As we start OTAs and move further away from both the initial wave of free agency and the draft, we see there are still plenty of veteran players on the market who could potentially make an impact if they end up in the right situation.
The Vikings could have potentially taken advantage of Atkins being a cap casualty before free agency started. But that was before they ended up signing Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency and adding Jaylen Twyman in the draft. Both players are expected to play the 3-tech, Atkins’ position with the Cincinnati Bengals.
While the possibility of Atkins potentially landing a starting position with the Vikings is out the window, a reunion with his former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could still happen. Minnesota will still have around $14 million to spend after June 1. The only question that would remain would be if a move for Atkins would be worth it.
The Case to Bring Atkins in
The Vikings upgraded the interior defensive line with Tomlinson set to play the 3-tech position beside Michael Pierce, but both of these players have little experience when it comes to rushing the passer. Tomlinson played primarily as a nose tackle during his time with the Giants and was brought in to help Pierce stuff the run to prevent another game where an opposing team runs all over the defense.
While you might not be getting the same Atkins that you saw early in his career, he still has plenty to offer. His play last season looks underwhelming — he only had one tackle and no sacks in eight games — but he played through a torn labrum for those eight games and never played more than 19 snaps a game. While he might not be an every-down player at this stage in his career, he could be a high-end rotational pass rusher and substitute in for either Pierce or Tomlinson in obvious passing situations.
The Vikings drafted Twyman in the sixth round this season and still have James Lynch on the roster, but Atkins could serve as a high-end bridge player who can teach the younger players the game’s nuances. The Vikings effectively did the same thing with Patrick Peterson. They signed a Pro-Bowl caliber player who is just outside of his prime to potentially recapture some of his form with a change of scenery and teach some of the younger players.
Atkins would likely sign an affordable deal to be both a mentor to the younger 3-techs and an essential member of a rotation that looks to revamp a defensive line that finished 28th in sacks and had a pressure rate of just 21.6%.
The Case Against Atkins
Akins, 33, is no longer the same player he once was. Even when you look past this season that was cut short due to injury, he only recorded 4.5 sacks in 2019, his lowest total since 2014. A combination of both age and injuries forced the once-dominant 3-tech to regress to just another overpaid pass rusher who saw himself on the wrong side of roster cuts this offseason.
Atkins could surely add wisdom to the young interior defensive line, but the money that the Vikings would use to sign him could be better used in other places. While expectations are high for Ihmir Smith-Marsette, I would be shocked to see him take over the WR3 spot immediately and could benefit from having someone like Dede Westbrook split the load with him. Even given the legal trouble that Jeff Gladney has found himself in, the Vikings could use the money they have to add more secondary depth in the form of Bashaud Breeland, who has already met with the Vikings.
They could also use the money internally to lock up either Harrison Smith or Danielle Hunter long-term and solidify their status for the oncoming seasons. Given the fact that both Pierce and Tomlinson were the “big-ticket items” in back-to-back offseasons, you really would wonder how much more does this team needs to invest in the interior defensive line. While the thought of bringing in a big name like Atkins is very tempting, it is essential to remember that he isn’t the same player that he once was.
Atkins would add a great rotational piece to the defensive line if he can bounce back from the injury he sustained last season. He could also serve as a great mentor to the young 3-techs on the roster, helping them elevate their game. But before the Vikings commit to adding him in the locker room, they should consider that their money might be better spent elsewhere.