Each day that passes, it seems more evident that the Minnesota Vikings plan to tackle the offensive line roster holes via the NFL draft. Guards galore tickle the free-agency wire, but so far, the Vikings have splurged on none of them.
Instead, general manager Rick Spielman has signed defensive players only. The Vikings offense performed fine and dandy in 2020 – despite a 7-9 season record – thus requiring few new faces for 2021 [or so it seems]. The team could stand to upgrade the offensive line because the pass-protection ranked 29th leaguewide per Pro Football Focus last year. Something must change to remedy this prevalent problem. Otherwise, quarterback Kirk Cousins will be under siege – per usual – in 2021.
Yet, to date, the only new players signed via free agency are Stephen Weatherly (DE), Dalvin Tomlinson (3DT), Nick Vigil (LB), Patrick Peterson (CB), Mackensie Alexander (CB), and Xavier Woods (FS). All defense – so why stop now?
Because of affordability and his relatively decent performance last season, the Vikings should sign EDGE rusher Aldon Smith.
Absence from Football
If it’s been a while since you’ve heard the words Aldon Smith – fair enough. He missed four seasons of football from 2016 to 2019. Due to multiple DWIs, a hit-and-run incident, some assaults, parole violation, and a circumstance where he allegedly bit a woman’s wrists, Smith was away from the NFL for a long time.
But when he was young, trouble-free, and employed by the San Francisco 49ers, Smith was marvelous. During his first two professional seasons, he tallied 29.5 sacks in 32 games. He was with the 49ers the year that they lost in the Super Bowl to Ray Lewis’ Baltimore Ravens. Smith was awarded All-Pro honors that season. He was jettisoned to the Oakland Raiders in 2015 where his personal troubles continued. Smith’s final game before the four-year hiatus was versus – you guessed it – the Minnesota Vikings in 2015. He recorded his final sack [before eventual reinstatement in 2020] on Teddy Bridgewater. The game also marked Danielle Hunter’s second career sack. Hunter has since registered 52.5 more.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Smith resurfaced during the pandemic season.
The University of Missouri alumnus made his return with Dallas Cowboys in 2020 . He accrued 48 total tackles, 20 quarterback pressures, 14 quarterback hits, five tackles-for-loss, five sacks, and two fumble recoveries. He even scored the first touchdown of his career with Dallas.
That is a lot of positive stuff. He played on 73% of all defensive snaps en route to a decent 66.3 PPF grade. The man can play.
And at age 31, Smith should have some redemption left in the basement. An argument can also be made that his body has less wear-and-tear because he was away from the sport for nearly a half-decade. In his heyday around the turn of the decade, Smith was a balanced defender. He is not a one-trick pony that solely rushes the passer. While his pass-rushing acumen is slightly more pronounced than his run defense, he is renowned for both attributes.
At a bargain price, the Vikings could utilize an asset such as Smith.
Weatherly and Smith Would be a Decent Compromise
Smith-to-the-Vikings accomplishes a few offseason tasks.
Foremost, his addition to Mike Zimmer’s defense would solidify the group as game-ready right now – the draft be damned. The Zimmer defense might even be set already, depending on one’s perception of Stephen Weatherly’s capabilities.
Smith just adds more sizzle.
Because he is still amid his reclamation story, his price tag should not be too lofty. Spielman did an astute job clearing cap space to sign all the men mentioned above, and Smith would be the defensive exclamation point. Minnesota has about $8 million in cap space as of March 29th, so nabbing Smith on a deal for a couple million is doable. Too, more cap space could be on the way if Spielman finagles extensions for Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter – both men are on the docket for contractual attention.
A pairing of Smith with Weatherly or Smith with D.J. Wonnum is a respectable approach to the right defensive end spot for 2021. Think of it as low-risk, high-reward.
If Smith is not in the cards, well, Spielman can explore Kwity Paye of Michigan or Gregory Rousseau of Miami (FL) at Minnesota’s organic 14th spot in the 2021 NFL Draft – as many mock drafts predict.