem: Peterson and his agent said that he would not suit up for the Vikings without a sign of a “commitment,” which everyone took to mean that AD wanted the remainder of his contract guaranteed. Ultimately, the Vikings did not blink in that stare-down and came out on top. The 30-year-old is under contract for three more years, and is scheduled to earn a $12.75MM base salary this season.
Since entering the league as the 29th overall pick in 2012, Harrison Smith has evolved into one of the NFL’s most effective free safeties — in 2014, he had his best year yet, compiling 92 tackles, five interceptions, and three sacks for the Vikes.
Matt Kalil, on the other hand, has struggled. Although he earned a Pro Bowl berth in his rookie season, and has started all 48 regular season games at left tackle for Minnesota since being selected fourth overall, the 25-year-old has regressed over the last couple years, according to Pro Football Focus’ data (subscription required). PFF assigned Kalil a -21.1 grade as a pass blocker in 2014, which ranked 83rd out of 84 qualified tackles. Still, neither player’s salary is fully guaranteed until the first day of the 2016 league year, so as long as Kalil doesn’t sustain a significant injury, the Vikes will still be able to move on from him after this season if they so choose.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Adrian Peterson, RB: $15,400,000
- Mike Wallace, WR: $9,900,000
- Everson Griffen, DE: $8,200,000
- John Sullivan, C: $7,333,333
- Phil Loadholt, RT: $6,750,000
- Kyle Rudolph, TE: $6,440,625
- Matt Kalil, LT: $6,290,644
- Greg Jennings, WR: $6,000,000 (dead money)
- Brian Robison, DE: $5,650,000
- Chad Greenway, LB: $5,575,000
For several months there were rumblings that Peterson would force his way out of Minnesota – possibly into the welcoming arms of Jerry Jones. As we look ahead to training camp, No. 28 is still in purple and the Cowboys are, somewhat surprisingly, without a blockbuster running back. The Vikings held on to Peterson and with all of their other core players under contract through 2016, they didn’t lose much of anything this offseason. The Vikings have a real chance to take the NFC North, but much of their success will rest on the 30-year-old shoulders of Peterson, who may have to battle some rust before getting back to his old form.