Another relatively quiet week on the free agent front for the Minnesota Vikings and not much has changed when it comes to the real impact players on roster. Last week we covered the “5 Players That Would Be The Biggest Winners After Free Agency” highlighting a group of guys who had a new space open up or some pressure relieved by the team’s recent acquisitions. As with most things in life, with every ebb there is a flow, every heads there exists a tail and with this list there is also a handful of players who will be negatively affected by the additions, the subtractions and philosophical changes that come as a part of this puzzle.
Like we did last week, highlighted below is a list of the team’s transactions, including a handful from Thursday’s release so we remember exactly what we’re dealing with here.
Re-Signed: WR Adam Thielen, CB Terence Newman, OL Jeremiah Sirles
Acquired: RB Latavius Murray, DE Datone Jones, T Mike Remmers, T Riley Reiff, CB Terrell Sinkfield, WR Mitch Mathews, TE Nick Truedell
Lost: T Andre Smith, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LB Audie Cole, TE Rhett Ellison, P Jeff Locke, T Matt Kalil, WR Charles Johnson, G Brandon Fusco, T Jake Long, LB Chad Greenway (retired)
Remains On The Market: RB Matt Asiata, RB Adrian Peterson, QB Shaun Hill, FB Zach Line, T Jake Long, DE Justin Trattou
So that’s where we stand, now onto the five players that might see a negative impact on their 2017 season due to the moves listed above.
I’ve always been a “go big or go home” type of guy, so let’s start right at the top of this list with the biggest name tagged here, TE Kyle Rudolph. The 2016 season saw Rudy post what could arguably be the best year of his career. The biggest improvement for Kyle last year didn’t have much to do with catches, touchdowns or blocking but with what allows him to lead up to those opportunities…his health. For just the second time in his career, Kyle was able to appear in more than 8 games last season. In fact, he appeared in all 16 games for the Vikings and with that consistency, he was able to post some big numbers. A career high 83 receptions, a career high 840 yards and a very impressive 7 touchdown receptions, not too shabby. But let’s take a step back and think about how those passes came the way of Kyle last season and how that might be changing for the upcoming year. QB Sam Bradford set an NFL record last year with a completion percentage of 71.6%. While still an NFL record, that number came with its fair share of criticism since a larger majority of Bradford’s passes were short underneath routes and dump offs…out of necessity. With no offensive line to pave the way for a running back, the short passing game becomes an extension of your run game. With no offensive line to protect the quarterback for longer than two seconds, if you want to move the ball through the air you’re going to have to work through small chunks of yardage and shorter passes. Which brings us back to Kyle. Generally speaking, throughout most of the league many of those underneath passes, many of those dump off opportunities go the way of a tight end and many of them did for Kyle. That’s not to say that Kyle is immune to deeper passes and big gains, but they’re certainly not his forte. With more time to throw (hopefully), with an improved run game (hopefully) and with more trusted and proven options lined up out wide (hopefully) we might see a dip in Kyle’s production as the ball gets spread around. One step further, Kyle’s never been known as the greatest run blocking tight end and if the team has the good fortune of running the ball more to balance the offense better, Kyle may not be in the mix as often. All of these things are obviously to say that Kyle himself hasn’t made any improvements in speed or blocking ability of the offseason, which he certainly may be doing, but based off of last year’s evidence, it could be a coming back to earth year for Kyle in 2017.
We might as well dip to the next most obvious player slated for a drop in action and touch on RB Jerick McKinnon. For the second time in his young career, Jerick was part of a running back by committee group filling in for an absent or injured Adrian Peterson. And for the second time over that period, he held down the fort but didn’t do enough to “Wally Pipp” the incumbent. Likely operating under the understanding that Peterson would not be returning pretty early in the free agency process, the Vikings still went out onto the open market and brought in a new back that will be slated in as the opening day starter pending any shocking changes. Take just one look at Latavius Murray and you’ll also notice how different he is from McKinnon in both stature and what he brings to the table. Murray clocks in at an impressive 6’3” and 225 lbs on the scale while McKinnon carries just 205 lbs on his 5’9” frame; Latavius is touted as a “one-cut back” who makes his move and hits the whole while McKinnon’s history shows him dancing in the backfield a bit more (admittedly, some of that was out of necessity); and lastly Murray brings with him the ability to both catch passes and block in the passing game making him a three down back and taking even more reps away from McKinnon’s opportunity.
The losses don’t only impact the offensive players, some of the trim back will impact the defense too. Our guy here should be clear for those following career trajectory and the news of late. We’re taking a look at DE Brian Robison here and the potential of his newly changed role on the defensive line. Brian has been the topic of conversation for at least a year now after the Vikings drafted a very raw but very talented defensive lineman in Danielle Hunter. Hunter learned a few nuances of the game in 2016 and opened the door for more reps on his way to tallying 12.5 sacks while disrupting the opposition in the backfield at an astounding rate. The influx of talent from Hunter paired with the backside of a great career with the Vikings has led B-Rob to an adjusted contract this year that will bring a tad less money and expectedly and adjusted and shared role at the left defensive end spot as well. Brian does bring with him the ability to shift to the inside defensive tackle spot so his role might be further different as well but it’s expected that the addition of Datone Jones will impact him as well.
Obviously, as stated before this is all speculation and it’s all according to what we’re seeing on paper potentially coming to fruition on the football field, but the logic is seemingly sound. That’s not to say it’s foolproof though. All of us can collectively hope that plans are put in place so that no players on this roster take a step backwards. That’s the beauty of the game, you just never know.