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If the Vikings Want a Free Agent DE, Now Is the Time to Act

The next destination on the Minnesota Vikings hype train is training camp, a mere eight days away in Eagan, Minnesota.

After a flurry of defensive free-agent signings this offseason, coupled with an optimistic draft that landed rookies like Christian Darrisaw, Wyatt Davis, and Kellen Mond — the Vikings are poised to contend for the NFC North once again, an achievement that has eluded the club since 2017.

And in the backdrop, general manager Rick Spielman possesses a cache of cash, unfamiliar territory for the Vikings at this time of year. Usually, the franchise has a few million in the bank, targeting small fish to round out the roster.

But not this year.

Minnesota maintains a cap space figure around $14 million — a number that fortuitously never seems to dip — to spend on other free agents or extend the long-term contracts of players like Harrison Smith or Brian O’Neill. Spielman could afford to bolster the wide receiver room behind a somewhat top-heavy combination of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. He could add one more veteran offensive lineman to safeguard against the annual pass-protecting doldrums.

Or Minnesota’s boss man could sign another defensive end to coexist with Danielle Hunter, who returns after a season-long neck injury during the pandemic season. All in all, one more EDGE rusher is probably the most sensible strategy. Some combination of Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, and rookie Patrick Jones II is presumably on the menu for the DE spot opposite Hunter.

While those men might thrive inside this revamped Mike Zimmer-led defense, Hunter has never played professional football without Everson Griffen on the roster. Oh, by the way, Griffen is a free agent — that has even vocally proclaimed his desire to return to the Vikings in 2021.

If the Vikings have an appetite for another defensive end to complete the defensive free-agency bonanza, now is the time to act.


Because the who’s-who of free-agent EDGE rushers are finding new homes this week. First, it was Melvin Ingram, a fine pass rusher that unites with a fine pass-rushing organization in Pittsburgh.

Then, a lesser-sexy name in Alex Ofakor re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday.

Ergo, they’re flying off the board.

Spielman has three startable options for RDE (if Hunter resumes his normal duty at LDE), if he has interest in the idea at all.

Talent-wise, the frontrunner for duty is Justin Houston.

Justin Houston
Dec 13, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Justin Houston (center) reacts as he yells at his teammates in the huddle prior to the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The ex-Chief-turned-Colt remains unemployed, waiting for a contending team to snatch his services. Why not the Vikings? Houston entered the pros in 2011. From that point on, he registered 97.5 sacks, which is third-most in the business behind Von Miller and J.J. Watt. As a younger man, he notched 22 sacks in a single season. Even as Houston ages, he manages to sack opposing quarterbacks. He and four other men are the only five players to tabulate 8+ sacks in every season since 2017: Aaron Donald, Yannick Ngakoue, Khalil Mack, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Houston. So, the consistent pedigree is still there.

Next, Olivier Vernon is a free agent, nursing a torn Achilles that he suffered last season at an inopportune time in Week 17 for the Cleveland Browns.

Olivier Vernon
Oct 22, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon (54) during NFL Fan Rally at the Victoria House prior to game 16 of the NFL International Series against the Los Angeles Rams. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted by the Miami Dolphins, signed by the New York Giants in free agency four years later, and most recently scooped by the Browns — Vernon has reached one Pro Bowl in his nine-year career while tallying 63.5 sacks in 127 total games. If his return to health is rapid and on track, Minnesota could slide him onto the depth chart as a formidable pass rusher in 2021.

Otherwise, go with what you know. Everson Griffen created some social media turmoil at the beginning of the calendar year with puzzling tweets about the Vikings organization (particularly Kirk Cousins). But forgiveness is a rewarding trait for anyone. Should the Vikings welcome back Griffen, he would need very little acclimation — effectively “getting the band back together” for an all-in season.

The Vikings could be just tickled with their current DE situation if hopes are high for the aforementioned rookie, Patrick Jones II. However, one steady tactic throughout 2021 for Spielman is mass-stockpiling defensive assets — almost like Zimmer himself is calling the shots.

The most fitting way to culminate the defense-only trend in free agency is to sign Houston, Vernon, or Griffen, canceling any doubt about the Vikings pass rush for 2021.


Dustin Baker

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

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9 days ago

I’ll take everson griffen over the others because Vernon never been as good as griffen and Houston is undersized. I’ll take grif.

Reply to  Mondo
12 hours ago

Ev is washed up. Loved him for years, supported him through his mental collapse, but last year pretty much proved he is done. I’d rather they pay some serious $$ to C. Jones.. He wants to be traded. He and Danielle would be one of the top DE duos in the league.

Casey James
Casey James
9 days ago

Extremely unnecessary🤦‍♂️The Defense is no longer an issue…The Offense needs attention cause that side is incompetent against really Good Defenses especially in the playoffs

8 days ago

Dustin, please stop reaching for words and phrases that you obviously think make you sound smart because it’s having the opposite effect. Case in point, “fortuitously”. Fortuitous means a fortunate event that occurs by blind or random luck. i.e. “As Dustin stood before the vending machine he realized he was a twenty five cents short of the price of animal crackers he so oddly craved. Just then he spotted a quarter that someone had fortuitously dropped on the floor.” The fact that the Vikings have the cap space to sign an pass rusher if they choose is not exactly blind luck.

You’re plenty smart, Dustin, and don’t need to prove that to any of us. Write within yourself. And you might seriously consider finding a seasoned writer that can help you tighten some of this stuff up.

BTW, I agree the Vikings should prioritize pass rush over WR 3 given how infrequently they’re in eleven personnel and how important a solid pass rush is in today’s game. Particularly if you have any questions regarding your secondary.

Reply to  don
7 days ago

Stop being a grammar specialist… just make your opinion and keep it moving. One min your talking about the team and then about him. The article isn’t about his use of words, its about the vikings. Talk about subject in hand and not about him.

Last edited 7 days ago by Corey
Reply to  Corey
7 days ago

Corey, I’m trying to help the guy. I’ve been writing professionally for > 20 years and certainly appreciated the help I’ve received along the way. I wish I could do it through back channels (email, etc) but I don’t think that’s possible. He’s writing a LOT of material (which itself is probably a problem) and he obviously has no one helping, editing, etc. I can tell he wants to write well and I’m sure he can (that’s not true of everyone, believe me) but his work needs cleaning up. You can say “that’s your opinion” and you’d be right. But it’s a professional, informed opinion offered free of charge and with no malice intended.

8 days ago

I’d be happy with any of them, but I’d rank Griffen ahead of Vernon, especially after the former’s performance for Detroit last year, where he averaged one sack every 70.6 defensive snaps, vs. Vernon getting them at the still solid rate of one per 89.4 D snaps for the Browns.

7 days ago

I would say to wait after preseason before worrying about a good fit. I want to see what we got in the draft! No sense in wasting money on a free agent when you may have a potential great player from the draft. We have enough veteran presence on the defensive and offensive side of the ball to allow rookies to step in and learn as the season goes on. I dont want to invest money in a vet for 1yr contract and then were left to fill the void. We have a few signed like that already! Let’s see what we have and make moves based on that. I really see alot of potential in Jones and some of the rookie we drafted that will.make instant impact on our team.

6 days ago

I hope the team signs Griff or Houston in that order. Either way it makes sense to get one of them.

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