Some Recent Non-Vikings News Helps Shape the Free Agency Market

Sep 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) hits his hand against Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) as he throws the ball during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few weeks, there has been plenty of speculation in Minnesota Vikings circles as to what the team could do in free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft.

However, the Vikings certainly aren’t the only team to have made moves to set themselves up for free agency, which begins in just a couple short weeks. Here is a look at some of the non-Vikings news that may have actually helped create some new free agency targets in March.

Non-Vikings News Helps Shape the Free Agency Market

Syndication: Green Bay Press-Gazette
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a promotional event for the 2025 NFL Draft, which will be held in and around Lambeau Field, at Johnsonville Tailgate Village on Aug. 14, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis.

Bengals Franchise Tag Tee Higgins

We’ll get started by discussing a player who apparently won’t be hitting the free agency market in a couple weeks. The Cincinnati Bengals made the decision to franchise tag their star wide receiver for a total of $21.8 million for the 2024 season.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the news over the weekend, tweeting, “Source: The #Bengals informed star WR Tee Higgins that they are franchising him.”

Higgins, a 2020 second-round pick, has been an integral part of the Bengals passing offense ever since he got into the NFL, totaling 257 receptions for 3684 yards and 24 TDs over his first four NFL seasons. He put together back-to-back 1000-yard seasons in 2021 and 2022, but injuries held him to just 12 games in 2023, limiting his production.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) makes a 13-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter over Minnesota Vikings at Paycor Stadium Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Regardless, Higgins would have been one of the top receivers on the open market if he went to free agency, but it doesn’t appear that it will be the case anymore.

Falcons Release TE Jonnu Smith

If anyone reading this had Kyle Pitts on one of their fantasy football teams, Jonnu Smith was the bane of their existence in 2023. Smith ate into a ton of Pitts’ targets at the tight end position this past season, totaling 50 receptions for 582 yards and three touchdowns. However, it appears that Pitts won’t have to compete with the veteran anymore as the Atlanta Falcons opted to release him this week.

Adam Schefter of ESPN had the report this time, tweeting, “Falcons are releasing veteran tight end Jonnu Smith, per source. Smith caught 50 passes for 532 yards and three touchdowns last season.”

Smith could be a name for Vikings fans to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. Obviously, much of what happens at Minnesota’s tight end position revolves around T.J. Hockenson’s progression from his knee injury. If Hockenson’s recovery timeline extends well into the 2024 season, the Vikings will need to find a way to replace his production at the position. Smith is a very capable pass catcher and could be a solution.

Buccaneers Release LB Shaquil Barrett

The Vikings have a very clear need for pass rushing help this offseason. Regardless of if they re-sign Danielle Hunter, they will need to find some additional depth at that position considering the only players currently under contract at the OLB spot are Andre Carter and Pat Jones.

Well, that help could come in the form of Shaquil Barrett, who was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. Schefter again had the scoop here, tweeting, “Buccaneers are releasing two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, per sources. Barrett had a $15.04 million option bonus due next month. Instead of collecting it, he now will become a free agent.”

Dec 10, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end MyCole Pruitt (85) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (7) in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Barrett, 31, began his career as a rotational player with the Denver Broncos before bursting onto the scene in Tampa Bay during the 2019 season. He led the league with 19.5 sacks during that season, but his production has steadily decreased in recent years, putting together just 4.5 sacks in 2023.

Still, Barrett is a veteran player who can contribute to a pass rush while also being a capable run defender. Despite some decreased counting stats this past season, PFF still graded him as the 15th-best pass rusher in 2023 (min. 300 snaps).

Jets Release G Laken Tomlinson

The New York Jets have been a disaster along the offensive line for multiple years. When they signed Laken Tomlinson back in 2022, they were hoping that he could help rejuvenate that group. However, it has not worked out, and the Jets have opted to release him.

Jeremy Fowler reported the news by tweeting, “The #Jets are releasing guard Laken Tomlinson, per source. Move saves around $8.1M on the cap. Incredibly durable player has started 114 straight games.”

Non-Vikings News
Oct 29, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets guard Laken Tomlinson (78) and offensive tackle Mekhi Becton (77) walk off the field after defeating the New York Giants in overtime at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This is an interesting move as it pertains to the Vikings. Minnesota currently does not have a starting left guard on their roster (the position that Tomlinson has predominantly played throughout his career), and their offensive line has faced multiple durability issues over the past few years. While Tomlinson’s stint in New York wasn’t all that great, it’s tough to solely place that blame on him when the rest of the o-line wasn’t holding up their end of the bargain, either.

Here is a look at Tomlinson’s PFF grades during his five-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers from 2017-2021:

  • 2017: 66.4
  • 2018: 67.5
  • 2019: 68.8
  • 2020: 78.8
  • 2021: 73.6

Tomlinson has proven to be a very capable offensive lineman at the NFL level, so perhaps a departure from New York was exactly what he needed to get back to that level. The Vikings should have the veteran on their radar this spring.

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

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of 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.