A Season-Ending Defensive Injury — What It Means for The Vikings

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings encountered their first tangible bout with adversity Thursday night, losing defensive tackle James Lynch to a torn ACL for the 2023 season.

The franchise found Lynch in Round 4 of the 2020 NFL Draft, and the young defender looked promising at times during the last three seasons. But injuries like Thursday’s are nothing new for Lynch.

A Season-Ending Defensive Injury — What It Means for Vikings

And with the Vikings regular season 36 days away, here’s what Lynch’s absence means for the 2023 season.

1. Bullard, Blacklock Safer on the Roster Bubble

Ending Defensive
Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

These are the Vikings non-nose-tackle DTs at the moment:

  • Harrison Phillips
  • Dean Lowry
  • James Lynch*
  • Jonathan Bullard
  • Ross Blacklock
  • Esezi Otomewo
  • Junior Aho
    *Injured for 2023 Season (Torn ACL)

Minnesota will likely keep about five of these men for the regular season roster, and Lynch’s exit from the 2023 gameplan substantially enhances the roster safety for Jonathan Bullard and Ross Blacklock. Before Thursday, one might argue one or both were firmly on the roster bubble.

Now, out of necessity, someone is more inclined to make the 53-man cutoff, and Bullard probably lives in the driver’s seat. Lynch wasn’t entirely on track to start — those roles are trending for Phillips and Lowry — but would’ve experienced ample playing time without the ACL tear.

Long story short? Next man up — Bullard or Blacklock.

2. A Free Agent like Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh Heads Eastward
Kyle Zedaker/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports.

If the Vikings staff is not encouraged, though, by Bullard or Blacklock, it will have to explore free agency or the trade market for a replacement.

Naturally, because of the free-agent interest last summer, Suh is the wisest choice. On June 21st, 2022 — so, 13.5 months ago — USA Today’s Tyler Dragon tweeted, “There is mutual interest between the Raiders and Ndamukong Suh, per a source. Another team to keep an eye on is the Vikings. The Raiders and Vikings have both had multiple conversations with the free-agent DT.”

The deal in Minnesota never materialized, and Suh joined the Eagles.

Fast forward to May of this year, and Suh told NFL Total Access, “I have no desire to be in a training camp. I will come in and watch and look and give some advice, but when Week 1 happens, I’ll be ready.”

The Vikings leadership regime from last summer is the same now, meaning a free-agent relationship with Suh could still make sense. In fact, losing a DT like Lynch seems to flash in bright lights the likelihood of exploring Suh’s availability.

3. Brutal for Lynch

Vikings Week 17 Final Injury Report
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

Like several Vikings players, including Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, and K.J. Osborn, among others, 2023 is a contract year for Lynch. Thursday’s news is devastating individually for the Baylor alumnus.

He’ll now rehab for the next 12 months and prepare for the 2024 campaign, whether with the Vikings or a different NFL team. Thankfully for his sake, Lynch is 24 and doesn’t turn 25 until January. But this season, his final on paper in Minnesota, was his chance to break out and secure a second contract.

That will have to wait.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.