Finding a rotational defensive end was believed to be one of the Vikings’ goals this offseason because Scott Crichton – drafted in the third round of 2014 – did not develop enough to consistently find the field last season and the Vikings are likely not going to re-sign Corey Wootton.
Even though they have not signed one to the team yet, their continued interest in the position shows they are looking to address it, and there are still plenty of players the Vikings could bring in and use as a rotational defensive end behind Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.
Anthony Spencer and Korey Biermann are the top two free agent defensive ends left, but it is not likely that the Vikings will pursue either of them. They are both starting-caliber players and the Vikings are more in the market for a player who can rotate in for a few plays to give the starters a break without breaking the bank.
The next highest ranked defensive end, according to Scout.com, that has not yet signed with a team is Osi Umenyiora. Scout has him rated as the No. 12 available defensive end, but at the age of 33 years old it seems unlikely Vikings would pursue signing him. But he is a player who has had success in the past – recording 435 tackles, 35 forced fumbles and 85 career sacks – and would be a good mentor to teach the younger players on the team. Umenyiora is also looking to redeem himself from a 2014 season where he recorded just 12 tackles and 2½ sacks. Still, with Robison as a standup mentor and Umenyiora’s price tag and age, there is little chance of bringing him in.
It is more likely that the Vikings will look to sign a younger defensive end, and if that is the case one to look at would be Da’Quan Bowers, who is rated as the No. 15 free agent defensive end by Scout. People were shocked when he fell into the second round of the 2011 draft, but since joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he has not been able to produce consistently, recording just 66 tackles and seven sacks in four years.
At the age of 25, Bowers still has a lot of football to play and should still be a very athletic player. He also comes in at 6-foot-3, 288 pounds, which makes him a good size to play defensive end. Would a change of scenery and coaching styles turn Bowers into what was expected before he was drafted?
Another player that the Vikings could possibly target is C.J. Wilson, who Scout has ranked as the No. 25 free agent defensive end. In 2014, he played in 16 games for just the second time in his five-year career. He has 99 tackles and 5½ sacks in his career and recorded 23 tackles and two sacks last year.
Then there is always the possibility that the Vikings choose to look at a restricted free agent, but it is far less likely they will because of the draft compensation that could be required in those scenarios. General manager Rick Spielman always wants to keep as many draft picks as he can.
If the Vikings were to try to sign a restricted free agent defensive end, one they could target would be Cedric Thornton. Scout has Thornton ranked as the No. 14 free agent defensive end. In 2014, he recorded 52 tackles and one sack and has career totals of 139 tackles, one forced fumble and three sacks. Thornton is still a young player, 26, and might be able to make an impact on the Vikings.
If the Vikings do not sign a free agent defensive end this offseason, look for them to address the need at some point during the draft. There is not much behind Griffen and Robison, and head coach Mike Zimmer is known for rotating his defensive linemen in and out in order to keep them fresh. He was not able to do that very much in 2014 with the personnel he had, but you can be sure he will look to do it more in 2015.
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