With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror, 2020 free agency is just around the corner. That period will officially begin at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 18 when the new league year begins.
Throughout the week, Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and I will continue diving into Minnesota’s current roster status by position. We’ll offer a refresher on which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.
Up next? The cornerbacks …
2019 Stats (tackles are team stats)
Boyd: 16 games; 12 tackles (11 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup; team-high 11 special teams tackles
Fields: 1 game; no stats
Hall: spent part of 2019 on Chargers practice squad
Hill: 8 games (1 start); 12 tackles, 1 pass breakup; 3 special teams tackles
Hughes: 14 games (3 starts); 43 tackles (39 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 11 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles; 2 special teams tackles; 7.4 yards per punt return
Meadors: 2 games; 2 tackles
Rhodes: 15 games (15 starts); 63 tackles (54 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Sayles (with CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers): 18 games, 64 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries; returned a punt he blocked 9 yards for a touchdown on Aug. 15 and a fumble he forced 24 yards for a score on Oct. 19
Hughes has shown considerable potential but has also suffered tough luck. A torn ACL ended Hughes’ promising rookie season and forced a grueling rehab a year ago, and an injury that he sustained in Week 17 landed him on injured reserve before the playoffs. Rhodes is not far from being named an All-Pro by the Associated Press, but his 2019 campaign was a departure from that level, causing many to speculate on his 2020 status. Hill’s second season was stunted by a pair of four-game suspensions out of the gate. Boyd, Hill’s former college teammate at Texas, showed promise in his rookie season. Fields, Hall, Meadors and Sayles will try to make the most of their opportunities this offseason to impress new position coaches.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME FREE AGENTS:
A second-round pick in 2016, Alexander is at the end of his rookie contract. He transitioned from playing on the outside at Clemson to eventually embracing the top nickel cornerback position for the Vikings, making 10 starts the past two seasons. He’s totaled 84 of his 109 career tackles and all 4.5 of his career sacks, as well as 16 of 26 passes defensed since 2018. Alexander missed three games in the 2019 regular season and both of Minnesota’s playoff games because of injuries.
Known more for his punt returning prowess, the reserve cornerback didn’t record any defensive stats in 2019. The season was a weird one for Sherels, to say the least. After spending the rest of the decade with the Vikings, he signed with the Saints in free agency. Sherels never played for New Orleans, who cut him on Sept. 1. Three weeks later, Sherels re-signed with Minnesota, but he was cut Oct. 22 and joined Miami. After five games with the Dolphins, he was waived in mid-December. The Vikings re-re-signed him on Jan. 3, 2020. Sherels played against the Saints in the Wild Card round. He uncharacteristically struggled the following week, committing two fumbles (one lost) on punt returns at San Francisco.
The 11th overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, Waynes has started 53 of 74 regular-season games for the Vikings, including all 44 he’s played the past three seasons. The Vikings were able to use a club option on the first-round selection to make his rookie contract last five seasons, but it is now set to expire. Waynes has totaled 251 tackles, 1.0 sack, nine tackles for loss, seven interceptions, 51 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The cornerback position could experience significant changes this offseason. Numerous draft pundits project that the Vikings will invest their first-round selection in a corner to help fill potential voids. With several years of experience logged, Minnesota knows exactly what it has in cornerbacks that are set to become free agents, compared to those that might hit the market on other teams. The position is important in Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, both in pass coverage and run support. Alligator-arming a tackle, for instance, is highly discouraged.
The Vikings needs could involve a starter on the outside (if Waynes leaves), a virtual starter in the slot (if Alexander, who played more than 500 snaps in each of the past two seasons, departs) or both. Hughes has logged experience at both positions over the course of his first two seasons.
WHO’S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE:
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling teamed up again this year to rate their top 101 potential free agents.
The following cornerbacks are listed in order of their overall rankings, along with their 2019 teams: 8. Byron Jones (DAL), 24. Chris Harris, Jr. (DEN), 37. James Bradberry (CAR), 49. Logan Ryan (TEN), 50. Kendall Fuller (KC), 56. Trae Waynes (MIN), 58. Bradley Roby (HOU), 68. Darqueze Dennard (CIN), 70. Eli Apple (NO), 72. Ronald Darby (PHI), 83. Jimmy Smith (BAL), 90. Bashaud Breeland (KC), 91. Prince Amukamara (CHI), 92. Jalen Mills (PHI) and 96. Daryl Worley (OAK)
Other cornerbacks set to become free agents that didn’t crack the top 101 are as follows (listed in order of 2019 team): Blidi Wreh-Wilson (ATL), Levi Wallaceand Kevin Johnson (BUF), Ross Cockrell and Javien Elliott (CAR), Anthony Brown (DAL), Davontae Harris (DEN), Rashaan Melvin (DET), Tramon Williams and Chandon Sullivan* (GB), Johnathan Joseph (HOU), Morris Claiborne (KC), Michael Davis (LAC), Aqib Talib (MIA), P.J. Williams (NO), Grant Haley (NYG), Maurice Canady, Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet* (NYJ), Artie Burns and Mike Hilton* (PIT), Jason Verrett (SF), Akeem King (SEA), Tramaine Brock and LeShaun Sims (TEN), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aaron Colvin (WAS)
- Restricted free agent
** Exclusive rights free agent
There’s a bevy of regular-season and Super Bowl experience set to hit the market among players in the top 101 and those that didn’t crack the list. Nine of the 14 players in the top 101 have been part of at least one team that has claimed a Lombardi Trophy. Ryan was part of two Super Bowl wins in New England.
Several names in the “others” category also will ring a bell for many Vikings fans. Tramon Williams, who will turn 37 on March 16, has appeared in 199 games, including 159 with Green Bay, and recorded 34 interceptions. Johnathan Joseph, who will turn 36 in April, has played in 200 games, totaling 31 career interceptions.
Brock, a former Golden Gopher, played 11 games for the Vikings in 2017 and has started 56 of his 117 appearances.
Talib, 34, is a five-time Pro Bowler who was part of Denver’s win in Super Bowl 50. He has started 134 of 148 games and has 35 career interceptions. Rodgers-Cromartie will be 34 in April. He has recorded 30 picks and made two Pro Bowls.
Experience can come at a high premium during free agency, and the Vikings placement against the salary cap is well-documented.
If the Vikings don’t replace a departure with a veteran through free agency, it could mean they believe a young player is ready for the next step or the team likes the look of a draft-eligible player, which would allow them to allocate financials elsewhere.