An Early Look at 3 Free Agent Fits for the Vikings

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Las Vegas Raiders
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Expect the offseason to be an eventful one.

Minnesota has a lot of internal free agents. Many — Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport, etc. — exist at premium positions. Partner those realities with the hefty pile of cap space and the nine selections in the upcoming draft. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is going to be a busy man, especially once he’s fully involved in the free agent fits phase of the offseason.

Vikings Get a Decent Grade
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The GM’s goal is to build a roster that’s capable of getting into the final tournament on a yearly basis. Things were looking pretty bleak toward the beginning of the year, but the Vikings have positioned themselves favorably. Winning every game to finish off the season will mean securing the NFC North. And, more likely, there’s also the possibility of getting in as the #6 team.

Again, Minnesota is in control of its own fate.

Being able to keep getting into the playoffs — and, crucially, succeeding once there — will demand a fresh influx of talent during the offseason. Free agency is going to be a critical factor within that equation. Consider three names courtesy of the top 50 hierarchy that exists on PFF (note: internal free agents are being excluded).

A Trio of Free Agent Fits for Minnesota to Consider

#1 — Brian Burns, Edge Rusher

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Brian Burns (0) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Hard not to be enthused about this option.

At 25, Burns offers a nice blend of youth and experience. His birthday arrives in April, but that won’t scare off GMs. The defender was chosen 16th overall in 2019 and could still plausibly have another 5+ years of strong play left in him.

The Vikings are staring down an offseason where all of Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport, and D.J. Wonnum are going to be free agents. Even more unsettling is that Patrick Jones is far from a lock to stick around given his modest production. Restocking the cupboard prior to the draft by onboarding someone who would fit seamlessly into the competitive rebuild timeline would make a pile of sense.

Burns is up to 6 sacks and 13 TFLs for the Panthers. His career highs in each catergory arrived in 2022 when he hit 12.5 sacks and 17 TFLs.

#2 — Justin Madubuike, Defensive Tackle

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
Dec 10, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (92) enters the field before the game against the Los Angeles Rams during the at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings would be wise to improve their pass rush from the interior of the defensive line.

Madubuike, who just turned 26 on November 17th, is sitting on 11 sacks in 2023. Accompanying that impressive total is a whopping 26 QB hits (for context, Hunter is sitting on 18 QB hits). Imagine what Brian Flores could accomplish if he had a penetrating DT to partner with his blitzing wizardry.

The aforementioned PFF piece has a lot of good things to say, but the effort and skill combo stand out: “His effort and intensity on backside pursuit plays have always been there, and now an improved arsenal of moves with a more explosive first step has Madubuike set to cash in big time.”

In recent years, the Vikings have done a nice job of onboarding impact defensive tackles in free agency (Linval Joseph, Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips). Let’s see if the trend continues. Signing a sack artist would be a welcome development at DT.

#3 — Mike Evans, Wide Receiver

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield (not pictured) as Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) defends during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, the Evans inclusion seems far-fetched. After all, the Hall of Fame receiver is likely looking for a nice payday, and the Vikings aren’t going to be in a position to hand over major money to another pass catcher given how much is already invested in the area.

The inclusion simply comes down to a few ideas.

First, Minnesota would likely welcome a bit of a bruiser along the outside. Justin Jefferson has some decent size, but no one is mistaking him for A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf. Jordan Addison will be the WR2 and there’s a chance the next option would be Brandon Powell (assuming a deal gets done with the pending UFA). Addison and Powell are both lacking in brawn.

The 6’5″, 231-pound Evans would add a different element to Minnesota’s offense. The man has been in the NFL for a decade and has cleared 1,000 yards in every season. Adofo-Mensah has shown a willingness to pull off some cap shenanigans to make the numbers work in the immediate and we all know that Kevin O’Connell adores having a pile of receivers around Eagan.

Folks, I’m not saying it’s likely, I’m merely suggesting that we shouldn’t be blindsided if there ends up being a contract.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.