It was so common to read about the 2013 version of the Minnesota Vikings secondary described in terms of “awful”, “dysfunctional”, “disaster area”, and “dumpster fire”. Even with some good new players over the last couple of drafts, their impact was negated by the poor play of others. Harrison Smith missed the last half of the season due to injury, and Xavier Rhodes only got to see the field regularly late in the season. This situation had to be addressed either in free agency or through the draft. The team has addressed most of their defensive line weaknesses (re-signing DE Everson Griffin and DT Fred Evans and bringing in DT Linval Joseph), so the big needs were for competent-or-better cornerbacks.
The team has lacked a good slot corner since parting ways with the great Antoine Winfield, but hope that they’ve now got someone to fill that role:
CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 15: Captain Munnerlyn #41 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown against the New York Jets during play at Bank of America Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers won 30-20. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
The Minnesota Vikings have signed former Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year deal, with details pending per Ian Rapaport.
Munnerlyn resolves arguably the biggest weakness from the 2013 Minnesota Vikings defense, which is pass coverage from the slot position.
Josh Robinson had the majority of the slot coverage duty for Minnesota and did a frankly abysmal job, competing with Robert McClain of the Falcons for some of the worst slot coverage in the NFL. No single cornerback gave up more receptions per snap in coverage or yards per snap in coverage, marking Josh Robinson with the singular distinction of being the worst statistical slot cornerback in the league.
To be fair, Robinson had never played slot in his college or pro career until last year, and he and the team would be far better served if he can move back to the outside.
Captain Munnerlyn is coming off of the best year of his career, and has had consistently fine play at the spot, although no one would mistake him for Leon Hall or Chris Harris, Jr. — perhaps the two best slot cornerbacks in the NFL today. Notably, Leon Hall played for the Cincinnati Bengals under Mike Zimmer, and perhaps Zimmer can turn Munnerlyn from good into great with some coaching.
The deal is relatively cheap, although a little more expensive than I like given that Corey Graham, a very good slot corner who played for the Ravens just signed with the Bills for an average salary one million dollars lower. Nevertheless, it is a team-friendly way to turn one of the biggest weaknesses on their defense into a relative non-issue.
Captain Munnerlyn’s Pro Football Focus grade was 11th of all corners last year, and he gave up league average statisics in yards per target, yards per snap in coverage and receptions allowed per snap in coverage. More importantly, he grew into his role after several seasons of relatively average play. A lot of that grade was due to his ability to stop the run, but it is more important to note that it was an outlier year for Munnerlyn. In coverage grades alone, Munnerlyn had struggled to beat the league average until this year (but was never significantly below average, maintaining consistency in reliable coverage).
But Munnerlyn wasn’t the only cornerback to join the team yesterday:
[Derek] Cox has five years of NFL experience and most recently spent last season in San Diego, playing all 16 games with them. He was a third round selection of the Jaguars in 2009 and was there for his first four NFL seasons. He has 13 career interceptions and appears to be healthy again after some injuries caused him to slump for a couple of seasons.