Don't Overlook the Todd Davis Signing For the Vikings

Photo Credit: Mark Konezny (USA Today Sports)

It’s rare that a team can swing a midseason signing for a four-year starter and former Super Bowl champion, yet that’s exactly what the Vikings did Thursday by signing Todd Davis, a 28-year-old that played six seasons with the Denver Broncos.

The Vikings are hurting at linebacker. Anthony Barr just underwent season-ending surgery on a torn pectoral, rookie Troy Dye is on injured reserve, Ben Gedeon is on the PUP, and Cameron Smith had season-ending open-heart surgery. Minnesota was one injury away from giving significant snaps to Ryan Connelly or Hardy Nickerson. While Davis becomes a useful security blanket, he’s more than just a warm body. The Vikings received a positive report on Davis from Broncos personnel, as well as former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak.

“Todd is a fine player,” said Kubiak, the current Vikings offensive coordinator. “When I had him in ’15, he was a special teams player for me and a captain for me from that standpoint. The next year he became a starter for me and a really good player. … I think the world of Todd. Great kid.”

Presumably, Davis will be a specialized run-stopper, which the team lacks without Barr or Gedeon. In three of his four seasons as a starter with Denver, Davis finished with a top 16 tackling grade, per Pro Football Focus. He tallied 152 run stops during that four-year run, and finished top three in fewest missed tackles two of those four seasons. While he’s not going to be the savior that solves the Vikings coverage or pass rush woes, his presence may help with the porous run defense that has been a thorn in the Vikings’ side through two weeks.

2016 97 2 38th
2017 82 4 45th
2018 113 14 25th
2019 134 9 34th

Typically free agent signings in late September come with red flags. They are usually journeymen, injury prone, too old, locker room headaches, etc. On paper, Davis doesn’t seem to characterize any of those, which makes his acquisition so valuable on a cheap one-year deal.

Davis made the New Orleans Saints practice squad in 2014 as a small-school undrafted free agent and was claimed late in the season by the Broncos. Within a year, he was a special teams ace and defensive role player on a team that went on to win Super Bowl 50. From there, he started 59 of a possible 64 games over the next four seasons as an inside linebacker, earning two new contracts along the way. His early September release was surprising but made sense financially. The Broncos had executed a trade for 26-year-old Austin Calitro and saved $4.5 million by releasing Davis, who was in the final year of his deal. Davis had dealt with a minor calf injury in camp but was reportedly healthy at the time of his release.

“Just a lot of little things that added up,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said of Davis’s release. “He was a great player here for many years. We’re going to miss him.”

The Sacramento State product should have mileage left at just 28 years old. While he is the same size as Wilson — 6’1″, 230 pounds — his history as a tackling machine bodes well for him to fill a niche in Minnesota for which he is likely overqualified. Davis played in a 3-4 system with the Broncos that was more linebacker dependent than Minnesota’s 4-3. Davis played 50 snaps per game over the previous four years as a starter, and he’s unlikely to get close to that with the Vikings. But giving Davis a smaller, more specific role makes sense while Davis picks up the nuances of Zimmer’s defense. He also has a sterling special teams background, which could help him replace Dye while the rookie works through his foot injury.

Zimmer didn’t specify whether Davis would play in Week 3 after just two practices with the team, but the head coach was pleased with what he’d seen from Davis thus far.

“He’s an experienced, smart linebacker,” Zimmer said. “Played with Kubiak before. He’s fast. I’ve been very impressed with him the short time he’s been here.”

Wilson and Gedeon are free agents next spring, while Barr and Smith will be returning from season-ending surgeries. Davis could be auditioning for a second contract with the Vikings, who suddenly have uncertainty at the linebacker position.

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