“In a World of Trouble” & “To the Level of Panic,” Vikings Looking to Avoid Disaster Scenario

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Unless Kwesi Adofo-Mensah does a ton of work, the Vikings are facing a disaster scenario at edge rusher. If the season started today, Andre Carter II and Patrick Jones II would be the lone options on the roster.

Thankfully, a full offseason awaits, meaning there’s time for the GM to rectify the issue.

On Vikings Territory, Dustin Baker sounded the alarm before pointing toward some hope: “Almost to the level of panic, Minnesota needs EDGE rushers. Thankfully, it has ample time to find a few.” On PurplePTSD, Josh Frey arrives at a similar level of concern: “If Minnesota can’t keep [Danielle] Hunter around, their defense could be in a world of trouble in 2024.” Both writers are keying on an important problem, one that is going to be inspiring no shortage of work from the powerful people in Eagan.

Vikings Looking to Avoid Disaster Scenario at Edge Rusher

Begin with The Purveyor of Pass Rush: the long & strong Danielle Hunter.

Losing the veteran pass rusher would leave Minnesota in a precarious position. True, he’s getting older, but that doesn’t seem to have taken any wind of his sails. If anything, he was better in 2023 than he was in 2022. At 29, Hunter is indeed getting into the back nine of his career, but there’s good football left in his legs and lungs.

Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) makes the tackle during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t ever forget this important truth: as soon as Minnesota says goodbye to Hunter, Minnesota begins looking for someone precisely like Hunter. Better to keep him. If they do, where does that leave the team’s depth chart?

Take a look?

  • EDGE1: Danielle Hunter
  • EDGE2:
  • EDGE3:
  • EDGE4:
  • EDGE5: Andre Carter II

Now, astute readers will notice a missing name: Patrick Jones. The omission comes down to a few details working against him. Entering Year 4 in the NFL, Jones could be cut for modest savings. He’s coming off of a season where he played relatively poorly. Even worse, he’s a draft pick from the former leadership group, meaning there likely isn’t the same degree of loyalty.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass as Minnesota Vikings linebacker Pat Jones II (91) defends during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s assume, then, that things get pushed to the brink for depth. Minnesota has Hunter perched atop the pile and then Carter is pulling up the rear. A lot of work will need to get done to shore up the depth.

A modest deal for D.J. Wonnum could make sense. Only 26, Wonnum still has some upside in him. He’s working through his rehab from surgery, so the interest in free agency will be a bit more muted than normal. Prior to getting hurt, Wonnum was sitting on 8 sacks; he thus had a reasonable shot at getting to double digits for the first time in his career. Does a single season at roughly $5 million make sense all around?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson (23) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Slotting him into the depth chart makes things look rosier:

  • EDGE1: Danielle Hunter
  • EDGE2:
  • EDGE3:
  • EDGE4: D.J. Wonnum
  • EDGE5: Andre Carter II

Ideally, Wonnum won’t be leaned on as either the EDGE2 or EDGE3. Keep him in a lower role and ensure he’s back to his normal self. If he demands more playing time, then it’s a good problem to have.

Minnesota can then look toward external free agents to help fill in the couple spots that are unfilled. At the top of the free agent market are Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Bryce Huff, and certainly several others. In his pair of offseasons, Adofo-Mensah has signed a huge-name at edge rusher. Initially, he did a deal with Za’Darius Smith before then doing a deal with Marcus Davenport. Does the trend continue in 2024?

Jul 29, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (99) and Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Now assume that Minnesota decides to break a longstanding trend by sinking one of their top selections — 11 or 42 — into an edge defender. Names to remember include Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, Laiatu Latu, and maybe even someone like Darius Robinson (more of a 5T?).

Could Kwesi double dip, plucking out a tremendous pass rusher from both free agency and the draft? Take a look at one possibility:

  • EDGE1: Danielle Hunter
  • EDGE2: Brian Burns
  • EDGE3: Jared Verse
  • EDGE4: D.J. Wonnum
  • EDGE5: Andre Carter II
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

Doesn’t look too bad, does it? Nice blend of age and youth, experience and inexperience. A pile of upside while also offering a high floor. Gotta think offensive coordinators would be much more intimated by that pass-rushing crew than last season’s.

Takeaways and Reflections

Over these past couple of seasons, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been shepherding the defense through a rebuild. The secondary has undergone a total overhaul. Drafted players like Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, and Jay Ward are being entrusted with working alongside younger veterans like Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum, and Byron Murphy.

Adding another corner or two will mean Minnesota is supposed to have a secondary that’s built to win now and for several more years. What about up front?

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) celebrates his interception with safety Camryn Bynum (24) against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Leaving things untouched — something that obviously won’t happen — would be a trainwreck. But, to be sure, that’s part of the point. The room has been stripped down to the studs so that it can be rebuilt.

Do you think Adofo-Mensah is surprised that he has three edge rushers all hitting free agency at the same time? More likely, folks, is that he always had 2024 in the back of his mind for when he transitions toward a more substantial rebuild within the front seven.

Within that broader area — the front seven — is the edge rusher spot, inarguably one of the premier positions in the modern NFL. Much work needs to be done, so people are reasonably sounding the alarm. The upside, though, is that things can get pushed to a really exciting place. Yes, turnover and change can be scary, but it can also be tremendously beneficial.

The Vikings have been planning for this issue for a long time. And while there’s no guarantee they nail the upcoming signings and picks, there’s a chance the pass-rush crew gets brought to new heights.

In 2023, Brian Flores coaxed 43 sacks out of a defense that was lacking talent up front. Kevin O’Connell has already foreshadowed the team’s upcoming effort give Flores better players, so don’t be surprised if the GM pulls off some major moves to improve the talent at edge rusher.

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.