The Minnesota Vikings have made former Arizona cornerback Byron Murphy a key piece of their latest defensive revamp.
The Vikings finalized agreements with Murphy, former New Orleans outside linebacker Marcus Davenport and former Miami tight end Josh Oliver on Wednesday, the first day of NFL free agency. The deals will be signed after completion of their physical exams, and the Vikings planned an introductory news conference for Thursday at team headquarters.
The 25-year-old Murphy replaced Patrick Peterson in the Cardinals' starting lineup in 2021 when Peterson joined the Vikings. Now, the 2019 second-round draft pick will take over for Peterson again. Murphy was limited to nine games in 2022, when he was hampered by a back injury. He had a career-high four interceptions in 2021.
As the Vikings transition their scheme under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores away from the zone-heavy strategy they used last year, Murphy ought to fit well with man-to-man coverage skills. Peterson departed for Pittsburgh.
Murphy, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona, will get a two-year deal. He played in college at Washington.
The Vikings also cut cornerback Cameron Dantzler Sr. last week, and Duke Shelley, Chandon Sullivan and Kris Boyd are set to become unrestricted free agents. They're counting on major roles for Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans, whose rookie seasons in 2022 were largely limited by injuries. Booth was drafted in the second round and Evans was drafted in the fourth round last year.
With the departures of free agents Peterson and defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson and the release of linebacker Eric Kendricks, the Vikings are in the midst of a significant redo of a defense that was one of the league's worst in 2022. Davenport will be a key piece as an edge rusher opposite Danielle Hunter. Za'Darius Smith remains on the roster, but he's carrying a hefty cap hit and has already posted a thank you message to Vikings fans on Twitter that had a farewell vibe.
With Davenport, Murphy and Oliver, the Vikings in their second year under general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have targeted younger free agents with higher upside on buy-low deals, with all three of those players having either underperformed in recent years or been set back by injuries.
The Vikings also re-signed two restricted free agents on Wednesday: tight end Ben Ellefson and outside linebacker Kenny Willekes. They reached agreements on Tuesday with four of their players who were eligible for unrestricted free agency: center Garrett Bradbury, kicker Greg Joseph, long snapper Andrew DePaola and backup quarterback Nick Mullens.
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