The Case to Cut/Keep Dean Lowry, The Vikings’ Veteran Defensive End

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dean Lowry (94) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Dean Lowry was supposed to provide some pass-rushing sizzle as a 3-4 defensive end who would be capable of moving across the defensive line. Instead, he appeared in just nine games before getting placed on injured reserve, failing to gain a single sack, QB hit, or tackle for a loss in the process.

Soon, his cap charge will more than double, going from $2,070,588 last year to $4,482,353 next year. Crucially, the Vikings could recoup some cap space, liberating $2,082,353 with a simple cut. Designating things as a post-June 1 cut would mean freeing up $3,882,353 in 2024 (but with some long-term dead money pain). What are the arguments in favor of seeing the versatile veteran either stay or go?

Dean Lowry: Cut or Keep?

The Case to Cut

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a touchdown pass while being rushed by Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry (94) as guard Ed Ingram (67) blocks during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Being part of Green Bay’s talented defensive front meant being a bit overlooked. Kenny Clark is a monster of a defensive tackle and the Rashan Gary/Preston Smith edge rusher duo can be intimidating.

Even still, Lowry’s 2022 production was modest. Just 0.5 sacks to show for his efforts in his final season as a Packer. He played in 15 games, starting 12, while picking up 482 snaps (a decrease from 674 in 2021 and 601 in 2020). So, the sack total was discouraging, especially when placed alongside the drop off in QB hits (5) and TFLs (1).

Meanwhile, Minnesota was hoping to be getting into the Mr. Lowry business at precisely the right time. He was a buy-low defender who was being entrusted with getting penetration on passing downs. As we said up top, though, the plan didn’t work out particularly well: Lowry didn’t snag a single sack, QB hit, or TFL.

The Vikings were desperate for pass-rushing help from the interior of their defensive line, especially with Marcus Davenport missing the vast majority of the season. That help never arrived with Lowry, though.

Lowry snagged just 3 snaps in his homecoming in Week 8 at Lambeau (he got hurt). He then was inactive across Weeks 9 and 10 before seeing just 9 snaps in Week 11 (more info). The Denver game was where he sustained an injury that required the IR placement.

The defensive lineman was on the field for 237 snaps, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2016. He snagged 14 tackles and will turn 30 on June 9th.

The Case to Keep

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dean Lowry (94) react after a fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

At 6’6″ and 296 pounds, Lowry offers the kind of size that defensive coordinators covet.

In theory, he’s long enough to withstand the heavy hands of the NFL’s offensive tackles, failing to give ground in run defense while being able to get penetration on passing downs. The simple fact that he has enough heaviness to move into a 3T spot is going to be welcomed by someone like Brian Flores, who insists that his players shuffle around the field.

In fact, Lowry had a near even split when it comes to lining up over a guard (122 snaps) or the tackle (105 snaps). Lowry also snagged 9 snaps out wide in more of an edge rusher role and then a single snap in the A-gap as a bit of a nose tackle. Again, this versatility is to be coveted.

And then there’s the track record of being disruptive. A couple of seasons ago, Lowry was responsible for picking up 42 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 QB hits, 5 tackles for a loss, and 4 passes defended. Folks, he’s obviously not Aaron Donald but that’s still some solid production. Is that player still in there somewhere?

Admittedly, the doubling cap charge is less than ideal within a context where the Vikings are looking to turn the corner. Reasonably enough, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah loves having financial flexibility, so he’ll be ensuring no stone is left unturned in the pursuit of greater budgetary freedom. To that end, would some sort of contract finagling — a pay cut, perhaps — be in order?

The Vikings’ defensive line is seriously lacking in depth. Harrison Phillips is an extension candidate and appears to be part of the answer over the next couple years. Jaquelin Roy will move into his sophomore season and showed that he has some electricity in his mitts as a rookie. But even with those two there is much work that needs to be done.

Keeping Dean Lowry and adjusting his role somewhat may be in the best interest of all parties as each side looks forward to a more productive 2024 season.

Editor’s Note: In “The Case to Cut/Keep” series, the aim is to neither prescribe nor predict what the Vikings should/will do. Rather, the aim is merely to give voice to some of the factors that will go into whether a player stays or goes.

Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap 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.