Predictions for the Vikings’ OLB Group

Vikings Free Agent Signings
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Following up on my previous article that examined the other positions on defense, consider my predictions for the Vikings’ OLB group as a whole.

Predictions for the Vikings’ OLB Group

The Vikings have been blessed with top-level players on the edge over the last 15 seasons. From Jared Allen to Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, and a cameo from Za’Darius Smith, there has been at least one elite pass-rusher prowling the edge for the Vikings.

As it stands, the Vikings have just Patrick Jones and Andre Carter on the books for 2024. Of course, that will change, but how do the Vikings go about it? The options are plentiful, with the chance to bring back pending free agents, sign players in free agency, and look at adding from the draft. Much like Kirk Cousins and the QB decision, there is a major elephant in the room on defense. A decision that will shape how the Vikings approach how they build their defense this offseason. What to do with No. 99?

Danielle Hunter 

In an ideal world, the Vikings bring back Hunter and keep the man who sits third on the Vikings’ all-time sack leaderboard with 87.5. A new contract would put second-place Chris Doleman (96.5) in his sights this season, and a long-term deal would give him the chance to chase down John Randle (114) and top the list.

OLB Group
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports.

The issue is money. Hunter’s five-year, $72 million deal signed back in 2018 has seen him criminally underpaid since proving his fitness after a career-threatening neck injury in 2020. Hunter turns 30 during the season and should be looking to cash in on a big deal following an excellent 2023 season. With just shy of $15 million in dead money against the cap already for 2024, that inhibits the chance of striking a deal. It doesn’t make it impossible, and I expect Minnesota to try to bring Hunter back but ultimately fail.

Prediction: Hunter signs 3-year, $65 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams

Marcus Davenport and DJ Wonnum

Minnesota has their other two main pass rushers also heading to free agency. Marcus Davenport’s one-year prove-it deal didn’t work. He had his worst season ever for injuries — the knock against him coming in — playing in only four games. Davenport has the talent but must take a prove-it deal on even less money this year. So, most likely somewhere else.

A fourth-round pick back in 2020, DJ Wonnum has been a mid-round success story. He is a capable rotation player who won’t disappoint you if he has to step in as a starter — something he has done 31 times in four seasons. Bringing back Wonnum to continue his role on the defense makes sense to me, especially if Hunter and Davenport wind up leaving town.

Prediction: Wonnum re-signs on a 2-year, $9 million deal. Davenport sits on the shelf until a team becomes desperate and gives him a one-year flier.

Free Agent Signings

No Hunter means the Vikings need to make moves in free agency. The good news is it’s a deep class, although I don’t think the top players — Chris Jones, Josh Allen, Brian Burns — will be available, there is still plenty to choose from after them, even if you discount players north of 30, which I am doing with the assumption Minnesota is continuing its plan of getting younger.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (43) and linebacker David Long Jr., rear, celebrate a sack against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Dec. 24, 2023. © Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK.

There are three players around the $15 million a year range: Bryce Huff, Jonathan Greenard, and Chase Young. These would be significant signings and players expected to lead the pass rush. Alternatively, there is a group of players who would command half the price but are still good players who would particularly thrive in a rotation. These players include Josh Uche, Andrew Van Ginkel, AJ Epenesa, Dorance Armstrong, Mike Danna, and Derek Barnett. I favor double dipping from this category, getting two good players instead of one.

Prediction: Minnesota signs Andrew Van Ginkel to a 2-year, $14 million contract and AJ Epenesa to a 3-year, $20 million.

The Draft 

What the Vikings do in the drafts hinges on what they do at the QB position. If Cousins doesn’t re-sign, then the Vikings must address the position with their first-round pick.

If Cousins does come back, they may still draft a quarterback, but there is flexibility, with the defensive line the next obvious place to go. If it’s EDGE in the first, the Vikings will likely have the pick off the board with all the top EDGE defenders currently projected to be available at 11. Minnesota could take their pick from Dallas Turner, Laiatu Latu, and Jared Verse — potentially getting a top-level starter from the jump.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports.

Assuming the Vikings still have their second-round pick, good options may be available in the second round. Players like Chop Robinson, Bralen Trice, Adisa Isaac, Darius Robinson, and Jonah Ellis. After that, it’s taking a shot at someone on Day 3 who is more likely to be a project-type player.

Prediction: Minnesota will draft Darius Robinson in the second round.

The Final OLB Group

  • Andrew Van Ginkel
  • AJ Epenesa
  • DJ Wonnum
  • Darius Robinson
  • Andre Carter

I choose Andre Carter to be the fifth player ahead of Patrick Jones. Carter is the younger player with more room to develop further while also being the cheaper option. The Vikings can save $1.3 million by cutting Jones.

There might not be a superstar in that group, but it’s a good group of players with whom Flores should be able to work well.