MINNEAPOLIS - Mike Zimmer admitted at his season-ending news conference both he and the Minnesota Vikings organization have some tough decisions to make this offseason.
The Vikings roster, especially on the defensive side, is likely to look at lot different in 2020. By Zimmer’s lofty standards on defense, the Vikings underperformed this season. They ranked 14th in total defense, allowing 341 yards per game. They ranked 15th in passing defense (233.6 yards per game), and 13th in rushing defense (108 yards per game).
They bent, but didn’t break, finishing fifth in scoring defense at 18.9 points per game. They also allowed at least 20 points in 11 of their 18 games this year. So what will the defense look like next year? The Vikings have eight free agents on defense, and have work to do with Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes. Here’s a look at who may or may not be with the team next season.
Trae Waynes played all but one game this season, resting against the Bears in Week 17 like many starters did. He finished with 58 tackles, one forced fumble and an interception at Detroit. He played in more than half the snaps in all but one game. Waynes made more than $9 million this season, and the Vikings have an interesting decision to make with him.
Arguably the top offseason priority for the Vikings is re-signing safety Anthony Harris. He finished with 58 tackles and tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions. He made more than $3 million this season, and after one of the best years of his career, he’ll be worth every penny it takes to bring him back.
Mackensie Alexander had a tough year, missing two games early in the season with an injury, then having surgery near the end of the season for a torn meniscus. He finished the season with 38 tackles, an interception and five passes defended in 13 games. He’ll have to decide if he wants to stay in Minnesota or test the free agency waters.
Jayron Kearse had 28 tackles in 18 games with the Vikings this season. He missed the NFC Divisional Playoffs at San Francisco due to a left leg injury. His future in Minnesota is clouded by an October arrest for DWI after the Vikings beat the Washington Redskins on Thursday Night Football. It’s a safe bet he’ll be suspended for the arrest to start next season.
Stephen Weatherly had a positive season in a back-up role on the Vikings’ defensive line. He recorded 24 tackles and three sacks, and was a veteran presence in the locker room this season for Minnesota. He’s got six sacks and 45 tackles in 49 career games, and has expressed his desire to return to the Vikings.
Andrew Sendejo started the season with the Philadelphia Eagles before being cut after nine games and coming back to the Vikings before their Week 11 game against the Broncos. Known for his violent approach to football, he had 10 tackles and a pass defended in six games with the Vikings. He also had an interception, and played a key role as a nickel corner in the playoff win at New Orleans. It’ll be interesting to see what the Vikings decide on Sendejo.
Kentrell Brothers played primarily on special teams, finishing the season with 23 tackles, including seven solo tackles. He could be a less expensive, low-risk option to return and would be cost-friendly.
Eric Wilson, now a restricted free agent, stepped up for the Vikings’ defense this year when other defensive players went out injured, playing in 16 games and collecting 32 tackles and three sacks. He had 11 tackles and two sacks against the Oakland Raiders, and 12 tackles against the Bears in Week 17 with Eric Kendricks out resting and injured quad. Wilson made just $645,000 this season, and would be a valuable, cost-effect option for the Vikings’ defense.
While not technically a free agent, Everson Griffen has the option to void his contract and test the market with other teams if he chooses to do so. He made $12.9 million with the Vikings this season. Griffen had a bounce-back year with 41 tackles and eight sacks after missing five games last season to address concerns for his mental health. He spoke multiple times about being blessed to be with the Vikings, and "wanting to be a Viking for life." His age, at 32, may prevent that from being an option.
Xavier Rhodes signed a 5-year, $70 million contract in 2017 and is due to make nearly $10 million in base salary next year. He may be a salary cap casualty after an up and down 2019 season. He finished the year with 63 tackles, including five tackles for a loss. But he was targeted often by opposing quarterbacks, and had more than one blow-up in game with the Vikings this season.
The Vikings have plenty of roster decisions to make on defense, and they also have to hire a new defensive coordinator. The off-season decisions will be telling.