The clock is ticking. The calendar is flipping. We’re getting closer to March. We’ll soon have more defined answers.
None matters more than at quarterback. Soon, the Minnesota Vikings will resume negotiations with Kirk Cousins. The results of those conversations will shape the team’s offseason plans.
Cousins isn’t the only looming Vikings free agent, though. Like all NFL teams, Minnesota has a notable group of players destined to hit the open market.
The team will try to re-sign many of these players. Some, though, will seek different roles elsewhere. In preparation for what’s to come, let’s assess the situation beyond the quarterback position.
Here’s our ranking of the Vikings’ top 10 unrestricted free agents, in order of who is likely to demand the most interest on the open market:
1. QB Kirk Cousins
He’s 36 years old. He’s rehabbing a torn Achilles. And yet, Cousins is unquestionably the Vikings’ top free agent. He might even be the top free agent available this offseason. That is, unless the Vikings can strike an extension with him before his contract voids in the middle of March.
There’s no mystery at this point with Cousins. He is a precise pocket passer who rarely turns the ball over. Thirty quarterbacks dropped back a minimum of 300 times in 2023. Cousins led them all in adjusted completion percentage, which calculates the percentage of aimed passes thrown on target. He is only 1-3 in the playoffs as a starter, but his opponents in those games averaged 31 points. Cousins, meanwhile, has completed 71 percent of his passes in those games, averaging 258 yards with a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Age and the Achilles injury might affect his overall value, but quarterbacks remain the game’s greatest currency. For that reason, there will be teams willing to pay for Cousins’ services. Can he secure another fully guaranteed deal? If so, would it be for two years or three?
Why extending Kirk Cousins could make sense for the Vikings — and why it might not
Edge rushers continue to dictate games — and few as well as Hunter. He tallied the ninth-most pressures (80) among edges this past season and finished fifth in the league in sacks (16.5). Effort and run-stopping ability are harder to quantify, but Hunter checked these boxes in 2023 as well.
Hunter is an interesting test case for free agency considering his age and injury history. He will turn 30 in October. He also missed portions of two recent seasons with a herniated disc and torn pectoral muscle. Regardless, Hunter figures to be one of the most highly coveted defenders in free agency if the Vikings do not sign him to an extension.
Jacksonville’s Josh Allen (17.5 sacks) is an edge option for teams. Carolina’s Brian Burns (eight sacks) might be, too. Hunter is older than both, but he’s also more accomplished. Anywhere in the range of $18 million to $24 million a year in average annual value is appropriate.
.@DHunt94_TX ends the drive with his 2nd sack of the afternoon.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 15, 2023
Free agency is familiar territory for Risner. The soon-to-be 29-year-old hit the open market last offseason and was not as sought after as he hoped. He was still available when the Vikings wanted to add O-line depth early in the season, and he grabbed the starting left guard spot with an admirable performance during the team’s Week 7 victory against the San Francisco 49ers. Pass protection is his strength.
The Vikings are likely to want Risner back, but they won’t be the only team interested. Risner is not the most fleet of foot — if your run game is based on pulling linemen, he’s probably not your guy — but he anchors well. Accounting for the way defenses align their best pass rushers these days, that quality is valuable. Another deal of around $3 million per season makes sense.
Hicks has had his share of injuries. He ruptured an Achilles in college. He tore another in 2017. This past season, he underwent emergency surgery to alleviate compartment syndrome in his leg. He’ll turn 32 this summer, and that combination of age and the potential durability concerns could scare some teams away. Hicks’ smarts and presence, however, leave no question as to his value.
He was a captain. He coordinated the Vikings’ defensive signals on the field. Coach Kevin O’Connell and defense coordinator Brian Flores leaned on his locker room presence. Hicks performed admirably on the field. He’s neither the fastest nor the most physical, but his discipline and experience will keep any defense in check. Expect him to earn somewhere in the range of $2.5 million to $4 million a season.
Osborn had a disappointing season. He dropped seven passes, according to Pro Football Focus, the fifth most among NFL wide receivers. Rarely in O’Connell’s offense was he the premium read on passing plays, though, and he blocks effectively in the run game.
He could thrive in a world where he can deploy his yards-after-catch ability. He can absorb a playbook and enhance locker room chemistry, traits that would earn him an amplified role elsewhere — if that’s what he wants. Osborn is likely in line for a shorter-termed deal worth anywhere from $5 million (similar to D.J. Chark, Kendrick Bourne or Kalif Raymond) to $8 million (similar to Zay Jones, Russell Gage or DeVante Parker) a season.
The Vikings will be on the hook for Davenport’s $6.8 million dead cap hit in 2024. An extension could shift some money forward, but Davenport didn’t do much in 2023 to earn one. He battled ankle injuries and only played in four games. He has only recorded 2.5 sacks in the last two seasons combined.
Still, there’s plenty to like about the 27-year-old first-round pick. Someone is certain to take a shot, and it’s going to be a prove-it deal no matter where he ends up. His 2024 contract placed him in the top 30 edge rushers in average annual value (around $13 million). A price tag of $2 million to $4 million is more realistic.
How the Vikings can mitigate their tough salary-cap situation and still compete in 2024
Wonnum could be highly coveted by teams that need depth on the edge. He’s not in the same stratosphere as Hunter in terms of athleticism or skill level, but he has developed into a solid, consistent player over the last four years.
His pressure rate climbed year over year (from 10.7 percent to 12.1 percent) when Minnesota rushed four pass rushers. He’ll fit more appropriately in a defensive end role, as opposed to a true edge role, where he’s asked to drop frequently into coverage. But he should bounce back from a partially torn quad in Week 16 against the Detroit Lions, and he’s a sensible fit as a depth option for any contender. A low-end deal of around $1.5 million per year seems to line up with comparable players.
8. RB Cam Akers
Two torn Achilles tendons in three seasons will hurt Akers’ chances of landing a big deal. His connection with O’Connell and the Vikings’ offensive staff could bring him back to Minnesota. The flashes will offer intrigue, though. Akers displayed a burst in many of his 38 carries this season. His willingness as a blocker surfaced on tape, too.
Akers is a restricted free agent, which means Minnesota can tender him a contract, but the cost (around $3 million) might not match his overall value. He’s unlikely to receive a major deal at age 25, but teams won’t disregard him. A contract with around a $1.5 million average annual value feels fitting.
Call Bullard if you’re after an interior defensive lineman who can mug up gaps against the run. Bullard ranked 22nd in run-stop rate, per PFF, among 68 qualified interior defensive linemen. He’s not explosive. Rushing the passer is not his jam. He’ll also turn 31 in October. But Bullard will occupy a roster spot for someone, even if it’s with the Vikings for another season. Bullard earned around $1.3 million this season. Expect him to get about the same this time around.
I expect the Vikings will try to bring Powell back. He’s a reliable punt returner who knows O’Connell’s offensive system. He won in one-on-one coverage in certain instances, and he willingly blocked in the run game. He’ll have a market of interested teams and shouldn’t cost an exorbitant amount. His 2023 contract was worth about $1.2 million. He could see a minor uptick for 2024.
Others of note: QB Josh Dobbs, K Greg Joseph, TE Johnny Mundt, T Oli Udoh, G Chris Reed, G Austin Schlottmann, T David Quessenberry, LB Troy Dye, DT James Lynch
The story of the greatest players in NFL history. In 100 riveting profiles, top football writers justify their selections and uncover the history of the NFL in the process.
The story of the greatest players in NFL history.
(Photo of Kirk Cousins: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)