The Minnesota Vikings placed the non-exclusive tag on safety Anthony Harris minutes before the franchise tag window closed ahead of free agency on March 16.
The move was met with some raised eyebrows. Not that Harris hasn’t played to the steep price tag ($11.41 million cap hit and guaranteed salary for 2020) or that the Vikings had only used the franchise tag two other times since it was introduced in 1993.
It took quarterback Cheap Kirk Cousins Jersey agreeing to a two-year contract extension, which freed up $10 million in cap space, for Minnesota to even have the option to tag Harris — two moves that came within hours of each other.
The Vikings locked up Harris, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions, before eventually losing three cornerbacks (Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes, who was released). The defense also lost Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly, Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse.
The Vikings made a statement: Harris is such an important part of a defense experiencing turnover that they wanted to keep him with the hope of working out a long-term deal. Or they would trade him.
Two weeks of free agency have come and gone without any movement. The New York Giants and Cleveland Browns were among several of the serious suitors interested in Harris, according to league sources, but he remains with the Vikings.
It’s possible that the asking price is too high — what Minnesota wants in return for a trade and the salary Harris would like on a long-term deal.
Harris has leverage in that he could sign the tender and keep the Vikings on the hook for what they owe him in 2020. Minnesota, however, can exercise power of its own with the right to rescind the tag, similar to the move the Carolina Panthers pulled with Josh Norman in 2016.
Teams don’t often withdraw a franchise tag, but it would allow both sides to essentially start over. Harris would become an unrestricted free agent and the Vikings could use the money on another position of need.
The Vikings haven’t been able to find a dance partner, but a trade shouldn’t be ruled out. Minnesota has until the trade deadline in October to execute a move.
Vikings safety Anthony Harris tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions in 2019. Harrison Barden/USA TODAY Sports
If the Vikings wanted to work out a Harris trade now, the return could help address one of their bigger question marks: the offensive line. Minnesota has shown interest in acquiring Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who, through his representation, has made it clear that he wants to be traded. Washington, which signed safety Sean Davis, could address a positional need of its own by acquiring Harris to play opposite Landon Collins.
Vikings left tackle Cheap Riley Reiff Jersey has a $13.2 million cap hit for 2020. Deciding what to do with him is a problem for another day. For the sake of this argument, let’s say the Vikings keep him and move him to guard, which has been discussed the past two offseasons.
In that scenario, the Vikings and Redskins are in strong position to explore a player-for-player trade involving Harris and Williams (and potentially a draft pick from Minnesota). In freeing themselves of Harris’ $11.41 million cap hit, the Vikings would create the space needed (they currently have $12.495 million in cap space) to take on Williams’ $14.5 million cap hit in 2020 and work out a new deal with him.
But if the Vikings keep Harris, they can plan their defensive reboot without having to spend a high draft pick on a replacement for him. Building depth at safety can come in the later rounds or through the bargain bin on the free-agent market. It would likely take a first- or second-round pick to find Harris’ immediate replacement.
Either way, the clarity Minnesota could gain in the coming weeks will ultimately guide its draft strategy. Maintaining continuity in the secondary might be the Vikings’ method in mitigating some of the losses they experienced elsewhere on defense.