The new league year is set to get underway in the next couple of weeks, and we’re all waiting to see exactly what the Minnesota Vikings are going to do on a couple of fronts. Foremost among these is what the team will do during free agency, which starts at 3 PM Central time on 17 March. The “legal tampering” period will take place in the days leading up to that.
While the Vikings are going to have some decisions to make on both sides of the ball, the folks at Football Outsiders have proposed a move that could, potentially, get the Vikings’ defense on the road back to prominence.
Behind the great E$PN paywall, Football Outsiders proposes a “daring move” for each team, and for the Vikings that move involves signing a big-name free agent, specifically former New York Jets and New York Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
Even with their other cuts, the Vikings were remarkably complete in 2020 with the No. 11 passing offense, No. 6 rushing offense, and No. 14 pass defense by DVOA. But their run defense finished 30th in DVOA and dead last allowing 5.16 adjusted line yards per carry, and did so despite Eric Kendricks leading all linebackers (min. 50 tackles) with a 6.3% broken tackle rate based on Sports Info Solutions charting. That weakness may be more than Pierce can overcome on his own, but its correction could vault this version of the Vikings into Super Bowl contention.
Now, this assumes that Michael Pierce, who opted out of last season because of COVID-19 concerns, will be back to help out in the middle of the defense. Hopefully, that’s going to be the case, and we can see him step into the shoes of the man he was meant to replace, big Linval Joseph.
But, as the FO piece states, Pierce isn’t going to be enough on his own, as we saw with the Vikings’ run defense towards the end of last year. Enter Williams, who was the 6th overall pick by the Jets in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was traded to the Giants in 2019 and played the 2020 season for the Giants under the franchise tag. Williams had, arguably, his best season as a pro in 2020, notching 11.5 sacks for the Giants playing mostly from the defensive tackle position, though he can play some end as well.
If the Vikings could, somehow, find a way to pair Pierce and Williams in the middle of the defensive line, it would be a huge boost to a front seven that had their struggles last season. Throw in the returns of Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr (presumably) and Eric Kendricks returning to health, and the Vikings would have all of the ingredients to help their developing young secondary.
And, hey. . .it’s not as if the Vikings haven’t had success with defensive tackles named Williams in the past, right?
I don’t know how realistic the prospect of Leonard Williams landing in Minnesota this offseason is, but it certainly is an intriguing possibility.