Assessing the Vikings LB Situation
As we head towards the 2023 regular season, there are differing opinions on what the Minnesota Vikings should do on the offensive side of the ball. People have a range of ideas for what the purple team needs to do at quarterback, wide receiver, running back, and offensive line.
However, there is unity in need for improvement on defense, especially with the Vikings linebacker situation.
The Vikings have issues to fix all over the defense. There’s no bonafide CB1 on the roster. Potential exists among their secondary ranks — Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth, Akayleb Evans — but it’s only potential at this stage. There is also a need for some interior pass rush to help out the “Edge Department” if the Vikings indeed look to move forward with Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith.
But the area of the defense that struggled the most last season was linebacker.
Assessing the Vikings LB Situation
In Ed Donatell’s defensive scheme, the Vikings linebackers were tasked with patrolling the middle as a duo. The starting tandem of Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks wasn’t up to the task. Both have been good players. Indeed, Kendricks was a first-team All-Pro in 2019. However, both will be 31 and their careers are on the decline. The time might be right to move on.
The feeling last season was the Vikings needed to get younger, faster, and more athletic at the linebacker position. Of course, Donatell was relieved of his duties after one season in Minnesota, and Brian Flores is the new defensive coordinator. The former Dolphins head coach is tasked with turning a lackluster outfit around, but what does that mean when assessing the Vikings linebacker situation? Does Flores see value in experienced men? Can he get more out of them than Donatell did?
Then the big question — are they worth the big cap hits? Both Kendricks and Hicks are in the last year of their contract and carry a cap hit of $11.43 million and $6.5 million, respectively. Of that, only $1.93 million (Kendricks) and $1.5 million (Hicks) is dead money. For a team that needs to find $24 million just to break even and then more to fill numerous holes on the roster, the prospect of moving on from two aging players and saving $14.5 million must be enticing.
The Future at Linebacker
Brian Asamoah is penciled in as the future at linebacker after flashing in a disappointingly low number of opportunities. He showed the speed and athleticism the Vikings lacked and could well be the man to start next to one of Kendricks, Hicks, or somebody new.
A third-round pick last year, he has the pedigree and apparently the belief of the Vikings organization. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Kevin O’Connell, and his new DC Flores have mentioned his name when talking about young players they are excited about.
Behind Asamoah, the Vikings have Troy Dye who enters his fourth season as a Viking and will be in the last year of his rookie contract. This may well be his last year in Minnesota, but as a depth player with special teams upside, he likely makes the roster, especially with special teams stalwarts Kris Boyd out of contract and C.J. Ham a possible cap casualty.
Then, there’s William Kwenkeu, who the Vikings picked up last year after the Cameroonian went undrafted. Kwenkeu impressed enough to make his way onto the roster and played in six games. He got playing time on defense in the season finale against Chicago, tallying 2 tackles including a tackle for loss. He’s a player I’m interested to see develop and could be the surprise of the season.
This is a good year to be looking for an off-ball linebacker in free agency. There is an abundance of talent in what might be the most stacked position group in this year’s FA.
The Vikings would have to do something drastic to find the money for top-end talent like Tremaine Edmunds, David Long, or TJ Edwards. However, there’s plenty of talent after that who could be more in the Vikings price range, and allow them to get younger at the position — players like Germaine Pratt, Bobby Okereke, Leighton Vander Esch, and Drue Tranquill.
The other option is to use the draft, perhaps using a Day 2 pick on a linebacker prospect, who can compete for a starting spot. Someone like Trenton Simpson, Noah Sewell, Drew Sanders, or Henry To’o To’o would be good options. Which way the Vikings decide to go will depend on how much cap space they are able to free up, and how best they deem to use that space.
When assessing the Vikings linebacker situation, I like the route of an FA acquisition at linebacker to partner with Asamoah. Then, use a Day 3 draft pick to add to the ranks, leaving days 1 and 2 for more premium positions like cornerback or wide receiver.
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