EAGAN, Minn. -- NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The Minnesota Vikings just completed a painful, but not unexpected, roster purge to accelerate their "competitive rebuild" and clear salary cap moving forward. Now, how will they replace the veteran players they have cast aside?
The Vikings hope that some of their new starters, and key backups, will come from their 10-player draft class of 2022. Perhaps another starter or two will come from the 2023 draft. But they'll also need help in some areas from the free agent market.
At this point, it's difficult to imagine general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spending big after working so hard to clear cap space this spring. But at some point, the Vikings will need to address their defensive secondary, especially at cornerback, and could be in the market for a receiver to backfill the role of departed veteran Adam Thielen.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the Vikings, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Byron Murphy, cornerback
Murphy agreed to terms with the Vikings on a two-year deal that includes a $7 million signing bonus, a $1.1 million base salary for 2023 and no fully guaranteed money for 2024.
What it means: The Vikings are replacing veteran Patrick Peterson with the same young cornerback who replaced Peterson in Arizona. Murphy is a good fit for the scheme of defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who likes to bring pressure and trust cornerbacks to play in single coverage. And his arrival relieves some of the seemingly annual pressure this franchise feels to target the position at or near the top of the draft. The Vikings still have some work to do after parting ways with Peterson and fellow 2022 starter Cameron Dantzler; nickelback Chandon Sullivan and part-time starter Duke Shelley are pending free agents. But Murphy gives the team a young and presumably ascending starting-caliber player to build around.
What's the risk: On a relative scale, the Vikings did not make a huge financial commitment here, with a two-year deal that averages $11 million per season. So the biggest risk is if Murphy evolves into a superstar and puts himself into position for a monster pay day in 2025, when he will still be only 27. That, of course, would be a good problem for the Vikings to have. Ultimately, expectations here should be measured carefully. Murphy was the Cardinals' top cornerback, but that's not the same as being a No. 1 cornerback.
Marcus Davenport, defensive end
Davenport agreed to a one-year deal, sources confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: The Vikings clearly hope that new defensive coordinator Brian Flores can light a fire under Davenport, who had enough natural ability to be the No. 14 overall pick of the 2018 draft. His sack totals -- 21.5 in five seasons, including only 0.5 in 2022 -- have never matched that draft position. He did have a 9.9% pressure rate last season, in the same range as 2022 starters Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith, who combined for 20.5 sacks. It seems likely that Davenport's arrival portends the eventual departure of one of the Vikings' incumbents, most likely Smith, who tweeted his farewell to the team last week.
What's the risk: The Vikings are taking a big swing on a player who has struggled to stay on the field, having missed at least two games in each of his five NFL seasons, and who at the very least did not take his game to another level as his free agent opportunity approached. His 2022 season began with the acknowledgement that he had part of his left pinky amputated because of an old college injury. The Vikings did not make a long-term commitment here, and at age 26, Davenport is in the sweet spot of free agency. But signing him is very much an experiment, especially if it leads to the departure of a player who recorded double-digit sacks the season before.
Alexander Mattison, running back
Mattison agreed to terms on a two-year deal to return to the Vikings, a source told ESPN.
What it means: The Vikings' decision to guarantee Dalvin Cook's backup more than $6 million on the first official day of free agency led to an immediate question: Does that mean they are done with Cook? It's hard to avoid that conclusion knowing that NFL teams are loathe to pay real money to one running back, let alone two. Mattison had the fewest touches of his career last season as Cook stayed healthy for all 17 games. Why would Mattison return for another season of that? There is more to come in this story as it relates to Cook, who is due $11 million in cash and counts $14.1 million on the Vikings' 2023 salary cap.
What's the risk: Mattison has been a reliable and capable backup for Cook. When Mattison has gotten 20 or more carries in a game over the past four seasons, he has averaged 104.4 rushing yards and another 41.4 as a receiver per outing. But the downside is that he only got that level of carries in five games during that span. Can he do that over the course of a season? Will the Vikings ask him to do that? Would he share the load with fellow backups Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler? It's hard to believe they would splurge this way on a backup running back. If they did, they are wasting valuable cap space.
Troy Reeder, linebacker
Reeder agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: Reeder figures as a core special teams player who can be a spot starter on defense as needed. He has the full faith of coach Kevin O'Connell, who was the Rams' offensive coordinator for two of Reeder's seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. In those seasons, Reeder started 17 games at inside linebacker. He has never missed an NFL game, and proved flexible when he moved to the Chargers in 2022. Although he didn't make a defensive start, and played only 62 total defensive snaps, he took a career-high 313 special teams snaps.
What's the risk: The Vikings already have good depth behind presumptive starting inside linebackers Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah, including Troy Dye and William Kwenkeu. So the only real risk here is using the elevated cap space it requires to sign a veteran for what is primarily a special teams role. But the Vikings used that approach in 2022 to great success, fielding one of the NFL's better units while leaning on a core group of veterans to fill key spots, and there's every reason to think Readers can provide the same service.
Jonathan Bullard, defensive end
Bullard agreed to terms on a one-year deal to stay in Minnesota.
What it means: Bullard started a career-high seven games last season in the Vikings' 3-4 scheme after coaches lauded his run-stopping abilities during training camp. He missed four games because of a biceps injury but returned in time for the playoffs, where he recorded his only sack of the season in a wild-card loss to the New York Giants. All of which means he gained and maintained the trust of franchise decision-makers, leading to their interest in his return under new defense coordinator Brian Flores. While the scheme will change, Bullard's return is a reminder that the Vikings will still use the 3-4 in their base alignment.
What's the risk: The risk is minimal unless the Vikings have plans to increase his role beyond 2022 levels. He played 319 snaps, the most in a season for him since 2019 and the third-most in his career. He'll turn 30 during the 2023 season and would seem to be best suited to be part of a rotation in which he plays around 30-35% of the defensive line snaps.
Brandon Powell, wide receiver
Powell agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: The decision to release veteran Adam Thielen opened a spot in the Vikings' receiver rotation. K.J. Osborn is projected to get more reps in 2023, and the Vikings have two other incumbents -- Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor -- still on the roster. But Powell will be inserted into that mix, and it's possible he could take over the punt return duties if Reagor does not make the team. Powell had a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Vikings in 2021, and in his career he has a 9.6-yard average on 49 returns. Regardless, Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell got to know Powell in 2021 when he was the Rams' offensive coordinator.
What's the risk: There's minimal risk, unless the Vikings are counting on Powell to be a major contributor on offense. They haven't signed any other receiver in free agency. It's possible they'll target one in the draft, but with only five picks at the moment, they'll have fewer opportunities than in a typical season. The Vikings are Powell's fourth team in five seasons, and his 24 receptions with the Rams last season were a career high. You wouldn't think he would be above the No. 4 receiver on the depth chart.
Olisaemeka Udoh, offensive tackle
Udoh agreed to terms on a one-year deal.
What it means: This is purely a depth move in a league where teams covet 6-foot-6, 320-pound players like Udoh. The Vikings' new coaching staff shifted him to tackle last season after he started 16 games at guard in 2021, and he only got on the field when two of the Vikings' top three tackles were injured. That happened in Week 17, when right tackle Brian O'Neill suffered an Achilles injury. Top backup Blake Brandel would have been the likely replacement, but Brandel was recovering from an injury of his own. So Udoh started in Week 18 and again in the wild-card playoff loss to the New York Giants. Brandel has also re-signed with the team, so Udoh's role seems clear for 2023.
What's the risk: There really isn't much risk here. Offensive line depth is an issue everywhere in the NFL. You could do a lot worse for your fourth tackle than Udoh. And the fact that he could play guard in an emergency, even if it's not anyone's preference, is a bonus.
Dean Lowry, defensive tackle
The Vikings are inking Lowry to a two-year contract.
What it means: The Vikings needed to add bodies to their defensive line after losing 2022 starter Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency and deciding, at least for now, not to re-sign free agent Jonathan Bullard. Tomlinson and Bullard started a combined 20 games last season in the Vikings' 3-4 base. Lowry is a solid option who played for current Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine when he was the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2020. Last season, Lowry ranked No. 61 in ESPN's run stop win rate (26.2%), putting him within range of starting-caliber run-stoppers in the NFL.
What's the risk: Lowry has been reliable as a pro, having missed only three games in his seven-year career, but he doesn't have the upside as an interior disrupter that Tomlinson demonstrated last season. But is the difference between Tomlinson and Lowry worth a contract that carries more than three times the annual average? Probably not. There is probably more to come as the Vikings build their 2023 defensive line, but everyone should be honest about the one-to-one comparison between Tomlinson and Lowry.
Austin Schlottmann, offensive lineman
Schlottmann agreed to terms on a one-year deal to return to Minnesota.
What it means: Schlottmann will return to the versatile backup role he filled in 2022, when he was the Vikings' top reserve at both center and guard. He started four games in place of injured center Garrett Bradbury before fracturing his fibula in a Week 17 loss at Green Bay. The Vikings also would have been more than comfortable using him at guard, but starters Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram made it through the entire season healthy. This move gives the Vikings a level of continuity and comfort as they swap out players at other positions.
What's the risk: There really isn't much risk here. Schlottmann will be 27 when the season starts, has proven he can handle the backup role and did not require much of a financial commitment to sign. The Vikings wouldn't necessarily be excited to have him start for an entire season, but there are few if any teams that have the kind of offensive depth that would allow them to feel comfortable with backups making a high number of starts.
Greg Joseph, kicker
The Vikings agreed to terms with Joseph on a one-year deal.
What it means: Joseph tied an NFL record last season by converting five game-winning field goals, and the Vikings were able to secure his services for another year without needing to offer a multiyear, market-setting deal. That also means the Vikings didn't feel compelled to try to lock him up as their long-term kicker, in part because of their analysis of the positional value and in part because he isn't one of the top kickers in the league. Joseph has converted 59 field goals over the past two seasons, the fifth-most in the NFL during that span, but his 83.1% conversion rate ranks No. 24 among qualified kickers.
What's the risk: Like many kickers, Joseph has gone through waves of success and failure. Most notably, he has missed 10 extra points in the past two seasons, most in the NFL. So there is a well-observed risk of a poorly timed downturn impacting the team's win-loss record. But that's true for most teams, and all it really means is that the Vikings won't be one of the handful of NFL teams that don't worry at all about their kickers. Joseph has demonstrated the leg and late-game focus to give the Vikings a reasonable amount of confidence moving forward.
Garrett Bradbury, center
Bradbury agreed to terms to return on a three-year deal.
What it means: The Vikings judged Bradbury to be the most efficient option given their other needs and the likelihood they would find a long-term upgrade at the position. That might sound like a swipe at Bradbury, but it's just the reality for a player whose future was uncertain enough in 2022 for the team to decline his fifth-year option. Bradbury produced a solid performance in a "prove-it" season before a back injury cost him the final five games of the regular season. He ranked No. 12 among NFL centers in run block win rate and No. 19 in pass block win rate. Bradbury isn't a top-10 center but he's good enough to avoid replacement.
What's the risk: Based on his size, Bradbury will be susceptible to powerful interior defensive tackles. That's what got him benched by previous coach Mike Zimmer in 2021, and it's why the Vikings' new regime wasn't sold on him when it took over last year. There are ways to minimize such instances through scheme and playcalling, but Bradbury has played five NFL seasons and the tape on him is clear. The Vikings made a calculated analysis that upgrading beyond his skill level wouldn't be the best use of their limited assets, and it's something they'll have to accommodate over the next few seasons.
Nick Mullens, quarterback
Mullens agreed to terms on a two-year deal to return to the Vikings.
What it means: The Vikings will capitalize for at least one more season on the expectation that their starting quarterback will stay on the field. Kirk Cousins has missed only one start for health reasons in his five seasons with the Vikings, and that was after testing positive for COVID-19 in 2021. As a result, the Vikings don't feel compelled to seek out a higher-priced backup. Mullens' two-year deal is worth an average of $2 million per season. By all accounts, Mullens was a welcome addition to the team after it acquired him via trade last summer, building a good relationship with Cousins and learning the offense quickly.
What's the risk: There isn't much downside here. Mullens has shown an ability to keep teams competitive as a spot starter during previous stops in San Francisco and Cleveland, and that's really the most you can ask of a career backup. The only risk the Vikings face at the position is that Mullens isn't a logical candidate to succeed Cousins if the Vikings part ways with him when his contract expires after the 2023 season. But that wouldn't prevent the Vikings from drafting or otherwise adding a third quarterback this spring who would have a better chance to develop into a future starter.
Andrew DePaola, long-snapper
DePaola agreed to terms on a three-year deal to return to the Vikings.
What it means: After spending parts of two seasons with the Vikings, DePaola earned All-Pro honors in 2022 as the NFL's top long-snapper. He had previously earned a spot on the NFC's Pro Bowl roster. So even though he is the team's oldest player -- he'll turn 36 in July -- DePaola got a deal that included the most guaranteed money ($2.265 million) that an NFL long-snapper has ever received. This gives the Vikings stability at a position that isn't always easy to fill, and makes it likely that the Vikings will return all three of their specialists along with punter Ryan Wright and place-kicker Greg Joseph. That level of continuity should not be dismissed.
What's the risk: DePaola is certainly older than the typical NFL player who gets a multiyear contract, but that's not nearly as much of a concern at long-snapper. In the big picture, there really isn't much risk in rewarding a high-performing veteran and beloved locker room presence with a market-setting contract at these numbers.
Josh Oliver, tight end
The Vikings agreed to terms with Oliver on a three-year deal, per sources.
What it means: The Vikings are looking for ways to elevate their run efficiency after ranking No. 26 in the NFL last season with 4.1 yards per carry, while tying for No. 23 in the league with a first-down rate of 23%. This move suggests they will attempt to do so with an increased rate of "12" personnel, featuring two tight ends, after using it at the NFL's seventh-lowest rate in 2022. Because there's no reason to think that Oliver, who has 26 catches in 35 NFL games, will cut into the playing time of incumbent tight end T.J. Hockenson. And the Vikings didn't jump out on the first day of free agency to sign a part-time player. Oliver developed a reputation as a strong run blocker during his time in Baltimore.
What's the risk: We will see exactly what the real numbers look like from Oliver's contract, but it's not often a team jumps out and grabs a blocking tight end on the first day of free agency. How much return does a team get from a tight end who, based on previous patterns, is not a threat in the passing game? Does a team need to act with this kind of urgency to lock one down, or can one be found in the mid-to-late parts of the draft? For a team that was still working to get under the salary cap at the time it made this deal, every dollar counts.