Vikings Continue to Bolster Pass Rush

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It’s been a busy free agency period for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Minnesota’s general manager in his third season in charge of the franchise. He had to watch Danielle Hunter and Kirk Cousins exit the building for the final time but had some money to spend to find their replacements and he surely is looking forward to the draft as he is expected to choose a quarterback.

Vikings Continue to Bolster Pass Rush

Vikings Continue to Bolster Pass Rush
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The three major free agency signings are Aaron Jones, a former Packers running back who is an immediate help for the catastrophic running attack, and the pass-rushing duo Andrew Van Ginkel and Jonathan Greenard who will replace the departed Hunter, Marcus Davenport, and D.J. Wonnum.

Outside linebacker is a crucial position and having depth is vital. On Wednesday, the Vikings acquired a third pass-rusher. Veteran Jihad Ward will wear the purple jersey in 2024, according to the Vikings.

It was reported on Tuesday that Ward would visit the Vikings and the franchise made sure he wouldn’t leave without a deal. Ward had his most productive season in 2023, his second one with the Giants.

A second-round pick out of Illinois, Ward couldn’t live up to the expectations in Oakland where he spent the first two seasons of his career before the Cowboys traded for him but he was waived without ever playing for them.

East Rutherford, NJ August 26, 2023 — Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers argues with Jihad Ward of the Giants in the first half. The NY Jets against the NY Giants on August 26, 2023, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, as the rivals play their final preseason game before the start of the NFL season.

He then had a brief stint with the Colts, followed by almost two years with the Ravens and a full season in Jacksonville’s disastrous 2021 campaign which included head coach Urban Meyer and his dysfunctional tenure. In his last two years, Ward enjoyed a late-career boom, recording eight of his 18 career sacks.

The 29-year-old has played 102 career games with 35 starts. His numbers show 18 sacks, 158 combined tackles, 24 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.

The Giants website lists Ward at 6’5″ and 285 lbs. He is huge for a 3-4 outside linebacker and could be an occasional asset as an interior pass-rusher, an area in which the Vikings need help. With the Giants, Ward primarily rushed from the outside.

Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Patrick Jones II (91) during their football game on Sunday, January, 1, 2023 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

At the outside linebacker spots, Minnesota also employs depth options, Andre Carter and Patrick Jones. The former is still waiting for his first sack, as he only recorded two tackles in 68 defensive snaps in 2023. Coming out of the Army, a slow career start was expected, but the physical upside is why the purple team kept him on the roster.

Jones, meanwhile, has tabulated five sacks through 42 games in three campaigns. He played 635 defensive snaps last season because injuries limited Davenport for the majority of the season and in addition to that, Wonnum missed the final two contests. The Pittsburgh product hasn’t improved much over the years, so adding another depth option is reasonable.

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports.

Just last season, Ward contributed a career-best five sacks, 24 tackles, and five tackles for loss. He will likely be a rotational defender in Minnesota’s defensive front behind Van Ginkel and Greenard. On occasion, all three could be on the field at the same time, especially on obvious passing downs. Having a bigger pass-rusher gives Brian Flores even more flexibility.

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