Guenther, who coached with Mike Zimmer for six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and 13 years total for the franchise, has strong ties to the team and the players who helped the Bengals win four AFC North titles since 2005.
One of the most foundational players for the franchise during that run, Geno Atkins, is expected to be a cap casualty this offseason and is gaining plenty of traction as a player the Vikings should consider chasing in free agency.
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Vikings Need Help on Defensive Line
Minnesota has been without a consistent threat at the three-technique defensive tackle spot for three straight seasons. But in years past, the Vikings had enough talent at defensive end to shift edge rushers inside on passing downs.
But the lack of a true three-technique defensive tackle was evident last season. With the departure of Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly and Danielle Hunter’s injury, the defensive line became the bane of the defense as rotational players like Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes were thrust into starting roles along with fourth-round rookie D.J. Wonnum.
The Vikings ranked dead last in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush rankings, producing a team pressure rate of 21.6% on pass-rush snaps.
Hunter and Michael Pierce’s return will bolster the unit, however, there’s still a significant need for depth across the defensive line along with the need for another defensive tackle alongside Pierce.
If the Bengals release Atkins, Minnesota should be a team that considers signing the 32-year-old veteran. Zimmer and Guenther helped turned the 2010 fourth-round prospect into a potential Hall of Famer, making the Pro Bowl in all eight seasons where he’s played all 16 games.
Atkins suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder at the end of training camp last season and was out until Week 5. He opted to play through it, instead of getting surgery and was limited to a rotational role — never playing more than 19 snaps in a game. He decided to get surgery in mid-December and shut down his season for good.
Atkins made six straight Pro Bowls before last season and can clearly still play. His 53 pressures in 2019 are more than any Vikings interior lineman in 2020 and also six more pressures than Sheldon Richardson in 2018 — the last time Minnesota had a true three-technique.
The Vikings have many positions to address this offseason and signing a soon to be 33-year-old defensive tackle coming off injury could be a financial risk. However, Minnesota should make a call if Atkins is released and gauge his asking price in free agency.
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