The reconstruction of the Vikings defense started to take shape as the NFL's free-agency negotiating window opened Monday.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, both pending free agents, decided to leave, while the Vikings retained linebacker Jordan Hicks with a restructured contract and reportedly agreed to terms with defensive end Marcus Davenport.
Peterson will join the Pittsburgh Steelers, announcing it on his podcast "All Things Covered" just hours into the NFL's two-day window for free agents to negotiate with other teams before the 2023 league year begins Wednesday. New contracts can't be signed until Wednesday afternoon.
Peterson, the former All-Pro selection, had five interceptions last season as one of the only stable parts of the 31st-ranked Vikings defense. The Vikings were one of the teams calling his agent, Peterson said Monday, but he chose the Steelers' two-year, $14 million offer. Peterson said he spoke to Vikings brass before making his final decision.
"We wasn't able to cross that line with [Minnesota]," Peterson said.
Another stable part of the defense, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, appeared headed to the AFC North, too. According to multiple news media reports, Tomlinson agreed to a four-year deal worth $57 million with the Browns on Monday night.
The Associated Press and NFL Media also reported Monday night that the Vikings had agreed to terms with Davenport, the No. 14 pick of the 2018 draft by the New Orleans Saints. Davenport, 26, has missed at least two games each year he was with the Saints and would need to pass a physical. He posted a career-high nine sacks in 11 games in 2021, but had just a half-sack in 14 games last season.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Davenport would be a big swing to revitalize the Vikings' pass rush, and the first key addition this offseason for new coordinator Brian Flores. His athletic ability makes him an enticing target for a team that needs to bolster its pass rush heading into the 2023 season. The possible addition of Davenport raises questions about the future of edge rusher Za'Darius Smith, who remains under contract a week after reportedly asking for his release.
The Vikings on Monday also agreed to terms with former Ravens tight end Josh Oliver. The team needs to clear enough cap space to sign Davenport and Oliver by Wednesday afternoon, when the 2023 league year begins. A league source confirmed a three-year agreement with Oliver, who can be a blocking complement to T.J. Hockenson. According to Pro Football Focus, 6-5, 249-pound Oliver played 324 of his 513 snaps on run plays for Baltimore last season, and spent another 30 in pass protection. He caught a career-high 14 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
The Vikings have another hole at cornerback after Peterson agreed to terms with Pittsburgh. Peterson characterized his negotiations with the Vikings as "adult men business and how it was supposed to be" after his rocky breakup with former Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim.
"It wasn't curveballs," Peterson said. "It was how it was supposed to be, and I can't do nothing but appreciate that."
Peterson, who started 31 of 35 possible games for the Vikings over two seasons, said he had the "time of my life" in Minnesota following a 10-year run in Arizona. But contractual differences led him to Pittsburgh, where he said he also wants to compete for a Super Bowl, noting Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's two appearances. The 32-year-old Peterson said he could end his playing career in Pittsburgh with two more years, which would be his 13th and 14th NFL seasons.
He's the latest defender to depart Minnesota after the team released linebacker Eric Kendricks and cornerback Cameron Dantzler last week. On Monday, Kendricks announced he was joining the Chargers and the Washington Commanders claimed Dantzler off waivers.
Peterson's exit leaves a leadership and production void at cornerback for new defensive coordinator Brian Flores. The group currently has only Andrew Booth Jr., Akayleb Evans, Kalon Barnes and Tay Gowan under contract for next season.
Cornerbacks Duke Shelley, Chandon Sullivan and Kris Boyd are pending free agents, like Peterson, and can negotiate with other teams. Possible free-agent cornerback fits for the Vikings could include the Buccaneers' Sean Murphy-Bunting, the Cardinals' Byron Murphy and the 49ers' Emmanuel Moseley.
Hicks, who turns 31 in June, at least gives the Vikings one veteran linebacker alongside young defenders Troy Dye, Brian Asamoah and William Kwenkeu. Hicks, who started every game last year, was credited with 129 combined tackles (86 solo; two for a loss), trailing only Kendricks, and 10 pass deflections a year ago. The details of his new deal were not immediately available, but the Vikings have sought salary cap savings from multiple players. Hicks previously had a $6.5 million cap hit ($5 million unguaranteed).
The Vikings, who released receiver Adam Thielen on Friday, still have more work to do to get under the cap before any additions can be official. It's believed they're pursuing a restructured deal with safety Harrison Smith, and could make a move with running back Dalvin Cook.
While the Vikings continue to clear salary cap space, they are working to improve their roster on the open market.