The Minnesota Vikings are at least trying to address the recent departure of two stars.
The salary cap-challenged team agreed to contract terms Wednesday, March 25, with Tennessee free-agent wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and with San Francisco free-agent defensive end Anthony Zettel. Sharpe will try to make up for the loss of Stefon Diggs, who was traded last week to Buffalo, and Zettel could help in the quest to replace Everson Griffen, who announced last week he would not return as a free agent.
Sharpe got a one-year, $1 million deal, including a $175,000 signing bonus, and could make as much as $500,000 additional with incentives. Terms were not immediately available on Zettel.
Sharpe caught 25 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns last season. In three seasons with the Titans, Sharpe, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 out of Massachusetts, had 92 receptions for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns. He was on injured reserve in 2017 because of a stress fracture in his foot.
Zettel, a sixth-round pick by Detroit in 2016 out of Penn State, had 6 1/2 sacks for the Lions while starting all 16 games in 2017. However, the next two seasons he had no sacks in 25 games as a reserve with Cleveland, Cincinnati and the 49ers.
Sharpe and Zettel both could compete to start. But better options at wide receiver and defensive end could surface in next month’s draft. The Vikings will have 12 picks, including Nos. 22 and 25 in the first round.
Sharpe talked about joining the Vikings in a video message on Twitter.
“I just want to thank everybody in the organization, all of the fans and every single one of my new teammates for welcoming me to the Viking family with open arms,” Sharpe said. “I’m super excited. I’m ready to get going and I’m extremely humbled by the opportunity that you’ve given me.’’
Sharpe also touched upon the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just a reminder for everybody out there,’’ he said. “Continue to stay safe. Stay at home as much possible and continue to protect yourself as well as your families.’’
Sharpe could compete to start alongside Adam Thielen or to be Minnesota’s No. 3 receiver. The Vikings also have Bisi Johnson and Chad Beebe and they are expected to select multiple receivers in the draft.
The Vikings also lost wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in free agency, although they did not make it a priority to re-sign him.
Sharpe, a possession receiver, had his best Titans season as a rookie, catching 41 passes for 522 passes in 2016. He started just six of the 15 games he played in 2019, but did catch five passes for 69 yards with two touchdowns in the next-to-last game against the New Orleans Saints.
However, Sharpe was not much of a factor in Tennessee’s three playoff games. The Titans had a run-heavy attack with Derrick Henry but Sharpe had just one catch while being targeted six times and playing 54 snaps.
Zettel also will look to return to an earlier form. After his solid 2017 season, Zettel was surprisingly waived by the Lions before the 2018 season. He’s been well traveled since then.
Zettel got into 15 games with the Browns as a reserve in 2018. Last year, he played four regular-season games as a reserve with the Bengals and one with the 49ers.
Zettel played in all three of San Francisco’s playoff games. That included being in for 11 defensive snaps in a 27-10 divisional playoff win over the Vikings and for 15 in the 31-20 loss to Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV.
Besides Griffen, the Vikings also lost in free agency reserve defensive end Stephen Weatherly. He signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract with Carolina.
Zettel could compete to start at Griffen’s old spot. Also in the mix could be Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had seven sacks last season and also plays defensive tackle.
Much more will be known for the Vikings at wide receiver and defensive end when the draft arrives. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected this week they will take Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mills at No. 22 and Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa at No. 25 as possible replacements for Diggs and Griffen.