8 of the Vikings’ Starters Must Prove Themselves in Contract Years

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency was tumultuous for the 2024 Vikings as some longtime contributors departed. Danielle Hunter went to four Pro Bowls and was the team’s top defender for years. Kirk Cousins quarterbacked the Vikings for six seasons. Hunter and Cousins both joined clubs that will visit U.S. Bank Stadium in the upcoming season.

8 of the Vikings’ Starters Must Prove Themselves in Contract Years

Next offseason, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will see more starters depart from the organization unless he signs them to new contracts.

1. Harrison Phillips

8 Projected Vikings' Starters Are in Contract Years
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson (23) runs with the ball against the Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips arrived in 2022 as the regime’s first major addition. He spent his first season next to Dalvin Tomlinson, but Phillips became the clear top interior lineman after his teammate’s exit. The former Buffalo Bill is a wonderful run defender but lacks a pass-rush dimension.

His deal is a three-year contract worth $19.5 million, and if he can replicate his performances from previous seasons, he will likely command a raise. Unless the front office re-signs him, the interior defensive line is a mess until reinforcements arrive.

2. Jonathan Bullard/Jerry Tillery

Jonathan Bullard and Jerry Tillery share this spot because it’s unclear who will start next to Phillips. Bullard joined in 2022 and surprisingly won starting roles in both campaigns. He is a journeyman veteran whose strengths are against the run.

Tillery is a former first-rounder who is perhaps the team’s best option to rush the passer among all interior linemen, but he lacks his teammates’ run defense.

The fact that the Vikings are set to lose their top three defensive linemen in an already iffy group is alarming.

3. Byron Murphy Jr.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) runs with the ball after making an interception against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings’ cornerback group was in a bad place in free agency a year ago. Adofo-Mensah decided to lure one of the top defenders on the market to Minnesota. Byron Murphy signed a two-year deal for $17.5 million and immediately became the CB1 in Minnesota.

One year later, it is clear he was worth that kind of investment but hasn’t established himself as a true shutdown number-one cornerback. Still, unless multiple of his younger teammates rise to stardom in the upcoming season, keeping the 26-year-old around is a no-brainer. A contract extension a year in advance is possible.

4. Shaquill Griffin

Another cornerback, Shaquill Griffin, was once an up-and-coming young player who went to a Pro Bowl in 2019. After his rookie contract with the Seahawks had expired, Griffin joined the Jaguars as one of the highest-paid CBs in the league. Injury problems led to his release. In 2023, Griffin played for the Texans but was waived before joining the Panthers.

It remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank. A starting spot is in reach in his age-29 season, but he must prove that he’s worth another deal.

5. Camryn Bynum

Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) celebrates a fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Safety Camryn Bynum had a marvelous breakout season in 2023. He handled the deep safety duties, allowing Harrison Smith and Josh Metellus to wreak havoc in the box.

In college, Bynum was a cornerback, and the Vikings converted him to safety. It took him one year to earn a full-time starting job and a second year to acclimate to the position and the NFL.

2024 will be the final season of his rookie contract, and there’s no doubt that he should be a priority for the Vikes. He has grown into an outstanding defender and a leader of the defense.

6. Dalton Risner

Offensive guard Dalton Risner re-signed with the Vikings, but it took him almost three months of free agency to do that. In addition to that, his one-year $2.14 million deal doesn’t imply a guaranteed starting role, and competing with Blake Brandel for the left guard spot is likely. Still, throughout his career, Risner has been a solid blocker.

It’s pretty simple: He either claims that starting role and is a candidate to get another contract, or he will not be part of the 2025 Vikings.

7. Aaron Jones

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) tackles Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) during their football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Wm. Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

The running game in Minnesota has been a disaster lately, but transitioning from one-year starter Alexander Mattison to the more dynamic ex-Packer Aaron Jones might help. He agreed to a one-year $7 million contract.

Considering his position, age (29), and injury history, the proverbial cliff might not be far away. His play in the upcoming season will determine if there’s any interest from a team side to keep him around, but the front office will be cautious.

8. Sam Darnold

Cousins left, and Sam Darnold is supposed to take his spot. At least until J.J. McCarthy is ready. The hope is that the former third-overall pick has been held back in his entire career because of subpar surroundings and that throwing to Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison in Kevin O’Connell’s offense can help him reach his potential.

However, McCarthy is the future, and it requires a phenomenal stinker from the rookie or an elite season from Darnold to change that. Anything besides a divorce after one year would be shocking.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this article.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and prefers Classic rock over other genres. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt