Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith needs a new running mate to patrol the Vikings’ backfield.
Anthony Harris is a free agent this offseason after he was franchise-tagged in 2020. Harris, 29, went undrafted in 2015 and is likely seeking a payday in what could be the final contract of his career.
With Harris on his way out, Minnesota doesn’t have many options at safety. Sixth-round rookie Josh Metellus played just 16 defensive snaps last season and is the only safety other than Smith on the roster.
The only other immediate option would be re-signing veteran George Iloka. However, Bleacher Report deems Iloka is the one free agent that Minnesota should undoubtedly let walk.
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Iloka is Damaged Goods
Iloka signed with the Vikings last season but suffered a season-ending torn ACL injury in Week 8. The soon-to-be 31-year-old and former Cincinnati Bengals starter hasn’t played in a full-16 game season since 2017. He didn’t make an NFL roster in 2019.
Iloka’s relationship with coach Mike Zimmer and familiarity with the Vikings’ defensive scheme helped the veteran safety land a pair of one-year stints with the Vikings in 2018 and 2020.
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox detailed a harsh reality facing Minnesota. The Vikings need to get under the salary cap while also finding reliable replacements and upgrades at several positions to return to title contention. Iloka is just damaged goods at this point in his career.
Here’s what Knox wrote:
The Minnesota Vikings are in a tough spot this offseason. They’re projected to be nearly $5 million over the cap, and coming off a 7-9 season, they’re probably closer to a rebuild than title contention.
There isn’t a good reason to use their cap space or a roster spot on a soon-to-be 31-year-old safety who spent time on the practice squad and appeared in only four games in 2020 before going on injured reserve…
It’s time for Minnesota to find a younger and more consistent option for safety depth.
Iloka would require a veteran minimum $1.05 million salary in 2021, which the Vikings could use to help bolster a different position. The only dilemma is finding that consistent replacement Knox proposed the Vikings find.
Potential Free Agents
Given the Vikings cornerbacks room will still need some veteran help behind them, Minnesota should go after an affordable veteran safety and also bolster depth with another draft selection this offseason.
Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal could make a strong fit as both a consistent and affordable replacement. Neal, who turns 26 in July, is entering the prime of his career. Neal is a box safety who prefers to tackle in the box, which could allow Eric Kendricks more flexibility to focus on coverage. Smith could move back to free safety, where he played when Andrew Sendejo was his starting safety partner.
Sendejo is also a free agent after making a playoff run with the Cleveland Browns. He could stir calls for a reunion with Smith, however, Sendejo, 33, could potentially be nearing retirement.
San Francisco 49ers Jaquiski Tartt presents a closer replacement to Harris as a player with speed and can play in coverage. He’s proven to be an average safety in the league and is far from a flashy signing but he is reliable enough to reinforce the top of the defense. Tartt, who is approaching his 29th birthday this week, is coming off a season-ending turf-toe injury and could be signed well-below his $6.5 million average salary he agreed upon in the prime of his career.
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