3 Questions with Austin Belisle of VikingsTerritory.com – On Free Agency, Franchise Tags and Off-Season Improvements…

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As our long-time readers know, or rather, as VikingsTerritory.com’s millions of writers know, we do some work with them from time to time (and by time to time I mean about once or twice a week, and by about I mean definitely). This week I thought we’d delve into the up-coming free agency period, as it’s really my favorite time of year!

So without further adieu, here’s what my pal Austin Belisle had to say to my questions… 

1) Rank the available Vikings Free Agents in order of who you’d like to keep the most to the least… Namely… Captain Munnerlyn, Adam Thielen, Cordarrelle Patterson and Captain Munnerlyn… 

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Of the names provided, I’ve actually got a pretty defined ranking in my mind. The strength of the Vikings is the Mike Zimmer-led defense, and I believe that defense will push them into the playoffs next season. Captain Munnerlyn is, in a way, the linchpin of the secondary. He’s the piece that allows Zimmer to run so much of the nickel scheme, the key that unlocks all of Minnesota’s varying pressure and blitz packages. Without Munnerlyn manning slot cornerback, the Vikings enter 2017 with a giant question mark at one of their most important defensive positions. I don’t believe Mackensie Alexander showed enough last season to warrant a starting role this year, and I’m almost positive Zimmer feels the same way. I can’t know that for sure, but even an experienced corner like Munnerlyn—who joined the team in 2014—had issues picking up Zimmer’s newly-implemented system. Knowing its continuity that partly make Zimmer’s defense “go,” Munnerlyn is the clear fit moving forward; a rookie, nor a second-year player, is going to wrestle such a crucial role away from one of the league’s better slot cornerbacks.

Thielen is a restricted free agent, making it an easier task for the Vikings to keep the hometown hero in Minnesota.Spotrac.com has his projected market value at $6 million per year, and that’s not completely out of the question. Thielen was Minnesota’s leading receiver last season and proved he’s more than a feel-good story. My colleague at Vikings Territory, B.J. Reidell, wrote about Thielen’s stellar season, highlighting all the things that make keeping the receiver in Minnesota a worthwhile investment. More so than Patterson, Thielen is a complete receiver who deserves to start and star for the Vikings. His efforts—in the face of a new offensive system and a new quarterback—should be rewarded by the team that’s already made his NFL dreams come true.

Meanwhile, my thoughts on Patterson are simple: He’s the league’s best kick returner and an exciting option out of the backfield, but he’ll never become the receiver the Vikings imagined when drafting him in 2013. It’s time to end the experiment and stick with the tried-and-true pieces of Stefon Diggs, Thielen, and hopefully, Laquon Treadwell.

1) Munnerlyn 2) Thielen 3) Patterson

2) Do you think the Vikes will end up using the franchise tag this off-season? If so, on whom? If not, why not? I ran across a stat onScout.com that’s completely informed my answer: 

“Of all the organizations in the NFL, nobody has used the franchise tag fewer times than the Minnesota Vikings. In the 24 years of the franchise tag, the Vikings have used the franchise tag just twice – and both on Dakota boys they were convinced didn’t want to leave their home franchise (tight end Jim Kleinsasser in 2003 and Chad Greenway in 2011).”

As John Holler points out in his post, the Vikings employ a sound strategy in retaining core talent. General manager Rick Spielman doesn’t use the franchise tag as a band-aid; he locks up players—most recently Harrison Smith and Everson Griffen—as they’re entering the prime years of their careers. I simply cannot see the Vikings using the franchise tag this offseason, especially when comparing the pending free agents and the cost associated with slapping a franchise tag on their contract. Munnerlyn? No, the Vikings won’t spend $14 million on him this year. Patterson or Thielen? Neither receiver is worth $15.49 million. What about Matt Kalil? Given his injury history, the Vikings are surely going to pay him less than $14.1 million if he returns in 2017. 

My guess is the Vikings use their cap flexibility—the highest in the league—and sign Munnerlyn, Kalil, and Thielen to respectable, if manageable contracts this offseason.

3) What do you want the VIkings to improve the most on the offense this season (Outside of the offensive line)? 

Offensive line is the obvious choice, but I’ll take the opposite end of the spectrum — the defensive line. Specifically, I want Spielman to give “Big Goon” Linval Joseph some help on the inside. Bringing back Sharrif Floyd, despite his injury-riddlled history, should be a priority; he adds a pass-rushing dimension the Vikings lacked on the interior of their defensive line last season. But outside of Floyd, the Vikings don’t have another do-it-all defensive tackle to clog up the trenches. The draft, and potentially free agency, provide Spielman an opportunity to find some hidden talent, much as he did with Joseph in 2014. Shoring up the interior would allow rangy linebackers like Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks to fly to the football.

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