The Vikings Defensive Overhaul

Jul 28, 2021; Englewood, CO, United States; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the off-season and free agency, the Vikings’ roster had some gigantic roster weaknesses. Especially on defense, after the unit was 24th in points allowed in 2021 and 29th in 2020. As a result, defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer was fired. The enterprise hired Ed Donatell, the former sidekick of defensive genius Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, who will change the defensive scheme from Zimmer´s 4-3 to a 3-4.

Departures

The team did not only lose coaches in the process, but they also lost some important players on the defensive side of the ball, too. 

Anthony Barr, a fixture of the franchise for eight years, is still a free agent. It doesn’t look like he’ll be on the roster in 2022. He never played for a different head coach than Mike Zimmer since he was drafted in 2014. 

Anthony Barr
Jun 11, 2019; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Pierce was cut after two seasons with the team, in which he only played eight games. When he was on the field, he played well. To play only 24% of games is just not enough, and that’s why he ended up as a cap casualty. He is back at his old team, the Baltimore Ravens. 

Mackensie Alexander, the slot cornerback, and Xavier Woods, the starting safety, left in free agency after one season. Two additional spots to fill in the secondary. Woods will be a Carolina Panther in 2022, while Mackensie Alexander has not found a new team.

Everson Griffen left the Vikings for the second time in his career. He played 11 of his 12 seasons in the league in Minnesota. If he’ll continue to play football — has to be questioned. He sacked opposing quarterbacks 84 times in his career in a Vikings jersey.

Nick Vigil started 12 games next to Eric Kendricks at linebacker. He signed with the Cardinals. In his lone season for Mike Zimmer, he finished with 85 tackles and four tackles for loss.

Sheldon Richardson was signed as a rotational interior defender last off-season. Following the absences of defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, he started games at defensive end and had some good performances. Richardson remains unsigned.

Reinforcements

The enterprise did a great job of replacing the departures with fresh faces. The biggest name of the new arrivals is undoubtedly Za’darius Smith. The former Packers terrorized the Vikings offensive unit for years and now switched sides. He’ll be the running mate of Danielle Hunter. If both are on the field simultaneously, it would be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. 

Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter
Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter

Harrison Phillips is the new man in the middle of the defensive line. He has to replace Michael Pierce. After a few weeks with his new team, “Horrible Harry” already became a fan favorite because of his charitable work and his positive mindset. 

To replace Anthony Barr, the Vikings had to find a new middle linebacker to play next to Eric Kendricks. Jordan Hicks is that guy. Hicks started every game in the last three seasons for the Cardinals and finished with more than 100 tackles every year. 

After the departure of Mackensie Alexander, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had to bring in at least one slot cornerback. He didn’t disappoint, as he did not just sign one. He signed two. Chandon Sullivan, like Za’Darius Smith, a former Packer, and Nate Hairston, a former Bronco, will be, barring unforeseen circumstances, in a camp battle for the important spot on defense in today’s NFL. 

Patrick Peterson’s one-year contract with the Vikings expired, too. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed him to a new one-year deal. He’s penciled in as the starting cornerback in a tandem with Cameron Dantzler. 

The Chance to Add More Players in the Draft

Undeniably, the Vikings have tried to fix the defense. In addition to the many free-agent signings, they might not be finished with the overhaul. In the upcoming draft, the franchise holds, among seven more selections, the 12th overall pick. They are positioned to add another cornerback to the mix, preferably a long-term solution. 

Safety competition for second-year player Camryn Bynum could be an option, too. The linebacker depth behind Kendricks and Hicks is a big question mark and could be a place for improvement.

Adding to that, a team can never have too many edge rushers. They could look to bring in another talented young pass rusher, despite already having D.J. Wonnum, Janarius Robinson, Patrick Jones, and Kenny Willekes on the roster. 

Through free agency, the first-year GM Adofo-Mensah did a great job. The roster does not have a glaring need, and the franchise can truly draft the best player available. 

The defense appears in a position to be better in 2022 than in 2021 and 2020, just with a few tweaks scheme-wise and by bringing in a lot of new faces. If that´s the case, the team is on its way back to the postseason after a two-year hiatus.

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