The Minnesota Vikings will be spending this weekend watching NFC Championship game from home, just one year after ending their season in that very game.
The Vikings enter this offseason with a number of questions to answer with their defense and special teams units. General manager Rick Spielman has a very tough decision between two defenders as to who, if either, he should keep.
Sheldon Richardson, Defensive Tackle
Clayton: Proved to be well worth the one-year investment. Provided great interior pressure versus the pass, freeing up the ends Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffin, and Stephen Weatherly to get to opposing quarterbacks. The only hang up in his return will be the money if it comes down to him ultimately leaving.
Sam: Between Barr and Richardson, I personally would slightly favor Richardson to earn the big defensive paycheck this offseason. That said, the Vikings have more in place to replace Richardson with Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson, whereas Eric Wilson, while a good cover guy, is a bit of a liability in run defense, should he step in to replace Barr. As such, I lean towards the Vikings choosing Barr over Richardson, but it is close.
Tom Johnson, Defensive Tackle
Clayton: Great rotational player who provided depth for the Vikings interior line. Was best in passing situations. Team was fortunate that Seattle mistakenly cut him to make room for another player they coveted. As an older player, could be cheap enough to re-sign. Could just as likely be allowed to walk if the team wants to go cheaper via the draft.
Sam: Johnson is as solid as they come as a rotational pass rushing three-technique. His advanced age means that he could be a snap away from his play slipping, but it also should mean that he will be cheap. Plus, if Richardson leaves, he has proven he can play consistent time, and even start for a stretch.
Anthony Barr, Linebacker
Clayton: Had an up-and-down season in a contract year. Can defend in both the ground and passing game but simply disappears too often. When he plays at his best, he makes the defense a whole different animal, but that simply doesn’t happen enough. Richardson likely gets the big payday over Barr if it comes down to it.
Sam: I think I am higher on Barr than most. While his coverage is the subject of much derision, his metrics place him among the best cover linebackers in football. His versatility as a pass rusher/classic run stopper would also be tough to replace. We saw the drop-off between him and Eric Wilson when Barr was out. The problem will come from Barr’s appeal as a potential 3-4 edge. Teams may shell out major cash to have Barr in that role. In that case, it would be hard for the Vikings to retain him.
Marcus Sherels, Cornerback
Clayton: The franchise’s all-time leader in punt return scores. Has been the team’s main punt returner for the past eight seasons. With Mike Preifer leaving town, the new special teams coordinator may also opt for a new return man as well.
Sam: I was almost certain Sherels was going to leave last year with Mike Hughes coming in. However, Sherels continued to provide reliability as a return man and occasional help as a fifth corner. I am starting to believe he will not be released until he retires. That said, Hughes should develop and start taking more of the return duties.
George Iloka, Safety
Clayton: Pupil of Mike Zimmer during his time as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator. Played sparingly after arriving as a surprise cut from Cincinnati. Will likely look to head somewhere else to rebuild his stock.
Sam: It almost seems like Zimmer signed Iloka as a favor, and little else. Iloka did not crack the rotation until Andrew Sendejo got hurt, and even then, Anthony Harris beat him out for the spot. His time in Minnesota was almost certainly a one-and-done.
Chances: Less than 10%
Anthony Harris, Safety
Clayton: Once he stepped in for Sendejo, he never looked back. May have played well enough to make his predecessor a cap casualty come March. Good cover skills and has a nose for the ball. Would be a shock if the team lets him. Shouldn’t be too expensive to bring him back.
Sam: A starting safety spot seems to be Harris’ job to lose moving forward. He was outstanding in place of Sendejo, and could provide a discount to the veteran without any dip in production. The only scenario in which he leaves is a massive contract from an outside team.
Dan Bailey, Kicker
Clayton: Provided more stability than rookie Daniel Carlson did in the first two weeks but still missed a number of kicks. Matched career-low 75 percent kicking rate from previous season. May end up staying on team anyways but likely getting competition.
Sam: Bailey was inconsistent but a safer option than virtually anyone else out there. Cody Parkey is a perfect example of what can happen when teams stretch to sign kickers. Status quo is probably the best option for the Vikings.
Matt Wile, Punter
Clayton: Did what needed to be done, but was about average for what the team needed from the position. Not seeing the team looking for any major upgrades here, but will likely be up to the new special teams coordinator’s preference at the position.
Sam: Matt Wile was the Vikings’ best special teams player this year. The new coordinator could throw a wrench into things, but I would be quite surprised if the Vikings do not bring Wile back, given he is an exclusive rights free agent.
– Clayton Brooks writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @ClaytonRBrooks2.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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