The Minnesota Vikings were the best team in the NFC North, clinching the division with weeks to go and finishing the regular season with a 13-4 record.
It was a successful year in many ways for first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell, but it was also a strange one. While the Vikings had one of the most exciting offensive teams in the NFL, their defensive performance was embarrassing.
The Vikings ranked 31st in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed, finding themselves on the wrong end of decisive losses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. They also lost the Wild Card playoff game to the New York Giants at US Bank Stadium in large part because the defense couldn’t hold off New York quarterback Daniel Jones.
The Vikings have already fired last year’s defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell, and replaced him with Brian Flores. While that move should have a positive impact, the Vikings’ defense play was largely the responsibility of the players.
They need to rebuild the defense and should have the opportunity to do so during the free agent signing period.
General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has salary-cap issues to deal with, as the Vikings are currently $21 million over the cap. If he can successfully handle the cap, here’s a look at 5 free agents he should consider. Note that 4 of them are on the defensive end of the ball.
DT Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles
The Vikings need a lot of help on the defensive line and Hargrave could give them a big boost.
He has been a standout performer for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles and has combined for 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He’s a tireless worker who’s going to leave it all on the field on every play, and that’s just what the Vikings need.
Hargrave can be an example for the team in that area. While they do have big-name stars in Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, they didn’t get consistent effort from their stars.
Hargrave, 30, finished the 2022 regular season with 60 tackles, 11.0 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He also rejected 2 passes, forced 1 fumble and recovered 2 more.
LB Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals
Pratt, 26, has enjoyed 4 good seasons with the Bengals, and the last 2 have been great. He is coming off a season with 99 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack.
Pratt is an excellent tackler and also does a remarkable job in coverage. He defended 10 passes and had 2 interceptions, and that versatility would make him a solid addition to Minnesota’s defense.
While his sack total isn’t impressive, he understands what it takes to charge and can rush the quarterback. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see his quarterback rushes turn into additional sacks next season.
CB Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 26-year-old Dean would be a great addition to the Vikings because the secondary has been a weak spot for multiple seasons.
Injuries played a key role in declining Minnesota’s coverage skills over the past 3 seasons, and the Vikings can’t count on veteran Patrick Peterson for more than a support piece at this point in his career.
Dean is coming off a solid season with the Bucs, having 57 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. He was credited with 8 pass defenses and he also had 2 interceptions. Dean has earned higher marks than all but two cornerbacks for his performance in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus.
DT Daron Payne, Washington Commanders
Payne is simply a beast who can take down double-teams and wreak havoc for opposing offensive linemen on a consistent basis.
Payne, 25, is one of the best in the league at his position and is coming off the best season of his career. Payne had 64 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2022, and he’s also been extremely reliable. He has played in and started every game for Washington in the last 3 seasons.
Payne has a chance to become a superstar in the middle of the defensive line for any team that signs him.
QB Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
The Vikings have been playing with fire the past 3 seasons as they don’t have a competent backup quarterback on their roster.
Starter Kirk Cousins has been able to avoid injury throughout his career, but he’s in the firing line every week and the odds are likely to be stacked against him at one point or another.
Brissett would seem like the ideal backup quarterback. He has played successfully with the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, making 48 starts in his 7-year career.
He made 11 of those starts last year for the Browns before Deshaun Watson returned from suspension. Brissett completed 64 percent of his passes and had a 12-6 TD interception ratio.