This Man Should Be the Main Free Agent Target for Vikings

Would Make A Lot
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

When free agency kicks off in March, Vikings fans will already know if their franchise keeps the two big ticket items, Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter, as it is unlikely that they let the contracts void just to re-sign them on worse conditions for the salary cap. But regardless of their status, Minnesota must make some smart investments to finally escape the competitive rebuild.

This Man Should Be the Main Free Agent Target for Vikings

This Man Should Be the Main Free Agent Target for Vikings
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Those investments are primarily on the defensive side of the ball, although a new running back should fit somewhere in the budget. Brian Flores, if he remains for another season with the Vikings, certainly wants help in two areas: edge rusher and defensive line. With Hunter’s looming departure and D.J. Wonnum and Marcus Davenport also scheduled to hit free agency, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must rebuild the outside linebacker group.

Another glaring need is the defensive line, as the Vikings lack competent players besides Harrison Phillips, who quietly had a decent season. Flores could turn to one of his old companions to fill the hole as Dolphins’ lineman Christian Wilkins will hit the open market in March, barring a contract extension or the franchise tag.

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Wilkins came into the league in 2019, the same draft that sent Garrett Bradbury to Minnesota a handful of picks later. Coming out of Clemon’s national title team led by freshman Trevor Lawrence, Wilkins had a key role on the defense. That group also featured first-rounders Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Isaiah Simmons, and A.J. Terrell.

Miami had just hired a new head coach, you guessed it, former Patriots linebackers coach Flores. With his first selection, he brought Wilkins to the organization. Through five seasons in Miami, Wilkins played in 81 games, registering 355 total tackles, 43 tackles for loss, and 20.5 sacks. Not missing a single game in three straight years is also noteworthy and will boost his value.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) tries to elude the pressure of Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (94) during the first half of an NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Dec. 17, 2023.

The defensive tackle is just coming off his most productive season, in which he collected nine sacks. That is interesting for Minnesota, as the Vikings have by far the worst interior pass rush in the league. Phillips is a run-stopper and the other guys–Jonathan Bullard, Dean Lowry, Jaquelin Roy, Khyiris Tonga–are both focused on the run and lack the talent to rack up big sack numbers. In addition to providing some pass rush, Wilkins is also a phenomenal run defender.

A new lineman is a top need. Surely, the Vikings could use a draft pick on the position, but linemen usually need some time to develop, and rookies can rarely provide immediate help in their first season. Well, this is where Wilkins enters the conversation.

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He was Flores’ draft pick, played under him for three seasons, and the two developed respect for each other. When Flores was surprisingly fired, Wilkins said:

The thing he preached the most, the thing that is going to stick with me in my head for forever is the mindset of ‘one day at a time, one play at a time.’ That is obviously something he was big on. That’s always something I’m going to remember, just that mindset that he instilled into all of us, instilled into me for my three years working with him which was an honor.

Like I said, I think he’s a great coach and a great man and a great person. Just things like that and earning respect; you’re going to have to earn it every day. It’s a week-by-week thing in this league and he just taught me a lot, really. As a coach, he could really coach football well and like I said, I got a lot of respect for him.

Christian Wilkins

Pro Football Focus graded Wilkins as the 23rd-best of 131 eligible defensive linemen in the NFL. He ranked 9th in 2022 and 6th in Flores’ final season in 2021.

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There’s no doubt that Wilkins would upgrade the line in Minnesota, but what would it cost? Defensive tackles have been much more valued recently, and last year, former Viking Dalvin Tomlinson and 49ers signee Javon Hargrave signed huge deals. An annual salary of $20 million is possible for the 28-year-old.

However, he wouldn’t be the first player to sign for less money to reunite with a former coach, and the impact of a good defensive tackle on a defense is well-documented. Paired with a duo of pass-rushers, perhaps the Vikings could use a draft pick to bolster the group or keep two of their free agents; it could be enough to turn the defense around in Flores’ second season.

Unless the Dolphins use the franchise tag, the Vikings should pursue the pending free agent, regardless of the potentially hefty price tag.

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