The Minnesota Vikings‘ secondary is in a shakey state of affairs with all three starting cornerbacks pending free agents and few trusted options ready to their place.
Outside cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Duke Shelley are candidates to be re-signed when free agency opens on March 15, however, slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan‘s future is unclear.
Considering the uncertainty facing the Vikings secondary and its younger players, Minnesota would be wise to secure a versatile veteran presence who can play both the slot and the outside.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) suggested the Vikings sign Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr., who has shown not only the discipline to play all three spots at cornerback but also has a prowess for playmaking.
PFF Suggest Vikings Sign Ball-Hawking CB Byron Murphy
PFF’s Brad Spielberger took inventory of the upcoming free-agent market and suggested the best defensive player signing with Minnesota’s cap constraints would be Murphy.
Minnesota’s struggles in the slot were exploited by nearly every team it faced in 2022, and its best cornerback all year was 32-year-old Patrick Peterson, who is a free agent in his own right. Murphy’s 2022 season was cut short by a back injury, but the former second-rounder has otherwise been durable throughout his rookie contract.
Murphy isn’t just a slot cornerback and earned a career-best 66.7 overall grade through Week 9 while playing primarily out wide, but his versatility will be an asset to a defense that has question marks throughout its cornerback room. Minnesota’s decision to run it back once more in 2022 was arguably a success depending on your perspective, but it will now have to deal with the ramifications of a tough salary cap situation and an aging and very porous defense. …
The Vikings front office will have to be methodical with how it improves the defense this offseason, and Murphy brings a lot to the table as a high-floor player with a diverse skill set.
The 33rd overall pick in the 2019 draft, Murphy was deemed a first-round prospect for his toughness and instinct that would make him an ideal slot cornerback in the NFL.
“Ball-hawking man corner who makes up for a lack of physical tools with outstanding instincts, toughness, and short-area quickness,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote. “Murphy’s ball production per target is as good as you will find thanks to an innate ability to process the quarterback and route development simultaneously. His long speed is below average and will panic and start grabbing when he ends up in an unexpected trail position. His short-area twitch and run support toughness could make him an early target for teams looking for help at the nickel.”
Murphy flashed his ball-hawking abilities often in 2021 when he snared four interceptions including a pick-six in what proved to be a game-clinching touchdown over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Cardinals rallied after Murphy flipped the score in his team’s favor, leading to a 31-19 victory.
“That’s always my goal to make a play for the defense,” Murphy said, per AZCardinals.com. “I’m trying to go out there and dance and have fun. So once I was able to go out there and make a play, I kind of felt the guys’ energy keep coming so I was just thankful I was able to do that.”
Murphy’s short-area twitchiness would make him an ideal slot cornerback if the Vikings keep a 3-4 base defense that thrives on disguising coverages and attacking underneath routes — ideally with speed and tenacity, a trait that was missing from the second level last season.
He’s also proven to be an adept tackler, forcing five fumbles in the past three seasons despite missing eight games last season with a back injury.
Over The Cap valued Murphy’s 2022 performance at roughly $3 million with his injury considered. However, his performance before his injury suggests his play was worth an average of $8.2 million a year contract, which would rank 25th among cornerback contracts for next season.
Murphy will likely seek more than $3 million a year, however, if the Vikings can sign him below $8.2 million a year it could be a steal considering he is just 25 years old and entering his prime.
Vikings Could Replace Up to 9 Starter on Defense
Nobody appears to be safe from the Vikings’ rehaul of their defense this offseason.
ESPN’s Kevin Siefert proposed that Minnesota could realistically allow nine defensive starters to walk, with the only two returners being Harrison Phillips and Cam Bynum.
Defensive linemen Dalvin Tomlinson and Jonathan Bullard are pending free agents.
Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks offered little optimism at their age and could be an easy decision for the front office if they do not restructure their deals.
The Vikings can also see considerable cap savings by cutting Za’Darius Smith after the 30-year-old pass-rusher notched just a half-sack in the team’s final 10 games of the season.
Despite the trio of starting cornerbacks approaching free agency, Minnesota may also move on from Harrison Smith given his $19.7 million cap hit as th second-oldest safety in the league. The hope for 2021 first-round pick Lewis Cine to take Smith’s spot may be acted upon this offseason.
Danielle Hunter is due for a contract extension, and if the two sides cannot reach an agreement, could be gone as well.