By Jim Weidner. When the Minnesota Vikings started the season 5-0, they were on the fast track to the playoffs. But then, the wheels fell off as the Vikings finished 3-8 the rest of the season to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs all together.
It was quite a blow to the Vikings to finish the season 8-8. With the poor finish to their 2016-2017 season, it puts general manager Rick Spielman on the hot seat going into next season. Spielman, with head coach Mike Zimmer, will need to determine which of their free agents are in their plans to get back on the winning track for next season.
Here is a list of Vikings players that will be free agents this offseason and TFG’s prediction on who will return and who will be looking for a new employer.
Matt Asiata, Running Back
Asiata was forced into action once again this season at running back when the Vikings lost running back Adrian Peterson to a knee injury. This wasn’t the first time Asiata had been forced into action with the Vikings missing Peterson. Asiata finished the season with 402 yards rushing with 6 rushing touchdowns. Asiata did his best, but his skills limit his production. A solid role player, Asiata isn’t the player who should get a lot of carries and is better off playing just on special teams. He will be 30 years old when next season begins and as cruel as it can be, the Vikings are better off with a younger player filling Asiata’s roster spot.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Asiata
Zach Line, Fullback
Line’s best ability is blocking out of the backfield, which might help his case of being re-signed since Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur runs a west coast offense which utilizes a fullback. Line isn’t a great ball catcher, but is good enough to catch one or two when he has to out of the backfield. Line also fills a role on the Vikings special teams which is a vital unit for Zimmer and the Vikings.
Prediction: Vikings re-sign Line
Adam Thielen, Wide Receiver
A restricted free agent, Adam Thielen’s career is a Cinderella story. A local Minnesota kid who played at Division II Minnesota State-Mankato, Thielen was signed as an undrafted free agent and worked his way off the practice squad to become a core special team’s player. This season, Thielen made the jump to starting wide receiver, finishing with 69 passes for 967 yards and 5 touchdowns. Thielen’s production overshadowed former first round pick Cordarelle Patterson and will be enough to lock him up with another contract with the Vikings.
Predictions: Vikings re-sign Thielen
Charles Johnson, Wide Receiver
The Vikings were in dire need of wide receivers last season which should tell you how well Johnson performed. Johnson finished the season with 20 receptions for 232 yard and zero touchdown receptions. Johnson has flashed glimpses of the great player he could be during his three seasons with the Vikings but not enough to warrant being brought back. The Vikings must get stronger at wide receiver and bringing back Johnson won’t help.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Johnson
Cordarelle Patterson, Wide Receiver / Kick Returner
The former first round pick finally showed some production at the wide receiver position last season. This past season, Patterson caught 52 passes, a career best, for 453 yards and two touchdowns. But still, those types of numbers aren’t what you would expect out of a fourth year player drafted in the first round. Cordarelle Patterson has struggled adapting to the NFL game and most of his production came on gimmick plays. One thing that might keep Patterson in Minnesota is his kickoff returning ability. Patterson was elected to this year’s Pro Bowl as a kick returner after averaging 31.7 yards per return with one kickoff returned for a touchdown. Even with his ability as a returner, Patterson has been a disappointment. Giving big money to a one trick pony might not be what the Vikings need.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Patterson
Jake Long, Offensive Tackle
With the Vikings desperately needing offensive lineman, they signed the veteran Long after week seven. Long showed why he was a free agent, playing poorly in his three games before falling to season ending injury. The former first overall pick is past his prime and his NFL career appears over.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Long
Andre Smith, Offensive Tackle
Mike Zimmer was familiar with Andre Smith when he was the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, one reason the Vikings signed him last offseason. Smith battled injuries throughout his career and last season was no different. Smith played just four games for the Vikings before falling to a season ending injury. But like Kalil, the Vikings will likely bring Smith back because of necessity. Coming off an injury, Andre Smith might be had on the cheap.
Prediction: Vikings re-sign Smith
Jeremiah Sirles, Offensive Tackle
The third year tackle was forced into action this season and started ten games for the Vikings. Sirles was one of the many offensive linemen who performed poorly for the Vikings. Sirles is young and still learning the game. The Vikings need bodies to battle during training camp and with Sirles coming on the cheap, he most likely will be re-signed.
Prediction: Vikings re-sign Sirles
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle
When Kalil fell to a season ending hip injury after the second game of the season, his Vikings career might be over. But after the disastrous performance by the Vikings offensive line this past season without Kalil, Kalil will likely return. Matt Kalil, another former first round pick by the Vikings, played superbly his rookie season but then struggled in 2013 and 2014, before playing better in 2015. Kalil is in a good spot. The 2017 NFL draft class is weak at offensive tackle and the free agent market is the same. Matt Kalil has shown that he is better than what the Vikings currently have.
Prediction: Vikings re-sign Kalil
Justin Trattou, Defensive Lineman
Justin Trattou is a backup. This season, Trattou played four games for the Vikings and registered 3 total tackles. At 28 years of age, the Vikings would be better off finding a younger, cheaper option.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Trattou
Chad Greenway, Linebacker
Chad Greenway has played 11 seasons for the Vikings and has been productive throughout his NFL career. It appeared Greenway’s career was over after he struggled in 2014, but he bounced back in 2015 producing 55 total tackles, 2 ½ sacks, and an interception. Last season, Greenway saw his playing time reduced and totaled just 26 total tackles, zero sacks, and 1 interception as a result. But Greenway still brings a veteran presence to the Vikings locker room and he has earned the right to go out on his own. The Vikings have two very reliable linebackers in Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Last season, the Vikings selected tackling machine Kentrell Brothers out of Missouri in last year’s draft. The Vikings are set at linebacker if Greenway retires.
Prediction: Greenway retires
Audie Cole, Linebacker
Cole has seen little playing time on the Vikings defense since the 2014 season. Instead, most of his playing time has come on the Vikings special teams. At 27 years of age, the Vikings will find a player through the draft or in free agency to replace him.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Cole
Captain Munnerlyn, Cornerback
The Vikings starting cornerbacks will be Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes next season, but there is no reason to believe there isn’t a place for Munnerlyn, especially in the slot. Munnerlyn has been a solid slot cornerback for the Vikings since coming over from the Carolina Panthers after the 2013 season. If the Vikings re-sign Munnerlyn, they will have three quality cornerbacks, something that is needed when taking on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice a season.
Prediction: Vikings re-sign Munnerlyn
Terrance Newman, Cornerback
The 38 year old Newman has dodged Father Time and is still playing in the NFL. It helps he played for Zimmer while both were with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals. But last season, Newman might have burned his bridge with Zimmer when he and the rest of the Vikings secondary went “rogue” and changed Zimmer’s game plan against the Packers late in the season. If Newman has no place in Zimmer’s defense, I cannot believe somebody else will have a fit for a 38 year old cornerback.
Prediction: Vikings choose not to re-sign Newman