Few positions heading into free agency are more up in the air for the Minnesota Vikings than cornerback. They have two first-round picks under contract – Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes – and two unrestricted free agents with Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman.
Munnerlyn counted $4.6 million against the salary cap last year, the final year of a three-year, $11.25 million contract. He has spoken about his desire to come back, but has admitted he won’t give a deep hometown discount to return. That could turn out to be a free agent game of Chicken with the organization to see who blinks first.
Newman turns 39 before the start of the regular season, but he graded out about as high as any cornerback in the league last year and hasn’t shown any signs of hitting the wall. He knows the Mike Zimmer defense inside and out and it wouldn’t shock anyone (except Rick Spielman from the pre-Zimmer era where 30-year olds were shown the door with regularity) if he comes back for another year.
Houston’s A.J. Bouye is going to cash in big (as in BIG!), whether he’s franchised or not. He was one a one-year, $1.67 million deal with the Texans and a realistic number would be to put a “1” in front of those numbers – something the Vikings will have to deal with soon enough with Rhodes’ contract coming due at the end of 2017.
The reality is that most of the league’s top corners are out of the Vikings’ price range and huge money is going to get thrown around. Trumaine Johnson made almost $14 million last year on the franchise tag with the Rams and is likely to approach those numbers on a long-term deal. Stephon Gilmore is likely in that same range. Prince Amukamara isn’t far behind. Brandon Carr is 30, but is still likely to draw $5-6 million a year on a multi-year deal.
Even restricted free agents will be getting giant money. It doesn’t matter what sort of tender New England gives Malcolm Butler, someone will be willing to make a deal-busting offer, especially fellow teams from the AFC East, who have a penchant for overspending. Given that Patriots teammate Logan Ryan is going to break the bank, it’s hard to imagine New England keeping them both. The same is true with Ross Cockrell of the Steelers. If Pittsburgh isn’t willing to pony up, someone else likely will.
The Vikings have three questions as it pertains to Newman and Munnerlyn. Will they both stay? Will one stay? Will neither stay? That question could hold the key to free agency. Here are some of the feasible candidates if the Vikings are looking to fill in depth if Munnerlyn or Newman (or both) are gone.
Micah Hyde – He’s the ideal candidate if the Vikings are going to be in the market. With all the big-name players and hundreds of millions that will be thrown out in high-end deals, the 26-year-old Hyde would be an ideal candidate for a team to grab. His asking price won’t be as high. From the Vikings’ perspective, with Sam Shields gone due to concussions, Hyde would be a crippling blow to their primary division rival.
Darius Butler – He turns 31 next month and can be had for about $3 million a year. He has proved to be a playmaker for a suspect defense in Indianapolis for the last five years and would be a decent addition if Munnerlyn and/or Newman doesn’t come back.
Leon Hall – A 32-year old who spent years playing in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Sound familiar? He has a penchant for putting his old band back together and signed for just $1.5 million on a one-year deal with the Giants last season, so, if nothing else, the price would likely be right.
Dre Kirkpatrick – Another former Zimmer disciple, he’s a five-year veteran who got paid $7.7 million last year. His numbers dropped off badly last year, so his market value is likely considerably less than that. But, there will likely be a strong market for his services out there. The longer he remains on the market, the lower his demands become.
Sterling Moore – A six-year veteran who has spent the last three years as a starter in Dallas, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, he’s a professional mercenary with NFC experience that may well be on Minnesota’s Plan B radar.
Jerraud Powers – An eight-year veteran who turns 30 in July, he signed a one-year deal with the Ravens in 2016 for $1.75 million. If he can settle for a similar price, he would be of interest to the Vikings.
Leodis McKelvin – He had a productive eight-year career in Buffalo, but had to sign a one-year, $3.1 million deal with Philadelphia. He had a decent year, but likely isn’t going to have a line waiting in front of him.
Sam Shields – Still suffering from concussion symptoms after missing the 2016 season, Shield was scheduled to make $9.75 million. He claims he still wants to play and may have to do so on an incentive-laden, prove-it deal. If he checks out medically, the Vikings would like nothing more than sticking it to Green Bay, but Shields may end up retiring because of his multiple concussions.
Morris Claiborne – Nobody has ever denied his talent, but in five seasons he hasn’t been able to play all 16 games in any of them and, in the last four years, he has played in 32 games and missed 32 games. Whoever signs him will have the fear of missed time, but, when he plays, he has the cover skills to get quarterbacks not to throw his way. Is he overrated? We’ll find out in free agency and someone is going to roll the dice on him.
Alterraun Verner – He signed a four-year $25.75 million deal with Tampa Bay in 2014, but was released to clear up $6.5 million in cap room. He lost his full-time starting job in 2015 and, in 16 games as a reserve last year, he recorded just 16 tackles and one interception. His asking price has dropped considerably, but is 28 and has some good football left in him.
Tramon Williams – At 34, after nine seasons with Green Bay, he played the last two in Cleveland and had just two interceptions in that time and a decade-low 36 tackles in 12 games in 2016. At his age, his demands can’t be high and his skills are showing signs of diminishing.
We won’t know the Vikings’ true intent until we see if Newman and Munnerlyn hit the open market. The Vikings have made a commitment to cornerback and may be willing to ride with Rhodes and Waynes and go from there. But, they need depth and the question is whether they feel better off with the guys they have or with outside veteran players?