MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings enter the NFL Draft this weekend with several holes to fill on the roster.
That includes eight players on defense who were either starters or regular contributors during the 2019 season. One player who is returning, one way or another, is safety Anthony Harris. In a bit of a surprise move during the start of NFL free agency, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman placed the franchise tag on Harris. That’s the first time that’s happened since Chad Greenway got it in 2011.
It comes with a price tag of more than $11 million and hits the team’s salary cap hard, fueling off-season speculation that Harris might be traded. Spielman was non-committal when asked Tuesday if he was confident Harris would be on the Vikings’ 2020 roster, whether it be via the franchise tag or on a new long-term deal.
“I’m not going to get into the business side of it. Right now, he is franchised,” Spielman said.
Spielman held his annual pre-draft media session Tuesday, and it had quite the different feel as he was on Zoom video conferencing from his Twin Cities home. He and the rest of the Vikings staff will be working the NFL Draft remotely from their homes, in contact through conference calls.
The Vikings front office leader has several decisions to make over the course of three days. Gone from the defense, especially in the secondary, are Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo.
That means there could be several rookies in the Minnesota secondary, with the only current returning veterans being Harris, Harrison Smith, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes. Luckily for Spielman, Harris tied for the NFL lead last year with six interceptions, returned one for a touchdown and had 35 tackles while providing a safety net in the secondary.
It's in Minnesota’s best interest to sign Harris to a long-term deal. He’s entering his sixth NFL season and at 28 years old appears to be entering the prime of his NFL career.
According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, contract discussions between Harris and the Vikings will resume soon.
“One of the critical things was not only is Anthony Harris a great football player for us and great in the community, but by us being able to franchise Anthony, we do have the safeties pretty well set, knowing that we’re going to have a lot of young corners that we’re going to have to line up and play with,” Spielman said.
Also gone from the Vikings defense are Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly. Spielman added to the defensive line in free agency, signing former Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce to replace Joseph.
Now veteran Danielle Hunter spoke last week about the reality that exists in the NFL. Players move on, whether it’s their decision or not.
“It’s a business. It would be very unrealistic if you were able to keep a team the same way for X amount of years. It’s a business, guys gotta do what’s best for them and sometimes the team has to do what’s best for them. It’s just a part of life,” Hunter said last week.
A defense once filled with veterans and held largely intact for the better part of six seasons will have a vastly different look this season. It’s the business side of football, that’s just how it works.
“It’s just like all the players that we talk about, the Linval Josephs of the world, the Xavier Rhodes, Josh Kline, some of these guys that we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions on,” Spielman said. “Right now we’re just in an evolution period of our roster. I wish all them nothing but the best.”