The Zimmer era in the Twin Cities has been an interesting saga in Minnesota Vikings history, to say the least. For whatever reason, the team performs among the best in the league during odd-numbered years, while on even-numbered years they couldn’t be more painful to watch. In fact, during the 2015, 2017 and 2019 seasons Minnesota ranked fifth, first, and fifth respectively in scoring defense.
So, to all those Vikings fans who believe in superstitions, you’re in luck! Zimmer will have this defense whipped back into shape, so you can stop reading here and drink the purple Kool-Aid.
Alright, now that they’re gone it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. Minnesota’s defense was horrendous last season, ranking 29th in scoring defense. A lot of that can be attributed to opt outs and injuries. Getting Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks all back and healthy will be massive. Add free-agent signees Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Mackensie Alexander, and Xavier Woods into the equation and this defense is looking tenacious.
The defense is ready to propel itself back into the top half of the league, but it’s still missing a major component that made the unit so dominant in 2017: the ability to get to the quarterback. Hunter’s return will go a long way towards reviving the pass rush, but he can’t do it by himself.
For some context, the Vikings racked up 37 sacks and 84 QB hits in 2017, but only 23 sacks and 70 QB hits last year. A decline of nearly a sack per game makes all the difference. When you’re in a division with the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers (for now), a mobile QB in Justin Fields, and a Detroit Lions team with maybe the best offensive line in the league, you need to be able to put pressure on the quarterback.
Rick Spielman drafted two new edge rushers in Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson, and while they could both develop into formidable defensive presences in the future, it seems unrealistic to think they’ll contribute right away. Besides, we all saw how the whole “Let’s throw a bunch of rookies out there” experiment worked last season.
There’s still a fair number of veteran defensive ends available in free agency, something Spielman has likely already looked into — and should continue to do so.
Of the notable options left is former DE Everson Griffen, who spent last season with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. His sack numbers dropped slightly, but Griffen is still a force off the end. Not to mention that he’s replied to multiple Vikings fans asking about the possibility of his return, and it seems like he may be interested.
The question is, what does somebody like Griffen bring to the table? Is he truly the final piece that will return the defense to prominence?
I’d argue that’s not only the case, but potentially he’s a necessity. Minnesota has a singular proven pass rusher on its current roster, with two run-stopping tackles slated to start. As it stands now, any team that plays the Vikings will double-team Hunter and make whoever plays opposite him beat them. Griffen might be past the days of putting up double-digit sacks in a season, but you can’t let him run free. Adding him to the current line would entirely change how teams strategize against Minnesota.
Not to mention that both Vikings rookie defensive ends, especially Robinson, have drawn comparisons to a young Griffen. What better way to indoctrinate them into the league than to have the guy they’re being compared to teach them?
There’s also no acclimation period with Griffen since he already knows the Vikings’ playbook and how Zimmer likes to run his defense. He could come in tomorrow and be the starting defensive end.
Although it seems like Griffen would be an obvious choice, there are some other options. Veterans like Justin Houston, Ryan Kerrigan, and Bruce Irvin could also be targets for Spielman. After all, the rookie contracts are done and dusted, so the Vikings won’t have a ton of room under the cap. But with many players taking one-year deals as a result of this year’s static cap, all of the aforementioned guys should be on the table.
Reuniting with a former player would be nice, but the Vikings have to figure something out. This roster is shaping up to be one of the best in the league, and with Rodgers’ future in green and gold in, um, jeopardy, the NFC North runs through Minnesota.
Spielman has shown he’s willing to be extremely aggressive this offseason. It’s time for one final firework. Bring a veteran defensive end into the mix, and you’re looking at another top defense for Zimmer and Co.