A breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings' 2019 free-agent signings:
Sean Mannion, quarterback
The are signing former Rams quarterback Sean Mannion, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN. Mannion, who was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft, became an unrestricted free agent after four seasons with Los Angeles when the Rams replaced him with Blake Bortles this offseason. Mannion is signing with the Vikings on a one-year deal which is expected to be the veteran’s minimum of $805,000 along with a ballpark figure of $90,000 in bonuses.
What it means: The Vikings will have a position battle in training camp to determine who will serve as Kirk Cousins’ backup. Coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL owners’ meetings that the team would like to have a veteran QB in the mix for the No. 2 job but also didn’t rule out Kyle Sloter, 25, as a possible option. Mannion, who will be 27 later this month, has limited experience, having started just one game in four seasons with nine other appearances and has completed 33-of-53 passes for 258 yards, no touchdowns and an interception during his career. Sloter has only seen action in preseason games since he arrived in Minnesota, but the Vikings have chosen to hang on to him for the last two seasons and keep him on the 53-man roster. It’s too early to tell who has the edge for the No. 2 job given both players’ lack of experience, which is why the next few months will be critical in determining how the two young QBs fit into the system run by Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski. There’s an obvious dropoff in talent from Cousins to his two possible backup options. But Cousins’ durability over the past four seasons, in which he has started 64 straight games, is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has struggled to find dependable play from its backup quarterbacks over the past five years.
What’s the risk: This signing doesn’t exactly provide a sense of security at the position like last year when the Vikings signed Trevor Siemian, a veteran QB with a 13-11 career record. With Siemian departing for the Jets in free agency, Minnesota had to shop the bargain bin to find its next backup, bringing in the likes of Mannion and David Fales on free agent visits. Their salary cap situation prevented them from going after a bigger name with more experience than Mannion and Sloter combined, and the Vikings have not been a part of the speculation surrounding a trade for Cardinals QB Josh Rosen if Arizona does indeed draft Kyler Murray in a few weeks. Still, it’s better for Minnesota to have more bodies to compete for the No. 2 job than to just hand it to Sloter outright. While there’s promise around Sloter, the Vikings cannot judge whether he’s fit to serve as Cousins’ backup off a few preseason games from 2018. They might not have their next Case Keenum in either Mannion or Sloter, but allowing for competition to take place over the next few months is necessary.
Josh Kline, guard
A week after being released when the Titans signed Rodger Saffold, Kline signed a three-year deal with the Vikings at the end of a two-day free agent visit in the Twin Cities on Wednesday. Kline’s contract is worth up to $15.75 million with $7.25 million guaranteed at signing, a league source told ESPN. Here’s a closer look at Kline, who addresses a critical need on the interior.
What it means: The Vikings were running thin up front after the departures of Mike Remmers, Nick Easton and Tom Compton in free agency. The numbers game was working against Minnesota heaviest on the interior of the line with Danny Isidora as the only guard on the roster with NFL snaps before Kline’s signing. The Vikings are in a bind with their salary cap this offseason and had to wait until the second wave of free agency to address the offensive line when more affordable options were available. Kline’s streak of 46 starts at right guard is the longest active streak among all guards in the NFL, so this signing knocks out one of two needs on the interior and should make him Remmers’ immediate replacement. How the Vikings go about finding their next left guard, whether slotting Isidora to play that spot, moving other players around (potentially Riley Reiff to left guard, as the Star Tribune reported) to fill the void or by drafting a guard in April is the next question that has to be answered.
What’s the risk: Kline’s struggles in Tennessee last season led to his release by the Titans last week. It didn’t take him long to find a new home and a considerable increase in pay, essentially doubling his salary from 2018 ($2.5 million) when he signed with Minnesota. Kline isn’t a top-of-the-line starter, so this signing should come with tapered expectations. Last season, Kline allowed 38 total pressures, according to PFF, which ranked him at the bottom of his position across the NFL. Some of those issues could have been related to a change in scheme or other factors. If he’s able to return to the way he performed in 2016-17, the Vikings should be in a better spot than they were last year with an offensive line that gave up a league-high 227 pressures in 2018. Kline’s durability and experience are important factors to consider, too. Injuries have marred Minnesota’s line in recent seasons while forcing the Vikings to shuffle their personnel often. Stability is crucial for this unit, and Kline should help with that.
Dan Bailey, kicker
The Vikings re-signed Bailey to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Per a league source, Bailey’s new deal is worth $1 million with an additional $1 million in incentives and has $250,000 in guarantees. Here’s a closer look at Bailey, who joined the Vikings in Week 3 last season:
What it means: The Vikings probably have their kicker for 2019. Bailey’s deal is worth up to $2 million, but only has $250,000 guaranteed based on the percentage of field goals he makes. Minnesota gave former kicker Kai Forbath a similar deal last year in free agency only to cut him in favor of rookie Daniel Carlson, who lasted two games before being booted after a Week 2 fiasco in Green Bay. Minnesota could opt to go a similar route with Bailey by bringing in competition for OTAs and training camp, like they’ve done in previous years, but this is the team’s chance to finally build some consistency in the kicking game. Bailey is a veteran kicker (the second-most accurate in NFL history) and despite some ups and downs the past few years, is still the Vikings' best option to solidify the position.
What’s the risk: Not much given the amount of guaranteed money on Bailey’s deal, which does not include a roster or workout bonus. The kicker has to earn the incentivized money on his deal, which puts him in the position to improve upon his 75 percent field goal percentage in 2018 (he missed seven FGs). Bailey was right on the money on extra points, going 30-of-31 in 14 games last season. Mike Zimmer has talked this offseason about wanting to establish more consistency on special teams among the kicker, holder and long snapper. Keeping that same personnel around for another year (though it remains to be see whether punter Matt Wile will be the holder again) should help the overall success of this unit, particularly when it comes to Bailey’s success.
Anthony Barr, linebacker
After agreeing to join the New York Jets during the legal tampering period, Barr changed his course and is set to return to Minnesota, sources confirmed to ESPN. The Vikings opted not to use the franchise tag on Barr last week, which would have come at a one-year cost around $15.7 million. Barr is slated to sign a five-year, $67.5 million contract with $33 million in guarantees and incentives that make his entire deal worth up to $79.5 million, according to multiple league sources.
What it means: Coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t going to sit quietly while his defense was torn apart in free agency due to concerns over the salary cap. With Barr, 26, set to return, the Vikings not only get to retain one of their defensive staples, they also can adjust his role to maximize his skill set. The $12 million in incentives will be tied to the number of sacks Barr is responsible for, and given that he repeatedly has said that he’s better at going forward (rushing the passer) than going backward, it’s reasonable to think he’ll be used far more that way than in certain blitz packages on third down. Barr’s salary averages out to $13.5 million per year, which is less than he was expected to make with the Jets, who have far more cap space than Minnesota and would be playing and paying him as a 3-4 rushing outside linebacker. Though his market and what he might have commanded would have been higher in New York, the culture in Minnesota, his relationship with Zimmer and knowledge of the defense proved too much for him to pass up. The value of a 4-3 outside linebacker in the Vikings’ scheme may have a ceiling, but the deal Minnesota was able to work out with Barr during the hours leading into the new league year suggests that his role is about to expand.
What’s the risk: Re-signing Barr is a great move for the defense. For the salary cap, not so much. Minnesota entered Tuesday with just over $8 million in cap space, so the team is going to have to make some moves elsewhere to free up the money to pay Barr and anyone else in free agency. It appears that the writing is on the wall as it pertains to Everson Griffen’s future in Minnesota. If the Vikings release him, they free up $10.5 million in cap space that they so desperately need. And with the type of escalators worked into Barr’s contract, it seems likely that he could take on a bulk of what Griffen does as a pass-rusher while the Vikings also look to the likes of Stephen Weatherly and Tashawn Bower to play that role. We won’t truly be able to evaluate whether this is a good move until we know what happens next: Whom the Vikings cut, restructure or trade (i.e. Griffen, Trae Waynes, Kyle Rudolph), and whether they’re able to address the offensive line in free agency, etc. Barr will join defensive end Danielle Hunter as the highest-paid players on the Vikings' roster behind quarterback Kirk Cousins. That’s a heavy hit to endure, even for someone who does as much for the defense as Barr. It’s not out of the question to believe the Vikings could have worked around the void if they didn’t bring Barr back by playing a rotation among their other linebackers and drafting another in April. But now Minnesota has no choice but to address the offensive line early in the draft if they’re financially unable to fix it in free agency.
Anthony Harris, safety
The Vikings tendered restricted free agent Harris at the second-round level on Monday. His new deal is a one-year contract worth $3.095 million. Here’s a closer look at Harris, who spent the previous four seasons with the Vikings:
What it means: Harris will get his shot to take over for Andrew Sendejo on a permanent basis. The former undrafted free agent made major strides during the 2018 season when he took over for an injured Sendejo, appearing in 15 games with nine starts. As he continues to improve with the physical aspect of playing the position, Harris has long impressed Vikings coaches with his mental wherewithal and anticipatory nature needed as a defensive back. Those attributes showed up most last season when Harris defended six passes, recorded three interceptions, had 46 tackles and one QB hit.
What’s the risk: Very little. The Vikings have been impressed by Harris’ growth from a special teams player into defacto starter at safety. With Andrew Sendejo headed to free agency after Minnesota declined to pick up the option on his contract, tendering Harris shows the Vikings are confident that he’ll be able to compete to take over next season and like the versatility he’s demonstrated to play both free and strong safety. The fact that this was also an inexpensive route to find a starter is beneficial for the cap-strapped Vikings.
Shamar Stephen, defensive tackle
The Vikings plan to sign Stephen to a three-year deal, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Dan Graziano on Monday. Here’s a closer look at Stephen, who spent the previous season with the Seattle Seahawks.
What it means: You’d be hard pressed to find someone who values interior pass-rushers as much as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, which is why he’s placed an emphasis on shoring up the three-technique defensive tackle position in recent years. Minnesota drafted Stephen in the seventh round in 2014 and let him walk in free agency last year when they signed Sheldon Richardson. It remains to be seen whether the Vikings will be able to create enough cap space to re-sign Richardson. But bringing back Stephen, who was solid in his rotational role between three-technique and nose tackle, is a cost-effective option and provides Minnesota with depth at the position.
What’s the risk: At a minimum, this is a good depth signing. Players such as Richardson with an elite skillset and athleticism don’t come along often. If the Vikings can’t afford to pay him, then they risk creating a revolving door at the three-technique position. Though they’re pleased with Jalyn Holmes’ progression during his first season, it would make sense for the Vikings to also bring back Tom Johnson on a short-term deal to further shore up the 3-tech position.