Ex-Vikings Starter Heads to New England

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It has been a tumultuous offseason for the Minnesota Vikings, which should’ve been expected with quarterback Kirk Cousins hitting free agency. As the top domino to fall, he joins the Atlanta Falcons to pursue the NFC South title. Minnesota, meanwhile, is trying to keep the ship going with Sam Darnold under center, hoping he can be better than in his previous stints because of the wonderful surroundings. A rookie should challenge him for the starting gig soon, though.

Ex-Vikings Starter Heads to New England

Ex-Vikings Starter Heads to New England
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On the defensive side of the ball, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has made some key investments to reinforce the shaky defensive personnel. Adding starters Blake Cashman, Jonathan Greenard, and Andrew Van Ginkel will help defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

A former Vikings defender who was axed by Adofo-Mensah in 2022 is Armon Watts. The defensive tackle is now moving to New England, joining the new Patriots regime in their first year sans Bill Belichick, according to Tom Pelissero.

His Vikings story is incredible, and it started in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. Watts was picked number 190, and the Arkansas product became the newest Viking. The defensive tackle made the team and appeared in seven games during his debut season, starting one contest. In his first career game, Watts sacked quarterback Dak Prescott (combined with Everson Griffen).

Vikings Defense
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After playing 121 defensive snaps in 2019, Watts more than tripled that in 2020, earning a much bigger role in Mike Zimmer’s defense, which looked like a skeleton crew up front following the departure of Linval Joseph and Michael Pierce opting out.

Watts started nine contests in his third season with the Vikings but played in all 17. He played 670 snaps, virtually starter numbers on the defensive line, and everyone thought he did pretty well, as he recorded five sacks.

That’s why he was a penciled-in starter when Ed Donatell arrived in 2022. Folks were excited to see if he could take another step in his development. However, Minnesota decided to part ways with the fourth-year player on cutdown day and waived him. Shocking news.

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Watts spent his 2022 season with the Chicago Bears, starting 12 games and logging 532 plays in 17 contests. Last season, the Steelers hired the defender and he appeared in 15 games and 273 snaps.

Considering his late-round draft status, Watts has undoubtedly exceeded expectations. Throughout his five-year career, the now 27-year-old has played 1,988 snaps on defense in 72 games and collected 8.5 sacks and 140 tackles.

Minnesota traded for Ross Blacklock in 2022, who was a disaster. Jonathan Bullard has done a solid job as a veteran depth option in the last two seasons, and he will return in 2024. Then, there was a one-year experiment with Dean Lowry.

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Watts’ release is still a shocker. It was a strange decision, considering how easily he continues to find jobs in the league without any stints on practice squads while the Vikings can’t fix their defensive line struggles.

Watts played 40 games in three seasons with the Vikings, and it is fair to wonder what he could’ve done under Mike Zimmer’s and defensive line coach Andre Patterson’s continued tutelage.

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