EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Shortly after 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf walked through doors of the team's offices, making the kind of appearance that signified the Vikings were getting serious about finishing a deal with Captain Munnerlyn.
And there was good reason they should have been. Their decision to cut veteran slot cornerback Antoine Winfield a year ago backfired horribly, with the team moving Josh Robinson to the slot for the first time in his career after Winfield rebuffed the Vikings' attempts to get him to return on a reduced contract. Robinson was struggling so much in September, the Vikings nearly coaxed Winfield out of retirement and put him on a plane to London before signing Josh Freeman instead.
Now, with the Vikings having signed the former Carolina Panthers defensive back to a three-year deal worth up to $15 million, they've addressed their slot corner problem with a player who sounds remarkably similar to Winfield. The 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn is described as a small, scrappy player, a sure tackler who's strong in run support. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the third-most efficient tackler among NFL cornerbacks last year, leading the league with 24 "stop" tackles (which led to pass plays that went for a loss or no gain). He doesn't turn 26 until April, and the Vikings would have had to find a slot corner sooner than later even if they'd kept Winfield for his 15th NFL season. But the dire situation the Vikings had in the slot last year had to contribute to their aggressive pursuit of Munnerlyn.
They'll spend more time Thursday night with Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, and it remains to be seen if the Vikings will have both the role and the contract Melton wants after returning from knee surgery. But the two pieces the Vikings have added to their defense -- a run-stopping defensive tackle in Linval Joseph and a reliable slot corner in Munnerlyn -- should apply a salve to two of the biggest wounds on a defense that allowed more points than any in the league last season. If the Vikings wish, they can move Robinson back to his natural outside corner position, or they can bring in another player to compete with him for a spot opposite Xavier Rhodes. They still need to address the linebacker position and are gambling in some senses on Everson Griffen's ability to be a consistent pass-rusher. But the Vikings' defense already looks tougher than what they had last season, and new coach Mike Zimmer should have pieces to work with.
Adding Munnerlyn solved a key problem, and the Vikings did it by spending money on a young, diminutive slot corner a year after cutting a veteran, diminutive slot corner. It's a quick about-face at the position, and it should lead to a sturdier secondary in 2014.