With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror, 2020 free agency is just around the corner. That period will officially start at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 18 when the new league year begins.
Over the next two weeks, Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and I will dive into Minnesota's current roster status by position. We'll offer a refresher on which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.
We're continuing the series with defensive ends/edge rushers …
Danielle Hunter, Stacy Keely, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Eddie Yarbrough
2019 stats (tackles are team stats)
Hunter: 76 tackles (54 solo), 16 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defended
Keely: spent all of 2019 on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie
Odenigbo: 19 tackles (17 solo), 7 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 pass defended; 56-yard fumble return touchdown
Yarbrough (with Buffalo): 29 tackles (21 solo), 4 tackles for loss
Since signing a contract extension in summer 2018, Hunter has posted back-to-back seasons with team bests of 14.5 sacks and garnered consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. He became the youngest player to reach 50 career sacks in NFL history (since 1982) by recording 3.0 against Detroit in Week 14 last season.
View the best photos from the Vikings team photographers of the defensive line in 2019.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME FREE AGENTS:
Reports surfaced before the combine that Griffen has voided the remainder of his contract, so he is scheduled to become a free agent, but Zimmer said he expects Griffen will return.
"Everson's a terrific person for us. I think our situation's the right one for him, and we expect him to be back," Zimmer said. "I think he wants to be back, so those kinds of things usually work themselves out."
Zimmer said Griffen's cut-ups from the early part of the 2019 season really stood out and pointed out the relationship between the defensive end and defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who was promoted to co-defensive coordinator this offseason.
"He loves the guys here in the locker room, and I think he understands that we're going to do the best for him all of the time," Zimmer said.
View the top photos of Vikings DE Everson Griffen from the 2019 season.
Weatherly is at the end of his rookie contract. The 2016 seventh-round pick has recorded 3.0 sacks in each of the past two seasons and made seven starts. He has worked in the rotation at defensive end and also moved inside in certain situations.
The Vikings needs at the position could be affected 1) by whether or not Griffen and/or Weatherly are brought back, and 2) if the team plans to make any scheme changes, like incorporating a 3-4 front to supplement the 4-3 that has been central to the Zimmer era. We wrote about the possibility of the latter last week.
Zimmer was not asked specifically about Weatherly, who spent time in college in a 4-3 and a 3-4 at Vanderbilt. The head coach was asked about Odenigbo, who also has rotated in at defensive end and manned an interior spot on pass-rush downs. Odenigbo recorded the first 7.0 sacks of his career in 2019.
If Griffen and/or Weatherly do not return, it could be an opportunity for Odenigbo to take another step forward, or the Vikings could explore a market that appears (see below) to have quite a supply of edge rushers.
It's also possible that Minnesota added depth and preempted the free agency process at defensive end by signing Yarbrough off Buffalo's practice squad last season. Yarbrough played in 31 games from 2017-18. He started six times as a rookie but has 1.0 career sack.
If Griffen and/or Weatherly do not return, do the Vikings add a player or players with more experience as a 3-4 defensive end and/or an outside linebacker?
Zimmer explained the importance of personnel in whether a team is best-served by a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. It's a transformation that took a while in Dallas when he was the Cowboys defensive coordinator. Is it possible to create a specialty package without undermining the bread-and-butter that has had success here?
WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE:
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling teamed up again this year to rate their top 101 potential free agents.
Defensive ends/edge rushers account for nearly 20 percent of their list.
The following defensive ends/edge rushers are listed in order of their overall rankings: 3. Jadeveon Clowney (SEA), 4. Shaq Barrett (TB), 5. Yannick Ngakoue (JAX), 9. Arik Armstead (SF), 17. Matthew Judon (BAL), 20. Bud Dupree (PIT), 26. Dante Fowler, Jr. (LAR), 27. Leonard Williams (NYG), 31. Jason Pierre-Paul (TB), 36. Everson Griffen (MIN), 38. Robert Quinn (DAL), 54. Quinton Jefferson (SEA), 74. Derek Wolfe (DEN), 75. Vic Beasley (ATL), 76. Markus Golden (NYG), 89. Michael Bennett (DAL), 94. Emmanuel Ogbah (KC), 98. Shaq Lawson (BUF) and 99. Mario Addison (CAR).
That's 19 players, some of which are sure to be re-signed by their respective teams, out of the top 101.
This page shows a team-by-team breakdown of other defensive ends/edge rushers that are set to become free agents. It does not, however, distinguish 3-4 outside linebackers as edge rushers. It merely lists them as linebackers.