Vikings Can Find Defensive Line Help in Free Agency

Feb 13, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end A'Shawn Robinson (94) sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency is roughly a month away, and the Vikings can find some additions there. The team will enter a necessary rebuild of the defensive unit, a unit that was among the worst and the oldest in the league. Only one team allowed the opponents to gain more yards, and only two allowed the opponents to score more points. In yards per play allowed, the Vikings ranked 30th with 5.9. Overall, the unit was a disaster and is to blame for the disappointing playoff loss.

In addition to having a bad defense, the players on that side of the ball belonged to the oldest in the league. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and newly hired defensive coordinator Brian Flores have to start almost from scratch with many new starters.

All three top cornerbacks, Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, and Chandon Sullivan, enter free agency because of expiring contracts, just like defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. The two linebackers, Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks, are the most likely cap casualties. Potential linebacker and cornerback replacements are much talked about, but the likely successor of Tomlinson is not.

Vikings Can Find Defensive Line Help in Free Agency

Tomlinson played for the purple team for two seasons. He was a surprise signing a couple of years ago. The Vikings already had Michael Pierce in the building, and Mike Zimmer usually had one big-time run stuffer, mostly Linval Joseph, and the second defensive tackle was just a cheap and average player. Most fans remember Shamar Stephen.

Vikings Can Find Defensive Line Help in Free Agency
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

The acquisition of Tomlinson changed that. He played two wonderful seasons but couldn’t help improving the defense to respectable levels. The defensive tackle is now entering free agency once again and could seek a big payday.

Minnesota has to replace him, and with limited resources in the draft and free agency, the Vikings need to find some value. One defensive tackle on the market could be interesting for the team.

Former Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson will be a free agent after three years with the team. He started his career as a Lions’ second-round pick out of Alabama. Despite his seven years of experience in the league, Robinson will turn only 28 years old in March, so he should have a few more years left in the tank.

Oct 16, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard (30) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (94) and cornerback Derion Kendrick (6) during the third quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive tackle was the unsung hero of some elite Rams defenses, as he played next to Aaron Donald. However, Robinson is one of the elite run-stoppers in football, which helped Donald a lot.

PFF’s Brad Spielberger had some high praise for the defensive lineman:

Robinson’s 73.6 run-defense grade over the last two seasons ranks tied for 12th among interior defenders, with his 46 defensive stops ranking inside the top 20 even though he missed the second half of the 2022 season with a torn meniscus. Fortunately, the standard recovery timeline indicates that he’ll be back in time for 2023 offseason activities.

Robinson was a crucial part of the Super Bowl-winning 2021 defensive unit of the Rams. He only appeared in ten games in 2022 but played in all 17 regular season contests and four postseason games in 2021.

Jan 30, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (left) and defensive end A’Shawn Robinson (right) before the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of his tenure in Los Angeles, the Rams ranked second in EPA/play against the run, and their top run defender was a big reason for that. Robinson played in the first ten games of the 2022 season. The Rams ranked first in the league in rushing EPA/Play but only 25th after his injury. The Rams also missed other players late in the season, most notably Aaron Donald, but Robinson’s impact can not be overstated.

Spielberger, PFF’s contract expert, predicted his next contract at only $2.5 million, making Robinson a potential free agency steal.

The Vikings need some help on the defensive line. 2022 signing Harrison Phillips is the only starting-caliber player on the roster. Other interior linemen under contract are Ross Blacklock, James Lynch, Sheldon Day, T.J. Smith, and Esezi Otomewo. None of the five defenders should be considered for starting jobs, but they can be solid rotational players. The aforementioned Tomlinson and 2022 teammate Jonathan Bullard will enter free agency.

Jan 2, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end A’Shawn Robinson (94) after the play during the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota’s run defense in 2022 ranked 19th in DVOA and 15th in EPA/play. However, the team struggled to stop the run against good rushing teams. Minnesota allowed at least 134 yards in the five losses. In addition, the rushing defense was a problem when Tomlinson missed a few games with a calf injury. The former Rams defender could be a huge difference-maker in the running game.

Robinson is not a well-known name, but he is an excellent player and could be a huge signing for cheap money, especially if Tomlinson can’t be brought back. In addition to him, the Vikings could try to add some interior pass rush, something the team lacked for about a decade. However, those players are extremely expensive in free agency and require top draft picks.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt