Vikings Lose $21 Million Starter Ahead of Pivotal Week 9 Matchup

Kevin O'Connell

Getty Vikings edge rusher Za'Darius Smith put his Minnesota home on the market amid offseason speculation surrounding his future with the team.

The Minnesota Vikings will be without their biggest player on the road against the Washington Commanders on Sunday.

Dalvin Tomlinson suffered a right calf injury in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals and was deemed “week-to-week” by head coach Kevin O’Connell.

Monitoring Tomlinson’s status throughout the week O’Connell announced on November 4 that Tomlinson would be out for Sunday’s game against the Commanders, per a team release.

At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, Tomlinson is the largest player on the Vikings roster and an integral piece to the defensive line. Tomlinson has played a team-high 303 snaps on the defensive line this season and leads all defensive interior linemen with 17 pressures and three sacks this season. He was a prized free-agent signing in 2021, inking a two-year, $21 million deal.

Tomlinson’s outlook for beyond Week 9 is still uncertain, and a big man dealing with leg issues is of serious concern — especially after Irv Smith Jr. was given the same “week-to-week” designation before landing on the injured reserve list.

The Vikings (6-1) are currently second in the NFC and are vying for a first-round bye and home advantage entering a matchup with an NFC East foe in Washington (4-4) — which is in the same division as the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) and contending Dallas Cowboys (6-2).

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell addressed the Vikings’ plans moving forward, which doesn’t include a sole replacement for the defensive front’s most consistent player.

 Vikings Will Replace Dalvin Tomlinson by Committee

Addressing the state of the Vikings’ defensive line, Donatell said it will be business as usual for the trenchmen despite missing Tomlinson indefinitely.

“We’re pretty well-stocked there. Our personnel department brought in extra guys,” Donatell said in a  We’re rotating guys in a November 3 press conference, adding that they often rotate defensive linemen. “Nobody’s next in line. It’s really a team outfit there we’ll spread it out.”

Donatell’s replacement by committee approach is how the Vikings defense has attacked when Tomlinson is not on the field. However, Minnesota doesn’t have another lineman who can command two gaps and still rush the passer like Tomlinson.

Third-year defensive tackle James Lynch is poised to take the early down and short-yardage work, boasting a solid 73.4 run defense grade by Pro Football Focus. The downside is Lynch doesn’t have a single quarterback pressure on the season.

That’s where Ross Blacklock, acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans in the offseason, could get his chance to shine.

Big Game for Ross Blacklock

A 2020 second-round pick, Blacklock was deemed a reclamation project after the Vikings replaced fourth-year defensive lineman Armon Watts for Blacklock entering the season.

Blacklock flashed all the tools to be a premier defensive lineman that could play anywhere on the line. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler projected Blacklock as the fourth-ranked defensive tackle coming out of TCU due to his athleticism.

“Overall, Blacklock doesn’t get home enough on tape, but all the traits are there with his blend of size, quickness and power to develop into a disruptive presence, projecting as a versatile lineman who can play anywhere from the nose to the five-technique,” Brugler wrote.

However, in two seasons with the Texans, Blacklock tallied just 30 tackles and two sacks in 29 games. He has seven pressures on the season and could be in line for a breakout performance with the playing opportunities ahead.

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