The Vikings’ Free Agency Acquisition Who Could Prove to Be a Steal

Aug 25, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Blake Cashman (53) in action during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings added several new players during the initial wave of free agency this offseason. Jonathan Greenard, Sam Darnold, and Andrew Van Ginkel are among the names added to the roster. 

However, one free agent signing has flown under the radar. The Vikings signed Blake Cashman to man one of the inside linebacker positions. Cashman inked a three-year, $25.5 million deal with his hometown team. 

The Vikings’ Free Agency Steal

Free Agency
Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Blake Cashman (53) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Cashman played his college ball for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and was quietly one of the best middle linebackers in the league in 2023. Before 2023, Cashman had mainly played a reserve role. That all changed last season, though, as Cashman started 13 games and had his best season yet. 

The linebacker collected 106 tackles, two sacks, nine tackles for loss, and one interception. Cashman received an elite 83.7 PFF grade, which ranked 5th among 66 qualified inside linebackers. The LB was efficient against the run and the pass and should continue to thrive in Brian Flores’ defense. 

Cashman will replace the veteran Jordan Hicks, who departed for the Cleveland Browns in free agency. The former Golden Gopher joins Ivan Pace Jr. in the starting lineup and gives the Vikings a young and exciting pair in the middle of the defense. 

Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Blake Cashman (53) reacts after a play during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings blitzed more than any team in 2023. Flores’ unit blitzed opposing QBs 348 times while the next closest team was the New York Giants who blitzed 288 times. Hicks and Pace were utilized frequently, with both players blitzing at least 75 times in 2023. 

Cashman is not as experienced as a blitzer, but he showed improvement in that area in 2023. The linebacker blitzed 28 times last season, which was the second highest total of his career. On those blitzes, Cashman collected seven total pressures, including two hurries, three QB knockdowns, two sacks. These numbers give reason to believe that with more opportunity, Cashman could put together big numbers in Flores’ scheme.

On top of some upside with his blitzing, evidence exists that Cashman could be an upgrade over Hicks and Pace in pass coverage. The linebacker was targeted 55 times and allowed 38 receptions for a 69.1% completion rate. Hicks and Pace both allowed over an 80% completion percentage when targeted in 2023. 

Oct 29, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard (30) with the ball as Houston Texans linebacker Blake Cashman (53) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

While 2023 was Cashman’s first productive season as a pro, the linebacker was very productive in college. From 2016-2018, he was one of the Big Ten’s best players at the position. The Eden Prairie native collected 179 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks over three seasons with the Golden Gophers. Cashman ended up being selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. After a few seasons as a backup, Cashman had his breakout season in a contract year in 2023.

Off-ball linebackers usually aren’t the sexiest additions, but Cashman should thrive in Minnesota. Hicks and Pace both eclipsed 100 total tackles in 2023, and both received solid PFF grades. Flores’ system helps MLB’s thrive, and Cashman won’t be an exception. Don’t be surprised if Cashman earns a Pro Bowl nod in his first season with the Vikings. 

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference.