The Minnesota Vikings didn’t have a lot of cap space to work with this offseason but were still able to make some signings to improve their team. They primarily used the draft to bring in new, young talent and will be counting on many first-year players to improve both sides of the ball in 2020.
After looking at their moves in free agency and the draft, did the Vikings do enough to improve the defensive side of the football?
the moves they made IN FREE AGENCY
The Vikings did sign a few defensive free agents this offseason. The biggest one (both literally and figuratively) was Michael Pierce from Baltimore. The team had cut Linval Joseph prior to the start of free agency and signed the big man to be his replacement as the primary run stuffer. While Pierce is younger and healthier, it’s fair to question whether or not this is an upgrade. Over the last four seasons, Joseph has outproduced “The Juggernaut.” Joseph has 247 tackles to Pierce’s 151, 20 TFLs to Pierce’s 13 and 11.5 sacks to just 3.5.
The difference in the scheme could be an argument made by Pierce supporters, but it is quite the dip in production. The Vikings also brought in a journeyman defensive end in Anthony Zettel. This was a very underwhelming signing as he has only had one productive season in the NFL, and that was back in 2017 when he had 6.5 sacks for the Lions. Since then he’s had just 26 total tackles, and played very sparingly. The Vikings also brought in a linebacker from the XFL in Demarquis Gates, but he isn’t expected to be much more than a camp body.
The moves they could’ve made in free agency
The Vikings cut Xavier Rhodes early in the offseason, a move that had to happen. He had progressively gotten worse the last two seasons and was getting targeted heavily by opposing teams. Rhodes also was getting paid much more than he was worth, making the cut a no brainer type of move. The team also lost Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency, but despite these losses, they failed to bring in a veteran corner. There were plenty of options available like Nickell Robey-Coleman, Ronald Darby, Jimmy Smith and Eli Apple, to name a few.
What was the most surprising about the Vikings not going after one of these players was the price tag they were signing for. Darby signed a one-year, $3 million dollar with the Eagles, Apple went for the same, and Jimmy Smith went for just a bit more to the Ravens. Robey-Coleman was signed for less than half of that.
The Vikings, even with their dire cap situation, could’ve afforded one of these deals. The Vikings were easily in need of a veteran cornerback more than they were a run-stuffing nose tackle, and signing Michael Pierce instead of bringing in a veteran cover man could end up being the team’s biggest regret this year.
The team also could’ve tried harder to bring back Everson Griffen. After the longtime Viking captain opted out of his contract, there was plenty of optimism that he’d re-sign with the team. The talks apparently broke down and Griffen made it known his time in Minnesota was over. The team instead signed the journeyman Zettel for depth behind Ifeadi Odenigbo and Danielle Hunter.
Yes, Griffen is 32 years old and entering the end of his great career, but he showed a season ago that he has plenty of football left in him. The Vikings are taking a huge gamble that their starters don’t get hurt. Otherwise, it’ll be Zettel or an unproven rookie starting, and that is no doubt a major downgrade from a season ago.
defensive additions in the Draft
The Vikings were clearly aware of their issue at cornerback heading into the draft. They used two of their first four choices on the position, taking Jeff Gladney in the first round and Cameron Dantzler in the third. The team also added to their defense heavily in the fourth round by taking defensive end D.J. Wonnum, defensive tackle James Lynch and linebacker Troy Dye. Despite having no depth, the team waited until the end of the sixth round to take a safety in Michigan’s Josh Metellus.
While the Vikings were lauded for the choices and value they found in the draft, the team is taking some risks here. They are banking on young players like Gladney and Dantzler to have prominent roles as rookies. It is always difficult for young players to make an impact early, but this year it will be been even tougher. COVID-19 has caused the cancellations of OTAs and mini-camps, and while these players have all taken part in virtual learning, that’s a lot different from being on the field getting hands-on coaching from the defensive staff.
The Vikings are also taking a chance on their depth at various positions. They have unproven and inexperienced rookies as the primary backups at safety, cornerback and potentially defensive end. If these young players don’t progress quickly and are forced into action early in the season, the Vikings defense could take a major step backward.
did the vikings do enough to improve their defense?
The Minnesota Vikings are clearly going with a youth movement on defense this season. Their entire cornerback group is made up of inexperienced players and rookies. They are also gambling that their starters don’t get hurt, as much of their depth is made up of players who haven’t played a down in the NFL.
While the Vikings stayed the same at many positions on their defense, it’s hard to say that they actually got better this offseason. Some can argue that going with anyone at corner over Rhodes is an improvement, and that could be right. However, their depth is much worse across the board than it was last year, and the young cornerback group could struggle before they jell. The moves the Vikings made to their defense could eventually be seen as major improvements a few years down the road, but 2020 could be a season of growing pains if these young players are slow to adjust to the NFL.