A New Problem Will Hit the Vikings in 2024
Finding a solution for the disgruntled star defender Danielle Hunter was the main priority for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Brian Flores must be thrilled to hear the news that he can plan with him and see his top defender on the practice field sooner rather than later. But that one-year band-aid deal doesn’t change one significant problem the Vikes have to deal with in the 2024 offseason.
A New Problem Will Hit the Vikings in 2024
In the 2023 season, the pass rush should be the strength of the Vikings’ defense, a unit with a totally rebuilt cornerback group, a first-year starter at linebacker next to an aging veteran, and a defensive line without a top player. Marcus Davenport, the free agent signing, and Hunter will form one of the better pass-rush duos in the league. But there is a problem. Both are only under contract for the 2023 season and will become unrestricted free agents in 2024. To make things worse, D.J. Wonnum is in the final year of his rookie deal.
The edge rushers under contract for 2024:
- Patrick Jones
- Luiji Vilain
- Andre Carter
Depth players Benton Whitley and Curtis Weaver signed a one-year deal. A position group that only includes those three players is obviously a disaster and not NFL-worthy.
Hunter has a clause in his new contract that prevents the Vikings from using the franchise tag on him, so they either give him a long-term contract, or he will walk in free agency. Davenport could, in theory, be tagged, but that would require a huge year from him. He agreed to a one-year prove-it deal in 2023 and eyes a big-time contract in the 2024 offseason.
Wonnum started two games as a rookie, 14 in his second year and one in his third. He has been a solid backup in providing pass-rush, but his run defense has been a liability since he entered the league. Once again stuck in the backup ranks, Wonnum must show improvement to secure some meaningful interest in his free agency or an extension from the Vikings’ front office.
The three remaining players — Jones, Vilain, and Carter — are unlikely to all find themselves on the 53-man roster unless they somehow all beat out Wonnum. Teams usually carry four or five edge rushers, so at least one will probably spend the season on the practice squad or a different team.
Jones has shown some promise in his two seasons with the team. He’s trying to earn a bigger role in Flores’ defense and has the potential as a former third-round pick from the infamous 2021 draft class. That third round included him, Kellen Mond, Wyatt Davis, and Chazz Surratt. Only Jones is still with the team.
Vilain and Carter were undrafted rookie signings and cost the organization a boatload in guaranteed money. Carter was placed on the PUP list and hasn’t taken part in training camp practices so far because of a soft-tissue injury. The rookie had a fantastic season at Army in 2021, but his numbers declined in 2022. Head coach Kevin O’Connell mentioned that offenses schemed to keep him away from the passers. Carter tanked his draft stock with a bad showing at the Senior Bowl and the draft combine, but the on-field production is still impressive, which is why Kwesi Adofo-Mensah ensured him a lot of money. O’Connell said signing Carter is like having an additional draft pick.
The Vikings kept Vilain as a fifth edge rusher on the roster in 2022, proving that they see something in him. Unfortunately, those credits went out of the window when defensive coordinator Ed Dontell was fired. It remains to be seen if Flores is also high on him.
No matter how high the Vikings are on the three players, they are unlikely to suddenly become starting-caliber players. An early draft selection of an edge rusher, an expensive free agent addition, or the costly contract extension of Hunter or Davenport is a necessity because every defense needs a solid pass rush to function, especially those with a shaky secondary.
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