The Minnesota Vikings were abysmal on defense last season. The team has signed several players from outside the organization while re-signing key components to fix what ails them.
In all, the Vikings re-signed four players and signed six from elsewhere. All of them are expected to be big pieces of their position group rotation and could challenge for starting jobs.
With a fiery personality and defensive prowess, Mike Zimmer could be the perfect new head coach. He has built a reputation for producing a top-tier defense without a lot of star power.
He and defensive coordinator George Edwards are charged with the task of doing the same for the Vikings in 2014. Here are the moves the Vikings made to try to make that happen.
CB Marcus Sherels (2-year, $2.2 million contract)
Nothing has come easy for Sherels in the game of football. He wasn’t recruited out of high school and walked-on to the University of Minnesota. He out-performed expectations there. Then he went undrafted in 2010 and had to tryout at the Vikings rookie mini-camp. He immediately impressed the coaching staff and front office personnel to get a contract. The 26-year-old has rewarded the Vikings’ faith in him with three very good seasons as a punt returner and improving cornerback skills.
Last season, the 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound fourth-year veteran set career-highs with 46 tackles, six passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. He also recorded his first career interception.
Signing Grade: A. Sherels has become one of the better stories in the NFL. He is a very good punt returner and decent cornerback.
LB Larry Dean (2-year, $2.2 million)
Dean has done nothing spectacular from a statistical standpoint. However, the 25-year-old has been an invaluable part of the Vikings special teams units. As good as the 6-foot, 226-pound fourth-year veteran has been, the team has struggle.
Last season, the Vikings allowed the second highest yards per return on kickoffs and 14th best average yards allowed per punt return in the league. Dean set career-highs with 13 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Signing Grade: C+. Dean has done nothing as a linebacker, but has been the star of the special teams units.
DE Everson Griffen (5-year, $42.5 million)
Griffen has five years to justify a very lucrative contract. The 26-year-old has the fifth highest base salary and 10th highest average value among defensive ends in the league, according to Spotrac.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 273-pound fifth-year veteran got that expensive contract despite posting just 85 tackles, 17.5 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in four seasons. Last season, he notched career-highs with 27 tackles.
Signing Grade: C+. The jury will be out on this contract for at least a year or two. Griffen has the talent, but now needs to produce.
DT Linval Joseph (5-year, $31.5 million)
Joseph is the mammoth space-eater Zimmer likes to have at nose tackle. He is hard to move and takes away multiple blockers. The 25-year-old was a key anchor to the New York Giants defense that allowed 108.9 yards per game on the ground (14th best in the league) and 3.8 yards per carry (sixth).
The 6-foot-4-inch, 323-pound does not just take up blockers, but can also make plays. Last season, he recorded 59 tackles, three sacks, forced one fumble and recovered one fumble.
Signing Grade: A. Joseph fills a huge hole in the Vikings defense. This may be the most underrated signing in the NFL.
LB Jasper Brinkley (1-year, $830,000)
Brinkley never really fit into the Vikings cover-2 base scheme under the previous coaching staff. Last season, the 28-year-old played elsewhere and struggled to find playing time in the Arizona Cardinals’ linebacker rotation. The 6-foot-1-inch, 252-pound sixth-year veteran recorded 27 tackles and one pass defensed while starting three games last season.
With downhill, run stuffing style, Brinkley could be a better fit into Zimmer’s style. He is more likely to record numbers closer to his last season in Minnesota (99 tackles, three passes defensed and three forced fumbles).
Signing Grade: C. Brinkley never quite produced as expected in Minnesota, but a change in the base scheme may be what he needs.
CB Captain Munnerlyn (3-year, $11.25 million)
For the most part, the Vikings cornerbacks were atrocious last season. Enter Munnerlyn, the 26-year-old undersized corner is physical. He does not make it easy for wide receivers to get into their route comfortably.
Pro Football Focus tracked Munnerlyn’s play last season as one of the league’s best. The 5-foot-8-inch, 195-pound sixth-year veteran posted career-highs with 74 tackles and 3.5 sacks while tying a career-best 12 passes defensed. He also posted two interceptions, both of which were returned for a touchdown.
Signing Grade: A-. Munnerlyn is another underrated signing. The talent and production far outweigh the contract.
CB Derek Cox (1-year, $780,000)
Cox was a sleeper cornerback coming out of William & Mary in 2009. He played his way to a big contract with the San Diego Chargers last offseason. However, 27-year-old did not live up to it and was released in March.
The Vikings took a chance on the 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pound cornerback with a prove-it type of contract. Last season was his worst in the NFL, but prior posted very good years.
Signing Grade: B-. Cox couldn’t fulfill the contract he signed with the Chargers last summer and was released. A fresh start could be what he needs.
DT Fred Evans (1-year, $1 million)
Evans has been with the Vikings for seven seasons and has proven to be a quality depth guy and nothing more. The 30-year-old cannot be counted on for heavy playing time, but can at times be what Zimmer wants him to be - a space eater.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pound seventh-year veteran does not have eye popping numbers with 99 total tackles in his career and three sacks. However, over the last three seasons, he has amassed 65 tackles, two sacks, five passes defensed and one forced fumble.
Signing Grade: C+. Evans was average at best when counted on to play starter amount of plays, but provides depth and experience with a team-friendly contract.
DT Tom Johnson (1-year, $845,000)
Who is Tom Johnson? He is a depth defensive tackle that will likely challenge for reps as a backup to Sharrif Floyd. The 29-year-old played in NFL Europa, Arena Football League and Canadian Football League before finally getting a chance with the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
Last season, the 6-foot-3-inch, 288-pound fourth-year veteran posted 12 tackles and two sacks in 12 games. He posted career-highs in tackles (28) and sacks (two) the previous season.
Signing Grade: C. Johnson is a relatively unknown player outside of New Orleans. Johnson will be counted on to provide depth.
DE Corey Wootton (1-year, $1.5 million)
The Vikings know Wootton well from his days with the Chicago Bears. The 26-year-old has the skill set to be a very good every down defensive end. He is not just a pass rusher, but also plays the run very well.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 270-pound fifth-year veteran had a bit of down year in 2013, but still posted a career-high 34 tackles, five passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. In his first two seasons, he failed to play more than seven games. However in 2012, he played in all 16 games and started seven. He posted a career-best seven sacks and two forced fumbles that season.
Signing Grade: B+. A couple years ago, Wootton would have been a highly-sought-after player, but 2014 wasn’t kind to the Bears. The defensive ends had little help in the interior because of injuries and thus suffered.