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Zulgad: Vikings would be wise to keep Captain; decision on Kalil won’t be easy

By Judd Zulgad

The start of the NFL’s free agency period Thursday will give the Vikings an opportunity to begin adding to their roster, but also means they will have to make some decisions on their own free agents.

Now that the Vikings have announced they won’t pick up the option on Adrian Peterson’s contract, the running back’s first opportunity to explore free agency will be the primary focus for many.

But the reality is that Peterson will be nowhere near the top of the Vikings’ priority list and he might not make it at all. So who will the Vikings have to make difficult decisions on in the coming days?

Here are three.

KEEP THE CAPTAIN

Anyone who thinks replacing Captain Munnerlyn would be easy, doesn’t remember what happened the last time the Vikings assumed they could lose their nickel corner without suffering the consequences.

In that case, Antoine Winfield was cut in March 2013 because the Vikings assumed that Josh Robinson could take his place. It was a disaster as Robinson proved incapable of making the transition from playing outside to matching up against receivers on the inside.

If there was any confusion about the importance of the nickel corner at that time, that is now gone. In what has become a passing league, the nickel corner spot is as important as any starter on defense and that player is on the field for a majority of the snaps.

Munnerlyn played in 15 games last season, started on nine occasions, and was in for 61.6 percent of the Vikings’ snaps on defense. Munnerlyn recently told the Pioneer Press he wants a four- or five-year deal and wants a raise on the $4.2 million base salary he was paid last season.

The Vikings can’t dismiss his requests.

The only issue will be if a team offers Munnerlyn a chance to start at an outside corner spot and then shift inside when the nickel is employed. The 5-foot-9 Munnerlyn really should play exclusively on the inside, but he also deserves to be well compensated for doing so.

There is a chance the Vikings could attempt to plug 2016 second-round pick Mackensie Alexander into the nickel spot, but he showed no signs of being ready to make that type of jump during the limited time he saw as a rookie.

Munnerlyn will turn 29 next month and has played eight NFL seasons, including his first five with the Carolina Panthers. If you look at the list of the Vikings’ free agents, Munnerlyn is the one they need to work the hardest to bring back.

DIFFICULT DECISION

There was a time not long ago when Vikings fans could not wait for Matt Kalil to become a free agent so the left tackle could depart.

But then Kalil underwent season-ending hip surgery after only two games in 2016 and T.J. Clemmings replaced him. Suddenly there was an appreciation for the difference between a left tackle who struggled at times and a left tackle who had no idea how to play the position at times.

The Vikings’ offensive line was mess for much of last season and the need to find a solution at left tackle in order to protect Sam Bradford’s blind side is Minnesota’s top priority right now.

Reports are that the top free-agent left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, is expected to return to the Cincinnati Bengals. That will only increase the competition for other available left tackles.

Kalil went to the Pro Bowl after being the fourth pick in the 2012 draft, but he hasn’t played at that level since. There is reason to think that the Vikings, believing that Kalil is now past knee and hip problems, will look to bring him back in order to give him another chance to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he entered the NFL.

ACCEPTING A ROLE

This one is going to be interesting to watch.

Terence Newman is a guy who has played for coach Mike Zimmer at several stops (Dallas, Cincinnati and Minnesota) and has appeared in 31 regular-season games (26 starts) in his two seasons with the Vikings.

Yet, Newman is going to turn 39 (ancient by cornerback standards) in September and, from various accounts, was the player who overruled Zimmer and told Xavier Rhodes not to bother shadowing Packers receiver Jordy Nelson last Christmas Eve in Green Bay because Newman felt he could handle Nelson on his side.

Zimmer said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine that he believes Newman would like to continue playing. However, that doesn’t mean the Vikings remain the ideal fit for Newman.

Part of the issue is that Newman no longer would be a starting cornerback. Trae Waynes, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2015, made eight regular-season starts last season after making only one in his rookie year. Waynes had three interceptions and broke up 11 passes. Waynes should enter training camp as the starter opposite Xavier Rhodes.

Newman could be a candidate to take over at the nickel corner if Munnerlyn departs, but, as we’ve stated, keeping Munnerlyn around should be a priority for the Vikings.

If Newman wants to return as a depth corner, the Vikings should bring him back on a very reasonable one-year deal. But if Newman returns thinking he should remain a starter it’s probably best for the relationship to end.

The post Zulgad: Vikings would be wise to keep Captain; decision on Kalil won’t be easy appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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