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After a stinking 2020 season, the Minnesota Vikings are suddenly a close team on paper.
Derailment occurred during the pandemic season when the defense fell apart piece by piece due to injury. It started with Danielle Hunter, who lost the entire season due to a neck injury. Then Anthony Barr tore his pectoral muscle and missed 14.5 games. Michael Pierce was not injured, but he was absent due to coronavirus precautions. former 1st-Rounder (now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs) Mike Hughes also missed a lot of time. The Vikings were on their way to nubbins on defense.
And it turned out.
Head coach Mike Zimmer team finished 29this in the NFL for points allowed, a serious fall from favor when the team finished fifth in the stat just one season before, 2019. The fifth to fourth worst was the reason you got nauseous while watching the 2020 defense.
But general manager Rick Spielman refused to stew in misery. Starting in March, the off-season was punctuated with defensive free agent transfers – and only defensive signings – as Spielman signed a laundry list of defenders including:
- Mackensie Alexander (CB)
- Bashaud Breeland (CB)
- Amari Henderson (CB)
- Parry Nickerson (CB)
- Patrick Peterson (CB)
- Sheldon Richardson (DT)
- Tye Smith (CB)
- Dalvin Tomlinson (DT)
- Nick Vigil (LB)
- Stephen Weatherly (DE)
- Xavier Woods (S)
That’s a lot.
Still, the Vikings are arguably lacking in one spot on the defense – at least compared to depth in other spots. And that’s the defensive end position against Danielle Hunter. Bleacher report even exclaimed.
Hunter will experience his first season without Everson Griffen on the team. Instead, a rotation of Stephen Weatherly, DJ Wonnum and Patrick Jones II will share DE duties opposite Hunter. For Brad Gagnon from Bleacher report — and a sect of Viking loyalists — that’s worrying. It has a “skimp” feel to it. Gagnon worked out this “roster hole” for the Vikings in a piece that he envisioned a roster hole for every NFL team:
“The Minnesota Vikings will be thrilled to have 26-year-old Pro Bowl pass rusher Danielle Hunter back from a neck injury that has left him missing the entire 2020 season. However, he hasn’t adjusted since 2019 and he even missed OTAs due to a contract dispute. Ideally, the Vikings Hunter would get as much help as possible on the brink. But the padded front office in Minnesota focused on the offensive line and off-season secondary (for good reason). That leaves the disappointing Stephen Weatherly as the Vikings’ best option to start on the defensive side against Hunter as they wait for Patrick Jones II to acclimate in the third round, rookie. Minnesota may be missing Ifeadi Odenigbo, who recorded a team-high 15 quarterback hits in 2020 but left for the New York Giants in free agency. Fortunately, veterans like Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon, and Trent Murphy will remain in the market if the Vikings realize Weatherly won’t make it.”
Gagnon is not wrong.
Curiously, it’s the only position on the depth map – other than WR3 (but that’s every year) – that the Vikings have remained silent. In all likelihood, the team has faith in Weatherly, who filled in for Everson Griffen at times for 2020 admirably.
However, Weatherly’s success depends on Hunter getting back into shape right away. If Hunter takes the time to pick up his Herculean skills again, well, Weatherly could face a slow start to the season. He can probably be quite effective if Hunter keeps the pass-blocking attention, but it’s not certain when Hunter will reach his pass.
Because Spielman signed that much Defensive Free Agents – Starters and Deepers – No EDGE rushers next to Weatherly is a bit confusing.
Minnesota still has $13.5 million in cap space, allowing Spielman to investigate the signing of a player like Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon or even Griffen.
It’s just a guessing game whether there’s any sense in some other defensive target.
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