The team made a commitment to Harrison Smith by applying the fifth-year option on him, but, for the most part, the safety position remains the same now as it was four months ago after the Vikings season concluded.
It wasn’t as if the Vikings ignored the position. The team made a run at Devin McCourty, but the asking price got to be steep enough that the Vikings took themselves out of the running. The courting of McCourty seemed to show that the team was looking to upgrade the position, but circumstances prevented it from happening – just like the potential of addressing the position in the draft didn’t happen when Damarious Randall went in the first round and the Giants made sure nobody got Landon Collins in the second round by trading up to the first pick of the round.
But that isn’t to say that the Vikings aren’t happy with what they’ve got. In a telling exchange during the his draft-ending press conference, Rick Spielman was asked about the safety position and, when the questioning moved on to another topic the next questioner was cut off in mid-sentence as Spielman went back to answering the previous question about the state of the safety position with the Vikings.
There’s no questioning that the team has designs on signing Harrison Smith long term. He has more than earned his second contract and, of all the defensive players who have thrived under the Mike Zimmer defensive scheme, perhaps nobody has had it better than Smith. By his own admission, Smith has told Viking Update he loves the Zimmer defense because it allows safeties to play an integral role whether in coverage or as blitzers on specific plays.
With Smith locked down at one safety, if there was an upgrade from the outside that would be made, it would come at the expense of Robert Blanton. Blanton was the presumptive starter last year and, while he did a solid job, wasn’t overly dynamic, but Spielman expects that the competition is only beginning and the candidates are in-house.
With Blanton already penciled in as the starter, the competition at training camp and in the preseason will come from Andrew Sendejo and Antone Exum – with former Bengal Taylor Mays and undrafted rookie Anthony Harris also in the mix. A special teams ace, Sendejo finally got his opportunity to make a statement for his viability as a starter last season and Spielman went out of his way to mention that big things are expected from Exum this season after being converted from a cornerback to a safety.
By all indications, it appeared as though the Vikings did little to nothing to address the need at safety this offseason, but make no mistake. There is going to be competition for playing time at safety this season. It will just be coming from inside the organization, not from a splashy free agent signing or a high draft pick.