The Minnesota Vikings embarked on the 2021 offseason with a mission to remedy the league’s fourth-worst defense from 2020, maintain an offense that scored 26.9 points per game (11th in NFL), and fundamentally reshape the special teams.
On defense, the fix was finagled via free agency. General Manager Rick Spielman signed several defensive free agents — and only defensive ones — in Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Bashaud Breeland, Xavier Woods, Nick Vigil, and Stephen Weatherly. No new offensive free agents joined the club although a guard-center, Mason Cole, was acquired in a trade from the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings shipped a 6th-Rounder to Arizona for Cole’s services. It is unclear if Cole will start the 2021 season at right guard or if he will actionize a reservist role. That probably depends on the speed at which rookie Wyatt Davis scales the depth chart.
Speaking of the draft, that event was used to bolster the offensive side of things. Here is the full haul:
- Virginia Tech — OT Christian Darrisaw
- Texas A&M — QB Kellen Mond
- North Carolina — LB Chazz Surratt
- Ohio State — G Wyatt Davis
- Pittsburgh — DE Patrick Jones II
- Iowa State — RB Kene Nwangwu
- California — S Camryn Bynum
- Florida State — EDGE Janarius Robinson
- Iowa — WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
- Central Missouri — TE Zach Davidson
- Pittsburgh — DT Jalen Twyman
Darrisaw is likely to start Week 1 at Cincinnati at left tackle, earning high hopes that the Virginia Tech alumnus will finally nail down the LT spot. Minnesota has not employed a youthful, long-term solution on the left side of the line since the days of Bryant McKinnie. Davis will start at some point as his addition to the team was a fortuitous one. The guard from Ohio State was theorized to go off the board in the 1st Round before he encountered some 2020 shortcomings at Ohio State. And then the contingency plan at quarterback is Kellen Mond. He will watch and learn as Kirk Cousins plays out the final two years of his contract.
For special teams, the Vikings promoted Ryan Ficken to the lead coaching role while opting not to renew the contract of special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf. Then, kicker Dan Bailey was released as the team signed Greg Joseph from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Riley Patterson, an undrafted free agent from Memphis.
A full offseason, right? Almost.
The only glaring weakness from a depth chart perspective is at right defensive end. If no other moves are concocted by Spielman, Stephen Weatherly, Patrick Jones II, and D.J. Wonnum will duke it out for the RDE1 title. Danielle Hunter should return to his LDE spot after missing all of 2020 with a neck injury. Most Vikings onlookers hope and pray that Hunter is fully healthy, exuding the same lofty production he produced from 2015 to 2019.
But that’s a humongous receptacle of optimism. Should Hunter hold out — he’s is allegedly peeved with his contract — then the pass-rush prognosis gets iffy. Too, neck injuries are perilous, so Hunter returning to 100% by Week 1 is merely a leap of faith.
Spielman’s best option is to lock down a tried-and-true DE in free agency. They’re out there. And after the recent Breeland signing, Minnesota has about $10 million remaining in cap space — more than enough to land a recognizable pass rusher.
Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, and Everson Griffen are the “big three” of names twisting on the free-agent wire. Each man is around the same age range (early 30s), and all have a reputation for rushing opposing quarterbacks. Griffen would fit the best for obvious reasons — he spent ten years with the Vikings and over half of that inside the Zimmer scheme. Houston, who last played in Indianapolis, also inhabited a 4-3 scheme with the Colts and is nearly identical in physical stature to Griffen.
Ingram is more pf a “stand-up” EDGE rusher akin to former Viking, Yannick Ngakoue. His fit in Zimmer’s defense is not perfect, but his career resume is certainly more impressive than Weatherly, Wonnum, and the rookie Jones.
Overall, a lot of the eggs waiting to hatch from the Vikings 2021 basket involve the rapid maturation of the offensive line as the group is young. But those offensive trenchmen offer substantially more enthusiasm for fans than years past.
One more DE addition is the final frontier for this Vikings offseason.