The New Viking Must Step Up after Splashy Trade

Use Unusual Tactic
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The saga finally ended on Friday.

Minnesota shipped Pro Bowl outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland. He had requested a trade months ago, and the purple team granted him his wish. Smith will now line up next to the star defender and former first-overall pick Myles Garrett in Cleveland, and he also got a reworked contract.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah didn’t get much in return for the sack specialist. The Vikings received a couple of fifth-round picks, one in 2o24 and one in 2025, but also gave up a 2025 sixth-rounder and a 2025 seventh-rounder, according to Tom Pelissero. Of course, the main reason for the Vikings to pull off the trade was extra cap space. The move saved them more than $12 million.

The New Viking Must Step Up after Splashy Trade

New Viking Must Step
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Whenever a player leaves a team, others must step up. The departure of Smith didn’t come by surprise. The team even added his replacement to the roster in March.

When the Vikings signed Marcus Davenport, formerly with the Saints, in March during the big free-agency period, it was a sign that Smith would not play for the Vikes in 2023. He signed a one-year $13 million deal. That might sound expensive, but it was a cheap contract for the best available player at a premium position.

Davenport played five seasons in New Orleans for the Vikings foes. He was a 2018 first-round selection of the New Orleans Saints, the 14th overall pick. The Saints traded up with the Packers to get him and gave up a pair of first-rounders for the UTSA edge rusher.

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In those five years with the Saints, Davenport recorded 21.5 sacks, 142 combined tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 60 quarterback hits. He did not live up to his expectations on the stat sheet, but his talent hit top-notch. Davenport is a player who is much better than their stats indicate.

Injuries have been a big problem for Davenport, who played 63 games in five seasons without a single full campaign. Coming into the league, Davenport was considered a physical freak. At the combine, he was measured at 6’5″ and 264 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds with elite 10-yard and 20-yard splits.

The contract was a one-year prove-it deal for a talented player with an extensive injury history. If he works out, the Vikings made a steal. Because of the Smith departure, he is officially the starting edge rusher opposite Danielle Hunter. He has to chance to prove himself to earn an even bigger paycheck, maybe from the Vikings, next offseason. He should immediately replace Smith in the starting unit. The team also employs decent backups, D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones. They both showed flashes in the past, and they will certainly get some snaps in relief of the two starters.

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PFF praised the defender in their free agency rankings, in which he ranked right outside of the top 20 of all available players, at 21, as the top edge rusher in the free agency class:

Injuries once again hampered Davenport’s season, but he’s a remarkably effective pass rusher off the edge when healthy, and his talent alone could be worth the gamble in free agency – especially given the relative lack of edge rushers available. Since he entered the league in 2018, Davenport’s 17.8% pass-rush win rate and 13.9% pressure percentage are both top-20 marks among edge defenders, and he’s also earned a very respectable 82.1 run-defense grade for his career, which ranks 16th over the span.

Davenport has five straight campaigns grading above 70.0. The issue is that he’s yet to log 600 snaps in a single season. At the end of the day, top-20 edge defenders against the pass and run don’t reach free agency often, and while his injury list is long, it doesn’t include any devastating ligament tears.

Brian Flores Name Drops
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Defensive coordinator Brian Flores needs a decent pass rush considering the mystery of the secondary. Star cornerback Patrick Peterson left just like Chandon Sullivan, Duke Shelley, and Cameron Dantzler. Flores must rebuild the whole lineup.

It will be free agent addition Byron Murphy on one side and an unknown person on the other and in the slot. 2022 rookies Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans are in contention for the spot. They entered the team and received a ton of praise but spent their rookie seasons more on injured reserve than on the field.

They will be joined by rookie third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon out of USC. With the current roster construction, one of the trio should be expected to be a starter barring any surprising new additions. Rookie Jay Ward could be an option in the slot.

Regardless, a good pass rush is the best help for a young and unproven CB group, and that is what Davenport is here for.

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