Who Will the Vikings Franchise in 2017 (If Anyone)?

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Full Disclosure, I got the idea for this article from an article from FoxSports.com with a similar title. As someone who has seen his article ideas taken without as much as an inkling that the author didn’t come up with it himself, I wouldn’t have been able to… Sit up all night sweatily without mentioning that. So, let’s hop into my actual intro!

Remember when the Vikings had back to back years with multiple first round picks? Well, the contract Armageddon that will come from that doesn’t start this year, at least not really, it comes next year. Now, some of you will remember that Cordarrelle Patterson was part of one of those three first round pick seasons, however, the Vikings declined to pick up his fifth year option last off-season, and thus his contract or rather free agency fell to this year as opposed to next.

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It’d be a strange twist of fate for Patterson to go from not having his fifth year option exercised to receiving the franchise tag in one year, but considering the limited options that the Vikings do have for the tag, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. So, with that, let’s look at one of his competitors for the tag first, then his chances as the franchisee for 2017 (At least according to FoxSports.com) and then… His best pal’s chances.

First up is Captain Munnerlyn, a player that has long thought to be playing on borrowed time (Depending on who you ask) as a Viking. Now, I’m personally a big fan of Captain Munnerlyn, and feel like he’s been given a raw deal by the Vikings media. Munnerlyn was a pretty big free agent signing for the Vikings back in 2014, at least in terms of excitement. Sure, a three year $14-million dollar contract ($7million in guarantees) isn’t huge, but still with Munnerlyn coming from the vaunted Carolina Panthers secondary he was expected to make a big impact in the Vikings unit.

Even Munnerlyn will tell you that 2014 was a disappointment, however. So disappointing in fact that Munnerlyn feared being cut at one point during the 2014 season. Speaking to reporters from the Pioneer Press, Munnerlyn said on finishing the season strong:

“Just to leave the good taste in the coaches’ mouth,” Munnerlyn said. “I haven’t been playing my best football this year; I don’t think so at all. So I’m honest with myself. I know I’ve got to play better if I want to be here.”

While he did just that and was able to retain a roster spot in 2015, it was widely reported that Munnerlyn started that season in head coach Mike Zimmer’s dog-house. I really don’t think that that was a fair to Munnerlyn, though as he is best when he can play the nickel spot, thanks to his size and skill-set. So, when he was forced into a starting spot thanks to injuries before the 2014 season began, he was simply playing out of position. 2015 brought a return to his nickel spot and a move out of the dog-house, despite a much better season the Vikings still did draft his apparent replacement in Mackenzie Alexander (Hence the “Borrow time” comment) before the 2016 season began.

Because of that, I really don’t see Munnerlyn receiving the tag, or really even making the team. At this point, I give him a 50:50 chance of returning, period and a 0.0001% chance of receiving the Franchise Tag (As nothing is impossible). Personally, I believe the Vikings need to retain him, IF he isn’t too expensive, but the market for corners is always high so I doubt that he’ll be as cheap as he was the past three seasons, so, it could be the end for oh Captain, my Captain. Next up? The Flash himself!

As I stated above the Vikings declined Patterson’s fifth year option before last season, which could end up being a pretty big mistake depending on what the market for Patterson ends up being. From the list of the other available wide receivers (As far as I can tell) as well as the propensity of NFL decision makers to overpay, hyper-talented wide receivers/former first rounders with “untapped” (?) potential that market could greatly outweigh Patterson’s output.

Sure, Patterson’s 2016 wasn’t eye-popping, but he did one thing by snagging over 50 passes (For under 500 yards), he proved that he can actually play the wide receiver position (Something that seemed impossible in 2015). He also continued to show that he’s the best kick returner in the NFL by far, snagging one of the Vikings few Pro Bowl spots for returns for the second time in his career.

Realistically, Patterson may be too expensive for the Vikings to retain one way or another, at least for what they’ve expect him/or may ask of him in 2017. So, unless they can expect him to continue to improve next season, his fifth in the NFL, I’m not sure if adding a franchise tag makes sense (Especially with what that tag entails, financially). In 2016, a franchise tag (Which differs depending on the position) at wide receiver was worth $14.599 million. In no reality is Patterson worth that amount as the third receiver on the Vikings roster, especially considering they spent a first rounder on the position last year and the fact that if they were to match an offer from another team it’d definitely be for less and they’d definitely have the upper-hand.

Patterson’s career began, essentially, with a different offense almost every season. That change made it hard for the receiver who was attempting to learn the position, to learn the position. So, I think the familiarity of Pat Shurmur’s offense in 2017 would be appealing to Patterson. On top of that Patterson has shown this off-season a desire to attempt to focus on running the ball more often as well, when discussing it he specifically said that he wanted to help the VIKINGS rushing attack in 2017, knowing that he could bring/maximize his value there (What other team really is in the market for a wide receiver that they can convert to running back? Besides the Packers, I mean). Those statements read like an audition of sorts to Vikings management, something that a player that was looking to leave really wouldn’t do. Lastly, and perhaps the most important/best segue ever, his best friend in the world is on the Vikings as well. In Adam Thielen.

If there is any Viking that I really do fear losing this off-season, and thus then necessitates the franchise tag (to me), it’s Adam Thielen. I mean, while I really don’t want to lose either Patterson or Munnerlyn, I doubt that there’ll be the market for their services that will be for the services of Thielen. After an early career that was respectable, especially considering his beginnings, Thielen exploded onto the NFL scene this season by leading the Vikings in yards at 967 (Nearly topping 1,000 yards, obviously, because 967 is almost 1,000).

Thielen even topped number one Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs in yardage despite having by 15 less receptions. Meaning that he ended up being the Vikings deep threat, something you would’ve never expected coming into the season in which he was lining up next to and behind (on the depth chart) both Diggs and Patterson. Thielen also cleared 200 yards in the nationally televised Christmas Eve game against the Green Bay Packers, a game that may very well end up being the main reason for the Franchise Tag, as it definitely did put Thielen on the collective radar of many NFL teams and gave people the impression that he may be the next Eric Decker.

While Diggs is well known as a pure technician, too, Thielen is also known as a hard worker who has honed his craft and that plays the game the right way. He’s technically sound and takes advantage of the skills that he does have as well as any receiver in the league, so he’s going to succeed in nearly every offense and almost every role that teams may put him in. That means that he’s very, very valuable to almost every general manager and since his skill-set fits on every offense he appeals to every team, increasing his price. Sure, his “Potential” may not be has high as Patterson’s, from a sure top end speed or the ability to make people miss department, but as an all around wide receiver he is the best on the Vikings roster, namely because he’s stayed healthier than Diggs has (At least recently).

It’s because of that that I would definitely slap the tag on Thielen if I had to make a choice. Is he worth nearly $15 million a season? Of course not, but at this point the Vikings cannot afford to lose him (and I didn’t even get into his special teams abilities). The Vikings wide receiver corps did appear to be deeper than we believed going into the 2016 off-season and draft, so deep in fact that in retrospect people have questioned why the Vikings felt compelled to select Laquon Treadwell with their first pick in that draft. Sure, some of that has to do with the high percentage throws that new Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford did make and some of that also had to do with the “Slow start” that Treadwell has had to his career. But, most of of has to do with the emergence that Thielen had in 2016, and at this point the Vikings just aren’t in the position to need to replace their 1B receiver. Especially not after the relationship that he developed with Bradford.

Honestly, hopefully the Vikings won’t have to franchise Thielen, or anyone, as it would be hurt their already limited cap-space. But, if they are going to end up needing to tag anyone, I believe that Thielen is that guy, namely because he is the player that they can least afford to lose and thus the player that most deserves it.

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