MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Vikings' offseason has been devoted to one thing, more than any other, it's been about fixing their defense. The team hired Mike Zimmer as head coach because of his defensive credentials, spent the majority of its free-agent money on the defensive side of the ball and used the ninth overall pick in the draft on UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. But the Vikings' secondary, which was one of the league's worst last season, still has plenty of question marks heading into 2014, so many that Football Outsiders dubbed it the Vikings' biggest remaining need after free agency and the draft.
We tend to agree here, simply because of how much depth is required in the secondary to survive in today's NFL, and particularly in a division where the Vikings will play six games against three teams (the Lions, Packers and Bears) that threw for the second-, third- and fourth-most touchdowns in the league out of three-receiver sets last year. Injuries might have decimated the Vikings' secondary last season, but quarterbacks were picking apart the Vikings' defense even when the defensive backs were healthy early in the year. The addition of Captain Munnerlyn will help and the Vikings have high hopes for sixth-round picks Antone Exum and Kendall James, but it's still incumbent upon those players to develop quickly, and on the coaching staff to get them ready to go. The Vikings' expected points total against three or more receivers -- a sum of -113.64 -- was the worst in the league by more than 46 points, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and as Football Outsiders points out, the Vikings were the worst team in the league at defending throws to lower-profile receivers last season, so depth is rightly a concern in Minnesota.
If the Vikings have any designs on adding another veteran to their secondary, they've now got a new window to explore the possibility. Free agents signed after June 1 aren't factored into the formula used to assign compensatory draft picks, meaning the Vikings' chances of receiving a low-round selection in 2015 wouldn't be hurt by signing a veteran. Cornerbacks like Drayton Florence, Asante Samuel, Terrell Thomas and Dunta Robinson are still available, though age and injury questions are prevalent with many of those players, and the Vikings could see another wave of veterans hit the market near the end of training camp.
Here's what Football Outsiders had to say about the Vikings' secondary situation:
Minnesota finished with the 30th-ranked pass defense by DVOA last season. Their secondary was in shambles. Part one of the offseason plan to fix that seems to be praying that Harrison Smith stays healthy. Part two was slapping some potential bargain bandages on a depleted cornerback depth chart. Captain Munnerlyn had an excellent season in 2013, and Xavier Rhodes held his own as a rookie. But the problem is more about depth than talent.
The Vikings finished 32nd in DVOA on passes thrown to "other" receivers in 2013. ("Other" being non-No. 1 or No. 2 receivers.) Josh Robinson finished 86th among 87 qualifying corners in Success Rate last year. Newcomer Derek Cox was so bad for San Diego that the Chargers benched him. You read that correctly, the Chargers deemed Cox unfit for the worst DVOA defense in the NFL in 2013. The Mistral Raymond/Jamarca Sanford strong safety battle is the kind of position scrum emblematic to bad teams.