The (Updated) Top 25 Free Agents for the Vikings (and Their Fans) to Consider

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Jan 8, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Levi Wallace (29) celebrates an interception with cornerback Arthur Maulet (35) and cornerback Cameron Sutton (20) and safety Damontae Kazee (23) and safety Terrell Edmunds (34) and linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) and safety Elijah Riley (37) against the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Free Agents for the Vikings – 02.27.2022 (Originally Published on 02.13.2022)

On Sunday night, the 2022 NFL season concluded. The Chiefs added a Lombardi to their trophy case (got this one wrong, d’oh!). The rest of the league watched, trying to decipher how they can become the next one to climb Mount Lombardi.

Free agency – which begins on March 15 – is going to play a starring role in the drama that plays out in the upcoming season (as far I can tell, it’s an unscripted drama). The decisions that are made in March 2023 will go a long way in determining the team that wins in February 2024. Where would Philly have been without Haason Reddick? What about Kansas City without JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling?

Jan 8, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick (7) pressures New York Giants quarterback Davis Webb (12) during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Shrewd free agency deals can make the difference in the playoffs.

Before getting too far, though, I should acknowledge that I’m getting help from PFF, CBS, ESPN, and the NFL. I’ve perused their top free agent lists, considering the names to help put together a Vikings-focused top 25. The PFF list is particularly helpful. Put simply, there aren’t too many analysts better than Brad Spielberger when it comes to talking contract numbers and free agency.

I’ve also sought some feedback from those internal to our websites. Josh Frey has been insightful, offering suggestions that helped expose some of my blind spots. Moreover, Cole Smith – a film enthusiast and Vikings encyclopedia – functioned as a great sounding board, questioning some of my decisions while offering his two cents on names to (re)consider.

For the most part, I’m overlooking players like Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown, and Dalton Schultz since the team already has a QB1, OT1, and TE1. All three are great players; all three are unlikely to get much interest from Minnesota’s front office.

Instead, I’ll be looking to a 5-part criteria to help with the list:

  • Position of Need
  • Ability
  • Potential Cost
  • Youth
  • Minnesota Connection

The purpose of the top 25 list is to be neither predictive nor prescriptive. By publishing this piece, I’m not saying these are players the Vikings should sign or will sign. Rather, they’re players who have the capacity to help the team and who are (likely) going to be considered by the team’s leadership.

Since much has already been written about Minnesota’s internal free agents on both Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD, I won’t be including any in the list. Vikings fans already know about Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Garrett Bradbury, and the other internal FAs. The purpose of this list is to identify and briefly discuss free agents from around the NFL.

In the coming weeks and months, the list is going to inevitably change. Players will get brought back to their current teams; some might even retire. Guys who are released could instantly find themselves on this list.

For instance, if Indianapolis cuts DeForest Buckner to save nearly $20 million on the cap as they rebuild, there would instantly be a new #1 player on the top 25 list. Buckner in between Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith would be wonderfully terrifying.

Enough of the preamble. Take a peak at the top 25 free agents for the Vikings as of Monday, February 13, 2023.*

The Free Agents for the Vikings in 2023

1) CB Cameron Sutton: Sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer. At 28 (in a few days), he’s a touch older than some of the other options, but Sutton has the benefit of having played for the Steelers. The Flores connection alongside the (likely) cheaper price means Sutton is a top name to remember. He ticks all the boxes in our criteria.

2) CB Jamel Dean: Dean is possibly the CB1 in this year’s group of FAs. Now, there needs to be some caution since last year’s top corner – J.C. Jackson – didn’t exactly live up to expectations in Year 1 with the Chargers. Nevertheless, Dean is 26 and has the capacity to be a top corner in the NFL.

3) LB David Long: Vikings fans are covetous of improved linebacker play. As I’ve discussed before, Long offers youth, speed, and pass rush upside. He is only 26 but is coming off an injury. Spotrac puts his market value at a $4.9 million per-year average.

4) CB James Bradberry: Basically every defensive coordinator wants long and strong corners. At 6’1″, 210 pounds, Bradberry certainly lives up to the ideal. He is 29, so this would be about securing strong play over the next couple seasons.

5) iDL Dre’Mont Jones: Obviously, moving on from Ed Donatell means that the connections aren’t as strong, but the scheme can still have similarities. The 26-year-old DT is supposed to be cheaper than both Payne and Hargrave. Every scheme needs pressure up the middle. He has 22 sacks in his four-year career.

Oct 30, 2022; London, United Kingdom, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) looks to pass defedne3d by Denver Broncos defensive end Dre’Mont Jones (93) in the first quarter during an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

6) LB Tremaine Edmunds: Youth and speed for the former first-round linebacker. He ran a 4.54 leading up to the draft; folks, he’s 6’5″, 250 pounds. He’s only 24, so he could plausibly partner with Brian Asamoah for several more years.

7) 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 442 snaps at free safety, 208 in the slot, and 204 in the box (playoffs included except the SB). Safety is a sneaky need.

8) CB Rock Ya-Sin: The 34th pick in the 2019 Draft, Ya-Sin is 26 years old. He has yet to play a full NFL season and only has 2 interceptions in his career (with 27 PDs across 4 seasons). Nevertheless, he’s a long corner who can play man. Mr. Flores may be intrigued.

Oct 30, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed (89) catches a pass against Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (26) during the second half at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

9) EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: He should be cheaper than a lot of the other edge rushers and is familiar with the coaching staff due to their shared time with the Rams. He finished 4th in ESPN’s run stop win rate. He’d be a strong EDGE3 at a reasonable price.

10) LB Bobby Wagner: For some, moving on (potentially) from Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks 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.

11) iDL Javon Hargrave: The main concerns are price and age, not talent and production. His 90.8 pass rush grade on PFF is eye popping, and so too are his 11 sacks in 2022. A home-run swing if the goal is to load up in 2023. He finished 3rd in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate for DTs.

12) RB Tony Pollard: Decent chance he doesn’t get to leave Dallas, but the running back is ultra talented. He turned 193 carries into 1007 yards and 39 catches into 371 yards. In total, he put up 12 TDs. Making things more concerning is the recent injury, but there’s no debating that he’s a difference maker. Just ask Jordan Hicks:

13) 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.

14) LB T.J. Edwards: PFF credits him with a great 84.8 grade, a number that will bring back memories of vintage Eric Kendricks. His size – 6’1″, 242 pounds – also makes one think of the Vikings’ LB. He had 159 tackles, 7 PDs, and 2 sacks in 2022.

15) iDL David Onyemata: He has long played for a dreaded rival. He has long been a productive DT, especially against the pass. Given that he’s 30, Onyemata may be cheaper than some of the aforementioned pass-rushing DTs. Spotrac predicts a $9.6 million salary. If that’s the case, the Vikings could be scared off unless there is some salary cap shenanigans.

16) RG Isaac Seumalo: The 29-year-old played 1134 snaps at RG for the Eagles last season. He put together an impressive 75.2 PFF grade during that time. His pass blocking – 79.1 – was the most impressive part of his game. He allowed 1 sack and 3 QB hits all season (alongside 20 pressures). Ed Ingram, in contrast, allowed 11 sacks and 18 QB hits (alongside 58 pressures).

17) 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.

18) CB Jonathan Jones: Versatile and potentially affordable, the 29-year-old Jones is someone to remember for the Vikings. Since he’s coming from the Patriots, Flores may have the inside scoop. He had a career-high 4 INTs and 11 PDs last season.

19) EDGE Melvin Ingram: Similar to Houston, Ingram has been an impact edge rusher for a long time. His age (33) is a concern but his production and cost aren’t. He had 6 sacks and 7 TFLs last season for the Dolphins. He carried a modest $4 million cap hit.

20) WR Mecole Hardman: Speed scares defenses. Hardman, who is coming off his rookie deal, has speed to spare. The 24-year-old WR ran a 4.33 forty. As a rookie, he was a second-team All Pro because of his work as a kickoff returner. He also has experience returning punts. Hardman, in short, could fulfill the role Jalen Reagor was brought in for. He looks like an intriguing fit in Minnesota.

21) 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 involved in 42% of the defensive snaps (12 games, 9 starts). He had a strong 83.0 pass-rush grade on PFF (which is to say nothing of his 79.7 grade against the run).

22) EDGE Arden Key: He’s 6’5″ and still (somehow) only 26. He has already played 5 seasons in the NFL, starting in Oakland before journeying with them to Las Vegas and then getting single seasons in San Francisco and Jacksonville. He had 6.5 sacks in 2021 and 4.5 sacks in 2022.

23) WR D.J. Chark: You can’t teach 6’4″. Either you have it or you don’t. Chark has it. His 30 catches went for 502 yards last season, meaning he had an impressive 16.7 yards per catch. He hasn’t yet played a full season in his 5 years in the NFL but he has the capacity to blow the lid off a defense, largely due to his size and 4.3 speed. Spielberger previously connected him to the Vikings.

24) RB David Montgomery: Moving on from Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattion isn’t a guarantee, though it is plausible. Montgomery is a solid RB, someone who could plausibly introduce some balance to Minnesota’s offense. The team’s leadership will know him well given that he has played for the Bears. He is 25 and Spielberger suggests he’ll get $6.5 million/year.

25) WR Darius Slayton: At 26, Slayton still has a lot of football left. He has already been in the NFL for 4 seasons, picking up 170 caches, 2554 yards, and 15 TDs. More impressive is the yards-per-catch average: 15.0 for his career. His 15.7 yards-per-catch average in 2022 was the 6th-best mark in the NFL. Spotrac insists his market value is a mere $3.5 million per season, which would be an absolute steal.

Honorable Mentions: iDL Zach Allen, LB Germaine Pratt, RG Nate Davis, WR Allen Lazard, C Connor McGovern, EDGE Marcus Davenport, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, S Jessie Bates III, LB Lavonte David, LB Leighton Vander Esch, C Ethan Pocic, S Taylor Rapp, WR Parris Campbell, & S Vonn Bell.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, Spotrac, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

This post was updated to reflect the news that Daron Payne is going to be franchise tagged by Washington, per Ben Standig. As a result, he’s no longer being considered a top FA target for MN. Moreover, the aforementioned Wagner release means the Vikings have another potential target to help at linebacker.

*Much of the preamble is outdated since it was originally written for immediately after the Super Bowl.