3 Biggest Free-Agent Decisions for New Vikings GM and Coach in 2022 Offseason
The new head coach and general manager of the Minnesota Vikings have their work cut out for them on defense.
All of the biggest free agents from the Vikings' 2021 roster reside on the defensive side of the ball. There is one important player from each layer of that unit who needs a new contract.
Seven players will each make more than $10 million in the 2022 season, per Spotrac, with quarterback Kirk Cousins being the most expensive.
Cousins' massive contract and the $51 million allocated to Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter may force the new Vikings brass to get creative to retain Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson and Sheldon Richardson or look for replacements at those positions in the 2022 NFL draft.
Minnesota will most likely use the No. 12 overall pick on a defensive prospect since it is set on the offensive side of the ball. The team's draft status could help ease the decision-making of the new head coach and general manager once they are appointed.
Anthony Barr has been with the Minnesota Vikings longer than any of the free agents set to hit the market this offseason.
The new Vikings brass will have come to a difficult decision on the future of the linebacker, who has spent his entire career with the NFC North side.
Barr took a pay cut to return to Minnesota during his last free-agent cycle, and he could be poised to receive a decent-sized contract elsewhere this time around.
His future does not appear to be in Minnesota. He played 13 games in the past two seasons, and it will be hard for the Vikings to commit a ton of money in his direction.
Eric Kendricks takes up a $13.5 million cap hit for 2022, and Harrison Smith comes with a $13.4 million cap hit next season. Those two deals, plus Danielle Hunter's massive pact, will make it hard for the Vikings to afford any major contracts on the defensive side of the ball.
Minnesota could opt to put more trust in younger players already on the roster, find value at linebacker on the free-agent market or attack the position in the draft.
All of those possibilities appear to be more realistic than inking Barr to a large contract because of the team's salary-cap situation.
Patrick Peterson turned in a solid season in the Minnesota secondary, but he is not a long-term solution at defensive back.
The Vikings' new brass should look to get younger at cornerback, and Peterson can chase a larger deal with a team that's more in need of a veteran at the position.
Minnesota sits in the ideal position to replace Peterson in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft. Cincinnati's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner could fall to the Vikings at No. 12—ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected the Vikings would select Gardner at No. 12 in his latest mock draft.
Gardner was one of the top shut-down corners in college football during his time with Cincinnati, and he would be a welcome upgrade to the position.
The Vikings would much better off paying a draft player on his rookie deal than keeping Peterson around for another year on an expensive contract.
That situation allows the Vikings to develop a young player in the secondary and have him thrive there for years to come in the manner they have done with Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson on offense.
Sheldon Richardson might be the free-agent defender the new Vikings staff opts to prioritize in the offseason.
Richardson was effective in the middle of the Minnesota defense during the 17-game season, tallying 13 quarterback hits, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
He is a good veteran piece to have around if the Vikings can keep him at a reasonable price for both parties.
The 31-year-old inked a one-year, $3.6 million contract last offseason, and a similar deal would not significantly hurt the Vikings' salary-cap situation.
It can be hard to find a reliable interior presence on the defensive line. That factor, combined with a potential large list of replacements for Barr and Peterson in free agency and the draft, gives Richardson a higher likelihood to return.
Of course, his status depends what type of personnel the new head coach brings in and how the incoming general manager wants to structure the team's cap situation.
Richardson should be welcomed back if he fits the new defensive scheme. That way, the Vikings can focus on improving the other two layers of the defense throughout the offseason.