Vikings Rumors

Vikings Waiting For 2022 Draft Class To Step Up

2022 was the first draft in Minnesota for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. While there have been some success stories like fourth-round cornerback Akayleb Evans becoming a starter in Year 2 and fifth-round running back Ty Chandler serving as a decent RB2 in his sophomore campaign, the class has overall been a bit of a disappointment.

We already commented on Kevin Seifert of ESPN’s stance that former first-round safety Lewis Cine could be on the roster bubble, but Seifert didn’t stop there, claiming that the other three picks in the first three rounds could run into similar difficulties this offseason.

This statement expands to the later picks of the draft class, as well, though it obviously doesn’t pertain to Evans and Chandler. Worth mentioning, though, is former sixth-round offensive tackle Vederian Lowe, who was traded to the Patriots for a seventh-round pick and went on to start eight games in New England last year, and fifth-round pass rusher Esezi Otomewo, who was waived after a year with the team.

Of the remaining players in the class, LSU second-round offensive guard Ed Ingram has been the most impactful player. Ingram became an instant, full-time starter as a rookie and has only missed two games in his time with the team. That being said, head coach Kevin O’Connell seemed to indicate recently that both starting guard spots are being fought for in a three-way competition between Ingram, backup tackle Blake Brandel, and Dalton Risner.

The battle could be a result of underwhelming performance from the second-rounder. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ingram graded out as the 57th-best guard in the league out of 77 graded players his rookie year. Though he improved to the 38th-ranked guard in 2023, his overall score that determines those rankings only rose from 57.0 to 59.5. For reference, the top players at the position graded out in the 80s. Ingram could certainly win one of the two available starting jobs over Brandel and Risner, but the fact that, going into his third year, Ingram’s in danger of losing his job as the incumbent starter points to relative disappointment.

Taken 17 picks before Ingram, former Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth has also failed to play up to his second-round draft stock. Booth was already playing behind the starters, Evans and Byron Murphy, last year, but he is in danger of continuing to tumble down the depth chart as free agent addition Shaquill Griffin comes in with far more starting experience and fourth-round rookie Khyree Jackson could have more goodwill to win a roster spot in his first year with the team.

Third-round linebacker Brian Asamoah has likewise failed to crack the rotation in his first two years out of Oklahoma. He’s not likely to earn any starting time in 2024 as he’s been consistently working behind Ivan Pace and Blake Cashman so far this offseason. The free agent addition of veteran Kamu Grugier-Hill will likely take away any snaps as the primary backup at the position, as well.

Seventh-round pick Nick Muse was maybe not expected to do much as a late-round tight end, but he’s only been on the field for two offensive snaps in his career and missed all but two games last year. He may not see much room for improvement in 2024 as he’s been buried on a depth chart that now includes T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Robert Tonyan, and Johnny Mundt.

Lastly, sixth-round receiver Jalen Nailor was also mentioned by Seifert but on a slightly more positive note. Seifert claims that the coaching staff really wants to see Nailor make an impact and possibly earn the WR3 role this offseason. That role was vacated as K.J. Osborn departed for New England in free agency, and the Vikings didn’t really do much to replace Osborn after he left. With Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison leading the receiving corps, Nailor has an opportunity to step up into a crucial role.

Nailor’s early career has been hampered by injury. He missed seven games early in the season last year before sitting out the final four contests, as well. But coaches have pegged him as a “slippery target that defenders have trouble tracking” during his limited time in games and practice. While the coaches are hoping that he’ll force their hand, he’ll be competing with Brandon Powell, who was the fourth receiver on the team after coming over from the Rams last year, and Trent Sherfield, who has been an inconsistent contributor over his six years in the league.

So, Adofo-Mensah’s first draft did not produce the desired results in 2022, and while he did a little better by nailing Addison in the first round last year, the rest of the 2023 class has yet to make their impact. He’ll hope to continue hitting on first-rounders with quarterback J.J. McCarthy and pass rusher Dallas Turner this year, and he’ll hope that late-round picks like Jackson and kicker Will Reichard show their impacts, as well. Entering a bit of a rebuild postKirk Cousins, the team’s success will depend partially on how well Adofo-Mensah can build the team moving forward.

Vikings LB Ivan Pace “Top Contender” To Serve As Defensive Signal-Caller

The defensive signal-caller in a Brian Flores-coordinated defense is especially important to the success of the unit, given how much Flores likes to rotate most of his personnel. At present, second-year linebacker Ivan Pace appears to be the “top contender” to serve in that role for the Vikings in 2024, per ESPN.

That should not come as much of a surprise. Even as an undrafted rookie, Pace took over green dot responsibilities when veteran Jordan Hicks was forced to miss four games with a leg injury last season, and he played in 100% of Minnesota’s defensive snaps during that time. In all, he appeared in all 17 contests (11 starts) and racked up 102 total tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks and an interception.

Pace’s surface-level production is impressive enough for any rookie, but especially a UDFA. Those numbers were supported by a similarly strong showing in the advanced metrics world, as Pro Football Focus considered him the 16th-best linebacker out of 82 qualifiers and thought especially highly of his work in coverage. With Hicks having signed with the Browns in free agency, Pace seems like the most logical candidate to step in as the full-time signal-caller on defense.

That said, the Vikings did authorize a notable contract for linebacker Blake Cashman in March, and they also signed Kamu Grugier-Hill, who has 115 games and 42 starts on his resume. Those acquisitions were part of a defensive overhaul that saw the team part ways with star pass rusher Danielle Hunter while adding the likes of Cashman, Grugier-Hill, Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, Jihad Ward, and Jerry Tillery to the front seven. Minnesota also selected prized prospect Dallas Turner in the first round of April’s draft.

The ESPN report indicates that the team is considering Cashman and Grugier-Hill for the green dot role, but it would nonetheless seem that Pace, in light of his rookie-year performance and the fact that he handled those duties last season, would have a leg up.

Said head coach Kevin O’Connell, “[Pace] has had a very good spring, just with the type of communication [Flores] is putting on his plate.”

Pace himself said, “I know they brought in a couple linebackers that have more experience and stuff, but if they trust me enough to have the green dot, I’m ready for it.”

Undrafted free agents are signed to three-year contracts, as opposed to the four-year pacts that their drafted counterparts receive. As such, UDFAs become extension-eligible after accruing just two years of service time, so if Pace can build on his 2023 showing, he could be in line for a noteworthy pay raise next offseason.

S Lewis Cine On Vikings’ Roster Bubble?

Lewis Cine has two years remaining on his rookie contract, but this summer could prove to be a pivotal point in his young NFL career. The Vikings safety is buried on the depth chart ahead of next month’s training camp.

Minnesota pulled off a first-round swap with Detroit during the first round of the 2022 draft. Cine was selected with the No. 32 pick, and he faced high expectations after enjoying a successful tenure at Georgia. Ahead of his rookie season, however, it was clear he faced a steep path to a starting workload. Cine’s debut campaign was cut short by a leg fracture which required two surgeries.

The 2023 season saw the 24-year-old log only seven games and eight defensive snaps, and an uptick in usage does not appear likely at this point. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert notes, Cine found himself behind not only starters Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynumbut also backups Theo Jackson and Jay Ward on the depth chart this spring. Keeping in mind Josh Metellus‘ ability to wear many hats in the secondary, Cine faces plenty of competition for a roster spot. That is especially true given the team’s other moves in the secondary.

Minnesota signed Shaquill Griffin in free agency before adding Khyree Jackson in the fourth round of the draft. Those new cornerbacks will take up roster spots in addition to the aforementioned safeties, something which could leave Cine on the outside looking in during cutdowns. Training camp and the preseason will no doubt play a large role in how the team evaluates him.

As a former first-round pick, Cine’s base salaries for 2024 ($1.75MM) and ’25 ($2.27MM) are fully guaranteed. That could provide incentive for the Vikings to keep him in the fold, and a surprisingly involved and productive 2024 campaign could even give Minnesota reason to consider picking up his fifth-year option. Doing so would tie him to the team through 2026, but quite a bit would need to change over the coming weeks for Cine to receive any sustained looks on defense in the fall. His performances during camp will be worth monitoring.

Minor NFL Transactions: 6/18/24

Today’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Lions

Miami Dolphins

  • Waived: WR Mathew Sexton

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

  • Signed: G Liam Fornadel

New York Jets

  • Signed: OL Kohl Levao

Jones-Smith brings six games of experience to Atlanta, with the offensive lineman seeing time with the Raiders (2020) and Ravens (2021). The majority of his career snaps have come on special teams. He’ll provide the Falcons with some OT depth behind Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary.

The Lions officially added former UFL kicker Jake Bates to their squad, so the team moved on from an undrafted kicker to make room. Turner spent four years at Louisville before joining Michigan for the 2023 campaign. He had a standout season for the Wolverines, converting 18 of his 21 field goal attempts and 65 of his 66 XP tries.

Minor NFL Transactions: 6/17/24

Here are Monday’s minor moves:

Minnesota Vikings

  • Waived: WR Devron Harper

New England Patriots

  • Waived: G Ryan Johnson

Both Harper and Johnson were among this year’s collection of UDFAs. The Vikings guaranteed Harper $15K, according to Cardinals Wire’s Howard Balzer. Johnson, who played collegiately at Youngstown State, was not part of the Patriots’ initial UDFA haul. He signed with the team last month. Harper was one of two Mercer wideouts the Vikings signed after the draft. The other — Ty James — remains on Minnesota’s 90-man offseason roster.

Ten Unsigned 2024 Draft Picks Remain

The NFL collectively is ahead of where it was last year with regards to draft signings. Teams have navigated the guarantee issue second-round contracts presented in recent years. Unlike 2023, when 30 players were unsigned in late June and nearly half the second round was without contracts entering July, we are down to 10 unsigned rookies from the 2024 class. Here is the lot still without NFL contracts:

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

The clearest difference between this year and last comes from the second round. On June 17, 2023, half the second-rounders were unsigned. The 2011 CBA introducing the slot system has removed most of the drama from rookie-deal negotiations, but second-rounders continue to make guarantee gains. This contractual component has complicated matters for teams in the past, but that has not been the case — for the most part — this year.

A number of 2021 second-round picks remain attached to their rookie deals. Those terms illustrate the improvements Round 2 draftees have made on that front since. The Jaguars did guarantee 2021 No. 33 pick Tyson Campbell‘s first three seasons; his fourth brought $50K guaranteed. This year, the Bills needed to guarantee nearly Keon Coleman‘s entire rookie contract. Coleman has three years locked in and $1.74MM of his $2.1MM 2027 base salary is guaranteed at signing. This year’s No. 59 overall pick (Texans tackle Blake Fisher) secured more in Year 4 guarantees than Campbell’s deal contains.

A sizable gap does exist between Coleman’s final-year guarantees and those of Falcons DT Ruke Orhorhoro (No. 35 overall). The Clemson product has $966K of his $2.1MM 2024 base guaranteed. This gulf has likely caused the holdup for the Chargers and McConkey, a player who — after the exits of longtime starters Keenan Allen and Mike Williams — stands to be a central figure in the Bolts’ first Jim Harbaugh-era offense. With the top players in Round 2 on the cusp of seeing fully guaranteed deals, McConkey can set another notable precedent while gaining some additional security for himself.

First-round contracts have only been fully guaranteed en masse since 2022, when Vikings safety Lewis Cine — chosen 32nd overall — secured those terms. Though, matters like offset language still have been known to slow negotiations. Extended holdouts into training camp no longer occur among rookies, with players risking the loss of an accrued season toward free agency — a product of the 2020 CBA — by doing so. Corley and Benson were this year’s top third-round picks. The 49ers gave No. 64 overall pick Renardo Green two fully guaranteed years. That has likely caused a holdup for the Jets and Cardinals, considering the progress made via contracts agreed to by earlier draftees.

Rams Contacted Jets, Vikings About Round 1 Trade-Up

Known for trading first-round picks for veteran talent since returning to Los Angeles, the Rams finally used their allotted selection on a college performer this year by drafting Florida State’s Jared Verse at No. 19. But this came after reports of the team trying to climb into the top 10.

A pre-draft report indicated the Rams were interested in moving into the top 10, and Georgia’s Brock Bowers was believed to be the team’s target. The Rams have Tyler Higbee coming off a late-season ACL tear, with Hunter Long having undergone MCL surgery shortly before that. The team signed Colby Parkinson in free agency, but Bowers certainly would have represented a splashier piece in Sean McVay‘s offense.

The Rams targeted the Jets with a trade-up effort. Not seeking one of the quarterbacks still on the board, the Jets eventually used their position to squeeze an extra fourth-round pick from the QB-needy Vikings. That J.J. McCarthy-centered transaction came after GM Joe Douglas took a call from Rams counterpart Les Snead. A recent look into the Rams’ draft process (h/t The33rdTeam.com’s Ari Meirov) points to Snead offering Nos. 19 and 52 to the Jets for No. 10.

Snead revealed Douglas was not interested in moving down from 10 to 19. That drop likely would have taken the Jets out of the running for the player they eventually grabbed at 11 — Penn State tackle Olu Fashanu. Following the Jets-Vikings trade, the Rams came back with an offer that included Nos. 19, 52 and third- and sixth-round picks for No. 11, Meirov adds. While would have brought an interesting haul for the Jets, the team’s decision to pass shows its level of interest in Fashanu, who became this year’s third tackle chosen.

The Rams’ call was also interesting due to the pre-draft Jets-Bowers connections that developed. The Jets hosted the Georgia tight end on a “30” visit following his clearance from ankle surgery, and pre-draft reports suggested Gang Green stood as the floor for the three-year SEC standout. The Jets also were believed to be interested in adding another wide receiver to the mix, but after the Bears took Washington’s Rome Odunze at No. 9, the team — which had also been linked to trading down — made a deal with the Vikings and still landed Fashanu at 11.

Fashanu joins March pickups Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses in a Jets tackle group that promises to be deeper than last season’s contingent, while Verse will join ex-Seminoles teammate Braden Fiske — whom the Rams acquired after completing a second-round trade-up effort (via the Panthers) — in a group effort to replace the retired Aaron Donald.

McVay also called ex-assistant Kevin O’Connell about a move to No. 11, but the eighth-year Los Angeles HC was fairly sure the Vikings — after a run of QB work and extensive rumors leading up to the draft — would stay and pick McCarthy were he still on the board at 11.

It certainly would have been interesting to see the Rams equip Matthew Stafford with a dynamic tight end. The Rams have obviously enjoyed sustained success under McVay, but they have not employed a Pro Bowl tight end during the Super Bowl-winning HC’s tenure. Though, Higbee has put together multiple productive seasons. Going down in the Rams’ wild-card loss, Higbee will not be ready for training camp. It would not surprise to see the ninth-year veteran land on the reserve/PUP list to start the season.

The Falcons’ Michael Penix Jr. pick at No. 8 halted any Broncos trade-down interest as well. Sean Payton‘s interest in adding Bo Nix effectively cut off the Rams’ options re: Bowers. The Raiders will attempt to make good use out of a Bowers-Michael Mayer tandem, having made a best-player-available choice — after six QBs went off the board before their No. 13 overall slot — to bring in this draft’s top TE.

Sam Darnold To Open Training Camp As Vikings’ Starter

The Vikings are set to look very different under center in 2024. After watching Kirk Cousins go down with a season-ending injury last year, Minnesota was forced to use a mixture of Joshua Dobbs, Nick Mullens, and Jaren Hall to finish the season. With Cousins in Atlanta now and Dobbs now a backup in San Francisco, the Vikings will be looking at two new faces atop the depth chart.

The team essentially exchanged Dobbs for former 49ers backup quarterback Sam Darnold who failed to start more than one game for the first time in his six-year career last season. Darnold was expected to return to a starting role in his replacement of Cousins, being designated as the new QB1 over the incumbent Mullens and Hall. That was, of course, barring any further additions to the room in the offseason.

The Vikings were not in a position to go after one of the top three quarterbacks in the 11th draft slot. Still, many saw the organization as one of the teams likely to go after a passer in the draft, but nobody was quite sure what lengths the team would go to in order to acquire one. Minnesota was lucky enough to see the fourth quarterback projected to come off the board start to slide down closer and closer to their pick but needed to avoid getting scooped and traded up one spot in order to select Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy at No. 10 overall.

Rarely these days are quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 draft picks without an expectation that they will start right away, but it appears that is the case for now. According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, head coach Kevin O’Connell has announced that Darnold, and not McCarthy, will begin training camp as the starting quarterback.

Darnold had been running as QB1 through organized team activities this spring, and O’Connell saw no reason to change things up quite yet. Right now, McCarthy has reportedly been focusing more on individual improvement than on competition with Darnold. While McCarthy could certainly get an opportunity to win the job at the end of the summer, O’Connell stopped short of saying anything more than that he is planning for training camp to be “competitive” at many positions.

Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah Addresses Financial Approach

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been at the helm of the Vikings for the past two years, and that span has seen considerable roster turnover. A few major roster-building decisions have been made this offseason, including the recent monster investment made in receiver Justin Jefferson.

Jefferson’s extension carries an annual average value of $35MM, the highest figure for a non-quarterback in NFL history. He is a member of the team’s young core now and for the foreseeable future, and the structure of the pact includes guaranteed money in all but its final season. The Jefferson accord is the latest component of the Vikings’ financial approach, one Adofo-Mensah recently expanded on.

“I have been in places where they have specific calculations for how much a player’s worth,” he said (via Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune). “Those are tougher in football as compared to baseball, just because of the interaction between teammates and things like that. But I do know those numbers, and obviously I have [them] in our calculations. There’s also ways to do it, relative value-wise: Would I rather have a quarterback at this level or a wide receiver at this level or a [pass] rusher at this level?”

In the era of certain positions – quarterback being chief among them – occupying an increasingly large share of salary cap space, the question of which players to invest in on second contracts has become a central element of roster construction. In the case of the Vikings, of course, the QB spot is now made up of veteran Sam Darnold (who signed a one-year, $10MM deal in free agency) and first-rounder J.J. McCarthy (who will be attached to his rookie deal for at least four years).

The extra funds realized by letting Kirk Cousins depart will be used in part on Jefferson’s deal, as well as the one tight end T.J. Hockenson is signed to. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw is a candidate for the Vikings’ next lucrative in-house contract, something Adofo-Mensah confirmed is a preferred means of committing cap space to the team’s new nucleus.

“The draft is the most efficient way to boost talent, but re-signing your own is typically the second best, right?” he said. “Because then free agency is its own deal, and you have to pay a premium to the market. And then lastly is, people have to trade. So with that kind of hierarchy, we look at these deals as still pretty favorable to the team, when you’re extending your own.”

Minnesota is currently projected to have over $54MM in cap space in 2025, and the likes of McCarthy, fellow first-round rookie Dallas Turner and wideout Jordan Addison will be on cost-controlled pacts for multiple years beyond that point. That will create a notable window for Adofo-Mensah to make additions aimed at complementing the players attached to lucrative second contracts as the organization’s transition away from numerous veterans of the previous regime continues.

Vikings Moving N’Keal Harry To TE

N’Keal Harry has struggled to carve out a role as a receiver during his professional career. Now, the former first-round pick will be looking to make an NFL roster as a tight end. Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell told reporters that Harry will be switching positions ahead of the 2024 campaign.

“N’Keal is really fired up about it,” O’Connell said (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “He has attacked the process, long before we even got started in the offseason program. But you’re hoping to see the receiving traits lead the way early on, as they get a little more comfort in maybe having their hand down, being a part of run schemes, the different kind of run schemes that we’re implementing, and N’Keal has shown that. . . . At this stage in his career a position change is unique, but we’re hoping we’re developing a guy who can be a real third-down weapon, red-zone weapon, with his skill set.”

Harry was a bust in New England, as the Arizona State product was unable to click with Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Mac Jones. His best season came in 2020, when he hauled in 33 catches for 309 yards and two scores. Otherwise, his Patriots tenure saw him collect another 24 receptions. He caught seven passes for the Bears in 2022 before spending the 2023 campaign as a special teamer in Minnesota.

This position change should only help the 26-year-old’s chances of making the 2024 roster. Andrew Krammer of The Star Tribune passed along yesterday that star tight end T.J. Hockenson will likely start the season on injured reserve as he recovers from a torn ACL. That would open a spot on the depth chart for at least the first four weeks of the season.

The Vikings will return the same TE grouping next season, meaning Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt will be the likeliest candidates to fill in for Hockenson. Harry would be competing with the likes of Nick Muse and veteran Robert Tonyan for one of the final spots on the depth chart.