Franchise tag or bust for the Vikings to keep Anthony Harris?

Pressed against the salary cap, it could be tough to find money for the rising star safety.
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Anthony Harris

If Pro Football Focus' annual player rankings are correct, the Vikings could be on the verge of losing their best player. 

Anthony Harris, a starting safety ranked the 12th-best player in the NFL last season by Pro Football Focus, is about to become an unrestricted free agent and there appears to be a good chance the Vikings simply can't afford him. 

According to ESPN Insider (paywall), Minnesota is preparing for life without him. 

"Vikings safety Anthony Harris is expected to earn more than $10 million per year after a breakout season, one source expects. Minnesota is bracing for life without him."

"I love Anthony. If he doesn't come back, I think he's earned everything he's got, but if you put up the positions most important on defense it's probably not going to be safety," said coach Mike Zimmer at the NFL Combine last week. 

The Virginia product has been magnificent for the Vikings since taking over for Andrew Sendejo midway through the 2018 season, and in 2019 he took things a step further tying for the NFL lead with six interceptions, not to mention another one against the Saints in the playoffs. 

Harris also proved he isn't just a one-trick safety in Zimmer's defense. His tackling skills have risen to the elite among safeties, averaging only one missed tackle for every 29 attempts, which ranked second behind Dallas' Jeff Heath in 2019. 

The Vikings are currently only approximately $700,000 under the salary cap, according to Spotrac, meaning they have a lot of restructuring/releasing to do if they're going to afford Harris, who is sure to command a ton of interest when the legal tampering period begins March 16, with free agency open for business March 18. 

Last season's top free-agent safety was Landon Collins, who netted a six-year, $84 million contract with Washington. Earl Thomas got four years and $55 million from Baltimore. Clearly, Harris is about to be very wealthy. 

A surefire way the Vikings can retain Harris would be to use the franchise tag on him. But reporter Eric Smith notes that Minnesota has "rarely used the franchise tag in recent years, so that might be the least viable option."

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