ESPN suggests Minnesota Vikings should have let Anthony Harris walk

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Anthony Harris
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Anthony Harris /

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell thinks the Minnesota Vikings would have been better off letting go of safety Anthony Harris.

The Minnesota Vikings are going through a number of changes and adjustments in 2020, sparked by a number of former players leaving, trades and a whopping 15 first-year players added via this year’s NFL Draft.

It was tough trading away wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Seeing veteran EDGE Everson Griffen wanting to test the market hurt, too. And Minnesota’s secondary is going to experience a lot of growing pains, particularly after bidding farewell to defensive backs Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes during the offseason.

One player the Minnesota Vikings elected to retain, however, is safety Anthony Harris who becomes one of the elder statesmen tasked with mentoring a young crop of other defensive backs who’ll look to fill the voids left by those aforementioned players who left.

Minnesota applied the one-year franchise tag on Harris earlier this offseason, and he signed the tender with the hopes of inking a long-term deal at some point in the future. Both sides will have until July 15 to negotiate a potential new contract.

Yet ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wasn’t a fan of the $11.44 million tag Harris will ultimately receive if no deal is reached:

"I would have let Harris leave and used the $11.4 million in cap space created to go after an edge rusher. The Vikings reportedly shopped Harris for a draft pick, but I suspect they would have netted a fifth- or sixth-round compensatory pick if they had let him leave. They were reportedly negotiating an extension with Harris before the draft, and if they can get a deal done and reduce his 2020 cap hold, they could use the cap space to go after help at defensive end."

It sounds like Barnwell would be OK with an extension, though, ultimately putting pressure on both parties to get it done. Especially if it frees up cap space in the immediate future.

Yet there are substantial reasons why the Vikings wanted to ensure Harris didn’t hit the open market.

Why Minnesota Vikings needed to keep Anthony Harris

Applying the franchise tag isn’t always intended to simply keep a player around on a fully guaranteed deal for one more year. In many cases, teams can use the tag to extend the window of negotiations from the league’s new year in March to the July 15 deadline.

Judging by the reports and speculation, it appears to be something both Harris and the Vikings would want, especially for a 28-year-old veteran in his prime.

But the other, bigger factor is the level of turnover within the secondary. Harris will join fellow safety Harrison Smith as the proverbial “elder statesmen” of what’s going to be a very young and inexperienced defensive backfield headlined by rookie NFL Draft additions like TCU’s Jeff Gladney and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler.

Young defensive backs tend to struggle with transitioning from collegiate ranks to the pros. Opposing wide receivers are bigger, stronger and faster. They run more complex routes and have elements to their game not frequently seen at the college level. While there are always exceptions to this, it’s generally a good idea to give first- and second-year defensive backs some leeway in their respective developments.

Particularly if there are some elder veterans to assist along the way.

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It’s pretty clear the Minnesota Vikings want to use Harris in this kind of role. If that ultimately cut into the team’s ability to sign an edge rusher to replace someone like Griffen now, the long-term rewards could be much more fruitful.