Zimmer and the Vikings have hit the free agent market and rounded up veteran players as if they were Infinity Stones to rectify the situation. The first wave of free agency brought in Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods and Mackensie Alexander. The Vikings added Bashaud Breeland in the second wave to finish high school, but something was missing.
That something happened when the Vikings reworked Danielle Hunter’s contract and then signed Sheldon Richardson less than 24 hours later. Zimmer’s Infinity Gauntlet was finished. Armed with parts to replicate the 2017 defense, Zimmer could feel the power flowing through his veins, and Minnesota was ready to take on the world. Or at least the NFC North.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit too much. But so does the assumption that the Vikings suddenly have a top-five defense or that a path to the Super Bowl has been opened this offseason. In fact, the Vikings still have plenty of questions about defense. Before we can call this the Second Coming of Team 2017, there are several issues that need to be addressed.
The first is Hunter’s health. While the Vikings pacified Hunter by converting $ 5.3 million in signing bonuses, he still just suffered a season-ending neck injury. Hunter is a physical specimen, but there is no guarantee that he will automatically revert to the player who collected 14.5 sacks in 2019. This is why the Vikings decided to restructure his contract instead of making him the rusher on board the highest paid in the NFL.
Vikings fans have been trained to be optimistic after watching Adrian Peterson win the MVP award in 2012 after his knee exploded in the last game of the 2011 season. But neck injuries are a big problem. If you don’t believe me ask Mike Hughes, who was on his way to a decent career before breaking his neck at the end of the 2019 season. He was never the same again and the Vikings landed him in Kansas City earlier this year.
If Hunter isn’t 100%, the Vikings’ defensive line could be in the same situation they were a year ago. Richardson should help generate pressure on the inside, but the combination of DJ Wonnum and Stephen Weatherly is not going to summon memories of Everson Griffen in his prime. This could lead to another season where the defense finishes at the lowest in NFL sacks.
Hunter isn’t the only key player to come out of a serious injury. Anthony Barr tore his pectoral muscle in the second week of last season. Eric Wilson has fulfilled his role admirably, but Wilson just signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Vikings coaching staff believe Barr is a vital part of the defense.
Adam Zimmer recently discussed Barr’s role in defense, explaining that Barr does everything including making the sounds, lining up everyone, being great at covering and making a great strawberry mojito to enjoy after the game. (OK, I made up that last part, but you get the idea.) We know Eric Wilson missed 20 tackles last season, which is more than Barr missed (16) in the last season. last four seasons combined. But because the tackle requires a lot of upper body strength, it could also be a problem for Barr if he’s still hampered by injury.
Then there are the additions the Vikings have made this offseason. While the defense seems loaded with big names, our own Rob Searles noted that there might be a reason these players were in the market.
If you came back in February and told fans that they would add these players to fix the defense, they would be thrilled. In fact, they already are. But it also makes no sense to think that the Vikings had the basics to instantly bounce back in the first five units.
When the Vikings led the league in defense in 2017, it was a perfect storm. Harrison Smith, 28, Eric Kendricks, 25, and Barr, 25, were all in their prime, while a near-perfect 2015 draft class added Trae Waynes and Hunter.
While it’s possible the 2020 class added a long-term starter to Cameron Dantzler and a solid player to Harrison Hand, the core that made up that 2017 defense is now four years older, increasing the risk of injury. , making it unlikely that the starters would miss a combined five-game total, as they did in 2017.
In a positive scenario, Hunter and Barr bounce back while Kendricks, Smith and the rest of the starters don’t lose a step. The offseason additions are thriving on their one-year deals and the Vikings catapult themselves to the top of NFC North.
This is not totally out of the question. But when it comes to this year’s defense, the reality can be disappointing.