Vikings Urged to Sign Rival $20 Million Pro Bowl Playmaker - Sport News

Vikings Urged to Sign Rival $20 Million Pro Bowl Playmaker

The Minnesota Vikings are positioned to make dramatic improvements to their defense in 2024 but still have questions at cornerback that Stephon Gilmore could solve.

The Athletic’s Alec Lewis reported that head coach Kevin O’Connell said that defensive coordinator Brian Flores hopes to play more man coverage this season. According to The Athletic, Flores’ Miami Dolphins teams played man coverage on 50.5 percent of snaps, the highest rate in the NFL, while last year’s unit played man on only 19.5 percent of snaps. That was largely due to the limitations of the cornerback position.

Brian Flores, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings expressed interest in a trade for Kansas City Chiefs star cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who the Tennessee Titans dealt a third-round pick to land plus a $76 million extension that will make him the highest-paid cornerback in the league.

Instead, the Vikings signed Shaquill Griffin to a one-year deal worth up to $6 million which shows the team’s intent to bridge that gap from zone to man coverage. However, Griffin was released by the Houston Texans midseason last year and can only be viewed as competition as starting outside corner alongside Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth Jr. and Mekhi Blackmon while Byron Murphy Jr. moves to the slot.

Last year, Gilmore, a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, showed he’s still one of the league’s top cornerbacks even at the age of 33.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) projected Gilmore to garner a contract worth $10 million a year, which is in line with the two-year, $20 million deal he signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2022 before the Colts traded him to the Dallas Cowboys at the 2023 trade deadline.

Gilmore became a vital piece to the Cowboys’ defense that jumped from 12th in yards allowed in 2022 to ranking fifth in the category last season.

Stephon Gilmore Credits Vikings DC Brian Flores for Catapaulting His Career

.Stephon Gilmore and Brian Flores

The 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Buffalo Bills, Gilmore ascended to his first Pro Bowl after his fifth year in Buffalo.

He signed with the New England Patriots the following offseason and found consistency for the first time in his career.

“Me, in Buffalo, the first five years, I had four different defensive coordinators, three different head coaches. So I was kind of trying to learn each and every year,” Gilmore said on the “Double Coverage” podcast in 2020. “Once I got to New England, I got some consistency and the same guys around, same coaches. I feel like that is why my game took off more.”

Flores was the Patriots’ defensive playcaller for their Super Bowl-winning 2018 season, and although Gilmore was a shutdown corner in his prime and didn’t need too much direction, he credited Flores with the success throughout his career.

“For sure. Flo, he was always a great coach and very respected. He has his guys doing the right thing on the field and off the field, so it’s no surprise that they’re having success over there,” Gilmore told The Providence Journal when Flores’ Dolphins allowed the sixth-fewest points in the league in 2020.

Flores was fired two years later which resulted in an investigation and a suit on Flores’ behalf. Gilmore came to Flores’ defense when he was fired in 2022.

“Brian Flores is a great coach that’s wild,” Gilmore wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Brian Flores is a great coach that’s wild.

Stephon Gilmore’s Game is Refined With Age

Stephon Gilmore

Gilmore’s 31 regular-season interceptions since 2012 rank sixth among active players, but his approach in coverage has shifted over his career.

Instead of relying on pressing at the line of scrimmage, Gilmore has excelled at trailing the receiver’s route and anticipating their breaks while keeping receivers from shedding him with physical play.

From PFF’s John Owning:

While Gilmore plays in press alignments routinely, he actually prefers to ‘soft shoe’ at the line of scrimmage rather than stick a strong jam, as it allows Gilmore’s process the receivers’ release and stems to inform him of the routes the receivers are most likely to run. Gilmore will then institute some physicality to help him ‘feel’ the route and match the receiver’s pace. Moreover, he understands the intricacies of hand fighting, which enables him to limit a receiver’s ability to create separation with subtle push-offs as they are coming out of their break. After that, Gilmore’s notable timing and ball skills enable him to find consistent success at the catch point.

Nonetheless, whether it’s zone or man coverage, Gilmore’s football intelligence and football savvy enable him to maintain a high level of success even as his athleticism has waned with age (he will be 33 years old during the 2023 season). Gilmore could teach a college course on how to read a receiver’s body language within the route, enabling him to consistently maintain tight coverage regardless of the route. He’s excellent at understanding a coverage concept’s weakness, which enables him to use his alignment and leverage to limit the offense’s ability to expose those weaknesses.

Last season, Gilmore played the most man coverage snaps (266) in the league and ranked 14th in PFF’s man coverage grade.

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