It’s unclear what the Minnesota Vikings intend to do with their restricted free agents this offseason.
But the most valuable may be currying favor elsewhere approaching the beginning of the free agency.
Ifeadi Odenigbo was the team’s leading pass-rusher of an otherwise paltry defensive front in 2020. Odenigbo potentially hinted interest in returning to the Arizona Cardinals after spending a month with the team in his second NFL season. He posted a photo of himself in Scottsdale, Ariz., with the caption “Run it back AZ!” on his Instagram story.
Odenigbo has been spending the offseason working out in Arizona, but the phrase “run it back” carries more connotations of players and teams hoping to return its cast from a strong season — like when the Kansas City Chiefs adopted the phrase following their Super Bowl season.
Minnesota has until March 17 to tender Odenigbo, which would allow the Vikings to right to match another team’s offer and/or let a restricted free agent go for a draft pick attached to the tender.
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Odenigbo’s Potential Was Untapped in 2020
Odenigbo led the team with 42 pressures in his first season as a starter in 2020, yet only produced 3.5 sacks compared to the seven sacks he tallied as a rotational player in 2019.
“I’m angry how everything played out,” Odenigbo said after the 2020 season. “I’m not going to think too much about the future. All I need to do is take a couple of weeks off, get my body back up — the body was beat down quite a bit this year — get healthy again, then work on things and watch film from this year. Obviously, I played a lot this year and I think offensive linemen were learning my tendencies. Use this offseason to get better. Don’t feel sorry for yourself because this league will move on without you.”
His struggles to sack the quarterback came partially due to facing the fifth-highest double team rate of any edge rusher in the league, per Inside The Vikings.
Odenigbo still offers plenty of upside and value to Minnesota. He’s progressed as a developmental project over the past four seasons, starting his career as a seventh-round pick in 2017. Playing primarily on Minnesota’s practice squad his first season, Odenigbo landed with the Cleveland Browns and Cardinals in his second season.
The Vikings waived Odenigbo four times in two seasons. But the Northwestern product persevered, carving out a prominent role in Minnesota that landed him as one of the top breakout prospects in the NFL.
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Vikings Should Guarantee Odenigbo’s Future
Odenigbo, playing alongside Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, capitalized on his opportunities, scoring a fumble return TD and almost adding another against the Chicago Bears in 2019.
Minnesota likely won’t go chasing a costly pass rusher in free agency this season after picking up Stephen Weatherly. D.J. Wonnum could contribute as a rotational piece again in 2021, however, Odenigbo is the likely heir to the starting role alongside Hunter.
Keeping Odenigbo wouldn’t cost much either. A second-round tender on Odenigbo, in the event he does not receive an offer from another team, would allow Minnesota to sign him to a single-year deal for $3.38 million and possibly as low as $2.1 million.
This would allow the Vikings to potentially find an affordable defensive tackle to join Michael Pierce in the interior. If all those scenarios played out, Odenigbo would be the only returning starter on the defensive line from 2020 that ranked dead last in run-stopping win rate (32%) and 30th in pass-rush win rate (36%) — leaving plenty of signs of optimism in 2021.
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