AnalysisOpinion

Another Interesting Free Agent Enters Vikings Orbit

The Minnesota Vikings possess about 3-5 sure-fire depth chart needs this offseason. Those include: at least one offensive guard, probably a safety to replace the outgoing Anthony Harris, a 3-technique defensive tackle, and perhaps one more spot that will play out as the offseason unfolds.

On Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers cut ties with defensive tackle Kawann Short in a cap-maneuvering transaction. Short is a two-time Pro Bowler, a 2015 Second-Team All-Pro selection, and is now free to sign with any NFL team. The move grants the Panthers north of $12 million in cap space for 2021 while tacking on about $8 million in dead cap to Carolina.

Short hasn’t played much lately. Since the start of 2019, he has participated in just five total games. That’s right, Short has missed 84% of all Panthers games in the last two years. A nagging shoulder injury bedeviled him for all of recent memory.

The University of Purdue alumnus turned 32 years old at the beginning of February and will now seek a second act to an injury-asterisked but commendable career.

The Vikings plans at the 3-technique defensive tackle position are undetermined. Minnesota was the NFL’s worst team leaguewide for rushing the quarterback in 2020 per Pro Football Focus. Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce were absent, and Minnesota’s pass-rush went straight to hell as a result.

A reconnaissance into Short’s services is apropos for the 2021 Vikings – and mainly because of his potential return on investment.

The Stock Is Low. Money Should be Right.

Short began accruing the big bucks in 2017 when he inked a deal for five years and $80 million. For 2017 and 2018, he was mostly worth that ilk of contract. Then, the injury bug entered his stratosphere. Because he has missed so much time during the last two seasons, he is no longer a reliable asset for the Panthers [evidently].

But he might be a commodity for a different franchise – at a reduced price. If one is remotely familiar with the Viking salary cap, “reduced price” anything amid the last few seasons is bees-to-honey stuff. Minnesota is tasked with fortifying its weaknesses on a slender budget. Short on a prove-it deal or something longer in the neighborhood of $5 million per season would be desirable. At the peak of his powers, the man is meritorious of more than $5 million. Yet, when he doesn’t play – like 2019 and 2020 — teams are skittish.

Sign the Vikings up in a trust-buy-verify capacity.

Terrific when Healthy

Before 2019, Short was one of the best 3-technique defensive tackles in the world. In 2018, he logged an 83.7 Pro Football Focus grade. The year prior, 2017, he scored a 91.8 which is blistering for any player. If he can put to rest his longstanding shoulder maladies, Short would be a magnificent addition to a Vikings defensive line that is thirsty for solutions.

Current Browns defensive lineman, Sheldon Richardson, was the last man at the Vikings 3-technique spot to make a noticeable impact. After Richardson departed for Cleveland, Minnesota has employed average-to-serviceable personnel at the 3-technique position. Meaning – they perform well enough not to be considered a liability. And, yes, that means teensy inklings of a pass rush – nothing like Richardson delivered from a pressure standpoint in 2018.

Would Cross DT of the Draft List

The theoretical acquisition of Short would absolutely transform Minnesota’s interior defensive line – on paper. The transition would entail a 2020 combination of Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson to a 2021 duo of Michael Pierce and Kawann Short. This would be akin to the Vikings swapping a caliber of player like Frank Gore for Dalvin Cook at running back. One can take some snaps and gets some yards, the other offers game-changing talent.

With Short in-house, general manager Rick Spielman would cross that spot off his depth chart and focus on the defensive end and offensive line areas during the 2021 NFL Draft. The Vikings might be tempted to splurge for a Christian Barmore-type defensive tackle on draft night. If Short is in the holster, Barmore is not necessary.

Short fills a need and can excel if healthy. The secondary of the Vikings is still quite young, so any added quarterback pressure upfront – like Short can generate – will aid in the development of players like Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, and Harrison Hand. And, you know, get the Vikings out of the NFL’s basement from a pass-rushing perspective – unfamiliar territory for a Mike Zimmer-coached team.

Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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