In March & April, the Vikings Whiffed on OL & DL Additions, Foreshadowing Failure in 2023
Football, at least according to the conventional wisdom, must begin with dominance in the trenches. If the Vikings whiffed on the o-line and d-line in the offseason, then 2023 could continue being a long season.
So far, Minnesota has been losing up front. There should be little surprise, then, that the team finds itself in an 0-3 hole. The tumultuous turnovers have been snagging all of the headlines for the winless start, but what’s happening along the OL and DL are playing a starring role in the season’s tragic opening act.
What happens in September is intimately connected to the decisions that are made in free agency (for the most part, March) and the draft (April).
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell intentionally opted against making robust improvements in these areas, instead deciding to welcome back familiar faces and underwhelming depth options.
Bringing down the season’s shortcomings to a monocausal answer is misguided and yet it’s difficult not to wonder about the strategy for the lines. Shouldn’t there have been more emphasis on reinvigorating each side of the line of scrimmage?
The Vikings Whiffed on the OL and DL
Josh Frey sounded the alarm at PurplePTSD on several occasions. Indeed, Frey commonly mentioned that Minnesota’s decision to essentially bring back their entire OL from 2022 was a risky gamble. After all, it’s a group that experienced both poor play and injuries aplenty, so pursuing the same group — complete with almost identical depth — is a strategy that may be ill-advised.
Fans have watched as Chris Reed has failed to get out of the trainer’s room, Oli Udoh has succumbed to a season-ending injury, and Garrett Bradbury has once again struggled with a back ailment. For bad measure, Christian Darrisaw has also missed time, making it all three years that the stud LT has been sidelined due to injury.
Injuries contain a certain degree of bad luck, but it’s perfectly foreseeable that injuries will occur along the o-line since it’s such a rugged spot. Teams need to plan accordingly.
Meanwhile, some of the worrisome play continues. Ed Ingram may be improving but most fans would agree that it’s not fast enough. PFF suggests he’s accountable for 3 penalties, 3 sacks, 6 QB hits, and 13 pressures. The worst moment of the season was his strip/sack on Cousins, but there have been several lowlights.
Dalton Risner appears like a logical replacement, but he’s being grafted in while the season is already underway. Signing the guard with some of the offseason left would have been the prudent decision.
In fact, the Vikings decided against adding anyone in the 2023 NFL Draft to improve their offensive line. During undrafted free agency, the Vikings brought in Jacky Chen and Alan Ali, but neither remain. The end result was the Vikings being left with internal talent and the haul from free agency; the issue is simply that the free agent additions were players already within Minnesota’s orbit (David Quessenberry and Risner are the lone outside additions on the team right now, both of whom were added much later).
Again, a risky strategy that appears to be backfiring.
The defensive line has taken a clear step in the wrong direction.
The offseason featured the Vikings losing Za’Darius Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson. Marcus Davenport and Dean Lowry are charged with replacing them, a responsibility that’s going very poorly. The former hasn’t been able to get healthy and the latter isn’t making much of a difference, if any at all.
Cap space wasn’t infinite for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah while free agency was humming but there were options. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Arden Key, and Justin Houston were some of the cheaper pass rushers. Spending more cash could have involved bringing Dre’Mont Jones or Javon Hargrave to town. None of these options materialized, though.
Signing Davenport is a deal I’ve applauded, mostly due to the player’s age and upside. Failing to add more talent in case he missed time to injury — a very likely outcome given his history — should have been part of the strategy, though.
The draft brought DT Jaquelin Roy to Minnesota. In time, the LSU alumnus may be a contributor, but he has struggled to get onto the field. The 5th-round selection still has much to prove since he has only been involved in 9 snaps for 2023. Otherwise, the team added upside UDFA Andre Carter, but the draft didn’t bring any notable pass-rushing talent. Danielle Hunter is the lone QB terror for Minnesota.
The Vikings find themselves in an odd spot. One social media post highlights how the team boasts the league’s yardage leaders at QB and WR whereas another points toward last week’s opponent having a defender who led the NFL in pressures. Skill isn’t the issue in Minnesota; dominating the line of scrimmage is where the Vikings are falling short.
In a lot of ways, Kirk Cousins perfectly encapsulates the issue in front of the Vikings. He’s sitting on a dazzling 1,075 passing yards and 9 TD passes after only a trio of games. He has also played a part in turning the ball over 5 times by throwing 2 INTs and fumbling the ball 3 times. In other words, there is talent present in the QB and yet there’s also a propensity for giving the ball away, at least partly due to some of the challenges presented by the issues up front.
Minnesota isn’t giving up on the season, and a date with the Carolina Panthers offers a glimmer of hope for climbing up to 1-3. Continued struggle at the line of scrimmage, though, will further magnify the team’s peculiar decision to largely forego improvements for the offensive and defensive lines in March and April.
K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.