Panthers Sign Former Vikings Defender

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The Minnesota Vikings have lost a pair of significant contributors on defense in the 2024 offseason. Danielle Hunter, formerly drafted by Rick Spielman in the third round of the 2015 draft, left to join his hometown Houston Texans. Linebacker Jordan Hicks, meanwhile, headed to the Cleveland Browns to play behind Dalvin Tomlinson, who made a similar move just last year.

Panthers Sign Former Vikings Defender

vikings defender
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Hunter and Hicks are the major departures in Brian Flores’ unit, but the group’s overhaul didn’t stop there. In addition to Hunter, his complementary pass-rushers Marcus Davenport and D.J. Wonnum found new homes. The former will face the Vikings twice in 2024 as he signed with the Detroit Lions. Wonnum was acquired by the Panthers, who now added T.J. Smith to their roster.

The defensive tackle attended the University of Arkansas for four years. In the 2020 draft, Smith went undrafted and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers, where he spent the entire rookie season on their practice squad. He was cut before the 2021 campaign began.

What Folks Craved from Irv Smith, They're Getting from the New Guy.
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A few months later, the Mike Zimmer-led Vikings added him to their practice squad. The new regime kept him around for two more seasons, but he never jumped onto the 53-man roster, which is unusual. Regardless, Minnesota elevated him a few times to the gameday roster. The defender appeared in four games with the purple team and tabulated 11 tackles. Smith logged 86 defensive snaps and 22 more on special teams in those four contests.

The Vikings took an interesting approach in the offseason to repair a broken defensive line. They parted ways with most of their defensive line players. Harrison Phillips and Jaquelin Roy were the only defensive linemen on the roster for a while after Dean Lowry was released.

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In free agency, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah targeted former Dolphins defender Christian Wilkins, who signed a huge contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. He also missed out on guys like Arik Armstead and D.J. Reader before finding a pair of veterans willing to support Phillips on the defensive line.

Those signings were underwhelming, considering the initial targets. Jerry Tillery, a former first-rounder, will provide some much-needed pass-rush, and Jonah Williams played next to Aaron Donald last year without making much of an impact. Tillery is certainly the player with more upside, and he played well last season with the Raiders, although he hasn’t lived up to his draft status.

Levi Drake Rodriguez
Levi Drake Rodriguez. Image Courtesy of The Vikings drafted Drake Rodriguez in Round 7 of the 2024 NFL Draft, and he’ll compete for a roster spot this summer.

The Vikings were reportedly in the market to draft Byron Murphy, but they added quarterback J.J. McCarthy with their first pick and traded up right after Murphy was taken to select Dallas Turner. Because the team didn’t hold a pick in rounds two and three and selected cornerback Khyree Jackson with the fourth-rounder, the only defensive lineman drafted by Minnesota was seventh-rounder Levi Drake Rodriguez out of Texas A&M Commerce. Tyler Manoa and Taki Taimani were signed as UDFAs, and Jonathan Bullard was re-signed.

It remains to be seen if the overhauled line is actually improved. On paper, it is still one of the team’s weak spots.

Smith will join Adam Thielen, Xavier Woods, Mike Boone, D.J. Wonnum, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Luiji Vilain.

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