Jerick McKinnon hopes to find an expanded role in free agency

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon is less than two months away from becoming a free agent. When March hits, McKinnon says he will explore options that will increase his role in the backfield, whether that’s with the Vikings or another team.

“I want to be the guy,” McKinnon said. “I don't put in all the work in the offseason to come back and be in this role. I appreciate the role. It worked out well, but I want bigger and better things for myself.”

The fourth-year running back said he would be open to talks with Minnesota if both sides were able to come to an agreement to bring him back next season in the role he desires, but he is planning approaching free agency slowly.

However, finding an expanded role with the Vikings might be difficult. Minnesota’s backfield is all but set for the 2018 season with the return of Dalvin Cook from an ACL injury and Latavius Murray under contract for two more years.

McKinnon and Murray split carries in a two-back system after Cook went down in Week 4 and led the Vikings from the worst rushing offense in 2016 to the seventh-best ground attack this season (122.3 yards per game). While the Vikings offense didn’t feature one back the way it did when its top draft pick was healthy, McKinnon spent most of the season as the second punch behind Murray.

With Minnesota moving into the post-Adrian Peterson era, McKinnon played a critical role in the Vikings developing a run game that featured players who could also catch passes out of the backfield. McKinnon caught a career-high 51 passes for 421 yards and scored two receiving touchdowns this season. As a rusher, the shifty change-of-pace back was an important part of creating explosive plays for the offense, totaling 570 yards rushing, an average of 3.8 yards per rush and three touchdowns.

“We'll see what happens,” McKinnon said. “There's a lot of things that go into that whole situation that can be determining factors: offensive schemes, financial reasons. It'll be a lot to sit down and think about, but it will be a fun time to experience it.”

There’s a chance McKinnon could follow offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to New York when Shurmur is named the next head coach of the Giants this week. New York’s ranked 26th in rushing in 2017 (96.8 ypg) and is in dire need of re-establishing its run game. Tampa Bay is another intriguing possibility, given reports that the Buccaneers may part ways with Doug Martin this offseason. Teams like the Browns, Dolphins and Jets will also be looking to free agency or the draft to build out their groups of running backs.