The DE intrigue will not fade — the Minnesota Vikings are perceived as lacking at the EDGE rusher position. Danielle Hunter made monumental headlines last week when he decided to disable any contractual holdout dealings, but no movement on the other defensive end (on Hunter’s opposite side) has occurred.
For now, the Vikings will select the best player available among Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones, and Janarius Robinson to start Week 1.
Because this position on the depth chart is the only true one reeking of glaring need, theories abound as to how to solve the uncertainty. General Manager Rick Spielman could barter for a different EDGE rusher altogether — like he did last summer with Yannick Ngakoue — sign a free agent or do nothing.
Minnesota has the money to do something, possessing approximately $14 million in cap space as of June 20th — an abnormal circumstance for a Spielman-led front office this late in the offseason.
The Vikings seem to refuse any teasing of an upper-echelon WR3 in any given Mike Zimmer campaign, so the free-agent fascination settles on EDGE rusher, at least from a realistic perspective.
On Saturday, Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report coined Justin Houston, who previously played for the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, a player that might enter the Vikings orbit.
The other teams purportedly in contention for his pass-rushing services include the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, and his old team, the Chiefs. Gagnon mentioned about Houston:
“Justin Houston might not have a whole lot left at age 32, but the four-time Pro Bowler has put up at least eight sacks in each of the last four seasons with the Chiefs and Colts. The key is you can no longer consider him an every-down player after he was on the field for just 59 percent of Indy’s defensive snaps despite starting 16 games in 2020. But there’s little reason to believe he can’t continue to serve as an effective situational pass-rusher for a contending team that has some money to spend on a short-term deal. Besides, he’s far from a liability, having missed just four tackles the last two seasons combined. Colts owner Jim Irsay said in April the team could bring Houston back, but the club has since used two premium draft picks on edge defenders Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, so there’s a good chance he lands somewhere new in 2021.“
Age is a valid mini-concern. Houston is 32 and fits the proverbial “past his prime” billing. Yet, age 32 is not a graveyard. Since the start of 2010, ten EDGE rushers have tallied north of 10 sacks in their respective age-32 seasons. Players like Robert Mathis, John Abraham, Terrell Suggs, Julius Peppers, and Cameron Wake even had more than 11 sacks in their age-32 campaigns. Opposite Hunter, Houston might thrive — especially with the tutelage of Mike Zimmer and Andre Patterson.
Houston fits the Vikings “type,” too, for stature. He’s virtually identical to Everson Griffen’s size, an EDGE rusher that spent a full decade in Minnesota. At 6’3″ and 270 pounds, Houston’s resume gets him in the door for size. His Pro Football Focus grade in 2020 was average, a 63.5, balancing run-stopping and pass-rushing acumens. The year before, 2019, he notched an 87.1 score.
The Colts employed a 4-3 defense during his two years in Indianapolis, so Houston can “put a hand in the grass” as the Vikings tend to fancy. On ProFootballReference.com, Houston’s official position switched from linebacker to defensive end for 2019 and 2020 when he joined the Colts. During the pandemic season, Houston played on 59% of all Colts defensive snaps. For comparison, Everson Griffen was on the field for 78% of defensive snaps for the Vikings in 2019 — his last season with the franchise.
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. That was 2014. 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 consistency is still there.
If the plan is not to audition Houston but general manager Rick Spielman still wants one more reputable EDGE rusher, other free agents are available. Melvin Ingram, Everson Griffen, Ezekiel Ansah, and Vic Beasley offer varying degrees of name recognition.
And the price should be reasonable. He last played for an average annual salary of $12 million with Indianapolis. The appraisal will be less than that at this juncture of the offseason.
Otherwise, it’s Weatherly-Wonnum-Jones-Robinson and let it ride.