Grading the Early Free Agency Acquisitions for the Vikings

Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo‐Mensah speaks to the press at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have been busy during the legal tampering period of free agency.

Since officially being allowed to negotiate with free agents on Monday, the team has agreed to terms with several impact players. 

Obviously, the main story so far is Kirk Cousins signing with the Atlanta Falcons. The Vikings moved quickly to fill that hole, while also adding at other positions of need. Free agency doesn’t even really begin until Wednesday, so it’s safe to say the Vikings aren’t done yet. 

However, the team has made multiple moves that will impact the roster in 2024. Here are some grades for these early free agency moves for the team.

QB Sam Darnold 

Jan 7, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) celebrates after a play during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings reportedly agreed to a contract with Sam Darnold. The third overall pick will sign a one-year, $10 million deal. Darnold will be reunited with his former teammate Josh McCown, who is the new quarterbacks coach in Minnesota. 

This signing will elicit many reactions from Vikings fans. Darnold has played for some awful teams in his career, which can be attributed to his mediocre stat line. The QB has started in 56 games in his career and has compiled a 21-35 record. Darnold has a career 59.7% completion percentage with 63 passing touchdowns and 56 interceptions. 

While those numbers don’t inspire much confidence, there is reason for optimism. Darnold spent 2023 in San Francisco with noted QB guru Kyle Shanahan. Darnold is still just 26, so in the right system, he could fare well. 

The deal is also not bad. It’s a one year pact, so if the experiment doesn’t work, the team can easily move on after the season. The financials of this deal also mean the team could still take a passer in the first round. There were surely better options, but Darnold is not a bad bounce back candidate. 

Grade: C

EDGE Jonathan Greenard

Vikings Free Agency
Dec 24, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard (52) walks off the field before the game against the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings agreed to terms with Jonathan Greenard, which essentially signaled that Danielle Hunter was not coming back. Sure enough, it was announced on Tuesday that Hunter had agreed to a deal with the Houston Texans

If you’re going to lose Hunter, Greenard is a nice consolation prize. The edge rusher had a career year in 2023 with the Houston Texans, ending with 12.5 sacks and 52 tackles. Greenard also had a forced fumble and 15 tackles for loss. The former Texan earned an elite 78.2 PFF grade in 2023 and was one of the more underrated pass rushers. 

As for the financials, Greenard will reportedly ink a four-year, $76 million deal with $42 million guaranteed. In comparison, Hunter inked a two-year, $49 million deal with $48 million guaranteed. So, Hunter got $6 million more in guaranteed cash and is three years older than Greenard. Sure, Hunter is more proven, but Greenard showed in 2023 that his ceiling could be just as high as Hunter’s. This is a good deal that had to get done. 

Grade: B+

OLB Andrew Van Ginkel 

Oct 29, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (43) takes on the field prior to the game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Van Ginkel will reunite with Brian Flores, his former head coach in Miami. The linebacker has flashed ability as a pass rusher and should fit in nicely in Minnesota’s attack-heavy defensive scheme. 

Van Ginkel collected 69 total tackles, six sacks, an interception, and eight tackles for loss in 2023. The pass rusher earned an elite 91.1 PFF grade in 2023 for his performance and has now parlayed that into a nice payday. 

Van Ginkel’s deal will reportedly be a two-year pact worth $20 million with $14 guaranteed. That is a bargain for a 28-year-old pass rusher who is also useful against the run. 

Grade: A

ILB Blake Cashman 

Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Blake Cashman (53) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Cashman is having a homecoming. The linebacker is an Eden Prairie native and played his college ball for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Now, after two years in Houston, the linebacker returns home. 

Cashman had a breakout season in 2023. The LB collected 106 tackles, two sacks, nine tackles for loss, and one interception for the Texans. PFF was also a fan of Cashman’s work, giving the backer an elite 83.7 grade

The Vikings and Cashman agreed on a three-year, $25.5 million deal. A little over $8 million yearly for an off-ball linebacker who was elite in coverage in 2023 is a steal. 

The addition of Cashman is huge after veteran Jordan Hicks bolted in free agency. Cashman and Ivan Pace Jr. will make up a nice inside linebacker combo. 

Grade: A

RB Aaron Jones

Jan 14, 2024; Arlington, Texas, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) reacts against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half for the 2024 NFC wild card game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

This was a move that was not anticipated. After the Green Bay Packers shockingly signed Josh Jacobs, they made the decision to cut veteran running back Aaron Jones. Jones quickly agreed to a deal with the division rival Vikings. 

The Vikings had to do something at the running back position this offseason. The team cut Alexander Mattison earlier this month after a miserable season running the ball. The Vikings were tied with the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league in 2023. 

That will not be a problem in 2024, as Jones has had no trouble getting into the end zone in his career. Jones averages 5.0 yards per carry for his career and is also one of the most prolific receiving backs in the league.

The financials are the best part of this deal. Jones is reportedly inking a one-year deal worth $7 million.  This is a steal for a back who has plenty of juice and should immediately be the workhorse. 

Grade: A+

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference.