The Vikings Can Improve the Defense and Save Money with 3 Moves

2 Intriguing Players
Jan 22, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) looks on during warmups before an AFC divisional round game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings had one glaring weakness in the 2022 season – the defense. Ed Donatell, the defensive coordinator, lost his job because the unit played a leading role in the loss to the Giants in the wild-card round. Throughout the season, only one team allowed more yards than the purple team, and only two allowed more points.

The cornerbacks played solid football, and the defensive line was reliable. However, the Vikings had a huge problem in the middle of the defense. Signing a new linebacker could help get rid of that flaw.

The Vikings Can Improve the Defense and Save Money with 3 Moves

The Vikings Can Improve the Defense and Save Money with 3 Moves
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) react after New York Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios (10) drops a touchdown pass late during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

At first, it’s necessary to find the problems of the horrendous defense. One issue is the lack of speed at the linebacker positions. Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks are both on the wrong side of 30 year age mark. The two players will turn 31 years old before the next season begins. While they are smart players with a ton of experience, age is a problem, as athleticism generally diminishes in the late 20s and even more after turning 30.

Speed in the middle of the defense was a big problem in the Vikings unit. Linebackers must be fast enough to get to the ball carrier in time. That’s where the expression “sideline-to-sideline linebacker” comes from. They also have to be fast enough to help in run support in the middle of the field and, in case of a passing play, get into the flat and cover slot receivers and running backs. Hicks and Kendricks struggled with that.

1 Vikings Offseason Theory
Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Despite all of that, the two players have a big cap hit. Kendricks is entering the final year of his five-year $50,000,000 contract. The former second-round pick was a fantastic player in his prime, which ended arguably a year ago. Therefore, his contract was relatively cheap most of the time. In 2023, his cap hit is $11,430,000, a large number for the cap-strapped Vikings, but only $1,930,000 is a dead cap hit.

The purple team could save $9,500,000 by releasing their longtime star. That number comes from base salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus that would no longer have to be paid if the defender was not on the team.

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hicks’ numbers are not that high. The linebacker signed a two-year $10 million contract in last year’s free agency. Minnesota backloaded his cap hit, so he counts $6,500,000 against the books in 2023, but only $1,500,000 of that is a dead cap hit. The Vikings can save $5,000,000 in cap space by releasing Hicks.

Releasing both players would save general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah $14,500,000 cap space. Of course, then the team had to find new starters at the positions. One is already on the roster. Adofo-Mensah selected linebacker Brian Asamoah in the third round in last year’s draft. He possesses the speed the two older guys lack and showed flashes of excellence in his limited snaps in 2022.

Kevin O'Connell Hints More
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) leaps over the celebration pile late during the fourth quarter after an interception by safety Camryn Bynum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Asamoah received more playing time at the end of the year, as the team clearly saw his potential and impact even in his rookie campaign. He played on 119 defensive snaps and 285 special team snaps. Asamoah recorded 17 tackles and was credited with one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He even forced another fumble against the Colts, but the referees called the play dead before the hit.

The 2022 rookie is the obvious replacement for one of the two linebackers, but the spot next to him should be filled with a free agent. One player, in particular, could help the defense gain some respect.

Jan 8, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) against the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills defender Tremaine Edmunds is set to enter free agency once his rookie contract expires in a few weeks. Despite playing for five years in the NFL, Edmunds is only 24 years old. His birthday is in May. He was the youngest player in his draft class and the second youngest to be drafted in NFL history at 19 years, 11 months 24 days old.

Edmunds was the 16th overall pick out of Virginia Tech in the 2018 draft class. The Bills had to trade up to be in a position to select their target. Edmunds started in Week 1 of his rookie campaign despite his young age. The linebacker is a natural leader. He was chosen as team captain in his second season.

In his career, Edmunds started all 74 games he appeared in and recorded an outstanding 565 tackles. In eight postseason games, Edmunds added 71 tackles. He also had a total of 34 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and 23 quarterback hits.

Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) tackles Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) on a run in the first quarter of the NFL divisional playoff football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bengals led 17-7 at halftime. Cincinnati Bengals At Buffalo Bills Afc Divisional Jan 22 463

His biggest strength is athleticism. Edmunds starred at the NFL Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. He has always been excellent in run support and as a pass rusher, but in 2022, Edmunds improved tremendously in pass coverage, making him one of the most complete linebackers in football.

PFF graded him as the fifth-best linebacker in the league in 2022 out of 81 eligible players. For comparison, Hicks and Kendricks ranked 34th and 50th, respectively.

Of course, a player of his caliber enters free agency with a hefty price tag. Spotrac set his market value at $11,000,000 per season. That would still be $3,500,000 less than the Vikings could save in cap space by releasing Hicks and Kendricks.

Bills Tremaine Edmunds is congratulated by fans as he leaves the field after Buffalo beat Miami 32-29 to clinch a playoff berth. Ag3i6335

Even if Edmunds costs a couple of million a year more, the Vikings will get faster, younger, better, and cheaper by playing him and Asamoah instead of the two veterans. His contract is predicted to be a $44,000,000 deal for four seasons. He would still be just 28 years old when the deal expires, and the Vikings could have a top linebacker in his prime without having to take the risk of declining athleticism.

The Vikings could even play around with the contract structure and make it cheaper in the first year to get under the cap limit. Currently, the Vikings are more than $20,000,000 over the cap but could save money by restructuring deals and releasing aging veterans that underperformed.

Signing Edmunds would be a massive step in fixing the defense and could even help save cap space.

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