Is The Vikings Defense a Single Injury Away from Being in Dire Straits?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Michael Chow/The Republic

Somewhat surprisingly, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been slow to make free agent additions to the Vikings defense.

True, the team added Byron Murphy to help at corner and Marcus Davenport to help at edge rusher. Both play premium positions and both have plenty of youth, allowing them to fit perfectly within the GM’s emphasis on value and the competitive rebuild. However, one could reasonably argue that he shouldn’t have stopped with just Murphy and Davenport.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In fairness, he did make additions elsewhere. Dean Lowry, a former Packer, is being paid like a starter. Coming off a season when he had just a half sack, Lowry snagged a 2-year, $8.5 million deal from the Vikings. Previously, he has put up 5 sacks and 3 sacks in a single season, so there’s certainly potential he is productive for Brian Flores.

That’s 3 starters plucked from free agency.

Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that Minnesota experienced a major talent exodus during the offseason. Gone are players like Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Tomlinson, Za’Darius Smith, Chandon Sullivan, and Kris Boyd. True, not every player on that list excelled, but several – Peterson, Shelley, Kendricks, Tomlinson, Smith – were foundational to what Minnesota did last season.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a touchdown pass while being rushed by Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry (94) as guard Ed Ingram (67) blocks during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell saw what happened last year and simply weren’t impressed (who was?). At the helm of the defensive disaster was Ed Donatell, who led a completely uninspiring group that regularly fell flat. The playoff no-show was simply the rotten cherry on top of the world’s worst sundae.

The Vikings Defense and Reason for Concern

One of the absolute worst parts of the NFL is that players regularly get injured. Fans love the sport largely due to the tremendous hitting and blocking, but those are features that come at a cost. There’s a reason why every single team invests a hearty amount into health and training staffs, which is to say nothing of the emphasis on good nutrition.

Players get hurt, so teams need to plan accordingly. There’s no such thing as a Super Bowl team that doesn’t overcome some adversity. Quite often, that means elevating depth to keep the ship afloat as a starter nurses an injury.

Sep 18, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) celebrates after scoring on a 59-yard fumble recovery in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just last season, Murphy missed 8 games due to injury. Davenport was only around for 15 games and so too was Lowry limited to 15 games.

The plan in Minnesota is to lean on youth. Brian Asamoah is going to help at linebacker while the still-on-their-rookie-contracts D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones help at edge rusher. The safety position is bursting at the seams with great talent but the corner spot is operating with a wild amount of unproven youth. Someone among a group of youngsters – Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth Jr., Mekhi Blackmon, Jay Ward – will need to step up.

Otherwise, a veteran like Joejuan Williams will need to be the CB2. Williams missed all of last season.

Oct 31, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) reacts after the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Chargers 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting on nearly $18 million in cap space, the Vikings can add more talent. Veteran corner Marcus Peters is a name that commonly comes up, and so too does Justin Houston make a ton of sense. Each could likely be had for a single year and a medium amount of money.

The hope is certainly that injuries will be few and far between in Minnesota (and around the NFL more broadly). History does tells us that injuries do occur, though. If the corner room lost Murphy, the linebackers lost Jordan Hicks, the edge rushers lost Davenport (or, even worse, Danielle Hunter), and/or the defensive tackles lost Harrison Phillips, the Vikings defense could find itself in a tricky spot.

At the end of the day, Adofo-Mensah, O’Connell, and certainly Brian Flores know far, far more about defensive football than most. To a certain extent, we’ll need to trust their evaluation. There are some reasons to be concerned, though.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

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