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Minnesota Vikings boast one of NFL's most expensive defenses

By The Sports Xchange
Minnesota Vikings boast one of NFL's most expensive defenses
Minnesota Vikings Terrence Newman (23) is congratulated by Xavier Rhodes (29) after picking off a second pass from Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California. File photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

MANKATO, Minn. -- Defensively, it seems we're reminded every few days that the Minnesota Vikings have some of the best young talent in the NFL.

As veterans arrived for training camp on July 26, the team announced it had given Pro-Bowl right end Everson Griffen a four-year, $57.9 million extension, even though he had two years remaining on his current deal.

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"I think we all knew this was going to happen," said Pro-Bowl safety Harrison Smith, who got a five-year, $51.25 million extension himself a year ago. "He dominates the game, run and pass. You don't let guys like that go."

Four days later, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and his salary-cap guy, Rob Brzezinski, were at it again. The team announced that Pro-Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes had signed the richest deal for a defender in team history, a five-year extension worth up to $70 million. Throw in the $8 million Rhodes gets in the final year of his current contract, and that's $78 million over the next six years.

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"Everyone knew this was going to happen, too," Smith said. "When you have a guy that can for the most part take away one side of the field and cover the best receiver every week. I don't know if there's another harder job, physically, in the league than that. And he's awesome."

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After signing, Rhodes tweeted, "The bank account done caught the Holy Ghost!!!!!" He threw in some money bag emojis for good measure.

"I was speechless because it was a lifelong dream for me," Rhodes said of the deal that makes him the third-highest paid corner in the league in terms of yearly average salary. "You always wanted that to be you. Getting life-long contracts, big-time money to set your family up. I was able to accomplish that."

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The Vikings aren't worried about Rhodes getting comfortable and coasting. And Rhodes said he's got more goals ahead of him, most notably a Super Bowl.

The Vikings, who ranked sixth in points allowed and third overall defensively a year ago, certainly appear to have the talent necessary to win a Super Bowl. But, on the flip side, the offense has a familiar problem early on in camp. A problem that took down the team, including the defense, during the season-ending 3-8 slide a year ago.

A year ago, the Vikings needed 12 offensive linemen to get through an injury-riddled season. They needed five left tackles. The fifth guy to play that position was Rashod Hill. He stepped in during the season finale four weeks after being signed off Jacksonville's practice squad.

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Well, guess who has been the team's left tackle since early on in the first training camp practice. Yep, Rashod Hill.

The Vikings bolstered their offensive line in the offseason by signing Riley Reiff to start at left tackle, and Mike Remmers to start at right tackle. They also used a third-round draft pick on Ohio State's Pat Elflein, who is competing for the starting center job.

But ...

Reiff went down with an undisclosed injury on the first day of camp. The team said it wasn't serious, but Reiff has missed the next four practices.

"Well, we don't want to start the same thing that happened last year," head coach Mike Zimmer said Sunday when asked for his level of concern. "We want to try and get through 16 games with these guys. Yeah, I mean, it's concerning. You don't want to get anybody hurt the first day."

As the Vikings discovered a year ago, problems on the offensive line can take down the entire team. No matter how talented and well-paid the guys on the other side of the ball are.

--Linebacker Anthony Barr appears to be on board with the notion that Anthony Barr could have tried harder in 2016.

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The tremendously talented former first-round draft pick has All-Pro potential, but even his head coach said a year ago that he tends to "coast" too much.

It's a new season. A new training camp. And Barr says he has a new attitude.

"It starts with my effort and picking that up," said Barr, who's going into his fourth season. "That's a big emphasis for me this offseason and I feel good right now."

The irony is last year was the first time Barr was healthy enough to make it through an entire season. But it produced career lows in tackles and sacks and overall splash plays.

The Vikings need Barr to meet expectations because he's such a versatile weapon against the run and pass. Zimmer's creativity as a defensive-minded coach is hindered when Barr isn't living up to his potential.

--The battle for the top role at running back hasn't started and could be over.

Latavius Murray, who was signed as a free agent from Oakland in March, was expected to be healed in time to start training camp. But a week into camp, he's still on the physically unable to perform list because of his right ankle surgery back in March.

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Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook, the team's top draft pick this year, has been working with the first team. Both players are expected to have a role in the offense, but one of them is likely to have a bigger role.

On Monday, Murray gave an update on his situation. Although the Vikings had said he'd be back in time to start camp, Murray insisted he's not behind schedule and that there is no timetable for his return.

Should people be concerned about this? Murray says no. His head coach, Mike Zimmer, disagrees.

Murray was asked if he could still get himself ready for the regular season without training camp. He said: "Most definitely. At the end of the day, football is football. I think for me it's just making sure physically I'm OK. The mental part of it, it's a game I've been playing all my life."

Zimmer's response: "Well, he is a smart guy. But he needs to get out there."

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