PFF Names the Best Move of Vikings Free Agency

Best Move of the Vikings Offseason
Sep 25, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) rush off the field against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings were one of the busier teams throughout the free agency period, despite coming in with one of the worst cap situations in the league. In all, the Vikings have come to agreements with 14 players, including six which played on different teams in 2022. Amongst these signings, PFF has a choice for the best move of Vikings free agency.

Brad Spielberger, one of the salary cap analysts for the company, listed his favorite and least-favorite moves for all 32 teams from this year’s free agency period. For the Vikings, Spielberger went with a bit of a surprising option.

Rather than going with CB Byron Murphy, a much-needed versatile, veteran option for the Vikings secondary, the analyst seems to be a bigger fan of the move to acquire EDGE Marcus Davenport. The former New Orleans Saint was a first-round pick in 2018, but he has gone through injury-riddled stretches and has been inconsistent at times throughout his career. Despite that, he was widely considered to be the best pass-rusher available in free agency this offseason. Here is what Spielberger had to say about the signing:

Since Davenport entered the league in 2018, his 17.8% pass-rush win rate and 13.9% pressure percentage are both top-20 marks among edge defenders, and he’s also earned a very respectable 82.1 run-defense grade for his career, which ranks 16th over the span. Davenport has five straight campaigns grading above 70.0, but injuries have been his biggest issue.

With the Vikings picking him up, it likely signals that they’ll move on from Za’Darius Smith and slot Davenport into his role. Davenport has always been a super athletic edge player and could earn a bigger deal next year if he’s able to produce for Minnesota. He and Danielle Hunter will form one of the most athletic edge duos in the entire NFL.

Davenport understandably signed a one-year flier, as teams may have been wary to commit long-term to a player who has one season eclipsing 500 snaps, but he was arguably the best edge rusher available in free agency, so this could prove to be a very worthwhile gamble. 

PFF’s Brad Spielberger on Vikings EDGE Marcus Davenport

As Spielberger points out, this is certainly a gamble of a move for Minnesota by bringing in a guy that has only recorded 500 snaps in a season one time and had just half a sack in 2022. However, there’s a ton of promise with Davenport. Playing in a New Orleans defense that has been star-studded in recent years, he didn’t always finish plays with stats credited in his favor, but the analytical side of the argument shows that he consistently wins battles against offensive linemen.

Best Move of Vikings Free Agency
Jan 2, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) in the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The move becomes even more important if the Vikings do, in fact, part ways with Za’Darius Smith at some point this offseason. A trade or release of Smith would create a vital need for another starting EDGE opposite of Danielle Hunter, and Davenport could jump in to take over that role.

As for Spielberger’s least-favorite Vikings move of free agency, the analyst appears not to be a fan of the Josh Oliver signing. It doesn’t have much to do with the player himself, though, and largely the disdain for this move revolves around the financial side.

New Orleans Saints NFL defensive end Marcus Davenport

The former third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars dealt with a few injuries in the early years of his career but has become a success story by cashing in here on a strong multi-year deal, with incentives that could reportedly push the value up to $24 million. We have seen strong contracts for predominantly blocking tight ends in years past, including Nick Boyle and Tyler Kroft, and that’s what this is here, with Oliver amassing just 26 receptions for 230 yards over his first four NFL seasons.

Kevin O’Connell wants to be able to operate more effectively out of 12 personnel, and Oliver’s 74.6 run-blocking grade in 2022 ranked second among tight ends with at least 100 run-blocking snaps on the season. After Minnesota traded for tight end T.J. Hockenson, they’re likely about to pay him near the top of the position market and could approach $25 million per year in spending on their top two tight ends, which would comfortably lead the NFL following the trade of Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons.

All of that said, this ended up as one of the strongest contracts at the tight end position this offseason, and Oliver wasn’t necessarily one of the top options available.

PFF’s Brad Spielberger on Vikings tight end Josh Oliver
NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars
Nov 27, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the fourth quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Oliver is one of the better comeback stories we’ve seen in the NFL during recent years. He spent his early career with the Jaguars plagued by injuries, but since he was traded to Baltimore, he has emerged as one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the league as Spielberger points out.

It may have been nice to see Minnesota get Oliver on a cheaper contract, but at the end of the day, Minnesota had one of the most disproportionate offenses in the NFL during the 2022 season. They quickly turned into an extremely pass-happy unit, running the ball the sixth-fewest times in the NFL.

In all, if this move leads to the Vikings becoming a more balanced group in 2023, then overpaying for a terrific blocker will probably end up being well worth the price tag.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.