Entering the spring of 2005, the Minnesota Vikings were looking to upgrade their defense. While Kevin Williams established himself as one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, he needed a partner in the middle to help the Vikings stop the run.
To speed up that process, the Vikings signed Pat Williams. As a 6’3″, 317 lb tackle, he brought eight seasons of run-stuffing expertise to Minnesota. Suddenly, the Vikings had two giant men in the middle of their defense and the “Williams Wall” was born.
When the Vikings went into free agency this season, Mike Zimmer had to be seeing visions of Pat and Kevin stuffing the run in the mid-2000s. With Dalvin Tomlinson as their top target, Zimmer is hoping that he can team with Michael Pierce to form their own wall and springboard the Vikings to a similar era of dominance.
Starting in 2006, the Vikings led the NFL in rushing yards allowed for three straight seasons. During that stretch, the Williams Wall held their opponents under 100 rushing yards in 37 of 48 games. This was in an era where running backs were considered a focal point of the offense.
The Williams Wall acted as a catalyst for the rest of the team. The Vikings added Adrian Peterson on offense in 2007 and the defense took over to help play a ’90s style of football. They added Jared Allen to a core that included Antoine Winfield, E.J. Henderson, and Brian Robison and became an attractive destination.
Brett Favre saw what was happening and forced his way to Minnesota. Favre and the Vikings went on a vengeance tour against the rest of the league with a high-powered offense and a physical defense. They finished with a 13-3 record, and the Vikings were suddenly flirting with their first Super Bowl appearance since 1977.
With the signing of Tomlinson, Zimmer is banking on the same strategy to turn the Vikings back into a championship contender.
The Vikings’ defense ranked 27th in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed last season but has some redeeming qualities. With Pierce, Anthony Barr, and Danielle Hunter all expected to return, they will have several key pieces from a defense that perennially ranked in the top-10 of the NFL.
The presence of Pierce and Tomlinson in the middle also makes the Vikings a more intriguing destination for free agents. With Harrison Smith holding down the back end, Patrick Peterson’s agent called the front office to make sure he wound up in Minnesota. And promising rookies Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, and D.J. Wonnum are expected to take a step forward, so there’s a chance the Vikings could become an even more attractive destination heading into next offseason.
This is important when considering the long-term future of the organization. When free agency started, the Vikings weren’t considered a destination team. While some of that falls on an antiquated philosophy from the head coach, part of it could fall on Kirk Cousins’ shoulders.
Cousins is better than Tarvaris Jackson, who was the starter on the 2008 team, but the Vikings could still be interested in an upgrade heading into the final year of his deal. Although Cousins’ $45 million cap hit is now guaranteed heading into 2022, that number can be changed if another team signs him to an extension upon arrival.
While there’s also the chance Cousins improves to become a late-career Rich Gannon, building a defense like the one Zimmer is envisioning has its benefits. Several quarterbacks have already filled out a change of address form this offseason, and with new names becoming available on an annual basis, they may have an opportunity to upgrade next offseason.
When Favre was available to the Vikings, they pounced. If another name becomes available in the same way that Tom Brady became available to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota could be in a similar position to strike.
There are flaws in that neither Tomlinson nor Pierce is the same pass rusher that Kevin Williams was in his prime. While there’s still work to do, that problem could be solved by adding a draft pick such as Kwitty Paye or a rotational pass rusher in free agency.
If Zimmer is correct, the Vikings’ path back to the playoffs could be shorter than we think. To help expedite the process, Zimmer has decided to build his own wall.