The prime portion of the free agency frenzy is coming to an end, and the dust is settling. As many of us expected, the Vikings’ front office took a cautiously measured approach to free agency this off-season, signing just four players so far. With the Bridgewater and Rhodes contracts looming in the near future, they couldn’t afford to aggressively pursue the luxuries of the free agent market, and Trader Rick had to do some bargain shopping. While they didn’t land the big-name tackles many fans were calling for, they didn’t completely whiff, either.
The first player that the Vikings were able to sign was the Lions’ Riley Reiff, a former first round pick coming off of his rookie contract. The Vikings signed the 6’6 313 lbs tackle to a 5-year deal worth $58 million, which is slightly more than Matt Kalil got from Carolina. With no first round pick and an extremely weak draft class at the position, the Vikings couldn’t afford to miss on a starting-quality left tackle- which is what I think they got with this signing. Reiff was a consistent starter throughout his time in Detroit, starting 69 games in 5 seasons. Last season, the Lions had him playing at the right tackle position, but I think he will start at the left tackle position for the Vikings. His biggest strength is as a run blocker. He has strong lateral agility skills and will be a good fit in Pat Shurmur’s zone run scheme.
As a pass protector, he’s not much more than an average blocker, and tends to get overrun by powerful pass rushers. This skill set isn’t ideal for a position with the primary responsibility of protecting the quarterback’s blind side, but we haven’t seen an open running lane since the winter of 2015- so it’ll be nice to have Reiff and Boone opening up holes on the left side of the line. Whatever Reiff looks like next season, I think it’s safe to assume it’ll look better than this:
The next move the Vikings made was to pair Riley Reiff with another bookend tackle by signing the Panthers’ Mike Remmers to a 5-year, $30 million contract. Remmer’s skill set is similar to Riley Reiff’s. He’s a strong, scrappy run blocker with good lateral agility that will help improve the Vikings’ rushing attack next season.
His weaknesses lie in the passing game, where he has struggled to keep pass rushers from blowing past him. Although his pass protection will need to see improvement, I like his competitiveness and gritty nature in the run game, and he’ll be an upgrade over what we had last year.
The first defensive player signed was the twenty six year old defensive end Datone Jones, a former first round pick of the Green Bay Packers. Jones signed a one- year deal worth $3.75 million, which is essentially a “prove it” deal. Jones wasn’t consistently productive throughout his time in Green Bay, being confined mostly to passing downs, and sparsely recorded statistics. For the Vikings to pay that amount, they are gambling that Zimmer will be able to optimize his abilities and use him more effectively than the packers did. Another reason the Vikings signed Jones is he has the size and skills to shift down to play the 3-technique tackle position to add depth behind Sharif Floyd, which might save them the necessity of drafting a defensive tackle this year.
The most recent signing was former Raiders’ running back Latavius Murray, who will become infamous to Viking fans as “the guy who replaced AP.” Murray was signed to a 3-year, $15 million deal that has shut the door on the return of the Vikings’ future hall of fame running back. The reasons that Murray is a scheme fit in Pat Shurmur’s offensive system are the same reasons that Peterson was not. First, Murray was a top-5 rated pass-protecting running back, something Peterson was rarely asked to do throughout his career, and often failed at when attempted. Another trait Peterson lacked was the availability to be involved in the offense as a receiver; Adrian is about as coordinated as a Tyrannosaurus rex would be, if asked to run routes and then catch a football. Murray is a much more proficient receiver than Adrian is, and he will fit into a system that relies on running backs to be dependable targets coming out of the backfield.
Murray’s multidimensional skills will ease the transition as Shurmur attempts to implement a more modern system than the ones we’ve seen since the coming of Adrian Peterson. However, in terms of skills as a ball carrier, Murray is no AP. While Murray is a strong, well-balanced runner, he is less than spectacular in the open field.
I see him being used the most in short yardage situations. The Vikings’ offense has been terrible in the red zone in recent years, and it has often cost them games- most memorably the playoff game against the Seahawks. With the 70.5 percent success rate Murray had in goal-to-go situations last season, we should see an improvement next year.
Overall, with the signings of Reiff, Remmers, and Murray, the Vikings have added pieces to upgrade a historically poor running game, and also added depth to the defensive line with Datone Jones. With cap space still available, we’ll see if they choose to make any additional moves as the free agency period continues.