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Thursday, May 19, 2022
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Surprising Viking Tapped as Most Irreplaceable in Free Agency


Tyler Conklin and Adam Thielen

The Minnesota Vikings face a mass exodus of free agents – especially on defense – this March, a byproduct of signing various players to one-year deals last spring.

These are the men slated for free agency. Keep in mind not all of these players will depart:

Mackensie Alexander (CB)
Anthony Barr (LB)
Chad Beebe (WR)
Jordan Berry (P)
Mason Cole (C)
Tyler Conklin (TE)
Wayne Gallman (RB)
Everson Griffen (EDGE)
Chris Herndon (TE)
Rashod Hill (OL)
Greg Joseph (K)
Sean Mannion (QB)
Patrick Peterson (CB)
Sheldon Richardson (DT)
Nick Vigil (LB)
Dede Westbrook (WR)
Xavier Woods (S)
Eddie Yarbrough (EDGE)

Thankfully, no name from this list is earthshattering, unpredictable, or habitually All-Pro. But the sheer heft of possible gridiron transmigrants is noteworthy.

Anthony Barr departing will be a big deal, although not surprising. He joined the Vikings at the dawn of the Mike Zimmer era, playing eight seasons with the franchise. Now, Barr will likely chase championships elsewhere during his career’s second chapter.

Patrick Peterson leaving would be rough, too. He brought the Vikings an All-Pro pedigree, stabilizing an otherwise-suspected cornerback room in 2021. To date, Peterson has not expressly stated his intentions for free agency. He did, however, sign with Minnesota in the first place because of Mike Zimmer – and explained during HarbaughMania he’d gleefully play for the University of Michigan coach. We shall see if he’s down with The O’Connell Experience.

Per Pro Football Focus, the player the Vikings “can not afford to lose” is tight end Tyler Conklin. PFF outlined a single player from every team who is irreplaceable – and that is Conklin for the Vikings.

Oct 31, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Spielberger said of the Conklin nomination:

The Vikings lost tight end Irv Smith Jr. shortly before the 2021 season began, and there were lofty expectations around the 2019 second-round pick entering his third season. Conklin has had a role on this team for a few years but stepped up admirably in an expanded capacity in 2021, accruing 61 receptions from 83 targets, a 70.4 receiving grade and just one drop. He’s a reliable presence in Minnesota’s two-tight-end sets.

Brad Spielberger | Pro Football Focus

Conklin indeed performed wonderfully in 2021 – in large part because his emergence was unexpected – but his vitality to the 2022 Vikings is not quite required. Irv Smith Jr. will return, hellbent on the breakthrough season he was scheduled for in 2021. Vikings faithful blinked, and suddenly Smith Jr. will be his fourth NFL season.

Some fans may be lugubrious toward a Conklin departure, but it’s arguably better for his career to pursue a TE1 gig elsewhere. Barring another injury, Smith Jr. is the bonafide TE1 for the Vikings in 2022.

Plus, Conklin can actually land a handsome contract in the NFL. His production in 2021 merits medium-sized bucks. Conklin will not be the TE1 for the Vikings, so his best interest is to find a team with a vacancy. Too, in February, Minnesota is skimpy for salary-cap cash.

The legal tampering phase of free agency begins in five weeks.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

ESPN Predicts Kirk Cousins' Fate with Vikings





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