The Minnesota Vikings have improved their pass defense every year since Mike Zimmer has taken over as head coach, which makes sense since he specializes in defensive backs. One of the primary contributors in the defensive backfield each year has been cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Munnerlyn was one of the first free agent signings that Zimmer made. He specializes as a slot defender, but earned the role as one of the team’s outside cornerbacks, in 2014, though he moved inside in nickel packages.
Both he and Zimmer were unhappy with the way he performed during the 2014 season, and his role was designated to that of strictly a slot corner during the 2015 season after the team signed Terence Newman to play on the outside opposite Xavier Rhodes. The improvement was noticeable almost immediately and Munnerlyn finished the season as the Vikings top-rated cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus.
Following the 2015 season, PFF gave Munnerlyn a grade of 82.3, which made him the 18th-ranked cornerback in the NFL. Newman received a grade of 76.3 and Rhodes got a 70.6.
Munnerlyn finished the season with 55 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, two interceptions and four passes defensed. They are good numbers considering he wasn’t on the field every snap, but where he really seemed to do well last year was locking down his opponent and forcing the quarterback to go elsewhere with the ball.
The Vikings signed Munnerlyn to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million back in 2014, which means the 2016 season could be his last one in Minnesota. He has been playing well, and that would normally warrant another contract, but the Vikings have a lot of young talent waiting for their opportunity.
The team used their 2015 first-round pick on Trae Waynes and he spent most of last season on the sidelines and this past season they used their second-round pick on Mackensie Alexander. Waynes isn’t likely to affect Munnerlyn’s role on the team much because his strength is playing on the outside, but Alexander could be the player that replaces him.
Both Munnerlyn and Alexander are built to be slot defenders in the NFL. They are smaller in stature, but have loose hips and are quick, perfect for staying with the smaller, shiftier wide receivers that usually work out of the slot.
Munnerlyn has already said that he isn’t too concerned about the Alexander pick, and if he continues to play well it will be hard for the Vikings to let him go. But what kind of money could he expect to see if the Vikings do try to re-sign him after this season is up?
The veteran cornerback played in 760 defensive snaps last season, which is less than the 1,014 Newman had and 1,089 Rhodes had, but not by too much considering he only played in nickel situations.
Those limited snaps will surely affect his contract wherever he ends up signing, be it the Vikings or with some other team, so the comparisons will be with players that have had a similar snap count in 2015.
One player you could look at in comparison to Munnerlyn is the New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He was the No. 16 cornerback in the NFL last year, according to PFF, with a grade of 82.7, just 0.4 higher than Munnerlyn. Rodgers-Cromarie also played in 913 defensive snaps, just 153 more than Munnerlyn. He also recorded 58 tackles, two forced fumbles one tumble recovery, three interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and 13 passes defensed, which are similar to Munnerlyn’s numbers, but a little better.
Rodgers-Cromartie signed with the Giants back in 2014, getting a five-year, $35 million deal, but he is also still considered to be an every-down cornerback, so that sort of money may still be a little out of Munnerlyn’s reach, at least if he is hoping to remain with the Vikings.
Another player you could look at is Indianapolis’ Patrick Robinson, who was the 30th-ranked cornerback by PFF with a grade of 79.4. He played in 713 snaps last year and recorded 49 tackles, one forced fumble, one interception and eight passes defensed. So again, very similar stats to Munnerlyn, but this time the Vikings’ corner may have the edge.
Robinson signed a three-year deal this offseason worth $13.5 million. That is just a couple million more than Munnerlyn’s current contract, and if he plays the way he did in 2015 this season he could probably even get a couple more million than Robinson did.
The drafting of Alexander seemed to indicate that the Vikings were ready to move on from Munnerlyn, but that may not be the case. He was the best player available when the Vikings drafted and they did not even think he would fall that far, so when he did they felt like they had to take him based on the value of the pick alone.
Also, Zimmer loves his cornerbacks and believes that he can never have too many to work with, so it is possible that they move forward with both. However, having Alexander on the roster could mean that they offer Munnerlyn less than other teams and that could end up leading to him leaving Minnesota.