Plenty of Free Agent Defenders Are Still Available for the Vikings

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Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Things have been heating up for the Vikings. Will we soon learn that they’ll add one of the available free agent defenders?

Earlier in the day, we received word that Minnesota is clearing $16 million off the books in 2023 by kicking some of Kirk Cousins’ money into void years (with details from Ian Rapoport, Ben Goessling, and Albert Breer). More recently, we learned that Garrett Bradbury will be returning on a modest deal (shout out to Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport).

On defense, work remains. The team has missed on some notable talent, but some of the top fits are still out there.

The Top 32 FAs piece on PurplePTSD includes more info, but included below are 5 of the players who are still available. Hop over to the full list to get a sense of some other potential fits.

The Vikings and Free Agent Defenders

1) LB Bobby Wagner: For some, moving on from Eric Kendricks for another veteran LB would be a confusing decision. Why not commit to getting younger? Well, the reason is because youth isn’t in an of itself the goal. The goal is improved play. Per Jourdan Rodrigue, Wagner and the Rams have decided to move on. The man has been an All Pro for 9 years in a row (as Field Yates points out). In 2022, Wagner had a remarkable 90.7 grade on PFF. He had 140 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 TFLs, 5 PDs, and 2 INTs. Oh, and he only missed a measly 2 tackles. Truly an elite player.

Oct 25, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) walks to the locker room following a 13-10 loss against the New Orleans Saints at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

2) S C.J. Gardner-Johnson: The versatile safety had 6 interceptions last year. At 25, he still has a lot of ball left in him. Last year, he had 443 snaps at free safety, 208 in the slot, and 202 in the box (playoffs included). Safety is an overlooked need. Harrison Smith getting older, Cam Bynum struggled in 2022, and Lewis Cine is coming off a major injury. For a deal to make sense, it’d have to be as a hybrid defender who can line up in the slot a bunch.

3) CB Byron Murphy: He’s only 25 and was picked in the second-round of the 2019 Draft. He played 423 snaps out wide and 130 in the slot. He was limited to just 9 games in 2022. The year prior, Murphy played in 16 games. In 2021, he snagged 4 INTs, scored a TD, and added 12 PDs to go alongside his 64 tackles. There are some rumblings he could receive a very large contract.

ESPN Lists Cardinals CB as "Best Fit" for the Vikings in Free Agency
Sep 18, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) celebrates after scoring on a 59-yard fumble recovery in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

4) EDGE Justin Houston: The veteran has been on my radar for a little while. Last season, Houston rewarded the Ravens with a 9.5-sack, 7-TFL season. Though he’s already 34, Houston can still thrive in a rotational role. He only had a $3.5 million cap hit in 2022.

5) LB Azeez Al-Shaair: An excellent player, Al-Shaair could thrive in the Flores defense. He’s still only 25 and was used in a few different ways with the 49ers. He had 75 snaps in the slot (playoffs included). The 49ers sent him on 13 regular-season blitzes last year, a season when he was only involved in 42% of the defensive snaps (12 games, 9 starts). He had a strong 86.5 pass-rush grade on PFF (which is to say nothing of his 82.1 grade against the run).

Editor’s Note: The write ups are taken from “The Final List: The Top 32 Free Agents for the Minnesota Vikings (w/ 18 Honorable Mentions).” That article relied on information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, Spotrac, and Over the Cap to help with the piece.