In a 52-33 loss, the Vikings gave up the most points in franchise history since 1963. The defense surrendered a season-high 264 rushing yards that game, which left coach Mike Zimmer eating his words, admitting “this is a bad defense.”
The good news is Minnesota’s most expensive free-agent add last season in former Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce is expected to play in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
His return should bolster the Vikings defensive front that finished with the 30th ranked run defense, per Football Outsiders. But if Minnesota is serious about remedying the most glaring issue with the team, Pierce cannot be the only addition.
Die-hard Vikings fan? Follow the Heavy on Vikings Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content out of Skol Nation!
Analyst Urges Vikings to Sign Leonard Williams
Football Outsiders senior analyst Scott Spratt proposed the Vikings sign veteran defensive tackle Leonard Williams in a daring move that could catapult the team into Super Bowl contention.
Here’s what he wrote:
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce’s decision to opt out would have devastated the Vikings if they hadn’t already designated 2020 as the year they would shed some veterans to fix their cap situation. Before his decision, Pierce signed with the Vikings for three years and $27 million. He was the team’s most expensive free-agent addition and was the entirety of their plan to replace the released former Pro Bowler Linval Joseph.
With the expectation that Pierce will play in 2021, and now that the team has escaped its cap nightmare, the Vikings could easily call it a day. Instead, we would love for them to double down with another signing of an expensive free-agent 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. And thanks to their discipline last year, the team could free the space to make it happen by extending Cousins and avoid the alternative of a complete rebuild.
Cousins has said he’s not keen on taking another extension as he hasn’t yet played out the extension he signed last offseason. However, Minnesota could convince Cousins with a deal that would likely include more guarantees embedded in the contract.
Leonard Williams is Coming Off a Career Year
Williams, a defensive end-turned defensive tackle, would likely take Shamar Stephen’s spot alongside Pierce at nose tackle. Leonard missed a career-low 3.4% of his tackles in 2020 as his superior arm length, hand size and speed compensate for his 302-pound frame. The two veterans working in tandem would not only reinforce the run defense but also give the pass rush some juice.
Leonard is coming off a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2020 with the New York Giants and has the ability to play anywhere on the line as well as linebacker. That versatility, along with Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith could present a nightmare of disguises the Vikings could throw at opposing quarterbacks.
That would only benefit a developing core at cornerback that made strides throughout the 2020 season and now benefits from a true offseason in 2021.
- Super Bowl Contender ‘Pushing Hard’ to Trade for Vikings’ Kirk Cousins: Report
- Adam Thielen, Chad Greenway Sound off on Vikings’ New Coordinator Hire
- Wild 3-Team Trade Proposal Has Vikings Dealing Cousins to Land Superstar
- Stefon Diggs Has Strong Message on Vikings’ Justin Jefferson
- Ex-Viking Stefon Diggs Sounds Off on Team’s New WR Coach
- Vikings Rookie Justin Jefferson Fires Back at Kirk Cousins Critics