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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Looking ahead: Assessing Vikings’ options at safety next to Harrison Smith

By Andrew Krammer

Ninth of a position-by-position look at the Vikings with a focus on free agency, the draft and the 2016 season. We’ve also primed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and cornerbacks.

Safety

2015 playing time

Harrison Smith: 14 games, 75 percent
Andrew Sendejo: 14 games, 73.4 percent
Robert Blanton: 17 games, 20.5 percent
Anthony Harris: 5 games, 12.9 percent
Antone Exum Jr.: 12 games, 12.5 percent

Upcoming free agents

Andrew Sendejo, unrestricted free agent

Robert Blanton, unrestricted free agent

Noteworthy number

• 13 — After switching between Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo in 2014, the Vikings entered last offseason seeking a fresh breath at safety next to Harrison Smith. Even so, head coach Mike Zimmer felt the most comfortable with Sendejo. And it’s worth noting that even as injuries held Sendejo out late in the season, Zimmer kept going back to him once healthy, and in the thick of the NFC North race with Green Bay. Sendejo made a career-high 13 starts, and could very well re-sign after serving as part of a successful season on defense aside from being a proven special teams ace. That doesn’t mean Zimmer won’t want continued competition at that spot, with a pair of young, in-house candidates on deck.

2016 salary cap, position rank

Smith: $5.28 million, 19th
Exum Jr.: $628,947
Harris: $525,000
Johnny Lowdermilk: $450,000

Quotable

Head coach Mike Zimmer, in early December, on options at safety: “Everybody wants to jump the gun on these one-game things. After the first week, Exum Jr. was the savior and now [Anthony Harris]. You know, it’s about over the course of time. Let’s finish out these games and figure out how [Harris] does, and we’ll evaluate more.”

Potential market

Includes pending free agents Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Tashaun Gipson, Louis Delmas, James Ihedigbo, Tyvon Branch and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

Draft

The Vikings’ frugal approach to free agency has resonated at safety, where they were reportedly in on New England’s Devin McCourty last year before the price got too high. Though they’ve been equally as quiet in the draft since selecting Smith in 2012’s first round. Even with the constant carousel of starters, general manager Rick Spielman has only selected two safeties (Blanton and Exum Jr.) in the 37 picks since Smith. They snagged Anthony Harris as a priority undrafted free agent signing last year, and he showed promise. The Vikings’ action in free agency, which includes a couple Bengals among a potential pool of starters, will go a long way toward their draft approach.

Bottom line

Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo. Four different starters have lined up next to safety Harrison Smith in Week 1 of each of his four NFL seasons. The Vikings’ search predated Zimmer, and he’s the latest to continue searching for continuity on the back end of the secondary. Sendejo was clearly thought of as the Vikings’ best internal option last season, though a couple coaches were impressed by Anthony Harris in his two starts. Harris, Antone Exum Jr. and even Terence Newman received starts for an injury-thinned group over Blanton last season. That may signal the end of Blanton’s four years in Minnesota as he’s a pending free agent. Smith is entering the fifth-year option portion of his rookie contract, though he may see a lucrative multi-year extension before next season. A new contract for Sendejo could signify just how much they liked his play last season. In the same vein, a lower-end deal or parting ways could show they’ll, once again, continue competition next to Smith.

The post Looking ahead: Assessing Vikings’ options at safety next to Harrison Smith appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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