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From 2015-19, the Vikings’ secondary was a trusty sedan. It didn’t require much maintenance, got good mileage and got the Vikings where they needed to go.

Minnesota got 45 or more games played out of Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Terence Newman, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander. Fans knew the secondary like the back of their hand, and the defensive backs could run Mike Zimmer’s coverages in their sleep.

Now the Vikings are seemingly patching their secondary together like hitchhikers hoping somebody sees their stuck-out thumb and will offer them a ride. An exodus of free agents, a trade of Mike Hughes and the legal troubles of Jeff Gladney have backed the Vikings into a corner — no pun intended.

None of the team’s one-year wonders (or in some cases, one-year blunders) at cornerback are expected to return after a rough 2021, even though all three are on the market.

Patrick Peterson played decently enough and had voiced his desire to return to the team, but that was before the firing of Mike Zimmer, who Peterson was supposedly excited about playing for. Then Peterson’s former defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend backed out of a position coach job with the new coaching staff, removing another incentive for Peterson to return.

Alexander regressed mightily in his second stint at nickel corner, ranking 129th out of 129 cornerbacks in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Bashaud Breeland was scarcely higher, ranking 123rd before getting unexpectedly released after a practice altercation.


The safety position could be fine at the top, even though last year’s starter Xavier Woods moved on to the Panthers with a three-year, $15.75 million deal. The last regime oddly refused to spend draft capital on safeties until 2021, when they found Camryn Bynum in the fourth round. Based on his first two starts, Bynum profiles as a solid young fit next to mainstay Harrison Smith, but the Vikings will have to cross their fingers about health. Current backups Josh Metellus and Myles Dorn have hardly been given a sniff in their first two seasons.

Cornerback is the real quandary, though.

No defensive position generates more wins above replacement than quality cornerback play, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Vikings have a concerning absence of them on the present roster. Third-year man Cameron Dantzler is the only name you could pencil in as a starter, and he’s been injury-prone and inconsistent for the better part of two seasons. He also lost a training camp competition to Breeland last year.

Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand and Parry Nickerson (futures deal) are the only other corners the team employs, which emphasizes the void left by Mike Hughes’ and Jeff Gladney’s brief Vikings careers.

Since the turn of the century, only nine first-round cornerbacks out of 118 selected have made 15 or fewer starts with their original team over a multi-season stretch. Hughes and Gladney are two of them.

For Hughes, the Vikings mis-evaluated the severity of his injuries and traded him for next to nothing. For Gladney, it was a grand jury indictment after an alleged domestic assault that led to his release. The franchise found itself chasing its tail to fill their absences last year and is still paying for it thanks to their dearth of cornerback security. None of their current corners are signed beyond 2023.

In 2021, the Vikings at least used their limited salary cap resources to ink Peterson early in the process before finding Alexander and Breeland later on. Now we’ve gone a week since the 2022 tampering period began, the Vikings haven’t added a single member to their secondary, and their salary cap remains tight after Minnesota signed Za'Darius Smith and restructured Danielle Hunter. OverTheCap listed the Vikings as having just over $1.3 million of space prior to those moves, which in effect may cancel each other out.

Is it too late to fill out the room?

Well, there are no shortage of warm bodies. The NFL has a supply and demand imbalance at corner right now, which has driven down the price of some starting-caliber players, but not all of them are quality. Last year, 45 corners signed contracts for less than $1.3 million, but only two of them finished in PFF’s top 50 qualified corners: Rasul Douglas and Robert Alford.

Based on that same top 50 list, there are seven free agents remaining on the market who played at a high level last season: Kevin King (No. 27), Stephon Gilmore (No. 14), Jimmy Smith (No. 46), A.J. Bouye (No. 39), Alford (No. 38), Desmond Trufant (No. 43) and Dont’e Deayon (No. 37). After a busy start to free agency for cornerbacks with four deals averaging eight figures per year, the spending is already slowing and could offer opportunities for bargains. That has to be what the Vikings are looking for unless they are counting on a draft pick to save them.

That wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world either. Vikings fans were conditioned under Zimmer to believe that corners couldn’t be ready to play in Year 1, but many corners have proved that notion wrong in recent years.

Over the past five seasons, 21 corners have posted a 70 or better PFF grade, which equates to a starting-level player. Yes, the first-round is a great place to find those players — six of the 21 came from the first round — but 15 of them also came from the second round or later. Just because the Vikings haven’t found any rookie corner phenoms lately, doesn’t mean they can’t.

The prediction here would be that the Vikings still have a couple of cheap deals to dole out on affordable vets and a high draft pick to supplement the group. That’s not the most inspiring plan when the current depth chart is thinner than Cam Dantzler, but the odds aren’t completely against the Vikings finding a couple hidden gems in their pursuit.

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