Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Assessing the Vikings' cornerback options
By Ben Goessling
MINNEAPOLIS -- For as much as the first day of free agency was marked by the Vikings' ability to add a critical piece to their defense in former New York Giants tackle Linval Joseph, it ended with several cornerbacks finding other teams. Indianapolis' Vontae Davis re-signed with the Colts for $39 million over the next four years, New England's Aqib Talib got $57 million over six years from Denver, while Tennessee's Alterraun Verner -- in whom the Vikings had expressed interest on Saturday -- signed not to play with his old defensive coordinator (new Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray) in Minnesota, but with former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier in Tampa Bay.
Verner only got $26 million over four years (with $14 million guaranteed), which might reflect some teams' apprehension about putting him in a man coverage scheme. The Titans had used man coverage more often early last season, but Verner's best work there had been as a zone corner, and teams that plan to play a good chunk of man coverage -- like the Vikings now do -- might have decided Verner wasn't their best fit. That won't be a problem in Tampa, where the Buccaneers will lean heavily on the Cover-2 scheme used by Frazier and head coach Lovie Smith in their previous stops. But it does leave the Vikings still looking elsewhere for a corner.
So where might they look? Denver's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be an option, especially now that the Broncos spent their money on Talib. He's 6-foot-2, is only 28 and was compared to Terence Newman (a Mike Zimmer favorite in Dallas and Cincinnati) when entering the draft in 2008. Miami's Nolan Carroll is another big corner who has essentially played in Zimmer's scheme; Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was Zimmer's defensive backs coach in Cincinnati before going to Miami, and Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards was brought to town in part because he'd been working in the same scheme as the Dolphins' linebackers coach. Carroll would be cheaper than Rodgers-Cromartie, and he's a couple years younger, too. Cincinnati's Brandon Ghee could fit, for obvious reasons. And if the Vikings are looking for a slot corner after Josh Robinson struggled there last year, Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn could be an option, as Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com points out.
One thing I don't see happening -- and the thing I probably got more questions about today than anything else -- is Darrelle Revis coming to Minnesota. Revis is only 28, and might be the best man coverage corner in the game when he's on, but he's had lots of contract squabbles, and will probably have more interest from teams closer to a championship than the Vikings.
Lastly, it's important to remember what Zimmer said last week about how he wanted to build his defense. "My thing has always been play good team defense, not just be great players, but be good as a team," he said. "I do believe you can be real good, if you get the correct guys in there that buy into the system, that want to play for one another, that want to take ownership in something bigger than themselves. Everybody sees that Maserati and they want to go buy it and you know you probably shouldn’t. You should probably buy a Ford F-150 like I got. Because if you get the F-150, you can keep building the pieces you need. So I think we have to be smart about it."
The Vikings could still draft a corner like Justin Gilbert in the first round. They could sign someone like Rodgers-Cromartie or Carroll, or possibly take a look at Seattle's Brandon Browner (who will be suspended for the first four games of the season). The position remains at or near the top of the Vikings' list of needs, but it might not get fixed with a $40 million investment on the free-agent market.
We'll see how things develop over the next few days, but options still remain for the Vikings at corner.