INDIANAPOLIS – Among the Vikings players set to hit unrestricted free agency next month, safety Anthony Harris might be one of the toughest for them to keep. The 28-year-old heads to the open market after a breakout season in which he played himself into Pro Bowl consideration by tying for the league lead with six interceptions, scoring the first touchdown of his career and breaking up 11 passes.
But as Harris hits free agency with a chance for a big contract, the cap-strapped Vikings might not be able to retain him. What’s more, a deal for another high-priced safety next to Harrison Smith might not be where they’re inclined to spend their money.
“I love Anthony; if he doesn’t come back, I think he’s earned whatever he’s gotten,” coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday. “But, you know, if you put up the positions that are most important on defense, it’s probably not going to be safety. We’ll figure out a way to find one if he’s not back. He stepped in for [Andrew] class="Text_Bold">Sendejo when Sendejo got suspended or whatever it was [in 2018]. It’ll all work out.”
In a way, Harris’ rise to a starting role might provide evidence for why the Vikings could move on from him. They signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and he started just eight games in his first three seasons before taking over for Sendejo in the middle of 2018. The Vikings have been loathe to spend on a second safety opposite Smith, bowing out of free-agent bids for players such as Devin McCourty and George Iloka when the prices got too high, and they made Sendejo (like Harris, a former special-teams player) their starter next to Smith for three seasons.
As for Smith, who spent more time as a deep safety in 2019 than he had in recent years while the Vikings devoted additional help to their cornerbacks, Zimmer hinted he’d like to get back to a more eclectic role for the 31-year-old.
“Harrison is a terrific player, a great teammate,” Zimmer said. “We’re always trying to think of more ways of how we can use Harrison, because he is such a good playmaker. We probably should’ve used him, quite honestly, a little bit more last year.”
A little cold water
A day after General Manager Rick Spielman said there was “no reason to anticipate” wide receiver Stefon Diggs wouldn’t be on the Vikings’ 2020 roster, Zimmer was next up to quash the idea Diggs could be moving.
The receiver incurred more than $200,000 in fines for a two-day absence following a Week 4 loss to the Bears and had vented to teammates through the offseason about his frustrations with the Vikings’ offense, sources told the Star Tribune. But after Diggs returned from his absence, he posted a career-high 1,130 yards, and Zimmer said he saw no issues with the receiver’s attitude.
“He’s always happy around me,” Zimmer said. “Since that little deal early in the season, he’s been great. I don’t see [a trade] happening.”
Reiff move possible
At the NFL owners’ meetings last March, Zimmer broached the idea that left tackle Riley Reiff could eventually move to guard. Though the coach said Wednesday he hasn’t discussed it with Reiff yet, he kept it open as an option.
“Yeah, I think that’s a possibility,” Zimmer said. “I have not talked to Riley about moving because we haven’t gotten that far down in the discussions. I think he likes being here. And he’s one of those team guys, so I think he’d do whatever we want him to do. But I have not talked to him about it.”
Both Zimmer and Spielman pointed out the strength of the 2020 draft class at tackle, as opposed to a 2019 draft that was well-stocked with interior linemen. That could give the Vikings options to find a successor for the 31-year-old Reiff at left tackle, though Zimmer said any changes are a ways from becoming reality.
“Everybody is speculating [Brian] O’Neill is going to left [tackle] and all these other things, too,” he said. “You always discuss these things but it’s not like, ‘OK. We’re going to do this.’ We’re going to wait until we figure out where we’re going with everything and go from there.”