Minnesota Vikings Secondary Changes
by Joel Haugen, KFFL
Monday March 21, 2005
Up until this season, the Minnesota Vikings have waited in the wings during the free agency period. It is rare that the Vikings make any significant moves during the offseason. Fans were pleasantly surprised last year when the Vikings paid top dollar for CB Antoine Winfield. Those same fans are probably picking their jaw up off the floor after the Vikings finish a second consecutive active week in free agency. The acquisitions of CB Fred Smoot (Washington Redskins) and FS Darren Sharper (Green Bay Packers) suddenly make the Vikings defense much more formidable.
THE COVERING SMOOT
Former Washington Redskins CB Fred Smoot signed a six-year deal March 8 worth an estimated $34 million, including a $10.8 million signing bonus. Smoot immediately becomes the starter across from CB Antoine Winfield and improves the porous secondary.
Smoot may have some unusual antics off the field, but his on the field production speaks for itself:
Table: CB Fred Smoot - Career Statistics Year G Tackles Assists Int Passes Defensed
2001 14 30 3 5 7
2002 16 49 12 4 10
2003 15 50 7 4 5
2004 15 53 6 3 10
TOTAL 60 182 28 16 32
While most experts agree that Smoot could improve his run support and tackling ability, Smoot is a solid cover corner. The Redskins saw the value in Smoot, as they attempted to re-sign him this offseason as well. Smoot has had the benefit over his years at Washington to have a solid cornerback playing opposite him (last year CB Shawn Springs and, in prior years, CB Champ Bailey). Fortunately, Smoot will continue to benefit from the presence of Antoine Winfield. The Vikings decided to help Smoot and the defense out even more when they signed FS Darren Sharper.
SHARPER CROSSES THE ENEMY LINE
The Green Bay Packers let go of one of the staples of their defense on March 10th. FS Darren Sharper has been with the Packers ever since he came to the league in 1997. Sharper signed a four-year deal worth an estimated $14 million, including a four million dollar signing bonus. As the Vikings main rival across the border, the Vikings have faced Sharper and the Packers twice a year since he came into the league and are very familiar with his abilities. Sharper brings an impressive resume of stats to the table.
Table: S Darren Sharper - Career Statistics Year G Tackles Assists Sacks Int Int TD Passes Defensed
1997 14 16 2 0 2 2 0
1998 16 53 20 0 0 0 9
1999 16 84 29 1 3 0 3
2000 16 72 20 1 9 0 8
2001 16 70 24 2 6 0 11
2002 13 51 17 0 7 1 2
2003 15 69 13 2 5 0 8
2004 15 57 13 0 4 2 3
TOTAL 60 472 138 6 36 5 44
Since 2000, no other player has more interceptions than Sharper. Sharper earned Pro Bowl appearances in both 2000 and 2002. A team player and popular with the fans, Sharper has brought experience and leadership to a struggling Packers defense in recent years.
Pegged in as the starting free safety for the Vikings, Sharper will play behind a linebacker group and defensive line that have seen significant improvements in personnel this offseason. As of now, Sharper will be lining up next to former Pro Bowl SS Corey Chavous. After a down year, the Vikings hope that having Sharper play in the most talented secondary of his career will help him return to his 2000 form.
Neither Smoot nor Sharper is the top player in the league at their respective positions. With that said, both are significant improvements over the players they are replacing.
THE LOVE LOST
After the 2003 season, Vikings fans and coaches were giving praise to RCB Brian Williams and FS Brian Russell. Both were coming off their best seasons to date, and appeared to have strongly positioned themselves as starters for the Vikings for years to come. Unfortunately, the 2004 season had something to say about that. Both Russell and Williams had sub-par 2004 efforts that forced the Vikings to look elsewhere for starters at their positions. One of the main attributing factors was the hiring of defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. Known for his read-and-react teaching, Cottrell took the ball-hawking aggressiveness out of the Vikings secondary in 2004. While we are not pointing fingers directly at Cottrell, his schemes showed to be flawed when combined his 2004 personnel on the field.
Table: S Brian Russell - Career Statistics Year G Tackles Assists Sacks Int Passes Defensed
2002 16 19 5 0 1 1
2003 16 78 17 1 9 2
2004 16 62 19 0 1 6
TOTAL 48 159 41 1 11 9
Russell was an undrafted rookie out of San Diego State. To his credit, he has far exceeded expectations up to this point in his career. Russell was a viable Pro Bowl candidate in his second year in the league. Russell has struggled in run support since 2003 and has dropped numerous passes that should have been intercepted this past season. Russell also tends to find himself out of position much more frequently than Cottrell would like. As a restricted free agent this offseason, he was tendered an offer by the Vikings. Although he has yet to sign the tender offer, it is expected that Russell will return as Sharper's primary backup and one of the stars on special teams.
CB Brian Williams' drop-off in the 2004 season wasn't nearly as dramatic as Russell's. What Williams' stats do not show are the plays that Williams was out of position on or missed making the big play.
Table: CB Brian Williams - Career Statistics Year G Tackles Assists Sacks Int Int TDs Passes Defensed
2002 16 34 8 0 1 0 5
2003 16 61 16 3 5 1 11
2004 16 61 13 0 2 0 9
Since entering the league in the 2001 draft in the second round, Smoot has been a brash, confident young player. Coming out of Mississippi State, Smoot was highly regarded in the draft. His stock took a bit of a hit due to character concerns and off-the-
TOTAL 48 156 37 3 8 1 25
Williams is still an athlete that the Vikings see a future in. Drafted in the third round of the 2002 season, Williams was also a restricted free agent this offseason. The Vikings tender Williams an offer, purportedly at the first round level. Speculation arose prior to the signing of Sharper that Williams would move to free safety. The addition of Sharper means that Williams will play nickel back and remain the top backup to Winfield and Smoot.
CONCLUSION... AT LEAST ON PAPER
The Vikings have dramatically upgraded their entire defense, at least on paper. If Sharper can remain healthy, expect him to have a much better season than he had last year. For the first time in years, Sharper has a legitimate cast in front of him (no offense to Green Bay LB Nick Barnett and DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila). Smoot should continue to have similar numbers to what he did in Washington. While the Vikings do not provide Smoot with the same players around him as the Redskins did, Smoot should enjoy the benefit of two solid cornerbacks playing along side him in Williams and Winfield in expanded coverages.
The Vikings continue to make strides in creating their new look team. The Vikings have upgraded their defensive line with the addition of DT Pat Williams. They have upgraded their linebackers with the additions of SLB Napoleon Harris and MLB Sam Cowart. Finally, they have rounded off their additions with Smoot and Sharper in the secondary, not to mention three draft picks in the top 50. The Vikings defense looks to be vastly improved over their 28th ranked defense in 2004... at least on paper!
I thought this was a good article showing how for once the Vikings had a good offseason.