What Is The Future Of The DE Position?

The combination of a thin draft class at defensive end and the ongoing woes of Kenny Mixon have left the DE position as the great unanswered question this offseason.

Heading into the offseason, the Vikings had a series goals and, with one noted exception, they've all been met. The team maintained its strength at tight end by re-signing Jim Kleinsasser and signing Jermaine Wiggins. It added what it believes is the best cornerback to play for the Vikings in a decade in Antoine Winfield. For a third time, it brought someone in to "replace" Cris Carter -- this time Marcus Robinson.

Almost everywhere you look, there are upgrades and improvement from cornerback to punter. But there is one exception that could remain a problem -- defensive end.

It was originally thought that Kevin Williams could be a pass-rushing defensive end, but his skills on the inside were such that the Vikes abandoned that plan and, in the process, told Fred Robbins he could take a hike. As we near the 2004 draft, it is a problem that still hasn't been addressed and, if anything, has become worse.

The Vikings refused to get in the madness that surrounded the signing of Jevon Kearse by the Eagles and haven't made any overtures to available DEs like Tony Brackens, recently released by the Jaguars. The plan apparently is to wait until the draft.

The problem there is that the only two defensive ends in the Class of 2004 that are considered first-round blue chippers are Kenechi Udeze and Will Smith. With their stock rising on several teams' draft boards, many believe they won't be on the board when the Vikes are slated to pick at No. 19. If they're both gone, the Vikings would go elsewhere in the first round and put off DE until later in the draft.

Complicating matters is current DE Kenny Mixon. With his fourth alcohol-related offense winding up in a guilty verdict that will have him spending 30 days or more in jail, Mixon also is likely to face a suspension of four or more games by the league.

What does all this mean? It may be time to start targeting defensive end, regardless of the consequences. That could mean preparing to trade up to get Smith or Udeze, spending more money than planned in the free-agent market and the very real possibility of potentially moving on without Mixon.

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