The Forgotten Pass Rusher Can Give the Vikings a Jolt, but His Minnesota Future is Murky

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Like it or not, the Vikings’ forgotten pass rusher is going to be taking a decent bite out of the 2024 budget.

Getting Marcus Davenport to town involved a 1-year prove-it deal that would toss over $13 million to the defender. Being able to make the finances work involved the GM pulling off some salary cap shenanigans. He kicked $6.8 million of Davenport’s money into the future, meaning the current cap charge sits at a manageable $6.2 million.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers place kicker Eddy Pineiro (4) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Marcus Davenport (0) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Losing Za’Darius Smith meant there was a clear need for an EDGE2 to take the heat off of Danielle Hunter. Davenport was easily one of the most talented pass rushers on the market, so the gamble made a lot of sense. Yes, the injury history was concerning, but the risk was mitigated by constructing a contract that only lasted a single season.

The season is quickly marching toward its conclusion with just a trio of games remaining (all of which being against division rivals). The pass rusher has only been on the field for four games. If that stands, he will have been active for less than a quarter of the season. Will Marcus Davenport make it back for any of the remaining games? Will he be a priority to retain in 2024?

The Vikings’ Forgotten Pass Rusher: Marcus Davenport

Few are as talented as the former Saint. Few are as injury prone as the former Saint.

To be fair, the 2023 season has been particularly bad. So far, Davenport has been on the field for just 118 snaps across four games. If the number stands, Davenport will have put together a career-low for snaps. He has done quite well when given the opportunity, but there just hasn’t been that many opportunities for him to make plays.

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Marcus Davenport (0) pressures Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In Week 4, Davenport was healthy; he was a wrecking ball (cue Miley Cyrus). The Vikings were 0-3 at the time, a deficit that felt like it was going to insurmountable, especially if another loss got added onto the pile. Davenport picked up 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, and 1 QB hit in that game. The score was just 21-13, so it’s safe to say that the Viking needed every bit of Davenport’s production.

He was involved in the Week 6 Bears game briefly, but he didn’t last too long. He got to 17 snaps but didn’t get any statistics onto the sheet. The pass rusher hasn’t been seen since because of an ankle injury that required surgery.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Las Vegas Raiders
Dec 10, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell (left) and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah react during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell tends to be pretty transparent when it comes to players recovering from injury, but the head coach doesn’t discuss Davenport very much. One wonders if that means he isn’t factoring into the plans for 2023.

Someone as talented as Davenport isn’t easily replaced, but the Vikings have been doing a good job. A pile of credit goes to Danielle Hunter for operating at such a high level. Plus, D.J. Wonnum has pushed his game to a new level. The fourth-year edge rusher is sitting on 8 sacks, so there’s a chance Wonnum hits 10 by the season’s end (good timing since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March).

In fact, both Hunter and Wonnum are soon to hit free agency if extensions aren’t reached, meaning the Vikings are staring down a future where the Pass Rusher Department may end up looking quite a bit different.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum (98) and defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (90) celebrates a sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Jones has had a poor season and Andre Carter needs more time to develop. Currently, they’re the only two pass rusher under contract for next season. The Vikings can (and should) retain Danielle Hunter. Wonnum, moreover, should be considered for an extension. The team can then look toward free agency, the trade market, and the draft to bring in more talent.

What about Davenport, though?

He just turned 27 on September 4th, meaning he’ll be 28 just as the 2024 regular season gets underway. By no means a youngster, Davenport will still have enough youth in his legs and lungs to play at a high level for quite a while. What’s a fair price at this point in time?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) is pressured by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Marcus Davenport (0) and linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota acquired Davenport for the price they did for two main reasons: a long history of injury troubles and just 0.5 sacks in 2022. Those two forces combined to drive down what teams were willing to pay for Davenport. Going into the offseason, those twin forces are going to be more pronounced than ever. Quite possibly, Davenport will finish his season with just the 118 snaps to go alongside his 2 sacks. Not excellent.

One wonders, then, if a discounted deal will be possible. Once again, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah would be banking on a player with a ton of upside but with some discouraging history. What does the investor decide to do?

The Vikings’ front office will continue to ponder the best course of action as Minnesota moves into the final three games of the season. Sitting at 7-7, Minnesota desperately needs their pass rushers to take over the upcoming games. Welcoming Marcus Davenport back into the fold has the potential to be a ginormous jolt (couldn’t help myself with the alliteration), but the chances of seeing the defender are growing increasingly slim.

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

The Vikings Have Cut a Receiver
Also Read on PurplePTSD:
The Vikings Have Cut a Receiver

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.